- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Tuition and fees for South Dakota’s six public universities will increase by an average of 5.7 percent for the upcoming school year if the state Board of Regents adopts the proposed hikes during its meeting next week.

The board, which oversees the state’s public universities, will begin meeting Tuesday at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion in part to discuss the hikes. Lack of state support this session killed the prospect of another year of frozen tuition for on-campus resident students, which lawmakers put nearly $4 million toward during the 2014 Legislature. The tuition and fee hikes the regents will consider range from 4.3 percent at Northern State University to 6 percent at South Dakota State University.

Under the proposal, the average cost of tuition and fees at a South Dakota public university for on-campus resident students for the upcoming school year will be $8,377.66, up from $7,924.73. The state ranks third of eight nearby states when it comes to in-state residents’ cost of attendance, which also includes lodging and meals, according to a regents report.

“I think all of us would say we’d love to not have to raise tuition ever,” Northern State University President James Smith said. “Our costs of doing business go up.”

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.

Lawmakers debated a $3.2 million proposal to freeze tuition, which failed to gain traction and petered out amid the gloomier budget picture. Board of Regents Executive Director and CEO Jack Warner said tuition freezes or buydowns are important to the regents, but he acknowledged the situation that lawmakers were in when they set the budget.

“We are certainly aware that new money was scarce, and we’re also confident that keeping tuition and fees low (are priorities) for the governor and the Legislature, so we look forward to future investments in that regard,” Warner said.

South Dakota Student Federation Executive Director Jess Peterson said student leaders anticipated the increase because lawmakers didn’t pass funding for tamping down tuition hikes. Peterson, who attends the University of South Dakota, said students plan to vigorously lobby lawmakers next session to successfully secure funding to stave off future increases.

“We are disappointed just because there’s more money coming out of the students’ pockets, and that’s not what we want for our state at all,” Peterson said.


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