- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, April 9

Tuition hikes not helping enrollment

With its announcement that it would again raise tuition at South Dakota’s six public universities, the Board of Regents continues a trend that either ignores or discounts a new reality in higher education.

As costs steadily rise, fewer South Dakotans are going to college in their home state, begging the question of whether they are being priced out of higher learning.

At its March meeting in Spearfish, the regents approved a 2.9 percent tuition and fee increase for the upcoming school year, which follows a 5.8 percent hike in 2015.

As a result of the latest hike, the average cost of tuition and fees has increased from $7,925 in 2014 to $8,555 in 2017, which continues a 10-year trend of increases that makes college here more expensive than in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. These costs do not include room, board, books, supplies or gasoline money and other ancillary costs.

At the same time, overall enrollment has been flat since 2010 and there’s been a significant decline in resident enrollment.

According to an analysis done by the regents in 2015, the state’s six public universities lost 4,500 resident, or South Dakotan students, since 2010. Enrollment was also down at the university centers in Rapid City and Sioux Falls, which were created specifically to boost in-state enrollment by increasing access to the system.

As a result, enrollment has been treading water since 2010 while regents continue a spending wave by approving new building projects that are largely paid for by the students themselves. The higher education facilities fund, which is used to pay off bond debt, is the recipient of 20 cents of every dollar spent on tuition and fees.

But new buildings simply are not boosting enrollment.

In 2010, a total of 36,440 students were enrolled in the university system. In 2016, it was 36,531, an increase of 92 over 2015. It is an influx of nonresidents and high school students taking dual-credit courses that have enabled the state to maintain a flat enrollment trend.

What is the consequence of fewer South Dakotans attending college in their home state? According to that same 2015 report, it means we will likely not have enough trained professionals to fill key positions in the state someday, which would hamper economic growth. In fact, it is already difficult to retain graduates who in some cases leave college with staggering amounts of student-loan debt, forcing them to look out of state for higher-paying jobs.

Despite all of this, it seems the Board of Regents has yet to learn the lessons of the past several years. In announcing the recent hike, the board’s executive director, Mike Bush, said the increase will “have a direct impact on the quality of the higher education experience and improve student retention.”

It will have an impact on the student experience, especially when it’s time to pay the bills or take out another loan. As far as retention or growth in enrollment goes, recent history would suggest otherwise.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, March 31

Put state basketball tournaments in Sioux Falls

When it comes to high school state basketball tournaments, South Dakotans think too much.

We think about tradition, or the way it’s always been done. We consider the concept of geographical fairness and giving everyone a chance to host. We wonder why some events have lost their luster.

Why not cut through the nonsense and state the obvious? It’s really not that hard. As the state’s biggest city with its most modern and sizable arena, Sioux Falls should host the great majority of high school basketball tournaments, if not all of them.

Anyone who observed countless rows of empty seats at the Class AA state tournament in Rapid City knows that something must be done.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association is entrusted by member schools to stage championships that create the best possible experience for student-athletes while sparking revenue to help sponsor state events in other activities. Period.

In a 2014 survey of students, parents, coaches and fans contracted by the SDHSAA, 52 percent said Sioux Falls was their first choice for events, compared to 15 percent for Rapid City. Respondents also made it clear that parking, ample seating, locker rooms and other amenities were crucial to the experience, as were plentiful hotels and restaurants.

Again, why are we even debating this topic? Why not follow the “road to the big city” format used by just about every other state in America when it comes to revenue-based high school tournaments and use the 12,000-seat Denny Sanford Premier Center as a signature destination?

This is not about Sioux Falls “wanting more money” by hosting these events. Approaching this from a chamber of commerce perspective is what created the problem in the first place. With the Summit League tournament, NCAA championships and major concerts crowding the Premier Center calendar, the SDHSAA site committee needs Sioux Falls more than the other way around.

A positive step was taken with the addition of “combined” state basketball tournaments, in which boys and girls within each class compete at the same site on the same weekend. In wrestling and volleyball, all classes play at a common venue at the same time rather than separate sites.

