Increase sought in Opportunity ScholarshipThe executive director of the Board of Regents hopes to “significantly” increase the amount of a popular state-funded scholarship.
By: Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic
The executive director of the Board of Regents hopes to “significantly” increase the amount of a popular state-funded scholarship.
Jack Warner revealed the plan late last month during meeting with The Daily Republic’s editorial board at the newspaper’s office in Mitchell. He planned to make the recommendation to the regents during a three-day meeting that begins today in Pierre.
The proposal, as it stood at the time of the editorial board meeting, was to raise the maximum amount of the Opportunity Scholarship from $5,000 per student to $7,500 per student, awarded over four years. Warner said it would take $2.2 million in additional funding, which is what he planned to recommend the regents seek from Gov. Dennis Daugaard for possible inclusion in his December budget presentation to legislators.
“We think there’s a chance he might do that,” Warner said at the time.
Monday, Warner said the amount of the increase has been left unspecified in board materials because of continuing discussions with the governor’s office on “a comprehensive approach to scholarships.”
“We still expect to significantly increase the purchasing power of the Opportunity Scholarship,” Warner said. He added that Gov. Daugaard “is very much interested in this, and so we’re working on the details with him.”
The Legislature authorized the creation of the Opportunity Scholarship in 2003 but has never increased the maximum award, which means the scholarship’s purchasing power has gradually declined. It provides up to $5,000 over four years to qualifying in-state students who attend an eligible higher education institution in South Dakota, including public, private and technical colleges. The list of student qualifications includes an ACT score of 24 or higher.
The Board of Regents governs the public higher education system in South Dakota, including the six state-run universities. Increased funding for the Opportunity Scholarship is one of several efforts the regents are undertaking to keep college affordable for South Dakota students and their families.
Tuition and fees at state universities in South Dakota rose 126 percent in the past 12 years. The average resident undergraduate at a South Dakota public university now pays $7,584 in annual tuition and fees and another $5,540 annually for room and board.
Regent Kathryn Johnson, of Hill City, accompanied Warner for the meeting with The Daily Republic’s editorial board. The newspaper asked if the state’s university system is reaching a breaking point at which South Dakotans will no longer be able to afford a traditional college education.
“We’re concerned that we’re about there,” Johnson said.
The Opportunity Scholarship is one effort to help students pay for college. Another effort under way as a pilot project at the University Center in Sioux Falls allows students to sign up for a prescribed list of their first 60 general education credits. As students sign up for the predetermined cluster of classes, university officials will hopefully make earlier and better decisions about future staffing, scheduling and class offerings, resulting in savings that can be passed on to students. In the pilot project, students who sign up for the cluster of courses will have their tuition reduced from $289 to $189 per credit.
“This is an access issue,” Warner said. “We think there is probably a population of people who are deterred by price, so by reducing price we hope to capture additional people.”
When asked what the federal government could do to help students with college costs, Warner called for a quadrupling of the size of the federal work-study program. Beyond helping students afford college, Warner said, work-study programs have a positive impact on academics and graduation rates. Workstudy jobs allow students to stay on campus and reduce the distractions and travel costs associated with offcampus jobs.
“If you’re a full-time student, you can work about 15 to 20 hours per week and it will actually enhance your success,” Warner said.
The regents hope to build support for their affordability efforts by spreading news about the “public good” of higher education. The regental system has suffered $28 million in state funding cuts over the past three years, Warner and Johnson said, partly because lawmakers assume universities can pass the funding burden on to their students in the form of tuition and fees.
What’s lost in that way of thinking, according to Warner and Johnson, is the positive impact that college-educated people have on the economy and the state budget. People with college degrees, they said, are more likely to have highpaying jobs and are less likely to need social services. They’re also more apt to vote and pay taxes and less likely to be incarcerated.
“The studies are very conclusive that education is a social benefit,” Johnson said, “because it decreases the social costs that are required to assist those individuals.”