This case relies on many informational sources, including documentation gathered
from South Dakota and national public and higher education agencies. South Dakota
state policymakers, university and technical institute administrators, faculty, and
University System Board of Regents were interviewed in September and October of 1998
concerning their views of the state's postsecondary education environment.
Some observers have noted that higher education policy is susceptible to ad hoc
decisions and short-term responses in the absence of a meaningful state role in creating
policy direction for higher education.1 From a state
perspective, however, planning for the future of higher education and developing
a consensus around new state higher education priorities are activities that require
significant time, energy and effort on the part of policymakers. Competing state
interests, constituents who want tax relief, and the demand for immediate results
in the political arena make the task of changing the higher education system intricate,
complex and perilous.
In the face of these challenges inherent in planning and implementing new higher
education priorities, government, business and higher education leaders in South
Dakota have been steadily developing policy-driven change in higher education. Over
the last four years, these policymakers and leaders have defined a number of state
goals that they believe tie budget to policy and, perhaps most importantly, will
drive the activity of the statewide university system. Significant changes have included:
moving toward a more collaborative "system" approach to higher education
issues; jettisoning the traditional state higher education funding formula; reinvesting
savings to improve efficiency; adopting initiatives to increase academic quality;
and increasing partnering between four-year institutions and other educational entities.
That these changes are in motion can partly be attributed to characteristics of
the state's political landscape. Several South Dakota leaders interviewed for this
study commented that bringing administrators and policymakers together in a sparsely
populated state may be easier than in a large state. In the words of one leader who
believes significant change has occurred over the last several years, "The number
of political actors in South Dakota is relatively restricted and well known; if you
can align the players, you can get something done." In addition, state and higher
education leadership has been stable over the last four years, enabling the pursuit
of a common policy agenda. Yet the purposeful actions of various groups and individuals,
and the way they pursued the changes that are now in motion, also appear to be central
to what has transpired in the state's higher education system.
There have been and continue to be policy-driven changes taking place in South
Dakota higher education. Though the ultimate effects of many of these transformations
will not be known for some time, the process by which a common public agenda has
evolved is a story well worth telling.