Story by: Emily Niebrugge and Trent Opstedahl
The South Dakota Board of Regents is setting a freeze in tuition and fees its number one priority for the 2015 fiscal year.
In an overall request for $11.6 million made this month, the BOR has asked for the state to consider designating more than half of the funding request on freezing tuition, with the rest of the funding to benefit the state’s six public universities.
Janelle Toman, director of communications for the BOR, said although the request calls for a variety of aid, about $6 million is specifically being set aside for tuition, and is their biggest priority.
If granted, the $6 million would offset the cost to raise salaries for faculty, staff and administration, which has been funded through increases in tuition in the past.
Because the state only covers 41 percent of the staff and faculty salary packages, the rest comes from tuition charges, Toman said.
“That’s the biggest driver of our tuition increases,” she said.
The S.D. BOR has sent the request to S.D. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, and is now waiting for an informal budget hearing next month.
Daugaard will then work on his proposal, which could offer a different level of funding than originally requested. The BOR will know by December whether the request has made it onto his proposal list, which would then go to the S.D. Legislature for final approval.
Dennis Smith, executive director for the BOR Student Federation, is pleased with the state surplus the Gov. has helped to generate since taking office in 2011, and said he does not foresee any key issues that would hinder the passing of a tuition and fees freeze.
“The Gov. has done a really good job of cutting things as necessary and saving up money,” Smith said, a senior at the University of South Dakota. “This is probably the most important piece of legislation to come to education in quite awhile.”
Elected by the Student Federation governments at each of the six regental schools, part of Smith’s job as executive director is to organize student federation meetings and propose lobbying plans that will benefit students in the state.
Toman said the BOR will work hard to get the request granted because “higher education should never price anyone out of the market.”
With affordability as one of the BOR’s main stances on higher education, Toman said aside from the $6 million apportioned for a tuition freeze, the BOR has also requested part of the aid assist needs-based scholarship programs in the state.
“One of the things we are going to be working on is the needs-based scholarship policy,” Smith said.
According to Toman, last year the state initially funded a grant-type program for South Dakota college students, but now the fund is running low.
“What we’re encouraging is to try to improve on that amount of money that’s in the trust fund and add some additional dollars to it so the grant payments can be larger as time goes on,” she said.
While the student federation does not usually begin lobbying in Pierre until late January or early February, Smith said he plans to organize a SHED event — students for Higher Education days — soon in order to lobby for the proposed tuition and fees freeze.
“The Board is in favor, the students are in favor, so it becomes hard to figure out who we need to lobby to and why,” he said. “But it makes it kind of fun; it’s like a giant puzzle.”
According to Smith, the Student Federation and the BOR will meet Sept. 13 to discuss the tuition freeze and other higher education issues, such as the Good Samaritan Alcohol Policy.