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Bismarck State College officials are looking for more consistency with student enrollment at the National Power Academy in Saudi Arabia but overall are pleased with their partnership with the Middle Eastern country.

BSC officials have been reviewing the long-term sustainability of the energy training partnership in the wake of lower-than-expected enrollment in the program seen as a potential big moneymaker for the school.

More than a year ago, Saudi Arabia, in partnership with BSC, welcomed its first batch of students to the academy in Dammam. The academy is managed by a coalition made up of the Saudi government and companies with a presence in the kingdom, including General Electric, Siemens, Schneider Electric and oil giant Saudi Aramco.

The academy offers a variety of energy training programs for Saudi men as part of the country's "Vision 2030" plan to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on foreign labor, much of which comes from India and Pakistan. BSC provides the training and curriculum for two-year diploma programs as part of its contract with the academy.

Initial enrollment numbers last year were far lower than the 600-student projection that BSC had anticipated, at just 65 students.

New enrollment this past Sunday added an additional 59 students, with an expectation of an additional six students soon, bringing the total number to 227. There are 100 students at the academy on a separate English language learning track who will complete their studies this month, which will lower the total.

BSC officials are "optimistic" about a student enrollment intake set in January 2020, according to Zach Allen, general manager of the company BSC formed in Saudi Arabia to manage its dealings with the academy.

The academy runs on a trimester schedule, so in the future BSC hopes to have three smaller student intakes throughout the year rather than one large intake as the Saudis are accustomed to.

"What we're working for is if we can get these smaller but consistent three-times-a-year intakes, it makes for a better experience for the students," Allen said. "It also will then build towards sustainability."

Despite lower-than-expected enrollment, BSC cannot lose money on the partnership. As part of the deal with the academy, all of the college's costs are covered, plus 20%. In addition, BSC receives a $4,000 per-student fee for licensing its curriculum, for which it retains the intellectual property rights.

"We were not going to commit to something that we were going to lose money on," BSC President Larry Skogen said.

However, the partnership isn't yet bringing BSC a large profit -- previously projected to reach up to $18.1 million over the five-year contract signed in August 2018. The school in the first year of the contract made 70% of the revenue projected for the first year, according to Skogen. The college is using any profits generated to maintain up-to-date curriculum in all of its programs, including those at the Bismarck campus.

The companies that make up the academy's coalition must find and sponsor students to attend the National Power Academy. That presents a hurdle for BSC's goal to maintain consistent enrollment throughout the year, as those companies' hiring practices are heavily dependent on the price of oil.

The academy in Dammam has the physical capacity to hold up to 400 students.

"The 400 students, the NPA is supposed to provide. That's where we're still struggling," Skogen said. "We're delivering exactly what our contract asks us to deliver. We're just not delivering it to 400 students that their side of the equation requires them to provide."

Another, larger campus is being constructed across the street from the National Power Academy. Construction is slow, but BSC hopes to eventually move to the larger campus.

"If we can get the whole program stood up with 400 students in it, then the potential is to ... move into this other campus," Skogen said. "But this is all out there yet."

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Reach Bilal Suleiman at 701-250-8261 or Bilal.Suleiman@bismarcktribune.com

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