District 17 state lawmakers were told at a pre-legislative forum Nov. 16 in Vermillion that the burden of the costs of higher education is shifting from state government to students.
It's a disturbing trend, Mike Jockey, chair of the faculty senate at the University of South Dakota, told newly-elected state Sen. Eldon Nygaard of Vermillion, and Reps.-elect Jamie Boomgarden and Tom Jones.
The pre-legislative forum, sponsored by the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company's Legislative Affairs Committee, was held in city hall.
"My concern has to do with the overall state of the financial health of the university system, particularly here in the state of South Dakota," Yockey told the lawmakers.
In a verbal report to the three legislators, Yockey used data from the 2009 state higher education finance report, which is put together by the state higher education executive officers group. The report removes factors such as research funding, and boils its data down to main sources of income for the university system: tuition dollars and state appropriations.
According to the report, state appropriations have declined per full time equivalent (FTE) university student in South Dakota by 22 percent in the years 2005 through 2009.
"These are all adjusted by inflation and cost of living," Yockey said. "Our tax appropriations per FTE have declined significantly – the second worse of all of the states."
The report also shows that students attending South Dakota universities bear a larger burden of the cost of higher education, compared to other states.
"Our students pay over 60 percent of the total costs of their education in tuition and fees," Yockey said. "Instead of being funded through the state, we expect our students to fund their own higher education."
Yockey also presented data from the report that shows the total education revenues spent per FTE students in the university system.
"This is a combination of tuition and state dollars that are provided," he said. "South Dakota, in the five year period between 2004 and 2009, had a total FTE reduction of 10.2 percent in financing. We pay now 10 percent less per FTE than we did in 2004 in combined tuition and state appropriations. We're one of very states that actually pay less per FTE now than we did in 2004."
The report also reveals that, on average over the last 25 years, South Dakota has ranked, at best, fifth or seventh from the bottom of all states in overall educational appropriation.
"Particularly in 2009, we were well below the national averages," he said. The same outcome – a ranking near the bottom when compared to other states – occurs in the report when the revenue data includes a combination of tuition from students and revenue from the state."
I would remind you again that all of these numbers have been calculated compensating for cost of living adjustments and so forth," Yockey told the lawmakers, "so it's not like we're comparing ourselves to California on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
"As you can see gentlemen, it's not a pretty picture," he added. "I recognize, and I do not envy your position under the current tax situation and the appropriations that need to be made, but we feel, at least in this community and particularly the faculty here, that higher education is an investment in our future; that students need to be able to receive higher education in order to find working jobs, to be able to provide for families and to be able to bring revenue into the state. If they are unable to do that, obviously they will look elsewhere."
Yockey said his biggest concern is the cost burden that students attending South Dakota's state-run universities must bear.
"If we have the students financing an ever-larger portion of their education through student loans, then they start out behind the 8-ball. They aren't able to invest in a new business or be able to start off and to make purchases as we hope they would be able to do," he said, "such as buying a home and the things that they would like to be able to provide."
Yockey asked the lawmakers to consider all of the financial trends that he discussed as they return to Pierre for another session of the state Legislature in January.
"Particularly since higher education has taken a pretty good hit over the last couple years with the budget as we have reduced state appropriations to that and then shifted the cost burden even further to students than we have in the past," he said. "We ask that we not continue that trend, in spite of the difficult circumstances that we know we find ourselves in."
"I'm a former teacher and coach, both in high school and college, and you have got a partnership," Jones told Yockey. "However big or however small, I will be a friend of education."
"Would you suggest that we are deep trouble here in South Dakota, in higher education?" Nygaard asked Yockey.
"I would like to think not. We worry about the financing. I know that the people I work with are very dedicated, and although the salaries here are not comparable to what they are in other places, we love this state and we love the people here," Yockey said, "and I think we have good employees across the board," he said.
"I think that helps to compensate for some of the cost factors that may not be in our favor right now."But you can only do so much with so little," he said. "It does concern me that we shift more and more costs to students."