PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Legislation is moving ahead that, if passed into law, could make tuition a little more affordable for students at South Dakota’s public university centers in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

The House Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously endorsed HB 1024. It would repeal several state laws that require a higher tuition rate at the centers.

Undergraduate students from South Dakota pay $292.10 to $314.40 per credit hour for courses at the six state-supported universities in Brookings, Vermillion, Madison, Aberdeen, Rapid City and Spearfish. By comparison, undergraduates pay $354.75 per credit hour at the Sioux Falls and Rapid City centers.

A course generally is three credits. That means earning an associate or bachelor’s degree from either center can cost many hundreds of dollars more.

Legislators put the higher tuition requirement into state law more than a decade ago, along with other restrictions, when they approved legislation for the first university center in Sioux Falls.

The state Board of Regents that governs South Dakota’s universities system now wants flexibility to charge different rates at the centers, according to Brian Maher. He is the board’s executive director.

“Times have changed,” Maher told lawmakers Wednesday. “The self-support rate when it was implemented had its merits and we’re certainly not here to say that that never should have happened. But things like distance learning and other changes have rendered those points moot at this point. Now we’ve got a structure that just doesn’t really make sense anymore.”

The regents, as part of an efficiency examination ordered by the Legislature, are trying to develop new approaches at the centers, which historically haven’t attracted enrollments commensurate to their location in South Dakota’s two most-populated metro areas.

Maher said bringing down tuition could help attract students to the nursing program’s expansion at the Rapid City center. Jennifer Stalley, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Nurse Association, testified for the repeal.

Representative Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, agreed there should be a change.

“It’s not very often that we get a chance to cut tuition rates and make higher education a little bit more affordable in this state,” Mortenson said. “For the reasons that Doctor Maher stated, that’s a perfectly common sense position now, particularly given that we did the same, brought tuition rates to parity for folks who are online, you know, taking classes remotely. So this bill makes a lot of sense and actually makes a real impact to make college a little bit more affordable for kids in this state. I think it’s a really good thing.”

The legislation will be on the House of Representatives calendar as a consent item Thursday. If passed, it would move to the Senate for consideration.

At a glance

Here’s a comparison of tuition and mandatory fees set by the state Board of Regents for the current academic year at South Dakota’s six public campuses and two university centers.

Current undergraduate tuition / mandatory general activity fee / and total, per credit hour, South Dakota residents:

BHSU $253.85 / $38.25 / $292.10

DSU $253.85 / $40.65 / $294.50

NSU $253.85 / $40.95 / $294.80

SDSU $259.10 / $50.85 / $309.95

SDSMT $260.55 / $49.60 / $310.15

USD $259.10 / $55.30 / $314.40

Current undergraduate tuition, per credit hour, Sioux Falls and Rapid City centers: $354.75. No general activity fee.

For more, see the regents’ March 30, 2021, news release and go to pages 732-746 for the complete lists.