There are lots of important lessons in Dunkle's report. South Dakota students and voters should pay particular attention to these numbers: while our governor and Legislature (and candidates for those jobs) may claim South Dakota has increased its funding for higher education, the truth is we citizens have been derelict in our duty.
Since 1999, the state's contribution (read: we taxpayer's contribution) to higher education has increased from $112 million to $174 million. That's about a 4.5% annual rate of increase. Not bad, right? Well, Board of Regents data (page 33 of this PDF) indicate that over the past decade, higher education's share of the state's general fund appropriations has stayed almost flat, actually slipping just a tick from 15.89% in 1998 to 15.33% in 2008. Sure, more tax dollars are going toward our universities, but the increase barely keeps up with the general inflation of the state budget.
In other words, when it comes to putting our money where our mouth is, South Dakota has not given higher education any higher priority than it did ten years ago.
Our universities are spending more and doing more, but the cost is increasingly borne by students and faculty. Tuition and fees are going up faster than the taxpayers' share. As Dunkle points out from BoR data, "the state’s support level was about 58 percent in 1999, leaving 42 percent for the student body. Today, that margin has shifted to about 52 percent for the students and 48 percent for the state." SDSU President David Chicoine calls that a "dramatic reversal" in higher ed funding in our state. Faculty are also bearing a greater share of the funding burden, as they face greater pressure to hustle research grants for their campuses.
Lacking the responsibility to pay our own way, we the taxpayers of South Dakota continue to believe we can rely on someone else—our students and the feds—to pay for the public good of education. Former SDSU president Peggy Miller calls us out on that irresponsibility:
“We have got to make the investment. You do not reap what you do not sow,” Miller said. “If we continue to fail to sow, we aren’t going to get the future we deserve.”
Simply put, Miller said, “We grownups are going to have to step up to the plate and pay our fair share” [Amy Dunkle, "State Universities’ Enrollments Rising Without Much Financial Help from the State," ThePostSD.com, 2009.10.27].
I hope every gubernatorial candidate will read Dunkle's full report and weigh in on whether they think the status quo is acceptable, or whether they are willing to call South Dakotans back to their common responsibility to invest in higher education.
Update 2009.10.29 07:40 CDT: A reader offers this economic observation: "Forty plus years ago when I attended State the tuition was $198 a year. The minimum wage job I worked paid $1 an hour. In five weeks I could earn enough for a years tuition and the rest of the year work for books, room and board." Currently tuition and fees for a full-time undergrad at DSU are about $6600. Minimum wage is $7.25/hr. That's 22 weeks of work, before taxes.