Legislature gives more money to Opportunity Scholarship

By PAT BOWDEN Reporter

An increase in Opportunity Scholarships, which now awaits South Dakota Senate approval since being passed by the House of Representatives on March 11, will help retain students going into college in the state and make college tuition more affordable for those in-state residents, according to Director of Admissions Tracey Welsh. 

Welsh said the decision to increase the number of Opportunity Scholarships offered by the state, which is tacked on to financial eligibility, will ultimately help to keep students in the state for their college education and life thereafter.

“The SDOS (South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship) is a great opportunity for the state to invest in for their own potential work force,” Welsh said. “It helps South Dakota students to stay in South Dakota to get their education. It’s a wonderful investment for the state.”

This increase in Opportunity Scholarships would only affect incoming students, however, as current students would not receive these new scholarship benefits. 

Welsh understands that some students may not look at this issue as fair, and she understands the need for scholarships, not just at South Dakota State University but around the nation as well.

“There’s a greater need for scholarship dollars than what’s available out there. One thing that’s typical of students coming here is that they’re paying for a lot of their tuition by themselves, [so they rely on those scholarships],” Welsh said. “The type of student SDSU attracts lends to a greater need on our students’ part on scholarships, [because] a number of our families are coming from first generation college families, so there’s a greater financial need.”

Some students think that because the new scholarships are not applicable to current students, the situation created is unfair and that all scholarships should be available to all students at all ages.

“I can kind of see why they would do that, but I feel a little left out because I’m a current student. Every little bit [of money] helps,” sophomore studio design major Miranda Schwanke said. “The whole point of going to school is to get a job and you can’t get that without a degree, so it’s kind of counterintuitive that they wouldn’t offer more scholarships to current students.”

On the other hand, students who are currently going to school knew what kind of financial commitment they were getting into, so the argument is made that current students should be OK with tuition rates essentially staying stagnant.

“I would assume it [the increase in scholarships] is based on what funding is available, but the current students are going with the understanding that they weren’t promised additional money, they made a decision to come here knowing the tuition and the scholarship packages that were available then,” Welsh said. “The dollars [for current students] are probably just not there.”

While some current students disagree with the decision to exclude them, the school can possibly look forward to an increase in students due to more affordable tuition for in-state students.

“I was here before the program ever went into effect, and we definitely benefited when they instituted the program, and we saw an increase in South Dakota students staying here. It will help this round of students with their award amounts,” Welsh said. “I would absolutely support it because it helps students going on to college, and it becomes a matter of what dollars are available. It only helps the university as a whole.”

Welsh said she believes the state should do whatever it can in its power to retain students in the state, as it helps the economy in the end and returns more to the state than what they invested.

“In my opinion, it’s a high priority for the state, because it goes back to investing in the betterment of the students staying in South Dakota, which is a gift that keeps on giving to the state,” Welsh said.

Conflicting with Welsh’s view, Schwanke believes that students are going to go where they want to – whether that is staying close to home or traveling far away. Schwanke said, “This would have definitely swayed me to stay in-state more because in my opinion tuition is already affordable as is, but it depends on if you plan on staying in-state or getting the heck out of South Dakota.”