The Build Dakota Scholarship is now open to applicants! (Just be careful when you click: when I opened the new site, welding sparks flashed all over the place.) The scholarship board has decided to spend $25 million of T. Denny Sanford's money and $25 million of our money to subsidize vo-tech degrees in the following eight industry areas:

  1. automotive
  2. building trades/construction
  3. energy technicians
  4. engineering technicians
  5. licensed practical nursing
  6. medical lab technicians
  7. precision manufacturing
  8. welding

(Two points off for lack of parallelism... but that's one of those liberal arts concepts Governor Daugaard says aren't worth our time....)

The BSD Eligible Programs List breaks those critical job fields down to specific degree/diploma programs at Southeast, Lake Area, Mitchell, and Western Dakota. But wait, no counseling? I hear counseling is critical job skill for all sorts of workers:

When state Rep. Lynne DiSanto was attending Chadron State College in Nebraska years ago, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in counseling, she never knew how those studies would impact the rest of her life.

Today, just a few weeks into her first term as a state legislator, DiSanto now knows that her college preparation has proven invaluable.

“That type of degree in counseling is never wasted, especially in the business world,” said the 38-year-old mother of three from Rapid Valley. “The things you learn about relating to people and understanding people has definitely helped me in the Legislature. It’s critical to understand what’s important to people, including your constituents of course, but your other legislators as well,” DiSanto added. “You learn to talk to people in a way that they understand and that makes sense to them” [Tom Griffith, "DiSanto Jumps into Lawmaking with Vigor in First Term," Rapid City Journal, 2015.02.15].

Empathy, understanding, communication skills... I don't know, Lynne. That all sounds pretty liberal artsy-fartsy to me. Almost downright philosophical. It's a good thing South Dakota's focusing on making good solid practical education free for welders and car fixers, not folks who sit around talking about feelings. Help Build South Dakota with practical jobs—apply today!


The Mitchell school district and the Wagner economic development corporation are heading opposite directions with the workforce development grants they recently won from the state.

The Mitchell school district has gotten a number of area school districts—Ethan, Hanson, Mount Vernon, Parkston, Plankinton, and Tripp—to the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy for vo-tech classes instead of trying to fund their own teachers and programs. Mitchell and its partner schools in this endeavor will use state money to cover the cost of busing high school students to Mitchell for classes. Four routes covering a total of 240 miles each day for 88 school days will run $38,444.

Preferring to bring the mountain to Mohamed, Wagner Area Growth will use $44,478 (costs split between state grant and local effort) to bring two instructors to town from Mitchell Technical Institute to conduct three five-day welding courses and two three-day CDL/truck-driving courses. These courses will target If these pilot programs work, WAG says it will expand the program to meet other local workforce needs.

Note that in both cases, we could save participants (students headed to Mitchel, instructors headed to Wagner) a lot of time by delivering these courses online. But when we're talking welding and driving, there's only so much a webcam and a chat box can get across.

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Did you know Governor Dennis Daugaard and billionaire Denny Sanford aren't the only guys proposing a vo-tech scholarship? A month prior to the big announcement of the Build Dakota Scholarship, the Rapid City Economic Development Partnership and other interested Black Hills parties applied for one of those workforce development grants from the state. They asked for $220,000 from the state to support their $440,000 three-year plan; they got $70,000.

The Black Hills plan included all sorts of leveraging and marketing (after two years of top-secret prep, the Black Hills economic developers last year launched "a new economic development branding and marketing effort, unified as Rushmore Region"), career coaching at the K-12 level, metalwork training and certification, and more.

The Black Hills plan also included a scholarship proposal:

We are proposing to create a regional skills-based training scholarship fund, that when matched by the employers seeking the trained employees, would make possible the opportunity for many of these unemployed and often underemployed job candidates to round out their skills/certifications and thus qualify for these attractive job opportunities. This would supplement our recruitment strategy by helping our employers locate employees who are almost ready, but who lack one or two critical skills prerequisite to being hired [Rapid City Economic Development Partnership, Community Incentives Matching Program grant application, November 2014].

Great minds think alike, I guess.

Ben Snow, president of the RCEDP, tells me he and Blaise Emerson of the Black Hills Council of Local Governments are still working on details of the scholarship component of their plan:

We are... encouraged that coincidental to the day we were delivering our presentation to the workforce board, the announcement of the Sanford gift for skilled-trades scholarships was taking place in Sioux Falls and that it is very close in concept to what our proposal included, except on a statewide basis and at a much higher funding level [Ben Snow, e-mail to Madville Times, 2015.01.20].

The Build Dakota Scholarship workforce fields are to be determined within the next couple weeks. If they align with the needs our Black Hills boosters see in their workforce, the state and RCEDP should be able to pool resources and train even more workers for the Black Hills labor pool.


