The Regents studied where South Dakota students go for their university education. Outgoing Regents exec Tad Perry says they found confirmation of what seems pretty sensible: "students’ geographic placement significantly influences their postsecondary decision making.” In other words, students tend to go to college close to home. As Steve Young summarized it, "...half to two-thirds of those who attend one of the state's six public schools do so at a university near their home." Perry then draws this conclusion:
"Institutions serve regional parts of the state, and all six of our regental institutions are near our borders," Perry said Friday. "So based on these findings, it seems logical to assume that if you closed a school, rather than those students being redistributed elsewhere in the state, they would be redistributed to other states" [Steve Young, "Stick with 6 Campuses, Regents Say," that Sioux Falls paper, 2009.06.28].
Hang on a moment: does anyone see the problem in this reasoning? If there's more to this study, perhaps our new local Regent Randy Schaefer can fill us in (I keep telling Randy he needs to start a Regents blog!). But nowhere in the reporting on this study do I see any measurement of the percentage of students in university-less counties, like Perkins, Hughes, or Tripp, who attend in-state schools. Do those areas of the state see a higher rate of students going out of state for university? Nor is there any quantification of the number of students in university counties, like Lake, who choose to attend universities outside their county. How many Madison, Rutland, and Chester grads pick USD or BHSU over DSU?
There is no doubt that having a university in town is certainly an advantage for folks in that town seeking a university education. But the consolidation question needs to focus on the system, not specific regions. The Regents study does not tell us where students from Madison or Howard would go if DSU closed. It does not demonstrate that Spearfish or Sturgis grads would flock to Wyoming if BHSU closed.