South Dakota’s public universities are facing serious expense cuts to absorb this year’s $17.5 million decrease in state funding.
Because the state has put the Board of Regents in this position three years straight, Gov. Dennis Daugaard and legislators need to pay close attention to what’s happening as university administrators struggle to maintain vital academic and research programs without overburdening students financially.
For one, college students could see tuition raised 6 percent to 8 percent because there’s no way to handle this year’s budget cut without tuition hikes.
For their part, administrators are trying to avoid putting the entire budget cut on students’ backs, and that’s good to see. Administrators should keep the tuition increases as small as possible.
To do that, administrators also are looking at various cuts in operational expenses, such as keeping vacant positions open or filling teaching positions at lower salaries. Some key programs also might be scaled back dramatically.
It will be tough to find the right mix of expense cuts and tuition increases, but regents are correct to continue with this kind of combined approach. It’s the same approach they’ve used for the past two years.
What needs to change, though, is the way South Dakota approaches education funding – from K-12 to higher education.
The state can’t continue cutting higher education without causing significant – and potentially long-term – damage to our colleges and universities.
So the governor and legislators need to pay attention to what’s happening at the colleges and start figuring out how to make the cycle stop.