Regents Want More Degrees; Will South Dakota Retain More Educated Workers with More Pay?

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.

SDBOR, degree cost compared to lifetime earnings boost, August 2016
South Dakota Board of Regents, Postsecondary Return on Investment, August 2016.

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.

19 Responses to Regents Want More Degrees; Will South Dakota Retain More Educated Workers with More Pay?

  1. mike from iowa

    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.

    How many of those $10 goes to pay for student loan debt and interest?

  2. Roger Elgersma

    With the farm crisis of the eighties and nineties and the low wages in the city in South Dakota, it is hard to imagine that there are more people that are mentally capable, smart and no drugs, that would want to go to college. Well if we would have scholarships for the smart poor who can not afford it would be the only spot that we could increase the amount of qualified recruits. We might add a degree in enterprenureship to get some more growth in companies that would provide the jobs that would be needed.

  3. Yes, we do need more and better paying jobs to boost our economy. One great place to start is with renewable energy.

  4. Robert McTaggart

    Wind and natural gas each generate roughly 50 jobs per 1000 MW of electricity. By comparison, each new nuclear plant creates about 500 jobs per 1000 MW of electricity generated. SD does not have a market for such a nuclear plant, but other jobs that support the supply chain, safety, or engineering could develop here.

  5. And once again Dr. McTaggart voices reason. I can only say, “ditto to Dr. McT.” I have given many of the same speeches but I think when it comes from his mouth instead of mine some of you libbies might listen a bit more.

  6. Robert McTaggart

    I would agree with Mark that clean energy should be a growth area for our economy. But nuclear should be part of that too.

    By the way, if you like biofuels, then the small nuclear reactors will eventually help deliver the heat that can process them. I think today they use a lot of natural gas.

  7. Dr. McTaggart! I wondered if someone might draw that connection. Nuclear power plants would indeed offer lots of jobs to keep college graduates here. But would nuke plants face the same transmission challenge as wind farms: not enough users here, so we have to build power lines to bigger markets?

  8. Robert McTaggart


    The transmission challenge depends on the nuclear plant.

    If you are using them in an industrial nature, like for biofuels, then maybe you don’t even have to connect them to the grid. You would be using them for the heat, not for the electricity. Thus they would run 24/7 without those worries.

    The larger ones would be located where the greater population is. So yes you could push that electricity over a wide region and face transmission issues, but a lot of the demand is closer to the plant. Wind and solar farms tend to be located away from the population centers.

    The small reactors would work in a more distributed grid to boost wind and solar when they are not providing enough power. Today the big reactors cannot ramp up and ramp down with the demand very quickly, but the smaller ones could. If naval reactors can do that to power ships, the smaller ones will.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    If you are trying to build the larger plants here to sell electricity to neighboring states, then yes you would face some kind of transmission issue. There may be that opportunity in the future, as Minnesota and Nebraska have older nuclear plants. It is unclear if they would replace them with new nuclear.

    However, the upgrades in the transmission infrastructure that would occur for wind and solar would also benefit nuclear plants that supply power to a wider region. I don’t think the electrons care what is driving them: A better grid helps all electricity producers.

    Jobs that support the nuclear industry would not have to be tied directly to any transmission infrastructure. Those companies could be located here.

  10. Robert McTaggart

    To be transparent, particularly for new readers of the blog, I should say that I oversee the Minor in Nuclear Engineering at SDSU, which is governed by the Board of Regents. We are also working on a 3-2 dual degree program with Idaho State University, whereby students spend 3 years at SDSU in Physics and 2 years at ISU for a MS in Nuclear Science and Engineering.

  11. Will this goal be achieved by getting/helping more who currently enter the University system to successfully complete a degree, or by pushing more freshmen into the system at the current completion ratio?

  12. O, if the Regents just admit more students, they’ll end up like the USD Law School, facing a higher bar exam failure rate and possible loss of accreditation:

  13. Robert McTaggart

    I thought the accrediting body for the law school was different than that for the regular universities. Different rules, different goals.

  14. John Wrede

    Seems to me that these goals are inconsistent with the remainder of State Government policy that I seem to recall is pushing hard for increased enrollment and expanded programs at the States Vocational Schools…. I seem to remember Daugaard mentioning something about improving administration and curriculum by taking jurisdiction away from the BOR and investing it more with local school boards. Maybe I’ve got that backwards. In any event, it would appear that the BOR and the GOP leadership are not singing off the same sheet of music.

    For some reason, some seem to think that a college degree or post graduate work elevates students into the higher paying, white collar work force.. ????? I know several folks with degrees and even a couple of JD’s that are blue collar or have their own small construction business that finds them with a drill driver in their hand most days. Then there is the farm contingent. How many college grads move from the classroom to the seat of a tractor in their own operation or that of the family.

    BOR is right in yet another respect. Advanced education is not a training ground for most occupations but what it does do is teach students to think critically and reason empirically. I’m not convinced that Votech schools do that. We need more cogent thinkers and far fewer politically inspired speculators.

  15. Douglas Wiken

    SD universities need to concentrate more on graduating students rather than sorting them out be means of boring irrelevancy and needless drudgery.

    If a nuclear plant requires so many workers per power unit, why does it make sense?

    So-called “stranded” wind power does not need to be transported out of SD with expensive power lines. It can be used right here to produce chemicals that are environmentally friendly or green. Spread the jobs around instead of concentrating them in cities with high living costs.

    I appreciate McTaggart’s comments and his integrity in revealing his position in education, but Thorium salt systems can be more easily sized and more simply controlled. We do not need to rely on Uranium systems simply because GE has a near monopoly on production and I assume also influences Universities and legislatures to look only at Uranium-based systems.

  16. Douglas Wiken

    And on another track, quickly approving medicare/medicaid expansion in SD would put $45 million into SD economy nearly overnight and would also require many more educated South Dakotans. Our SD press and media do not seem to ever put GOP propaganda into relevant context.

  17. Robert McTaggart

    If you are pro-labor, and want industries that demand lots of higher-paying jobs, then nuclear fits that role.

    Many of those jobs are involved with compliance with regulations. Some are in security and some are in the business side. But the designs that are operating today use a lot of different subsystems, so that all requires engineering. Ironically, very few of those jobs are for pure nuclear engineers. There are many more regular engineers that are on the payroll. Which is why an engineering degree with the NE minor is a good way to go.

  18. Robert McTaggart

    I think there are various reasons why we are using uranium today instead of thorium for our power plants. Certainly the fact that the Navy successfully powered its vessels with uranium had something to do with it. Probably the production of plutonium from U-235 reactors had an impact in an era when nuclear weapons were being built.

    However, a big factor was that one could use water to cool the plants. The two types of light water reactors (pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors) were very stable. Once those became commonplace, thorium development just stopped.

    Water provides an extra safety feature: When it is heated, it expands in the right way. Neutrons in the core then do not encounter as many water molecules when the density drops, so fewer neutrons get slowed down. Fewer slow neutrons means the fission reaction drops, so the power drops. If you leave the water-based reactor alone and water levels are maintained, the power levels will oscillate about an average value.

  19. Douglas Wiken

    ” Probably the production of plutonium from U-235 reactors had an impact in an era when nuclear weapons were being built.” According to one author promoting Thorium, it was primarily opposition from Admiral Rickover and his influence with congress that killed the Thorium project which was working well, but not producing weapons grade isotopes.