Former Board of Regents president, former USD president say universities need more state funding

The lost decade. That’s what two former leaders of South Dakota’s higher education system are calling more than $240 million in cuts to the state’s universities.

Former president of the University of South Dakota Jim Abbott and former Board of Regents president Harvey Jewett joined forces to send a 55-page letter to the state.

Although they say South Dakota has some of the lowest tuition rates in the country and applaud student successes, they have some concerns. One they address is student fees being diverted into the state’s general budget even as state support for those university students gets cut year after year.

In the letter, Abbott and Jewett are looking at 2010 to now. According to their data, lawmakers have cut $143 million from South Dakota’s universities’ budgets. The Board of Regents also reduced spending by $89 million during the same time period.

“One of the reasons we wrote this is I’m not sure anybody in the legislature truly appreciated the extent of the cuts because they came on gradually,” Harvey Jewett said via phone.

While the letter says state support for universities has gone down, students have had to make up some of the shortfalls by paying more money in fees. Students pay a little more than an 11-percent fee on tuition. Those fees are called the Higher Education Facilities Fund, also known as HEFF.

The HEFF money pays for new construction and major renovations of university facilities. The letter says regents spent about $1.3 billion on new facilities and updates to existing buildings in the past 22 years. According to the numbers, $40 million came from state government’s general fund. The other more than $1.25 billion came from students through surcharges and fees, school foundations, alumni, and other donations.

“You end up with a huge number the students keep having to fund. The state doesn’t pay it and then tuition and fees have to pay it. There’s just no free lunch,” Jewett said.

These two men are also proposing some changes. They say additional state funding is needed.

“They’ve been deprived of adequate support by the state,” Jewett said.

We contacted Governor Kristi Noem and a lawmaker on the House education committee. A spokesperson says given the letter’s length, Governor Noem hasn’t had the opportunity to review it yet. A Board of Regents spokesperson says the board is still reviewing the letter.

To see the letter and to have a deeper look at this story, you can find Original reports from Rae Yost and Capitol News Bureau reporter Bob Mercer.

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