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OPINION: Regents hold line on tuition

President Barack Obama recently spoke at the University of Buffalo in New York to lament the rising cost of a college education. The average tuition cost at public, four-year universities has tripled over the last 30 years, and the president told students making college affordable is "an economic imperative."

If Obama wanted to call attention to a university system that is trying to hold down college costs, he should have spoken at one of South Dakota's public universities. Earlier this month, the South Dakota Board of Regents announced it would freeze in-state student tuition.

The regents' gesture isn't entirely aimed at holding the line on postsecondary education costs. The tuition freeze was being offered in exchange for more support from the Legislature -- about $6 million of the regents' proposed $11.6 million budget increase would be used to offset higher education costs.

The tuition freeze would have the effect of preventing additional education expenses from being assessed against students while shifting the higher costs to taxpayers.

The regents' proposed tuition freeze comes after a report on enrollment at the state's six public universities showed a shift to more students taking off-campus courses while students attending classes continue to decline. The report showed a 42 percent increase since 2007 of students seeking degrees through off-campus courses, with an almost equal number taking non-degree coursework off-campus. The courses can be taken online or at one of the university centers in Rapid City, Pierre and Sioux Falls. During the same period, on-campus enrollment rose just 2 percent.

The reason for the increase in off-campus enrollment is the adoption of technology that brings college classes within reach of many residents at a reasonable cost, and more nontraditional students are seeking a postsecondary degree.

Meanwhile, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology continues to be the enrollment leader among the public universities with a 16 percent increase in students over the six-year period to 2,365 students in 2012. As universities go, South Dakota's six public universities that include the School of Mines and Black Hills State University, among the best higher education bargains in the country, with an average tuition $2,000 less than the national average.

While the president complains about the increasing unaffordability of a college education, South Dakota and the Board of Regents are taking steps to increase access to college courses while keeping the cost of taking a class or obtaining a degree within reach of many of South Dakota's families.

Mr. President, if you want to learn more about how to hold down the rising costs of a college education, come to South Dakota and see for yourself.

-Rapid City Journal