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OUR VIEW: Tuition freeze welcome, but only first step

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opinion Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
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OUR VIEW: Tuition freeze welcome, but only first step
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

On behalf of parents and students statewide, we extend a hearty thank you to the South Dakota Board of Regents for adopting a zero-increase policy for tuition and mandatory fees at the six state universities.

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The regents adopted the policy Wednesday, and it applies next school year to in-state residents who attend classes on campus. Besides the regents, the governor and Legislature also deserve credit for crafting a budget that allowed the freeze to happen.

College costs have been out of control for years. In our view, the problem has been driven partly by an arms race among universities to attract students with new buildings and posh surroundings that, in some but not all cases, are irresponsibly extravagant. It's also been driven by increases in professor pay and other factors.

Whatever the causes and justifications (or lack thereof), it's undeniable that college costs have risen too much and have placed great strain on young people and their families.

In 1996, the earliest year of data available on the regents' website, average tuition and fees at state universities in South Dakota were $2,688. If increases had matched the rate of inflation since then, average tuition and fees would be $4,022 today.

But that's not what happened. Today's actual average tuition and fees are $8,038, which is double what they'd be if they had mirrored inflation. And there are, of course, thousands of dollars in costs that students face beyond tuition and fees.

According to the Project on Student Debt, 78 percent of college students in South Dakota graduate with student-loan debt. That's the highest percentage in the nation. The average South Dakota graduate has $25,121 in student-loan debt by the time a degree is conferred.

The numbers indicate it was past time to put the brakes on. At least the regents have recognized that and have done something about it.

We now hope they recognize that this is only a temporary fix, and that more must be done over the long term to ensure the cost of college does not become prohibitive for too many South Dakotans or worth less than the benefits of a degree. If either of those conditions occurs, the resulting drop in college attendance would be disastrous for our state's educational system and economy.