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South Dakota Capitol Building in Pierre.

PIERRE | The panel that governs South Dakota’s public universities heard a marketing pitch Wednesday about how to get more funding from the Legislature.

Staff members from the Epicosity firm presented a $260,650 plan to the state Board of Regents.

It included $118,000 for production, including $40,000 to build a website, and $142,650 to buy advertising from January through March during the 2019 legislative session.

The current contract with the regents through Dec. 31 is for a maximum of $16,000 to develop a plan.

Public records show state government meanwhile has paid the Sioux Falls company $83,813.44 for various other services since the current fiscal year started July 1.

Epicosity received $559,670.79 from state government last fiscal year and $656,152.81 for fiscal 2017, according to records.

Responses from regents and university presidents varied a lot to Epicosity’s presenters.

“I think you got the message what we’re not looking for,” President Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls told them.

“We’re trying to set the table,” replied Justin Smorawske, the company’s chief marketing officer.

The three Epicosity staff members left without a decision on the Time For U campaign.

The board and presidents wrap up the three-day meeting Thursday.

On Wednesday morning they discussed trends with John Tannous. He is director of research delivery for the national Education Advisory Board.

“For decades higher education was viewed as one of the crown jewels,” Tannous said.

He listed four common criticisms currently circulating that weren’t true on closer view:

Higher education costs are out of control;

A college degree is losing value;

There is a student-loan crisis; and

Disruptive innovation threatens to put universities out of business.

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Tannous said demographics and economics together however threaten universities’ sustainability.

He said high school graduates declined in South Dakota from 2005 through 2015 but are now increasing again. He said there would be about 10,000 per year by 2030, up from about 9,000 in 2000.

But net tuition and fees rose for students at South Dakota’s public universities, from 59 percent in 2010 to 69 percent in 2016, he said.

“What this means is our costs are increasingly out of line with our revenues,” he said. “We’re not really keeping up.”

He said it’s unlikely an institution could reduce costs sufficiently.

Schieffer, the board president, said regents should still look for efficiencies.

“I think it’s important to lay these things out and define the consequences,” Schieffer said.

Tannous said it is easier to retain current students than to recruit new students.

Regarding students of the future, Tannous said universities now serve more low-income people and that’s one reason debt was up.

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