Higher Ed Reacts to Proposed Cuts
We're taking a look at the impacts of proposed State Government budget cuts in a series of reports to air throughout the remainder of this legislative session and beyond. On today's Dakota Digest SDPB's Charles Michael Ray outlines what a ten percent across the board cut means for higher education. While many lawmakers see the cuts as an unfortunate necessity, educators and students worry that cutting higher ed will do more harm than good.
If Governor Dennis Dugaard's budget cuts are approved it would be the third year in a row Higher Education in South Dakota gets trimmed. The cuts have a combined total nearly 28 million dollars over that period. This coming year the Board of Regents says a tuition increase of 6 to 8 percent for students is in the cards. In general students don't like the idea of higher tuition. Here's three of them from the South Dakota School of Mines.
"We already can't afford it as it if you don't get enough scholarships you're not going to make it, and if we raise it any more it's going to make it that much harder," says Joe Mowry a Freshman Computer Science Major.
"It's kind of scaring people out of going to school I have some friends who already aren't going they wanted to but they have to wait another year because they don't have enough money to pay for the tuition and books and everything," says Max Sparks a Sophomore Physics Major.
"If people can't afford to go to school then people aren't going to get that higher education that they need to help grow for themselves and help their communities grow so that would be a big disadvantage for our communities," says Paige Corcoran a Senior Industrial Engineering Student
The Board of Regents is doing what it can to limit the tuition hike to reasonable levels. Janelle Toman Communications Director with the Board says a 6-8 percent increase in tuition is within the norm for the last decade.
"The burden cannot be placed entirely on the backs of students. But as state funding declines there is a limited number of places where that can be made up," says Toman.
Toman says to keep the tuition increase at palatable levels the board is planning on cuts elsewhere. How deep the Regents end up cutting is up to the South Dakota Legislature. The Joint Appropriations Committee is the legislative body that deals with the nuts and bolts of the proposed budget cuts.
Earlier this month the Board of Regents spent nearly four hours before the appropriations committee going over the details. Terry Baloun Regents President began by briefly laying out goals of Higher Education in South Dakota, including retaining young people in the state and training them for the workforce.
"We want to enroll and graduate more citizens for the state, we think if they're armed with education they help build our economy in a time when we know we're all in a world economy," says Baloun.
But some question if proposed cuts infringe on this goal. In an effort to balance its budget last year the Board of Regents eliminated 37 degree programs- this year more degrees may go. Kay Schallenkamp (Shell-en-camp) President of Black Hills State University worries that these cuts could do more harm than good in the long run.
"By 2020 we need at least 50 percent of our adults in South Dakota to hold at least a bachelors degree if we are going to have a competitive workforce that will attract business and industry. Right now we're at 25 percent. So, we may be able to meet our budget right now by making theses cuts but long term I hope that in 2020 just 9 years form now folks around the states won't be looking at us and saying we did not meet the state's workforce needs," says Schallenkamp.
The cuts could mean an extension of the salary freeze for faculty. Layoffs of adjunct and part time professors are also possible, meaning tenured and research professors will take on more of the workload. Dr Robert Wharton the President of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology fears that too many cuts harm the ability to attract and retain high quality faculty.
"If state support continues to decline you know how do we continue to attract the best and the brightest facility, which will result in us having the best students and being able to provide the best education. And so you know if this is a one year impact on the system then I think things will be OK and hopefully when we come around to fiscal year 13 hopefully we're looking at 10 percent enhancements," says Wharton.
Wharton says he believes the cuts this year can be absorbed without harming education quality, but he doesn't want to see trend continue into future years. Wharton agrees that the positive economic impact of higher education shouldn't be overlooked. To illiterate this point Wharton says that 94 percent of the May 2010 School of Mines Graduating class are now employed or in graduate school. The average salary for a these recent Tech graduates--65 thousand dollars a year.
"Let's not kill the goose that laid the golden egg and I think the School of Mines is one of those in this state," says Wharton
Some do argue that cutting higher education too far amounts to killing that goose. Dr Richard Gowen is past president of the South Dakota School of Mines, he also worked in the effort to bring Homestake Lab to Lead. Gowen now heads up a research and development group that employs South Dakota university graduates. Like others Gowen agrees that government cuts are needed. But he says it's imperative that lawmakers understand the economic importance of higher education when it comes to growing a new technology sector in the state.
"How to you get our legislators to understand the intricacies of higher education. And so the tendencies it to make your decisions based on experience and so if you have experience in business or farming where most of our legislators are that's one kind of experience we have very few legislators who are involved in education," says Gowen.
The budget is not yet set in stone. So the impact of proposed cuts on higher education is subject to change pending the outcome of the legislative session. However, replacing projected cuts means higher taxes or a dip into reserve funds. So far lawmakers have been very reluctant to take either of these options.
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