Editorial by the Plain Talk The South Dakota Board of Regents has approved a hike in tuition and fees for South Dakota�s six public universities, including USD, next year, of nearly 6 percent.

The regents noted the increase is necessary for a couple of reasons.

Fees are being raised to to support Title IX compliance and equity in athletics at all six public universities. This targeted GAF increase bumps the overall average increase in tuition and mandatory fees to 5.87 percent next year.

The weighted cost of tuition and mandatory fees paid by each South Dakota student is expected to increase by $266 next year. That means the average South Dakota undergraduate student taking 32 credit hours a year will pay $4,801.98 for tuition and the two mandatory fees paid by all students � the university support fee and the general activity fee.

The fee increase also is necessary to pay for a salary hike and benefits package for university employees. The Legislature this year approved a 3 percent salary hike. The regents only receive funding for general-funded positions and must raise tuition, fees, and room and board to cover the employees paid from these sources. The Legislature also approved a 2.5 percent adjustment to �job worth� for Career Service employees who fall below the mid-point of their salary range.

This particular salary increase does not cover any faculty or non-faculty exempt employees of the regents. The benefits cost includes a health insurance increase of $96 � a 2 percent increase � per full time employee.

Much of the tuition and fees increase next year pays the salaries of Regents� employees whose positions are funded by fees, with the balance covering general inflationary costs to operate the campuses.

Since 1999, the Board of Regents has applied a special Salary Competitiveness Fee to help boost average salaries for its public university faculty relative to surrounding states. The additional 1 percent added for salary competitiveness will provide a total salary pool of 4 percent for faculty and non-faculty exempt employees in South Dakota.

Regents President Harvey C. Jewett has defended the tuition and fee hike, noting that many states are looking at much higher increases.

Jewett noted that South Dakota�s increase compares favorably to other states like North Dakota, which recently approved tuition hikes ranging from 9 percent to 19 percent.

We have a hunch that the state�s �favorable� tuition increase may still place many South Dakota students in a financial bind. They may qualify for state and federal awards but may not get enough money to pay all of their costs. That means they will have to take out sizable loans to cover an ever-growing gap. More South Dakota families may discover, too, that they don�t have the wherewithal to help with their kids� debts.

Gov. Mike Rounds hopes his Dakota Corps program will help. The privately funded scholarship is designed to prevent recipients from having to pay tuition and fees.� Dakota Corps no doubt will be of some assistance. But it�s not for everyone. The scholarship is designed to encourage South Dakota students to fulfill �critical need� occupations in the state, such as teaching and nursing.

We can�t help but wonder if the scholarship is competitive enough in today�s educational climate.

Our state schools must compete for the best and brightest, whether they come from among the rich or the poor. Diversity, including economic diversity, enriches higher education.

We recognize the need for South Dakota universities to recruit new faculty and better reward those who are performing well.

We just hope that, in the process of doing that, we don�t end up driving students away by making a university education in the state too costly.

It really doesn�t do any good to invest in a top-notch faculty that has no students to teach.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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