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Build Dakota, Double Edge scholarships continue to flourish at Mitchell Technical College

Full-ride programs benefit students in need of work, employers looking for staff

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Demi Amundson, program manager for the Build Dakota Scholarship program, and Robin Jacobsen, a scholarship adviser for Mitchell Technical College, speak to a group of students in November of 2021 at a presentation on the scholarship at Freeman High School. The scholarship provides full-ride tuition for eligible South Dakota technical school programs to students that qualify.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Mitchell Technical College is seeing more students on full-ride scholarships than ever before, and it’s benefiting both students and potential future employers, school officials say.

“Full-ride scholarships are life-changing, especially in a time when student loan debt is at an all-time high,” said Clayton Deuter, vice president for enrollment services at Mitchell Technical College. “ There are very few of them left, but in South Dakota, we have a program in place that helps a student get the education they need in order to be qualified to fill the labor pool for high-need career fields.”

The school currently has 109 students enrolled with full-ride scholarships totaling $2.2 million in funding for their education. Of those students, nine of them are fully funded by the Build Dakota Scholarship Program, while tuition for the remaining 100 are supplemented by a total of $822,000 in support from the school’s industry partners.

The Build Dakota Scholarship program, ongoing since 2015, is a statewide initiative created to increase the number of skilled workers entering into high-need sectors of the South Dakota workforce through the state’s four technical colleges in Mitchell, Rapid City, Watertown and Sioux Falls.

The program was initiated with $50 million in funding, with half coming from South Dakota businessman and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford and the remaining half coming from the South Dakota Future Fund, which began in the 1980s and supports workforce development and technical assistance programs which help train employees, retrain employees during layoffs and support business recruitment, economic development initiatives and research and entrepreneurial activities.

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In 2015 the program provided over 1,900 students the chance to graduate without debt in exchange for a three-year commitment to work in South Dakota after graduation. The program covers expenses like tuition, fees, laptops and books, among other necessities.

Pairing with the Build Dakota Scholarship is the Double Edge Scholarship program, which is specific to Mitchell Technical College and is designed to connect Build Dakota Scholarship eligible students with industry partners who fund half of the student’s education. At the conclusion of their schooling, students are guaranteed full-time employment with their sponsoring business partner for three years.

The industry partnerships, which include businesses in health care, agriculture, and technology, among other areas, are a crucial facet of the success of the program, Deuter said.

“Because of industry partnerships, we can offer nearly twice as many scholarships,” Deuter said.

Some students involved with the program begin working at their sponsoring company in their off-time, giving them a chance to familiarize themselves with the work environment and the processes of their future employer. That gives them a leg up with their placement as they sometimes qualify for a better position than if they had just applied for work following graduation.

“Many of our students work with their sponsoring companies the summer between their two years of school, giving them some experience within the company. Sometimes, that means they enter into full-time employment in a higher position,” Deuter said.

The success of the programs is reflective of the high demand seen for skilled workers graduating from Mitchell Technical College. The school estimates that approximately 99% of 2021 graduates are employed, with 85% of graduates being employed inside South Dakota. The percent of graduates working in a field of study related to their schooling is at 95%, with the remaining 5% employed in other areas.

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Students at Freeman High School in November of 2021 listen to a presentation on the Build Dakota Scholarship program.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Those numbers are a good thing, as South Dakota has dealt with brain drain in recent years when it comes to various labor fields.

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And students are looking to fill those vacancies if enrollment and engagement are any indicator. At Mitchell Technical College, the 109 Build Dakota Scholarship participants are among a total of 1,227 students enrolled at the school this fall. Of those, 1,031 are full-time students pursuing an associate degree in their chosen field, while another 170 are dual-enrolled high school students who are earning both high school and college credit.

While the COVID-19 pandemic made a dent in post-secondary enrollment in recent years, student numbers at Mitchell Technical College are steady, Deuter said. Of current students, 892, about 73%, are taking classes in-person, while 222, about 18%, are taking them online. About 113 are enrolled in both in-person and online classes.

“Enrollment is steady at Mitchell Tech this year, while nationwide enrollment has dropped on many campuses,” Deuter said.

The intent is to get those students out into the working world, where they can apply the skills they have acquired and get them into the high-need areas of industry. The Build Dakota Scholarship program and the Double Edge Scholarship program are two ways that have proven effective for getting that done, Deuter said.

“For the students, signing the contract takes them from the big applicant pool to guaranteed employment and a full-ride scholarship,” he said. “They’ve picked the company, and the company picked them. For the company, you’re guaranteed that trained employee that they’ve already vetted who will stay for at least three years.”

Hopefully, those students will take those skills and benefit the company, and its industry, for year to come.

Addressing student education, labor shortage among goals

“This scholarship purchases brand loyalty to a company, Deuter said.

More information on the Build Dakota Scholarship and the Double Edge Scholarship can be found at www.builddakotascholarships.com/ and www.mitchelltech.edu/double-edge, respectively.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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