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South Dakota School of Mines & Technology students take a stroll on their campus in Rapid City.

Journal file

The Board of Regents seems to be struggling to figure out why enrollment continues to decline at South Dakota’s six public universities.

On Wednesday, the Journal reported that resident headcount has declined by 5,300 students since 2010. Over that same time period, the cost to attend Black Hills State University, for example, increased by 30 percent and 33 percent at the University of South Dakota — in both cases far above the overall cost of living.

In 2010, a BHSU freshman could expect to spend $47,252 over four years if the school did not raise tuition and fees while the student was in school, which has not been the case at any state university lately. The figure is based on taking 32 credits a year and room and board.

In 2017, a freshman can expect to pay $61,684 over four years based on 30 credits a year and those other expenses. At USD, it went from $49,348 to $65,772. At the School of Mines in Rapid City, it climbed 36 percent to $66,552, the highest in the state.

So, let’s use what a South Dakota lawmaker might call common-sense logic. Higher costs are at least playing a role in discouraging students from attending college.

The regents have been discussing this problem for some time now. In 2015, the board commissioned a study by the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute that showed only 38 percent of South Dakotans 25 and older had a two-year associate degree.

In 2015, the regents released a report that said South Dakota charged more for tuition and fees than North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska. At the same time, the state charged the lowest costs for out-of-state students.

In addition to rising tuition costs, public college students have been subjected to numerous fee increases, many dedicated to paying off bond debt for new buildings at the universities. Right now, the regents are considering a new fee of $5.07 per credit hour to increase the salary of faculty members.

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The Board of Regents president also has a new idea to address enrollment — let university presidents set tuition and fees for their colleges.

That, however, would be an inappropriate delegation of an important task from the regents who have direct access to the Legislature to university presidents who are busy managing multi-million dollar operations and working to provide college students with the best possible education.

The proposal also fails to address the main problem — the increasing cost of higher education in South Dakota, which in 2017 has the second highest proportion of students with college debt in the nation, according to WalletHub.com.

At the same meeting where the regents discussed handing off the tuition-and-fee problem to college presidents, it was reported by the Legislative Research Council that the state would need to increase funding by $15.7 million annually to reach the regional average for state higher-education funding.

If the state of South Dakota wants to stop the bleeding of enrollment, the Legislature — not college presidents — needs to find more money for higher education. Otherwise, fewer of our youth will get the chance to make their dream come true in their home state.

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