- Associated Press - Monday, August 14, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The state Board of Regents will ask policymakers to put millions of dollars into a new need-based scholarship program meant to keep higher education affordable for South Dakota students, a top official said Monday.

South Dakota has “very little” need-based financial aid available to students, particularly compared to surrounding states, said Mike Rush, the board’s executive director and CEO. He said the regents are seeking $3.5 million for the next state budget year for the new program, Dakota’s Promise, which is a top priority for the board.

“The primary aim is to ensure that every student has the opportunity and the means to get a post-secondary education in the state of South Dakota,” Rush told The Associated Press. “Education contributes mightily to the economic vitality of our state, as well as to each individual student’s economic future.”

The program would be aimed at bridging the divide between existing financial aid and resident South Dakota college students’ cost of attendance. The state would fill the financial gap for a student after all other available sources have been used, including from the student, family, the school and the federal government.

All postsecondary institutions in the state would be eligible to participate in the program, Paul Turman, vice president for academic affairs with the Board of Regents, said in an email.

A board report projects that in state budget year 2019, roughly 2,000 new students would be eligible for funding under the program at a cost of about $3.5 million to the state. The average award would be roughly $1,750.

The board says the funding would scale up in future years until an estimated roughly 6,000 students receive financial support each year at a $10.3 million cost.

That would amount to a major increase in need-based aid available to students in South Dakota. In the 2014-2015 school year, South Dakota awarded $227,000 in need-based grant aid, far less than seven nearby states, according to a board report. The document says that the next lowest state, Montana, awarded $3.7 million, while Minnesota topped the list at more than $186 million.

“Our state remains at the very bottom when it comes to state-funded scholarship programs,” South Dakota Board of Regents President Bob Sutton said in a statement. “After exhausting all existing aid options, many of our students still have unmet need. That gap may prevent a student from attending college or completing their degree.”

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said that he hasn’t had an opportunity to review the proposal, but said he’s open to looking at it. The Republican governor will propose his spending plan for the 2019 budget year in December.

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