Issue: Tuition and fees continue to rise even as the Board of Regents proposes a new funding system.
For more than a decade, the South Dakota Board of Regents has gone without a funding formula. Not surprisingly, in that same time college students have seen their costs steadily rising. Essentially, what South Dakota’s legislature does every year is allocate the same amount of money to the BOR as they did in 1998. What they don’t seem to have planned on, is that eventually the student population was going to grow.
Between 1998 and now, enrollment at the state’s universities has grown substantially. As a direct consequence, fewer state dollars are available for each student. That has created a gap that the BOR has been forced to make up for by raising tuition and fees.
The BOR now says that students are paying for nearly 60 percent of the cost of their education. That is a problem in a state where 75 percent of college students can expect to graduate with an average $23,000 worth of debt on their backs. In 2010, South Dakota ranked number one in the country for the percentage of students graduating with debt. The situation that today’s college students now find themselves in can be directly attributed to the profound shortsightedness of the South Dakota Legislature and the BOR of the late 1990s.
This year’s BOR funding request, which is actually for the next fiscal year, contains a plan that could begin to slow down the rise of tuition. Admittedly, it doesn’t look like much, but it is something. The plan calls for a performance-based funding system that will reward schools for the number and type of graduates they produce. This is a step in the right direction if the money is used effectively. That, however, is a big if.
Last year, SDSU spent well over $100,000 to place a pay for parking system in the east parking lot of The Union. Within a few months it was torn out again to make room for construction equipment. More money will have to be spent to put the system back in once the Residence Halls and Union expansion are finished. Clearly, that is not an efficient use of limited resources. If that incident is any indication of the amount of money wasted in the BOR system, there are other issues at work in determining the cost of higher education aside from a lack of state funding.
As college students who are paying for the majority of their educations, now is the time to pay attention to where our money is going. We can’t afford not to. We have to inform ourselves about the process and we have to fight for ourselves and our money at all levels.
The BOR will claim to have our interests at heart as will, the state’s legislators, the Governor and anyone else who will try to have a say in the way our educations are paid for. But the truth is the only people who are only focused on student interests are students.
Stance: Students have to take more of a responsibility for curbing the rising costs of education.