SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The cost of college won’t be increasing at South Dakota’s six public universities for the next few years if Dr. Brian Maher gets his way. 

The South Dakota Board of Regents Executive Director has said the board that governs the system of public higher education in South Dakota has set its top priority of a tuition freeze for the 2023-2024 academic year. 

“Affordability has been the biggest priority for our board for a little while now,” Maher told KELOLAND News. “We’ll be asking the legislature and the governor again this year to help us with that mission.” 

From 2021 to 2022, the price of tuition and fees went up $100 (1.1%) from $9,256 to $9,256. Maher said the budget passed by lawmakers and approved by Gov. Kristi Noem this year allowed to keep tuition and fees flat. 

“We’re in really good shape this year,” Maher said. “Our Board of Regents really has said going forward, they’d like to continue that flat rate on tuition and fees.”

Maher said the public university system would like higher education to be a better deal financially and not outpace inflation. There hasn’t been drastic one-year increases for South Dakota’s public universities.

The price for tuition and fees was $9,356 in 2022 for a South Dakota resident and $12,815 for non-residents. In 2012, the price for tuition and fees was $7,584 for residents and $9,412 for non-residents.  

The total cost, which includes tuition, fees plus room and board, is $16,904 for residents and $20,363 for non-residents. That is up more than 30% from $12,527 for total cost for residents and $14,966 for non-residents 10 years ago.

The CollegeBoard and U.S. Department of Education have reported that the cost of four-year tuition has almost tripled since 1980. 

“We want to make sure that affordability is something that we can hang our hat on,” Maher said. “With the advent of the Freedom Scholarship, which really helps fill in the gap for South Dakota students, we’re making university access more and more affordable.”

The South Dakota Freedom Scholarship is the state’s first need-based scholarship and some students on campus this fall are the first recipients. Maher said the Freedom Scholarship is a good addition to the merit-based scholarships and other scholarship opportunities for students. 

“It’s absolutely a game changer for the state of South Dakota,” Maher said. 

Maher said he believes South Dakota has shown its a state that values education. He said the jobs that are open in South Dakota and the predicted jobs coming to the state prove higher education will be needed. 

“The need for those skills, whether those are trade skills or otherwise, are on the rise across our state,” Maher said. 

Student debt impact on tuition prices 

Millions of Americans are in line to have $10,000 less in student loan debt after President Joe Biden announced a plan to cancel debt. 

In South Dakota, 113,000 student borrowers in the state owe on average $31,900, according to The Education Data Initiative

In 2013, the BOR conducted a study on how “South Dakota is depicted as having the highest rate of graduate debt in the nation.” 

Maher said there’s many layers to study showing South Dakota students have a higher percentage of student debt than other states. He said it’s important to look at the numbers with context of how much debt and whether South Dakotans are paying off student loans. 

“The percentage of students that go out and get assistance to go to college is high. But the amount of debt that South Dakota students take on is actually far lower than the national average,” Maher said. “In fact, I think it’s 10%, or more, lower than what the national average is.”

Maher added South Dakota students are paying off student debt to a greater degree than many other states. He noted South Dakota has been rated as low fourth in default rates for student loans. 

“That tells me several things. One, that the investment in students in South Dakota is a good investment because they’re going to pay their debt off,” Maher said. “An assumption that we make there is that they’re getting jobs that pay them well enough to pay that debt off.”

When asked if he’s worried student debt forgiveness may impact tuition freezes or raise the price of college, Maher said the BOR can’t have any impact on what’s happening at the federal level. 

“That’s not our role. Our role is to make sure that the students of South Dakota have the most affordable education option available to them,” Maher said. “We have six great universities within the system. We think all of them are excellent options. We would encourage any student anywhere to look at are six and figure out which one is the best for you.”