SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Brian Maher has high hopes more investment in higher education will drive South Dakota forward.
The former superintendent of the Sioux Falls School District and current South Dakota Board of Regents Executive Director and CEO still has plenty of passion for K-12 education, but he’s embraced the importance of higher education. Dr. Maher said in his first six months on the job, he’s focused on providing more higher education opportunities for students and helping improve the workforce in South Dakota.
“Education beyond high school is crucial,” Maher said in an interview with KELOLAND News Friday. “It’s crucial for the individual and for the quality of life in our state.”
He called last week’s PREMIER scholarship announcement “a historic day.”
“It helps you get through college,” Maher said. “If you do that, if you’ll take advantage of that unbelievable opportunity that we now have in our state, you just need to commit three years in South Dakota to work.”
The PREMIER scholarship will be a brand new need-based scholarship for the six public universities in South Dakota, governed by the Board of Regents. The first PREMIER scholarships will start in 2022 and qualifications for students will be based on a formula combining cost of attendance, family income and financial need.
All students who receive the financial assistance from the PREMIER scholarship will have to live and work in South Dakota for three years after graduation. Otherwise, the scholarship turns into a loan and will need to be paid back.
“The strings that are attached are so minimal,” Maher said. “The one string attached is fantastic for our state. That whole concept of a needs-based scholarship, helping our youth pursue the American Dream is unbelievable for our state.”
Calling the PREMIER scholarship a “game-changer” for South Dakota, Maher said more higher education opportunities will translate into workforce enhancement.
“There’s plenty of evidence out there that shows if you’ll increase your education from high school, you’ll obviously increase your personal earnings,” Maher said. “For every year of education beyond high school, the GDP of the state goes up 17-plus percent. If we increase the education of our citizenry, the quality of life in South Dakota will be better than what it is today. And it’s pretty dog-gone good today.”
Stopping the ‘brain drain’
Data from 2011 to 2019 shows retention of recent college graduates from South Dakota public universities hovers around 71%. Maher called the number a good starting point and added he’d like to see it continue to climb.
“We all hear of the ‘brain drain’ and we’re always worried about our educated citizenry leaving our state. But we’ve had a pretty good retention rate,” Maher said.
The in-state placement data also shows one out of every four students (25% of students) that come to South Dakota for college end up staying.
“Whatever reason brought them to South Dakota, one in four of them stayed. I’d love to see that number go up as well,” Maher added.