South Dakota likes to brag to entrepreneurs about its low costs and low taxes. But that bargain apparently dos not extend to young people seeking higher education to build their own business dreams.
Bob Mercer casts a harsh light on the cost of higher education in South Dakota, finding that undergrads in South Dakota face the third-highest costs in an eight-state region. The most damning passage lays blame at the state government's feet:
In 2002, state general fund support from the Legislature provided 57 percent of the educational and general funds for the university system, while students paid the other 43 percent. By 2012 that ratio had flipped, with the Legislature giving only 38 percent and students paying 62 percent [Bob Mercer, "SD Students Pay High Price for College, Technical Classes," Rapid City Journal, 2013.12.20].
Nationally, the percent of higher education paid by tuition has risen from 30.2% in 2002 to 47.0% in 2012. South Dakota's reduction in per-student higher ed spending of 19.2% since 2007 is actually less than the national recession-era average of 23.1%. So the Rounds-Daugaard legacy of shifting higher education costs to students and families is not unique to South Dakota. But the burden our governors and legislators have placed on students seeking higher education is the seventh highest in the nation and the highest in our region.
Governor Daugaard is on the right track to propose a tuition freeze and boost general fund appropriations to our universities. But we need to do more to reverse a decade of neglect. As we scrutinize the state's proper role in economic development, perhaps it is time to pull back on our handouts to big businesses and return to our support for the aspiring people who will build the next big businesses in South Dakota.