S.D. tech schools’ study found dual-credit students had less debt, higher retention

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Education Funding

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A new study shows students at South Dakota’s public technical institutes tended to have less debt and were more likely to stay enrolled if they had taken dual-credit courses in high school.

The state Board of Technical Education received the results Thursday in a teleconference. The board oversees Southeast Technical Institute at Sioux Falls, Lake Area Technical Institute at Watertown, Western Dakota Technical Institute at Rapid City and Mitchell Technical Institute.

“This is a bulky report,” Scott DesLauriers, the board’s deputy director, said. He thanked the four technical institutes for their work on it: “None of this would be possible without their guidance.” 

The report looked at about 3,700 students who enrolled at the institutes in 2015, 2016 and 2017. 

South Dakota’s dual-credit program awards higher-education credits to high school students who take entry-level technical-institute and college courses. Students in grades 11 and 12 can enroll. 

Three main findings of the study were: 

Tech-institute students were more likely to earn dual enrollment credits in high school if at least one parent or guardian attended college.

Tech-institute students whose family incomes made them eligible for federal assistance through Pell grants were less likely to have dual-credit experience. 

And tech-institute students with dual-credit experience tended to have higher scores on their entrance exams. 

There was less clarity about how demographics factored in dual-credit experience.  

Retention rates were strong across the four campuses, according to DesLauriers, but the rates were somewhat stronger for those with dual-credit experience. 

He said average student-loan amounts tended to be lower for those with three or more dual credits. 

Board member Ed Mallet of Watertown asked whether the report’s results were being shared with high schools including counselors. 

“We have at this point not distributed it. Your point is well-taken,” DesLauriers said. 

The board’s executive director, Nick Wendell, said the report was being shared with the board because legislators plan a meeting October 25 to analyze the dual-credits program. The Legislature pays part of the tuition for high-school students.

“I think this is a conversation that will continue throughout the fall,” Wendell said. He expects legislation on it in the 2020 session. 

Wendell said some of the same patterns would be echoed in other higher-education systems. He said the data could help school counselors. 

Board member Bob Faehn of Watertown, a former lawmaker, said he’s aware some legislators are concerned about the growing public cost to subsidize dual-credit courses.  

Wendell said the lower average amount of debt demonstrated value to citizens and families. He said retention data also showed the worth.

“We know the dual-credit program has a positive return on investment,” Wendell said. 

Chairman Terry Sabers of Mitchell said debt-load reduction has been a goal the board discussed. “That’s a major problem in our country as a whole,” Sabers said.

Sabers said that high school students completing math and English courses required at the technical institutes opened opportunities for those students to take more courses at the technical institutes. 

Southeast Technical Institute president Bob Griggs said the value sometimes gets lost. “The information is really well presented,” he said.

Griggs said employers have asked him why there aren’t more opportunities for dual-credit courses in trade programs in high school. “That’s an important facet of this conversation as well,” he said. 

Wendell said the board could benefit from emphasizing the success of first-generation students who have dual-credit experience but whose parents didn’t participate in higher education after high school. “That does change the dynamic of a student’s confidence,” he said.  

Sabers said the board should reinforce the points in conversations with legislators.  

Board member Scott Knuppe of Rapid City suggested Wendell create a summary of the study’s results that can be given to lawmakers including payback on state government’s investment.

Wendell called it “a great idea.” He said the institutes are gathering anecdotes from families that also would be used.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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