The Board of Regents continues to push the magical concept of “degree production.” Bob Mercer reports that the Regents spent three hours yesterday at their River Rock Lodge retreat discussing a new institutional goal: raising the number of 25–34-year-old South Dakotans with college degrees from 45% to 65%. To meet that goal, the Regents will have to increase degree production by 50%:
Daniel Palmer, a vice president on the regents’ staff, said universities in South Dakota generate about 6,000 degrees per year and South Dakota would need another 3,000 annually, starting last year, to reach the 65 percent target by 2025 [Bob Mercer, “Regents Prepare to Set State Goal of More Degree-Bearing Workers,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.08.03].
The Regents analyze Census data to show that for every dollar spent getting a degree, students in South Dakota and adjoining states can count on making more than ten dollars in lifetime earnings beyond what they would have earned with nothing but a high school diploma.
The Regents cite a positive correlation between the percentage of the population with university degrees and per capita income. The Regents also cite research suggesting that having a higher percentage of degree-holding residents causes GDP growth.
If higher degree attainment does produce economic growth, the Regents should crank out all the degrees they can. But the state will need to find a way to stop those degree-holders from taking their moneymakers elsewhere. The Regents acknowledge that South Dakota continues to export people with degrees and import people without. If the Regents act alone, they will produce more degree-holders who will in their new enlightenment realize they can make more money elsewhere. If we don’t offer job opportunities for degree-holders with wages and a political climate that appeal to educated workers, any Regental effort to churn out more degrees will keep the universities afloat but not the local economy.
South Dakota could reach the Regental 65%-degree-holder goal without any Regental action. Get the private sector and the K-12 schools to offer regionally competitive wages, and the well-educated workforce will beat a path to our door.