As in many other states throughout the last decade, policymakers in South Dakota
are looking for efficiency and savings in all areas of public service, including
higher education. The conscious choice by the state's leadership to decrease tax-based
revenue over the last five years has certainly contributed to the need for higher
education to formulate new and better ways of delivering education. Although every
state is unique, "we all seem to face similar problems or challenges in higher
education," as one legislator put it.
What is exceptional is how the state has approached its problems. As in any state,
many factors prompted policymakers in South Dakota to recognize the need for change.
Foremost among these factors were the roundtable meetings (and diligent follow-up
after each session), which have enhanced statewide dialogue concerning higher education
policy. This, in turn, has helped policymakers and higher education leaders to plan
for and implement change. Traditionally, the Legislature has relied on information
that the Board of Regents provides or that gubernatorial staff make available. The
roundtables have changed that, providing a communication and information forum for
legislators, the governor, business constituents, and higher education administrators
outside the frenetic 30-day legislative sessions.
Secondly, the process of adopting a more unified higher education system -- which
occurred simultaneously with the roundtable discussions -- helped the state to plan
and implement change more effectively. Examples can be found in the state emphasis
on reinvestment through efficiencies, and in the shift away from formula-driven budgeting.
The essence of the state policy agenda for higher education now resides in nine state
policy goals, each of which is tied to the amount of base funding, the performance
portion, or both.
Several issues, of course, remain largely unresolved. Though an articulation agreement
has been legislatively mandated, issues between higher education and technical education
may make implementation less than smooth. Many university and technical administrators
say they work together on certain issues, but it is clear that there are still differences.
Whether or not the technical institutes should remain separate from the universities
also is a question that has polarized stakeholders. Given the state's political trends
towards increasing efficiency and eliminating duplication -- and a governor who is
powerful and in his last term -- conditions in the coming years may be ripe to resolve
some of these divisive issues between the technical institutes and the universities.
It is too early, of course, to suggest that South Dakota's policy-driven changes
in higher education have been -- or will be -- successful across the board. The full
effects of the new processes for implementing state higher education policy are not
yet clear; nor will they be for some time. What is clear, however, is that over the
past five years, policymakers, higher education leaders, and business leaders in
South Dakota have responded to changing state needs through developing a wide range
of proactive, policy-driven processes. As a result, South Dakota is in a better position
to assess its needs regarding higher education, engage policymakers in long-term
discussions to plan for meeting those needs, and implement changes based on those