The South Dakota Legislature provided somewhat more this year to the state Board of Regents to help students planning to attend state universities this fall. But the $3.6 million increase in general funds wasn’t the $8 million the regents wanted.
That led the regents Wednesday to raise tuition, fees and other prices for the coming academic year to cover what the lawmakers didn’t. The result: Tuition and the general activity fee will rise an average of $300 for an undergraduate student taking 30 credit hours of courses during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Looking at the numbers led to the declaration from board president Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls to the other regents around the table at the Black Hills State University student union: “Our tuition advantage is more than gone.”
The regents had received $213.4 million in general funds from the Legislature for the current budget year for their system, including the six traditional campuses, two university centers, two specialty schools and other operations.
For the new budget year that starts July 1, the regents requested $221.5 million. Departing Governor Dennis Daugaard instead recommended in December that lawmakers provide $217.2 million. New Governor Kristi Noem in January recommended $216.9 million. The Legislature on March 12 appropriated $217 million. Noem signed it into law March 27.
Lawmakers gave state employees including university personnel 2.5 percent raises for the new budget year and raised employees’ health insurance $1,601. A 3.3 percent tuition and general-fee increase would cover those and nothing more.
That’s what the regents did Wednesday. Student regent Lucas Lund, a Spanish major at the University of South Dakota, cast the only vote against the 3.4 percent, because it included an additional $2.26 per credit hour in the general activity fee at South Dakota State University in Brookings.
SDSU President Barry Dunn said the additional money would support the university’s athletic programs, the new wellness center and on-campus transportation.
Responded Schieffer, “The load on the student grows more and more and more… The students are stressed out. We’re at the breaking point.”
He continued, “From a marketing standpoint, I think we’re at the end of our rope.”
After Lund cast the only vote to separate the SDSU extra increase from the rest of the tuition package, Schieffer praised Lund for taking a stand and noted that he — Schieffer — had stayed silent as president. “I hope the message has been delivered out there,” Schieffer said.
Regent Pam Roberts of Pierre called for a 2.9 percent increase in the fees charged for special discipline area. She said the panel that worked on those significantly pared the universities’ higher requests so they reflected only the 2.5 percent salary policy and the $1,601 per employee for health coverage.
Monte Kramer, system vice president for finance and administration, said Roberts’ group cut the requests by $329,000. That was unanimously approved.
Schieffer, in a KELOLAND News interview afterward, said students now pay about 60 percent of their tuition and the Legislature funds about 40 percent. He said the relation was the opposite — 60 percent state and 40 percent student — a generation ago.
For the current academic year, South Dakota public universities have the third-lowest total cost in a seven-state region for a South Dakota undergraduate student taking 30 credit hours of courses, living in a two-bed residence hall on campus and taking a full meal plan. The total cost is $16,251.
By comparison, similar arrangements for students in their neighboring home states for the current year cost:
$14,439 in Montana;
$15,048 in North Dakota;
$16,387 in Wyoming;
$16,918 in Nebraska;
$18,521 in Iowa; and
$18,973 in Minnesota.
But on tuition and fees, South Dakota has ranked as the second-most expensive in the region, no matter whether the measure was taken in 2002 or 2012 or 2017, according to reports compiled by the regents office.
“We’ve lost all the competitive advantage we had with tuition placement compared to the surrounding states. We are now the second highest of the surrounding states in tuition, and so there just isn’t any room to go — or we’re just going to lose students,” Schieffer said.