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Black Hills State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and Western Dakota Tech are partners in higher education working to enhance our relationships for the benefit of students, employers, the state and surrounding area.

A partnership between four-year universities and a technical college might seem odd to some, but our union is founded on the desire to help students obtain higher education — following the pathway that best suits them — so they can make good wages and help fill workforce needs.

Instead of competing for student enrollment, BHSU, SDSM&T and WDT believe working together will improve enrollment prospects for all colleges. The colleges provide direct solutions to the state’s workforce shortage and play vital roles in bolstering individuals and the community.

Finding the best fit for each individual student is in all three colleges’ best interest. Students who begin in a program that fits their goals and personality are more likely to complete that program. This saves the student and their family time and money.

Students will benefit from our enhanced partnerships in many ways. A high school diploma is no longer enough to set students up for thriving careers, and post-secondary education is crucial for students entering the workforce. Leaders at BHSU, SDSM&T and WDT take seriously our obligation to help students continue their education, wherever it makes the most sense and is the best fit for their goals. The best way to accomplish this is by working together.

The earnings gap between high school-only graduates and college graduates is widening, having nearly doubled since the late ’70s. Pew Research Center Executive Vice President Paul Taylor says the driver of that widening is not so much that today’s college graduates are doing better than yesterday’s college graduates: it’s that today’s high school-only graduates are doing worse than yesterday’s high school-only graduates.

By collaborating on course offerings and transfer agreements, we are forming stronger pathways that will see more WDT Associate degree programs transferring directly into relevant bachelor’s degree programs at BHSU and SDSM&T. In addition, some BHSU and SDSM&T students might find their interests are more aligned with technical programs and will transfer to Western Dakota Tech. The increase in pathways will provide students more options and flexibility in their educational pursuits.

We are excited to announce we are also working together to create new programming beneficial to the students, colleges, and the community. We are currently identifying industries in the area with high potential for collaborative opportunities, such as culinary arts, hospitality, business leadership, and health care. When these new programs come to fruition, students and industry both receive an avenue for filling roles in high-need industries.

Black Hills State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and Western Dakota Tech are excited about the enhancement of our partnerships and the plans to increase higher education pathways for many. We look forward to future announcements regarding specifics of our agreements and course offerings. We exist to help students be successful and find a career that best suits them. Our efforts in this area will continue together for years to come.

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— Ann Bolman, Ed.D., is president of Western Dakota Technical Institute

— Tom Jackson, Jr., Ed.D., is president of Black Hills State University

— James Rankin, Ph.D., is president of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

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