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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Student Loan Reform Won't Kill Sioux Falls Jobs

At least some Sioux Falls media can take a swing at balanced coverage of student loan reform. Unlike KELO, that Sioux Falls paper tries this morning to get more than the doom-criers' opinions on the implications of student loan reform pending in Congress (see H.R. 3221). The usual argument bubbles up: Citibank and the other good capitalist usurers in South Dakota need a continued government subsidy to issue student loans or they'll have to cut jobs.

Citi and Wells Fargo employ 1200 people in student lending in Sioux Falls: end private student loans, and those folks are all out on Phillips Avenue tomorrow begging change from the café hipsters, right?

History suggests otherwise:

There are vastly different departments at Citibank now than there were when it first began operating here, [Sioux Falls Development Foundation director of work force development Mary] Medema says.

"We used to actually emboss the credit cards here," she says. "Those jobs aren't here any more, but others are."

Citibank, in particular, has maintained a nearly constant work force in Sioux Falls during the past decade, and though regulatory changes in the financial industry come with fears of major gashes in the South Dakota economy, none have come to pass [Anna Bahney, "Student Loan Jobs at Risk," that Sioux Falls paper, 2009.10.04].

Citibank itself admits it usually turns job losses into new jobs:

Last fall, before Citibank's bailout, it announced it would shed 53,000 jobs corporatewide in the first half of 2009. The Sioux Falls operation cut 122 jobs.

"Many of those people found jobs within the company," says Jerry Nachtigal, senior vice president of public affairs for Citibank in Sioux Falls. "Did we issue a press release to announce that? No. But that sequence has happened dozens of times."

He says that if one of the 28 different departments Citi operates in Sioux Falls suffers cuts, typically something else comes in. "Twenty jobs may go out the door," he says. "But another area of the bank takes on a new contract that needs 60 employees. That has been the evolution of this place almost from day one" [Bahney, 2009.10.04].

Senator Thune grudgingly acknowledges the point, but then continues to spread fear of change:

"Arguably, they can shift people or expand another division to take them on, but you're running a risk that that would actually happen," Thune says. "It is a risky course for South Dakota to be on" [Bahney, 2009.10.04].

Besides, Bahney also quotes some university egghead, so student loan reform must be a leftist plot against America, right?

Cory Heidelberger, a teaching assistant at Dakota State University, sees those students in his class.

Around him, he says, are young people whose burdensome debt dictates their job choices. As a high school teacher in Montrose, he watched seniors opt for associate programs rather than enrolling at four-year universities. His current students will owe an average of $20,000.

"I see students who are frustrated and trying to figure out what to do," he says. "Anything that is going to make loans easier to get and means people will have less debt getting out of college, that's a benefit for everyone" [Bahney, 2009.10.04].

At least some South Dakota are giving both sides of the student loan debate some air time. Senator Thune's mind is made up; I look forward to hearing what Senator Johnson thinks (and how he votes) after he gets done reading the Sunday paper.

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