For now, Rapid City is part of the rotation of combined tournaments, not just for basketball but wrestling and volleyball. Other than football, entrenched at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, those three sports are the biggest revenue-producers for the SDHSAA, which relies on state tournament profits for 70 percent of its budget.

That means the bigger events must be successful in order to support statewide events in activities such as golf, tennis, show choir, student council, debate and one-act play.

In recent years, Class AA and A boys basketball tournaments have rotated between Rapid City and Sioux Falls, with Class B taking place in Aberdeen. Other tournaments are spread around to communities such as Brookings, Watertown and Huron.

But hosting guidelines for combined events eliminate most sites from consideration. Hosting a combined boys basketball tournament calls for a minimum seat capacity of 10,000 and 1,237 available hotel rooms, meaning only Sioux Falls and possibly Rapid City make the cut.

Attendance has been affected recently by having all games available on TV and more information online. Class AA schools, lacking the widespread community appeal of smaller classes, drew underwhelming crowds not only in Rapid City this year but at the Premier Center in 2016.

If all things are equal, though, Sioux Falls still wins. There are many more teams that qualify from the Interstate 29 corridor as opposed to West River squads, and SDHSAA must reimburse schools for travel.

Using pre-combined tournament data, the past three Class AA boys tournaments in Sioux Falls averaged $94,220 in net profit, while the past three in Rapid City averaged $45,539.

The site committee is taking things a step further by holding a combined Class A tournament in 2019 in Sioux Falls, with the possibility of Class B playing a combined event sometime in the future. The Summit League tournament makes it unfeasible to play three high school tourneys on successive March weekends at the Premier Center, but two makes a lot of sense.

Bringing the Class B to Sioux Falls for a trial run would not mean the SDHSAA is trying to “steal” the event away from Aberdeen, where it has been a fixture at the Barnett Center. It would merely give the site committee a chance to compare attendance and net revenue, much like it is doing with Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

Again, this is not a chamber of commerce discussion. It’s about giving players and fans the best experience possible while sparking revenue for other activities under the SDHSAA umbrella.

Holding combined state tournaments in South Dakota’s largest city and venue could be much like adopting the high school football playoffs in the early 1980s. It took a lot of hand-wringing (and a legal challenge) to get it going, but no one would ever think about turning back.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, April 11

Legislature should have acted earlier on non-meandered waters

South Dakota is in deep water, and residents have years of lawmakers kicking the can down the road to blame.

Last month, the South Dakota Supreme Court issued a ruling on a controversial issue that’s been plaguing the state for years - non-meandered waters and the public’s right to recreate on them.

A quick explanation: In the early- to mid-1990s, flooding was persistent in northeast South Dakota. That connected some public bodies of water to ponds and sloughs on private property, known as non-meandered waters. When that occurred, outdoor enthusiasts chose to hunt and fish on the water above the private ground, which upset some landowners.

The recent Supreme Court ruling explained “the Legislature must decide how these waters are beneficially used in the public interest.”

Now, outdoor enthusiasts who wish to use these lakes and streams are in the midst of a battle with landowners who don’t want people on their property.

And, unless a special session is called this year, we’re going to have to wait until January for a resolution when the next Legislature meets. That’s not good, and South Dakota lawmakers for the past two decades should be ashamed for putting the state in this battle.

The Supreme Court ruling specifically listed 1993 as the year excessive rainfall submerged areas of northeast South Dakota.

Since that time, hundreds of legislators have filed in and out of the Capitol for session and decided they weren’t going to take up this issue.

And why?

It’s presumably because no one was interested in getting between landowners, small business and outdoor enthusiasts until they had to.

This is a major problem the Legislature needs to address, and the final decision will impact thousands of people in South Dakota. That’s why it should not have taken a Supreme Court ruling to get a discussion started.

Someone should have recognized the importance of this problem much earlier. But because they didn’t, landowners and outdoor enthusiasts are stuck in limbo with far too much uncertainty.

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