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Regents prepare to set state goal of more degree-bearing workers

PIERRE -- For three hours Wednesday, members of the South Dakota Board of Regents and state university presidents discussed whether to set a goal that 65 percent of people ages 25-34 should have some type of higher-education degree by 2025.

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The state Board of Regents members, state university presidents and regents central staff were shoulder to shoulder around the table Wednesday during the annual planning session at a lodge outside Pierre. Shown are regent Bob Sutton of Sioux Falls, Northern State University president Timothy Downs and Daniel Palmer, a regents staff vice president for institutional research and planning. The regents continue meeting Thursday.

PIERRE - For three hours Wednesday, members of the South Dakota Board of Regents and state university presidents discussed whether to set a goal that 65 percent of people ages 25-34 should have some type of higher-education degree by 2025.

According to the most recent estimate, using 2014 data, 45 percent of South Dakotans in that age group have some type of post-high school degree.

Regent Pam Roberts, of Pierre, said the push for 65 percent should extend beyond the universities alone and include state government agencies, such as the Department of Labor and the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

Roberts was a Cabinet member, top aide and chief of operations for five different governors before she retired two years ago as labor secretary.

"I think they're ready," Roberts said. "I think the timing is really good."

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Regent Kathryn Johnson, of Hill City, said she has frequently heard citizens doubt the value of further investment in the state universities because, from their perspectives, many of the graduates leave South Dakota.

Johnson supported Roberts' concept of a state-level effort, saying the public should be shown the workforce needs that are ahead, and the gap that would result in the next decade, if more degree-holders weren't available in South Dakota.

Regent Kevin Schieffer, of Sioux Falls, said a specific presentation should be prepared. The board could start a plan that would be proposed and adjusted, he said.

Schieffer, a former chief of staff for former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler and later a railroad executive, suggested showing where South Dakota would be if the 65 percent goal is reached and where South Dakota would be if it isn't.

"We're talking about getting the people together who are responsible for it, one way or the other," Schieffer said.

The regents plan to take a formal vote today, but the discussion Wednesday showed the ayes are in place.

The only note of dissent came from Regent Harvey Jewett, of Aberdeen. He suggested the target be smaller than 65 percent but didn't offer a number.

"Let's not set ourselves up for failure," Jewett said.

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Mike Rush, the regents' executive director, said the 65 percent is based on the projected need in the workforce, according to a Georgetown University study.

"I hate to set a goal that's below what we already know we need to be successful as a state," Rush said.

Daniel Palmer, a vice president on the regents' staff, said universities in South Dakota generate about 6,000 degrees per year and South Dakota would need another 3,000 annually, starting last year, to reach the 65 percent target by 2025.

The regents are working with the Lumina Foundation, whose staff is engaging with other states on raising the number of degree holders in the key demographic group of 25-34.

Two representatives from the foundation, Scott Jenkins and Susan Heegaard, met with the regents most of the morning Wednesday.

"It depends on what you want to be as a state," University of South Dakota President Jim Abbott said.

He also mentioned tourism and manufacturing have been two points of emphasis in South Dakota's economy.

Palmer said South Dakota long has been a net exporter of people with post-secondary degrees and a net importer of people without degrees.

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"You have to describe a future that, No. 1, is attainable, and No. 2, is a stretch for us but is beneficial to all," Barry Dunn, South Dakota State University president, said.

No county in South Dakota has reached 60 percent yet, according to a report delivered to the regents. The report looked at associate degrees or higher.

Lincoln County, which includes southern Sioux Falls, was highest at 57 percent. Next came Brookings County, home to SDSU, at 54 percent, and Clay County, home to USD, at nearly 53 percent.

Lowest was Buffalo County, at less than 17 percent. The other 62 counties were in the range of less than 21 percent (Todd) to nearly 50 percent (Union).

Among the most-populated counties, Beadle was 33.4 percent; Brown, 41.9 percent; Codington, 34.5; Davison, 47.3; Hughes, 46.6; Lake, 42.3; Lawrence, 40.9; Minnehaha, 43.6; Pennington, 40.1; and Yankton, 36.8.

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