MTI eager to make use of scholarships
SIOUX FALLS -- This is exactly the boost needed for Mitchell Technical Institute and the state's other three technical schools. That's what MTI President Greg Von Wald said about the announced partnership between South Dakota and philanthropist T...
SIOUX FALLS - This is exactly the boost needed for Mitchell Technical Institute and the state's other three technical schools.
That's what MTI President Greg Von Wald said about the announced partnership between South Dakota and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford for $50 million in scholarships for workforce development. The announcement was made by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Wednesday in Sioux Falls.
Von Wald said it was too early to know exactly how the funding will impact MTI, but said it will make a key difference for the school.
"It was a very good day for the technical schools in South Dakota," Von Wald said in an interview with The Daily Republic after the announcement. "This is just a great deal for our state."
The $50 million over the next five years will be split up for two purposes. The $25 million from Sanford will be dedicated to about 300 scholarships per year for five years, and then the other $25 million from the state will be dedicated to endowing the program and keeping it viable into the future after five years, giving out 50 scholarships a year to students both from South Dakota and out of state.
The program is slated begin in fall 2015, with the applications due in April. Students who participate in the Build Dakota Scholarship Program -- the official name of the program -- must commit to living and working in South Dakota for three years after graduation. Von Wald said that element is a vital part of the plan.
"We all know that's the big problem," he said. "We don't have enough students in South Dakota and we don't have enough people in South Dakota in general to fill all of our needs. That's what needs to be fixed and I think this will do it."
Already with $1 billion in philanthropic donations, the Minnesota-born Sanford said that he was eager to help the state he now calls home.
"I'm very proud of everything that South Dakota stands for," he said. "South Dakota works, and it works in a good way."
Daugaard said the state will create a committee to set exact criteria and evaluate both the applications and understand what fields need skilled workers and where those workers are needed. Some of the criteria already laid out is to find students who have an interest in a specific field, whether that's radiation therapy or machining and have those students demonstrate aptitude, through the National Career Readiness Certificate, dual credit courses, career and technical education courses or work experience. Daugaard used an example of a student who has shown an interest in welding and has one year of experience of welding in high school being a prime candidate for a program scholarship.
He said the cost estimates were based on the average costs for a one-year program from a technical school at about $11,000, and a two-year associate's degree costs $18,000 on average. The scholarship will not cover room and board.
"Hundreds of students each year will have the chance to enter high-demand fields without the high debt loads," Daugaard said, adding that the program is based off the Dakota Corps scholarship.
Von Wald said he knows there are needs that the employers and communities need, and he trusts that the state will be able to identify those and fix those needs.
"We know in our own community that there's a need for skilled manufacturers, welders, construction specialists," he said. "They'll do it in coordination with the schools and employers and I'm confident they'll fill the needs."
"The four places in the state that have the best gauge of the workforce situation in this state probably are the cities that have technical schools," Von Wald said, referring to Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Rapid City.
According to numbers reported to the South Dakota Department of Education, 69 percent of the state's technical school graduates in 2013 were placed in the field they graduated with a degree in and were working in South Dakota within six months. MTI's own rate is higher, at 75 percent, and 84 percent of MTI's graduates are placed in South Dakota.
"There comes a time to take action. That's what we as South Dakotans do so well," said Dana Dykhouse, the CEO of First Premier Bank who helped with the scholarship plan. "We need workers. We need welders. We need manufacturing technicians. We can grow our businesses if we have those people."
Von Wald said MTI already has workforce development programs with Butler Machinery and Muth Electric that include a post-degree job commitment in exchange for tuition assistance. But he said Build Dakota takes it further, by providing full tuition.
It will also open the door for the school to recruit more out-of-state students to come to South Dakota. Von Wald said Dykhouse joked with him about placing large billboards in Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska to get students come to South Dakota, where only 10 percent of the state's tech grads are from out of state.
"It's very difficult to recruit technical school students from out of state," Von Wald said. "We didn't have a draw and a pull and this is it."
Von Wald said that the message should resonate with employers, in that it shows South Dakota is listening to its business leaders and their needs.
"It's about the best message you could send to employers," he said.