Brian Maher, executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Board of Regents, began his presentation on Tuesday night with humor. He was in Madison for an outreach session to present an overview of the work done by a task force formed as a result of Senate Bill 55.
Maher told those in attendance he needed to make a personal note: Never follow President Griffiths.
Dakota State University President José-Marie Griffiths opened the meeting by giving a quick overview of fall enrollment, placement statistics, new programs, new partnerships, ongoing research efforts, new and renovated facilities, and fund-raising efforts. She also noted challenges the university faces, including an aging workforce and the need to balance growth with available resources.
Senate Bill 55 was approved by the state Legislature in 2020 and directed the BOR to create a task force “to examine the possible program and administrative efficiencies and cost effectiveness that may be achieved through the share administration” of the state’s six public universities.
“I think it was a charge from the Legislature to the Board of Regents to run the organization as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Maher said.
District 5 Rep. Hugh Bartels (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, affirmed that in comments at the end of the meeting.
“Senate Bill 55 was designed to get the Board of Regents to think about their processes,” he said. “The goal was never to reduce funding to the Board of Regents.”
He noted the Joint Committee on Appropriations (JCA) has been asking the same questions for the last 10 years without getting answers to those questions. Nine were listed in the bill itself. They included a review of duplicate programming and academic majors, the possibility of combining various operations within universities and across the system, the viability of the university centers, and a review of functions outside core missions.
“I didn’t have answers. I just asked questions,” Bartels said. He praised the attitude with which the BOR received this charge, noting they contributed to “a really good process.”
Maher reported the full task force, which included legislators, board members, university presidents and interested citizens, met six times with subcommittees meeting an additional 20 times. The completed report will be presented to the governor and JCA on Nov. 15.
“This will impact higher education and public universities for a long time,” he said. Currently, the report is not available for public review but will be posted on the BOR website after being approved by the board at the October meeting, according to Maher.
He stated that over $800 million is spent annually on higher education at state universities. Of that, $250 million is appropriated through the state’s general fund. An economic impact study is being conducted to answer two fundamental questions.
“What do we get for that? What comes out of that?” Maher said, noting the questions.
A workforce demand gap analysis is also being conducted to determine whether programs at state universities are meeting the needs of South Dakota employers. The goal is to identify programs which should be developed and those which should be abandoned.
“Are we using those degrees in South Dakota? Are there jobs for those students?” Bartels asked when touching on this point in his comments.
Maher said current estimates indicate that 32,000 new jobs will be created in South Dakota over the next 10 years. Of those, about 12,000 are expected to require at least a bachelor’s degree.
“Many of those 12,000 students will come from DSU,” Maher said, acknowledging the importance of DSU’s computer and cyber sciences programs.
He indicated that every campus has a specific mission, but noted, “We have a tendency to creep.” He said that creep may be allowable in some situations, but should not be allowed in all instances.
Maher also noted that a new business model must be designed for the university centers in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.
In identifying areas for system-wide efficiencies, he spoke of a shared services model for human resources and having all of the public universities under one food service contract. He also talked about collaboration among universities regarding online coursework.
Maher reported that after the report is approved by the Regents, they will start looking at current policies to see where changes need to be made.
“In many ways, we’re in our infancy when we talk about the impact of Senate Bill 55,” Maher said.
Following the meeting, District 8 Rep. Marli Wiese said she supported to bill and is interested in seeing the final report.
“We all thought it was a good idea to look at ways the universities could have some cost savings,” she said.