South Dakota Board of Regents approves budget request, asks legislators to freeze tuition

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PIERRE, South Dakota — The South Dakota Board of Regents wants to continue a tuition freeze for in-state students at the state's six public universities for another year, saying the funding is necessary to keep tuition affordable and the state's colleges competitive.

The state's higher education governing body approved its annual legislative budget request, which asks for about $12.8 million in all, including $6.8 million in exchange for keeping tuition level.

In their budget, the regents made the tuition freeze their highest priority.

Legislators granted the request from regents in the last legislative session to hold the line on tuition for on-campus resident students.

Freezing tuition for a second year will cost taxpayers slightly more, but it's a worthy investment, said South Dakota State University President David Chicoine.

"Is that ($6.8 million) investment going to have the rate of return that is greater than if we spent it in some other way? I think there's a pretty good upside for that investment," said Chicoine, noting that schools like SDSU need to keep tuition low to stay competitive and affordable in the upper Midwest region.

The entire budget request to fund the base seeks slightly less than a $13 million increase in annual funding, which includes investments for deferred maintenance on academic buildings and increasing the funds dedicated to the state's Opportunity Scholarship.

The Opportunity Scholarship currently covers about 16 percent of the cost of attending college for four years. The regents, who say the program hasn't seen new funding in almost a decade, are requesting an additional $1.6 million in funding so that it will cover about 20 percent.

In addition to their base funding requests — items that will be funded annually for years to come — the regents also are seeking about $21.9 million in one-time funding, for such projects as a Chinese language and culture center at Northern State University.

The center, known as a Confucius Institute, bridges the gap between the education system in China and universities around the world. As of 2011, there were 353 Confucius Institutes and 473 Confucius Classrooms in 104, according to documents provided by the regents.

Northern State hopes the Confucius Institute — which would be the first of its kind in the Dakotas — would enhance its Center for Excellence in International Business and help bring more international Chinese students to the school.

Regents also hope to attain $10 million in funding to provide matching funds for capital construction projects, $3 million for research equipment and $7 million to expand the Graduate Education and Applied Research (GEAR) Center, which would house the Biomedical Engineering Program at the University of South Dakota.

The budget request will next be forwarded to Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

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