Legislature: Fund higher ed or mind your own business

Issue: SDSU being forced to seek  legislative approval for construction projects.


On Oct. 10, the South Dakota Board of Regents approved the facility plan for SDSU’s request to build an indoor practice and human performance facility on campus.

This is absolutely necessary for SDSU athletics. The track team will have an actual indoor track to run on, baseball and softball will have better practice facilities for the offseason and in general, all the sports teams will have better, more modern facilities in which to train. And all for the measly price of $38,300,000.

Sort of.

It’s not entirely clear how much building SDSU will buy and how much it will cost right now. SDSU athletics has been fundraising with a $28 million goal in mind, even though the BOR approved more than $38 million. That needs to be cleared up, but that’s not really the point here.

Regardless of the final cost, all the money for the structure is going to come from private donations. State general funds, i.e. tax dollars, will play no role at all in funding construction of the project. Nor will they be used to pay for utilities or maintenance on the facility. That will come from student fees, donations and the Higher Education Facilities Fund, which is tuition.

In fact, most things that SDSU or any other university in this state builds are built without any contribution from taxpayers at all. Construction costs are paid either through donations or HEFF. And yet, the legislature still has the final say on what gets built.

What happened Oct. 10 was actually the BOR approving SDSU’s request to request legislative approval for construction of the facility. This was, if anything, just another obstacle in the steeplechase that is the quest for legislative approval of anything. It’s a process that is actually pretty expensive and decidedly unnecessary.

The BOR system is one of the few state agencies that, with the exception of salaries, largely funds itself. Taxpayers contribute almost nothing toward construction efforts, and yet they have the power, through the legislature, to effectively veto any project they want. Why?

It is very expensive to lobby the legislature effectively. It’s also time consuming. Those two things, time and money, are at premium in higher education today. The money spent on navigating the legislative process and lobbying congress could be much better spent. The time that is essentially wasted could be much better spent figuring out new ways to help students learn.

Students now pay nearly 60 percent of the cost of their education but have less say than the legislature, which has refused for years to fund higher education, about what gets built on their campuses.

Who is the legislature protecting? It’s not the taxpayers – they don’t have anything to lose either way – and it sure isn’t students.


Stance: The legislature should stop being a roadblock to growth at public universities.