The headline Friday was "Workforce Dollars Bypass Sioux Falls." Steve Young wrote in that Sioux Falls paper that "Sioux Falls was just handed a big goose egg" by the state Workforce Development Council, which rejected an application from economic development group Forward Sioux Falls to spend $56,433 in state money to give consultants a few days' work sitting around thinking up ideas for workforce development.

But Sioux Falls was not completely snubbed. Among the fourteen Community Incentive Matching Grants recently approved by the state is $50,000 to the Associated General Contractors of South Dakota. The AGC plans to spend $100K total implementing a manufacturing apprenticeship curriculum and deploying three mobile training labs for advanced manufacturing, carpentry, and welding. The AGC will use these labs at middle schools, high schools, job fairs, and even at work sites with apprentices to develop the next generation of workers to replace the workers who are aging out of South Dakota's workforce or heading elsewhere for higher wages.

The full list of partners makes clear this project is meant to serve the Sioux Falls area:

Business (listed alphabetically)

  • Associated General Contractors of South Dakota – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Beck & Hofer Construction – Sioux Falls, SD
  • DeGeest Steel Works – Tea, SD
  • Friessen Construction – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Hjellming Construction – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Home Builders Association of the Sioux Empire – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Journey Group (aka Sioux Falls Construction) – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Raven Industries – Sioux Falls, SD
  • Showplace Wood Products – Harrisburg, SD

Education (listed alphabetically)

  • Mitchell Technical Institute, Architectural Design and Building Construction – Mitchell, SD—Provided tool list for carpentry mobile training lab.
  • Sioux Falls Career and Technical Education Academy – Sioux Falls, SD—Provided tool list for welding fabrication mobile training lab.
  • Southeast Technical Institute – Sioux Falls, SD—Provided input on apprenticeship training model and mobile training lab concept.

Government (listed alphabetically)

  • Department of Labor, Sioux Falls Local Office – Sioux Falls, SD—Participated in several Sioux Empire Workforce Development Coalition meetings and provided input on development of proposal.
  • Sioux Falls Community Development – Sioux Falls, SD—Participated in brainstorming session with AGC and HBASE to draw out and develop workforce development ideas that would benefit Sioux Falls area contractors. Also, provided insight into community collaboration and proposal formation [Associated General Contractors of South Dakota, Community Incentive Matching Program grant application, November 2014].

Sioux Falls boosters should probably tone down any talk of goose eggs and snubs. The AGC and other partners in local business, education, and government just landed the city a fair share of state workforce development dollars with a practical, hands-on plan to train and recruit workers.


Governor Dennis Daugaard's new Build Dakota Scholarship for vocational-school students is a corporate welfare program whose primary aim is addressing a workforce shortage and providing select South Dakota industries with a captive labor pool. It will provide 300 scholarships over five years out of a total current vo-tech enrollment of about 6,100.

Democrats in Minnesota's Legislature are proposing free tuition for everyone who wants to attend Minnesota's two-year colleges and technical schools. That proposal mirrors the Tennessee Promise, in which Tennessee is using lottery money to cover tuition to its associate-degree programs:

It will provide students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or TSAA funds. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate’s degree program. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a mentor who will assist the student as he or she navigates the college admissions process. In addition, Tennessee Promise participants must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled, as well as maintain satisfactory academic progress (2.0 GPA) at their institution [Tennessee Promise, "About," downloaded 2015.01.09].

Instead of tying graduates to in-state employers and introducing grit in the labor market, Tennessee will ask its scholarship recipients to pay their communities back while they are in school with a simple service requirement.

President Obama likes the Tennessee Promise. He's advocating a national version of the plan, which could serve nine million Americans.

Minnesota Republicans' initial response: class warfare!

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, was similarly critical of the Democrats’ proposal for free tuition.

“At this point, we have a lot of questions,” Hann said. In particular, he said the programs lack a means-testing mechanism to ensure they are not abused by higher-income Minnesotans [Richard Lopez and J. Patrick Coolican, "Free College vs. Tax Cuts as Visions Contrast at Capitol," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2015.01.08].

Republicans are hilarious: hand out general scholarships, and the rich are untrustworthy, abuse-minded miscreants! Hand out tax breaks, and the higher-income citizens who run businesses can be trusted to pass on great benefits to the trickled-upon masses (tax breaks are a highlight of the MN GOP plan for the state surplus).

And South Dakota Republicans bat not one eyelash at the possibility that higher-income South Dakotans might take advantage of vo-tech scholarship recipients who are required to work in South Dakota for three years by paying them lower wages than market forces would otherwise demand.


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:

    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.
    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.
    The scholarships will support tuition, fees, books and other required program expenses in the eligible, South Dakota technical institute programs.
    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.
    Yes, they can. Both South Dakota students and out-of-state students are eligible for the scholarships.
    The Build Dakota Scholarship program will begin with newly enrolled students in Fall 2015.
    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.
    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:

• 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
• 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.


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