Opportunity Scholarship gets bump in award money from legislature


The graph shows a few examples of the number of students at each regional university awarded certain kinds of financial aid, according to the South Dakota Board of Regents FY 2023 Facebook.

Brayden Byers, Reporter

A movement to increase the dollar amount for the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship has passed through the South Dakota Legislature and is waiting to be signed by Gov. Kristi Noem.

House Bill 1055 would increase the total amount from $6,500 over four years to $7,500. If signed, this would apply to any scholarships awarded after July 1 of this year.

The Opportunity Scholarship was first created in 2003 and is a merit-based scholarship aimed at keeping high performing students in South Dakota. This rewards students from South Dakota who achieved at least a 24 on their ACT as well as completed a college prep course throughout high school.

The scholarship started out as a $5,000 award through four years, giving the students $1,000 each of the first three years before awarding $2,000 for their final year. It has grown since it first got funding in 2004 to $6,500 over four years, where it is at today. It currently awards $1,300 for the first three years and $2,600 for the final year.

This bill was brought forward by District 13 Rep. Tony Venhuizen, who believes that the increase would help keep students in South Dakota long term.

“It’s still a very important program for our state,” he said during the bills hearing in the Senate Education Committee. “We know that South Dakotans who stay in South Dakota for college or technical school, 70 percent of them will stay here after they graduate.”

South Dakota State University currently has 1,276 students utilizing this scholarship, which is the most in the state. This data includes both Board of Regents institutions as well as private, technical and tribal schools throughout the state. Three hundred and seventy-four of those students were new students coming in the Fall of 2022.

The Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at SDSU Beth Vollan thinks that it is a great program that allows students planning on coming to Brookings to save some money in the long run.

“That’s something, as they’re doing their college planning, they can look at the cost of attendance and every year, that’s $1,300 hopefully going up to $1,500 that they don’t have to save or work over the summer or borrow or secure other funding,” Vollan said. 

Over $1 million has been funded in total for the 1,276 students that are utilizing the opportunity scholarship at SDSU.

Kerri Richards, scholarship and financial aid policy analyst for the Board of Regents, said keeping students in South Dakota can also benefit the Board of Regents if a student would choose to attend a regental institution.

“A student that ends up graduating high school and then attends a post-secondary school in South Dakota is more likely to stay in South Dakota then again once they graduate,” she said. “So, keeping them here for post-secondary helps us out in the long run.”

Rep. Venhuizen indicated that the scholarship would not affect the general fund during the bill’s hearing in the House Committee on Appropriations because the program is overfunded and can support the increase for the next three years.

The bill went through appropriations in early February on its way to the House floor, where it was passed 62-8. It was then sent to the Senate Education Committee and the Senate floor, where it passed 30-4.

The bill was signed by the Senate speaker March 6 and was signed by Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden and delivered to Noem March 7.