Liquor store to provide scholarships for Brookings seniors attending SDSU

Bailey Juhl, Reporter

The Brookings City Council recently passed an ordinance that establishes a $100,000-a-year scholarship program for students from Brookings County who plan to attend South Dakota State University or one of the state’s technical colleges.

Ordinance 22-008 passed 5-2 in early February and will begin this fall.

The money for the program will come from the profits of the city-owned liquor store at 780 22nd Ave. S. in Brookings. The profits had been going into an account established to pay for building a new liquor store. But since the start of that account, city leaders have decided Brookings does not need a new store, leaving the money open for a limited number of other projects.  

When asked about the funding idea for the scholarship program, City Councilor Nick Wendell said: “The dollars are uncommitted or under-committed. The project they were being squirreled away for is no longer a priority, so we kind of have some wiggle room to do a pilot (program), to see if it works well. And it won’t have a negative impact on any other parts of the organization.”

The program will annually be awarding $20,000 in scholarships to students who attend South Dakota technical colleges and $80,000 to those planning to attend SDSU. 

Supporters hope the scholarships will address the financial needs of the students as well as ease the labor shortage in the city. 

The program will run for five years initially, but Wendell said that it would function as a pilot program. It’s his plan to try to get Brookings County businesses who need the workers to pay for the program. This new bond – the giving and receiving of the scholarships – will help students keep up a relationship with employers for post-graduation, supporters say. 

Not all the details have been finalized. The City Council is working with the SDSU Foundation and Admissions Office to figure out the number of students and nontraditional students who will receive the scholarships, as well as how much each recipient will be awarded. 

This scholarship is not only intended for high school students in Brookings County, but also for nontraditional students, Wendell said. 

“I think the reality is a whole lot of nontraditional-aged people in Brookings – from a higher education perspective, that’s defined as older than 24 – that a scholarship could be an incentive for them to re-enroll and work toward a degree in an area we need workers in,” Wendell said.

Councilor Leah Brink has some concerns and voted against the ordinance.

“Supporters say this is a pilot program and details will be solidified later,” she said. “This made me uncomfortable, as in its present state it is not clear to me that the availability of this money will keep any student in Brookings who wasn’t already planning to stay here. And there are no requirements currently tying recipients to the community post-graduation.”

Brink said the city already heavily invests in SDSU. 

“We have budgetary concerns already for the coming decade, and we are already locked in and committed to paying the university $917K a year 2022 to 2027 for the Performing Arts Center.”

Brink said she thought there does need to be something done about the workforce shortage, but that this scholarship is not the best way to address it. 

“I think the city using public dollars to selectively support a handful of students isn’t the right solution to the workforce problem we have in Brookings,” Brinks said.