Higher education task force told to ‘put student needs first’ in SD’s public university system

“The task force was created after state lawmakers passed legislation in the 2020 session directing the study. Findings are to be reported to the Legislature and Gov. Kristi Noem no later than Nov. 15, 2021,” according to a news release.

The task force began by listening to the perspectives of former Board of Regents members and those who oversaw public universities in the past during their meeting on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Kathy Johnson, who served on the Board of Regents from 2005 to 2017, said the task force needs to remain cognizant of the fact that no one knows what the future is going to hold.

“The jobs that are in high demand today and are gearing up to produce graduates aren’t going to produce jobs and graduates ten years from now that are in high demand,” Johnson said.

Kay Schallenkamp, Black Hills State University president from 2006 to 2014, said she hopes that the task force acknowledges how the Board of Regents and universities have been responsive to past legislative studies and requests.

“We are in a knowledge economy and that is changing how we function,” Schallenkamp said.

“I hope from this study that we begin to change the tone of our dialogue in this state. That we begin to celebrate our accomplishments, that we respect one another and what we each bring to the table. We need to be supported, if not by money at least by words.”

Jim Abbott, who served as the president of the University of South Dakota from 1997 to 2018, said the task force needs to keep what’s best for the students in mind throughout their study.

“Our students pay their educational loans and they get jobs. But the burden has shifted over the last 15 to 20 years to the student. It’s shifted away from the states and to the students. We need to constantly remember that can’t happen. It’s not about what’s good for the universities — it’s what’s good for the students,” Abbott said.

Abbott noted how expensive university centers are and who needs the centers the most, noting about 35% of Sioux Falls high school graduates do not go on to any form of public higher education or enter the U.S. military.

“They remain uneducated and they’re trying to get jobs. That’s a huge number. What’s the educational need? Who most needs those centers? I would say it’s students who don’t, can’t or won’t understand the system. There’s 101 languages spoken in the Sioux Falls School District. They need to go to a school they can afford, and we’re not doing that,” he added.

Abbott said if the task force is able to determine long-term policy goals or a set of outcomes for higher education, if they do so by figuring out how they’re going to achieve those goals in terms of resources, “you’ll have done the state a real service.”

The task force’s purpose is to assess:

  • Potentially combine administration at all levels of operation within a university

  • Potentially combine operations, functions or administration across multiple universities

  • Review duplicated program offerings

  • Review academic majors with low enrollment

  • Review functions outside the core missions of teaching, learning and research

  • Review the operations and functions provided through the Board of Regents

  • Review the viability of university centers

  • Review other cost-effective measures the task force determines as worthy of examination.

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