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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teaching in South Dakota: Financial Suicide for Young Grads

I happened upon this job placement data from Dakota State University's Career Services office—you know, the folks who help make sure we don't just sit around and think big thoughts after we get our degrees. Among the numbers of note for the 2008 grads DSU was able to track down:
  • We kept 80% of them in South Dakota, at least for the first year. Not a bad return on investment.
  • Average entry salary for all 2008 grads: $33,189. Not bad: by my calculations from state wage data, that puts these fresh faces just above the 25th percentile for South Dakota wages, not to mention making a bigger first-year paycheck than I've ever received from a single South Dakota job. (50th percentile is $38,406—keep working up the ladder, kids!)
  • The 125 four-year degree holders who chose not to become teachers averaged $35,205 for their first annual salary.
  • The 40 noble souls who did become teachers averaged $31,642. Three-quarters stayed in state (thank you!) and averaged $24,874. One quarter jumped the border and averaged $31,642.
  • The 37 who took the associates degree route (respiratory care, health IT, network admin programs) all stayed in state (thank you!) and averaged $30,532.
Consider: a student who chooses a DSU associates program can make almost $6000 more in year one of work than a student who decides to teach in South Dakota will earn in year one.

Or look at it this way: suppose you and a friend just started at DSU this year. You both are taking student loans of $4000 a year. You take the associates route, finish in 2011 with $8000 in student debt, go straight to work. Your friend takes the bachelor of education route, finishes in 2013 with $16,000 in student debt, goes straight to work. Ignore possible raises, inflation, side jobs, layoffs, etc. All things being equal, by summer 2014, you will have earned $91,596. Your teacher friend will have earned $24,874. Subtract your student debts, and you are $83,596 to the good. Your friend is $8,874 to the good. Assume a really frugal $10,000 a year in living expenses: you're ready to walk into the bank and drop a 20% down payment on a nice house. Your friend has bupkis.

But don't worry, aspiring educators: you can still marry rich.

Math Update 17:40 CDT: If you tinker the state's wage figures, you may come up with different averages and percentile breaks for the statewide workforce. I took straight averages of the given percentile figures; I did not weight my averages based on the number of workers in each occupation. Thus, my percentile figures are skewed high by the handfuls of really high-paying jobs, like doctors, psychiatrists, and advertising managers. Feel free to recalculate your own numbers (spreadsheets are such fun!)


  1. Does that data also reflect benefits? Summers off? Tenure?

  2. Say's alot about how we South Dakotan's value our educators. If I were a teacher you can bet I'd be leaving this state for greener pastures. We owe a lot of gratitude to those that choose to stay and educate our future. Something to consider next time the state considers cutting the education budget.

  3. I am a third year teacher in South Dakota and still haven't hit the $30,000 mark. I knew going into it that I would not become rich, but I truly love what I do. I get to inspire kids to reach whatever dream they may have. I teach so that I can see that 'click' in their eyes when they finally understand a difficult concept or move their grade to where they want it to be. I teach because having 30 kids is impractical and I could only assume physically impossible. I teach because I get to make a difference in kids' lives.

    Will I be a high school teacher until I retire? I don't know for sure, but I will remain in education in some way, because if I didn't.... I'd miss the opportunity to show students so many options in life they may have never known.

    Why am I a teacher in South Dakota? I am here because South Dakota is my home. I have been all over the country, and many places around the world. I have even taught in other countries, but they do not have the quality of life, the feeling of community, the family ties, the rural atmosphere, the work ethic that is instilled in our youth, and the values that I love in South Dakota. I choose to live here because I want to be here, not because I have to. I ask myself, where would I be if my phenomenal high school teachers would have chosen to go someplace else? (Assuming someday I can be in that elite category.)

    Also, the idea of having the summers off is a misnomer in teaching. Those teachers who pursue further degrees, seek additional training, and are constantly revamping curriculum to meet the needs of the ever-changing student body do not take summers off. These are the teachers that you remember from high school and make our children's futures brighter than ever before.

    Should I make $80,000 like many teachers in Michigan? No, that is impractical for South Dakota, but it would be nice if we could at least get closer to average salaries for other South Dakotans with a bachelor's degree or master's degree and experience in their field.

    Samantha Walder

  4. Thanks for a great post Samantha. You must teach for a smaller district (Watertown teachers start at $30,000 right out of school) - each size district has its own pros and cons. I'm sure you will become an amazing teacher & I hope you stick with it. There is no more important profession under the sun.

    Fred Deutsch
    Watertown School Board Member

  5. The idea that teachers in South Dakota are somehow lucky because they have benefits, summers off, and tenure is a joke. Most public school teachers I know work well over 40 hours a week (often more like 50 or 60), so when you figure in summers (where they also often have to take classes to stay licensed), it works out to about the same number of hours as anyone else for far less pay. The smaller districts rarely have benefits to write home about -- some don't even offer them. And 'tenure' simply means the administration has to give a reason when they non-renew your contract. Not exactly job security when you're up for renewal every year. I know everyone would feel better if they could justify the horrible wages we pay teachers, but the fact is that we as a state take advantage of some very good and dedicated people and it's pretty shameful.

  6. Kelsey, it sounds like you are speaking from experience – that you either teach or live in a small school community. If that’s the case, it’s clear you know more about small school teacher relationships and pay than I do, but allow me to share briefly with you my perspective as a school board member from one of our state’s larger school districts.

    First, if small schools offer limited benefits and pay compared to the larger state schools, then why do teachers stay there? Why do you stay there? It seems to me there must be another reason besides financial -- like the teacher has an emotional or familial tie to the community, he/she enjoy the small school professional environment, etc. If this wasn’t the case, wouldn’t all small school teachers eventually migrate to the larger schools?

    Concerning tenure, unless something changes, tenure is what it is. If you work in a community that doesn’t follow tenure rules, either you have to make enough of a fuss that the rules get followed, or you have to decide to move to a community that follows the rules, or you just stay where you are and say nothing and be miserable (and probably not as effective a teacher as you could be if you were happy and felt appreciated). In our community, tenure is taken very seriously.

    This morning I read a quote by Colorado’s Bishop Chaput that applies to our state’s educational struggles. He said, “in a democracy, the best gift any of us can give to our country is the public witness of our convictions. Democracy depends on an honest, unashamed, public struggle of ideas.”

    Kelsy, you need to go to Pierre during session to share your passions. Let your voice be heard!

    Fred Deutsch, Watertown


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