State Context
Higher Education in South Dakota
Two New Processes for Policy-Driven Change
Changes Initiated in Higher Education
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South Dakota
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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.


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