Technical education climbing upward


PIERRE – “South Dakota could quadruple output of the number of technical students and not reach the market need for those students in their fields,” said Nick Wendell, executive director of the Board of Technical Education. Wendell specifically pointed out the current need for licensed practical nurses.

Wendell began his update to the Government Operations and Audit Committee, Oct. 25, with the increasing results of the dual-credit program in South Dakota.

High school students can earn credit for high school as well as beginning credits for post-secondary technical schools at the same time. The number of technical trade dual-credit students for the 2018-2019 school year for the state’s four technical schools is 880. That number has been constantly increasing from its first-year number of 284 high school students in the 2014-2015 school year. 

“As students are becoming more aware of the dual credits program, all class areas are seeing involvement,” said Wendell. At $145 per credit hour, the dual credit student pays one third, while the state program pays the rest. In correlation, the state’s four technical schools are experiencing a constant annual rise in the number of students enrolled.

Wendell said many programs such as diesel mechanics are actually overcrowded, and some students can’t find space. Still, many student applicants can still be placed into a similar program while they wait for a spot to open in their preferred program. The institutes are striving to find room to accommodate the market need for such career-directed students, Wendell said. These welcomed growing pains require funding.

“We keep hearing we are not funding enough, but we do not want to fund one institution competing against another,” saidi Audit Committee Chair Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton.

Wendell said Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell, Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls and Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City are not competing against each other for students. Each offers widely different, or slightly different, courses than the others.

“We are trying to not duplicate classes and efforts,” said Wendell. “Each has speciality areas and strong demographics across the state. Each is responding to market and hiring needs.” Some are doing better than others in promoting themselves, such as with “road shows” that visit high schools to illustrate to students what is available. State tuition for the four technical schools is the same.

Wendel said the four institutes combined show a 78 percent retention rate. Some students go into the workforce even before completing a degree, some move to a different career path, and some have other reasons to leave.

The institutes, overall, saw a 2016-2017 graduate placement rate of 97 percent within six months of graduation. That is 2,063 students placed into the workforce, with 1,560 employed in their exact field, 1,423 employed in South Dakota, and 337 continuing on to further their education or go into the military.

Wendell explained two areas technical learning in South Dakota need funding assistance: instructor acquisition and retention, and facility space. Many instructors are interested in entering the private sector, which often pays better than instructor pay. Thus, the institutes need to be able to offer competitive salaries. Along with higher salaries, though, comes higher expectations of the instructors.

Wendell said that in 2006, House Bill 1182 provided $3 million to increase instructor salaries to competitive levels at each post-secondary technical institute. That allocation was increased to $3,030,000 for Fiscal Year 2019. Technical institute instructors are eligible for state of South Dakota retirement, but are on their school district health insurance programs.

Maintenance and Repair Funding for the technical schools in Fiscal Year 2019 came to a total of $223,228. This is 2 percent of the total breakdown of the 1,463,599 square footage of the institutes’ buildings. Wendell said over $100 million has gone into facilities – some of this amount from Governor’s Office of Economic Development funds – over the last 10-plus years. Partnerships, donors and other programs have helped. More space is needed, especially in the agriculture area of studies. The building capacity to instruct students is “a challenge of how to use student space,” said Wendell.

Capital Bureau reporter Del Bartels can be reached at [email protected]


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