Onward Yankton is at the halfway point of its 100-day quest for the next great idea for our first capital city. Citizens have already submitted dozens of interesting ideas, including suggestions to build a STEM high school and Christian school. Al Koliner would like to resurrect Yankton College with a few classrooms in the Mead Building.
Roger C. Smith wants to think even bigger: he says we should get the feds to shut down the Yankton Federal Prison Camp and hand the campus back to the community for use as a community college. I don’t see Smith’s idea on Onward Yankton yet, but here’s the full proposal as submitted over the holiday to Dakota Free Press:
In 1946/47 Yankton’s own US Senator Chan Gurney and the late, great citizen Carl Youngworth asked the US Government to help with the Nash Gym project at Yankton College. Now almost 70 years later,Yankton is going to ask the US Government to give Yankton College back to Yankton.
One of the worst things to happen in Yankton and to Yankton in my lifetime was the closing of YC in 1984. My idea is to organize a group of Yanktonians to ask the Bureau of Prisons to turn over Yankton College to Yankton citizens and remake it into a Junior College/VoTech Center/Community College. We would gather a group consisting of, but not limited to, City officials, county officials, R-Tech board members, Yankton College board members, etc., and with our 3 South Dakota Congress members, go to the Bureau of Prisons and ask for YC to be back in the hands of Yankton, where it belongs. The Bureau of Prisons is not building nor acquiring YC type facilities any longer, and I firmly believe they would like to rid themselves of the YC operation. They just need to be asked! There would be, or should be, no cost to Yankton for this transfer. Once YC is back, we would develop and educate and train our own skilled employees for Yankton and the surrounding area. Funds would be, and are, available through State and Federal grants, scholarships, reasonable tuition and fees, and other sources. Students would be in town spending money locally vs. prisoners stuck on campus not spending money with local merchants. The YC infrastructure is in tremendous condition; no money would need to be spent on improvements. Nash Gym would once again play a significant role in Yankton’s athletic facility inventory.
Will the Bureau of Prisons give YC back to Yankton? They will sooner than later. Technology is available now that does not require “campuses” to be used for housing prisoners. Federal drug laws are changing. We need to ask now and plant the seed now! We have a chance to do something very good and very big in Yankton, and for Yankton, that years from now will cause people to ask “Why did that take so long?”.
Roger Smith [e-mail to Dakota Free Press, 2015.05.25]
Smith apparently doesn’t feel bad about denying prisoners one of the nicest places in the country to do time. But as Smith notes, a community college or vo-tech would reinforce the local economy in short-term and long-term ways that a prison can’t. A school brings to town students who will buy groceries, rent apartments, and fill jobs while they take classes. When those students graduate, they provide skilled labor to meet the workforce needs that are as significant in Yankton as anywhere else in South Dakota.
Another economic boost would come from employment at the new Yankton College itself. One would think that a new Yankton College could employ at least as many instructors as the prison camp employs guards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, correctional officers and jailers make an annual mean wage of $34,660; postsecondary vocational instructors average $49,670. Vo-tech teachers might also be easier to recruit to Yankton: BLS says South Dakota’s average vo-tech teacher pay is 93% of the national average for that field; South Dakota prison guards get just 77% of their job’s national average.
Governor Daugaard wants more students to pursue vocational education; should Yankton respond by creating another two-year institution of learning?