- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) - Tuition and fees for South Dakota’s six public universities will increase by an average of 5.8 percent for the upcoming school year under a plan the South Dakota Board of Regents approved Thursday.

The board met at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in part to discuss the hikes, which translate to an average increase of about $456 for on-campus resident students. Scarce state funds killed the prospect of another year of frozen tuition, which lawmakers put nearly $4 million toward during the 2014 Legislature.

The increases approved range from 4.3 percent at Northern State University to 6 percent at South Dakota State University. Regent Joseph Schartz, a student at South Dakota State University, said college affordability is a concern for the board, but he also noted that state funds were tight this year.

“I don’t think it’s going to send students who are already at our institutions packing their bags and leaving,” he said, adding that rising student costs and lagging state support is “a scary trend that we need to reverse.”

The average cost of tuition and fees at a South Dakota public university for on-campus resident students for the upcoming year will be about $8,380, up from $7,925. The state ranks third of eight nearby states when it comes to in-state students’ costs, which also includes lodging and meals, according to a regents report.

Chris Nemec, a University of South Dakota freshman from Highmore said he is unhappy about the school’s 5.4 percent increase, which is $435.

Nemec, 19, said his parents are paying for school, where he is studying business management. But Nemec said he’s concerned for students who have to pay for a degree on their own or don’t qualify for scholarships.

“It’s really affecting them way more,” Nemec said. “What if they become a genius scientist that finds a cure to cancer later in life, but they couldn’t do that because (tuition) was raised?”

Funding salaries and hikes for pay competitiveness and inflation are projected to cost the regents an additional $5.7 million for the upcoming fiscal year, according to a report to the board. Tepid state revenues also left lawmakers little spare cash to fund dramatic cost-reduction programs for higher education when they set the state budget earlier in March. A proposal to fund an increase to the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship, for example, had to be scaled back by roughly $1 million after state economists predicted revenue collections for the next budget year will fall short of previous projections.

Board of Regents Executive Director and CEO Jack Warner said the increase is “reasonable and understandable” based on increasing costs and the board’s focus on salary competitiveness.

Mitch Fuerst, a 21-year-old University of South Dakota freshman studying nursing, said he is paying for school using loans and military service benefits. Fuerst, who is from Scotland, South Dakota, said he’s concerned about increasing tuition and fees but said the jump is reasonable.

“I really don’t like it, but I mean the school’s got to pay for teachers and stuff,” Fuerst said.

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