SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In 2021, South Dakota became the last state in the nation to create a statewide needs-based scholarship, all thanks to a private/public partnership.

“The Freedom scholarship is an endowment. Premier added 100 million, state of SD added 50 million, Avera and Sanford each put in 12.5 million,” Premier Bank CEO Dana Dykhouse said. 

This $175 million public-private partnership helped create the Freedom Scholarship in 2020–now the first round of funds have been sent out to universities to distribute.

“The earnings from that every year is what allows us to distribute these funds to the 13 universities that make the scholarship possible,” Dykhouse said. 

“So students in South Dakota have 13 good choices that gives them the ability to find the school that fits and what they want to study,” Augustana University Financial Aid Director Tresse Evenson said 

Private schools, like Augustana University, are among the 13 institutions that received some of the $5.1 million in Freedom Scholarship funds sent out last week.

“We wanted to put the decision in the front line, the universities will make the decision of who gets those scholarships,” Dykhouse said. 

Incoming freshmen can start applying for the freedom scholarship for this fall, but this new program is also designed to help students at every stage of their college process.

“Students need a way to make college affordable right out of high school but they also need a way to finish. This could help some students persist and finish too,” Evenson said. 

“Many young people may only be 2, 3 thousand dollars away from a degree, their choice is, do I stay out and work or stay in and fill that degree,” Dykhouse said. 

The Freedom Scholarship hopes to fill that gap to allow students to complete their degree and start working in South Dakota.

“The goal is twofold, number one to get young people into school and then to have them finish their degree and number two to build our workforce in South Dakota, think this freedom scholarship will do just that,” Dykhouse said. 

These scholarship funds come with a 3 year commitment to work in South Dakota–if not, the grants turn into a loan that must be paid back. Each university will come up with its own application and process for distributing the funds each year.