My eager readers have numerous questions about the new Build Dakota Scholarship, the $50-million joint venture between the state and usury-baron-cum-philanthropist T. Denny Sanford to offer 300 full-ride scholarships to get vo-tech students to stay and work in South Dakota. Who's eligible? For how much? In which job fields? And can the state hammer out the details in time for high school seniors to apply this spring?

The state is trying to answer those questions. The South Dakota Department of Education sent me the following FAQ sheet yesterday afternoon:

  1. WHAT IS THE BUILD DAKOTA SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM?
    A new scholarship program created through a $50 million dollar investment funded by a $25 million donation from T. Denny Sanford and a $25 million contribution from the South Dakota Future Fund.
  2. WHAT PROGRAMS OF STUDY QUALIFY FOR THE SCHOLARSHIP?
    The scholarship administration board will determine the eligible technical institute programs each year. For the 2015-16, information will be released with the scholarship application in February 2015.
  3. WHAT COSTS ARE COVERED BY THE SCHOLARSHIP?
    The scholarships will support tuition, fees, books and other required program expenses in the eligible, South Dakota technical institute programs.
  4. IS THERE A CAP ON THE AMOUNT OF THE SCHOLARSHIP AWARD?
    The scholarship covers tuition, fees and other required program expenses for Build Dakota scholars. For the 2014-15 school year, full-time students make the following investments for a technical institute education:

    • AAS Programs: Full program expenses range from approximately $16,000 to $19,750 (median $17,875) over the 2-year program. Included in the estimated expenses are tuition and fees, technology, tools and books required to complete the program.
    • Diploma Programs: Full program expenses range from approximately $9,000 to $12,000 (median $10,500) for the 1-year program.
  5. CAN OUT-OF-STATE STUDENTS APPLY?
    Yes, they can. Both South Dakota students and out-of-state students are eligible for the scholarships.
  6. WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE SCHOLARSHIP?
    The Build Dakota Scholarship program will begin with newly enrolled students in Fall 2015.
  7. WHAT IS THE FUTURE FUND?
    The state’s investment in Build Dakota comes from the Future Fund. Following the recession of the early 1980s, the Future Fund was developed by Governor Mickelson to invest in South Dakota’s workforce and build its economy. The Future Fund supports the workforce development and technical assistance programs which help train employees, retrain employees during layoffs and support business recruitment, economic development initiatives, and research and entrepreneurial activities.
  8. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CRITICAL NEEDS WORKFORCE SCHOLARSHIP?
    The Critical Needs Workforce Scholarship will be phased out as funds are allocated to the Build Dakota scholarship program [South Dakota Department of Education, FAQ sheet, e-mailed to Madville Times, 2014.12.18].

Item 4 confounds my calculations on the scholarship/purchasing-power payoffs. I based my calculations on the high end of a KELO report pegging vo-tech costs at $12K to $15K. DOE is saying the Build Dakota Scholarships could pay $9K to $12K for one-year programs and $16K to nearly $20K for two-year programs. Plus, a friend in government suggests revising my calculations to regional price parity data, which this friend contends are more accurate than my long-preferred C2ER cost-of-living data. Looks like a weekend of more spreadsheets....

Item 2 says the details on eligible programs will be hammered out by February, when the state will release the scholarship application form. Item 8 may provide a clue as to which job fields Build Dakota will target. The current Critical Needs Workforce Scholarship puts a measly $500K toward vo-tech scholarships of up to $5K. Build Dakota will replace that program with scholarships worth, in the case of two-year programs, up to four times that amount. The Critical Needs Workforce Scholarship currently targets these degrees and job fields:

LAKE AREA TECHNICAL INSTITUTE MITCHELL TECHNICAL INSTITUTE
• Energy Operations – AAS
• Energy Technology – AAS
• Precision Machining – AAS
• Precision Machining eDegree – AAS
• Robotics eDegree – AAS
• Architectural Design & Building Construction – AAS
• Automation Controls/SCADA – AAS
• Electrical Utilities and Substation Technology – AAS
• Electrical Construction & Maintenance – AAS/Diploma
• Farm Power Technology – AAS
• Heating & Cooling Technology – AAS/Diploma
• Industrial Controls – Certificate
• Industrial Maintenance Technology – Diploma
• Information Systems Technology – AAS/Diploma
• Precision Technology Specialist – AAS/Diploma
• Telecommunications – AAS
• Welding & Manufacturing Technology – AAS/Diploma
SOUTHEAST TECHNICAL INSTITUTE WESTERN DAKOTA TECH
• Automotive Technician – AAS/Diploma
• CIS/Systems Administration – AAS
• Civil Engineering Technology – AAS
• Computer Network Security – AAS
• Computer Programming – AAS
• Computer Science – AAS/Diploma
• Diesel Technology – AAS/Diploma
• Electronics Technology – AAS/Diploma
• Land Surveying Science Technology – AAS
• Mechanical Engineering Technology – AAS
• Mechatronics – AAS
• Plumbing – Diploma
• Welding – Diploma
• Computer Aided Drafting – AAS/Diploma
• Computer Science – AAS/Diploma
• Electrical Trades – AAS
• HVAC Technology – Diploma
• HVAC/R Technology – AAS
• Network Administration & Security – AAS/Diploma
• Precision Machining – AAS/Diploma
• Transportation Technology – AAS
• Welding – AAS/Diploma

Expect Build Dakota to target a very similar list of degrees and jobs.

DOE's original Build Dakota info sheet offers eligibility criteria, and financial need is included:

  • Interest in the high-need workforce areas
  • U.S. citizen or U.S. national
  • Applicants need not be South Dakota residents
  • Financial need
  • Demonstrated aptitude through one or more of the following:
    • The National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) or other industry-recognized certifications in the career area
    • Technical, dual or concurrent credit courses taken in the career interest area
    • Career & Technical Education coursework completed in the career interest area
    • Work-based learning experiences, internships or work experience in the career interest area [Department of Education, Build Dakota Scholarship information sheet, downloaded 2014.12.18]

Low-income students may get some preference, but I wonder how high we will or should prioritize financial need? If this is a workforce-building plan, should we choose recipients based on talent first, then break ties on financial need? Or is this an opportunity to build skills among low-income students who may not otherwise have the chance to get a good technical education?

Again, this is all a work in progress. The Legislature will likely want to get its hand on the tiller, too... although with the money all coming from Sanford's private fortune and the Governor's own Future Fund, is any Legislative action needed? Whoever gets involved, watch for the final details by February.