Tech school scholarships possible in bill on way to SD SenatePIERRE — A bill that could make $5,000 scholarships available to technical school students goes to the Senate floor this week for consideration.
By: Ross Dolan and Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — A bill that could make $5,000 scholarships available to technical school students goes to the Senate floor this week for consideration.
The Dakota Tech Scholarship proposed by Senate Bill 77 has a potential twofold benefit, said Mitchell Technical Institute President Greg Von Wald: It would address some current inequities in the awarding of post-secondary scholarships, and it targets South Dakota’s workforce needs.
Von Wald said fewer than 3 percent of technical school students have been awarded Opportunity Scholarships, formerly known as Regents Scholarships. Those scholarships typically go to students at four-year colleges.
According to the new bill’s provisions, the scholarship would be paid through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which would select a nonprofit corporation to act as administrator of the Dakota Tech Scholarship program. Scholarship money would be paid once and would be applied to tuition and fees.
SB 77 also would require scholarship recipients to earn a technical degree in an area of critical need within four years of enrollment and to take an in-state job in such an area of need six months after graduation. The bill also requires students to have a high school or general equivalency diploma and to maintain a 2.5 grade point average while enrolled in a tech school of their choice.
The determination of critical needs could change year to year. Welding, precision machining and manufacturing are three current examples.
The new scholarship program comes with a few strings.
Unlike Opportunity scholarships and Pell grants, which do not have to be repaid, the proposed scholarship would have to be repaid if a student fails to maintain the required GPA, or if the student fails to work in state for four years in a critical needs job.
Students who partially fulfill the four-year job requirement would be credited for their instate service. They would, however, have to repay the balance.
Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, described the legislation as “a great work in progress.” He said at an appropriations hearing that the word “scholarship” should be changed because the award wouldn’t be based on academic achievement.
At this point, the legislation contains just $1 of funding. The Senate committee on appropriations held a hearing Monday and allowed the measure to advance to the full Senate.
“It is obviously a working number,” Rep. Mitch Fargen, D-Flandreau, said about the $1 of funding attached to the bill.
The bill has advanced with the help of bipartisan cooperation, Von Wald said.
Bill sponsors are House Assistant Minority Leader Fargen and Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson, R-Wentworth.
“They’ve done a bang-up job,” Von Wald said.
Tech schools have had 186 Opportunity scholarship recipients in the past eight years, or roughly 2 percent, Fargen said. The largest bloc of 83 has gone to nursing students.
While the amount of the tech scholarship would be equal to the $5,000 Opportunity amount, the Opportunity doesn’t carry the must-work requirement, Fargen said. The Opportunity program would remain open to technical students.
Dick Tieszen, representing the four public technical institutes, said the two-year tuition and fees for a student in a machining program currently total about $14,100. He said the institutes have had a very high rate of training students who stay in South Dakota.
“We have to make tech schools more sexy,” Fargen said.
Von Wald said the fact that the bill has the support of the Governor’s Office and the Department of Education is a plus. He will be in Pierre today to follow the bill’s progress.
“I think its chances of passage are pretty fair,” he said Monday.