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SD Fights Low College Graduation Rates

March 8, 2010, 5:01 PM by Katie Janssen

SIOUX FALLS, SD - Research shows 56 percent of South Dakotans, age 25 to 34, don’t have a college degree. To change those rates, the state has joined a national initiative called Complete College America.

Officials have set specific goals aimed at encouraging more students to earn a diploma, whether they're just out of high school or returning to college several years later.

Kristy Petersen not only works at University Center, she's also a student. The 40-year-old is earning a nursing degree now because she had to give up that dream when she was younger.

"Some unforeseen tragedies happened in my life,” Petersen said. “My mother died in a car accident and I had to raise two brothers."

Now 20 years later, Petersen's back on the path to graduation and is just finishing her first year.

"They make it very easy to let us pursue our education with flexible schedules. They offer classes at different times, classes are small," Petersen said.

Petersen's story is like that of many South Dakota students. One of the goals of Complete College America is to get students back who've completed most of their schooling, 90 credits or more.

University Center Director of Academic Affairs Sharon Sopko says there are more than 2,700 such students in South Dakota. The key is getting them to stick it out.

"People at 90 credits, you only need 120 to 128 credits to graduate, so they don't have much left," Sopko said. 

With guidance from the Complete College America initiative, Sopko believes University Center and all colleges, universities and tech schools can raise graduation rates and strengthen the state's economy.

"The more you have an educated workforce to supply for jobs in Sioux Falls or throughout the whole state, it's a huge benefit," Sopko said.

Petersen is proof that it's possible.

"If you can go ahead and go back to school, it's worth it, will be worth it in the long run," Petersen said.

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