Press "Enter" to skip to content

HB 1083: Bartels Fiddles with Vo-Tech Names and—Surprise!—Triggers Constitutional Crisis!

In more Legislative fluffery, Representative Hugh Bartels offers House Bill 1083, 55 sections of find-and-replace to change the official name of our four public vo-tech schools from “technical institute” to “technical college.”

As usual, the Legislative approach to education is image over everything:

By referring to the four schools as technical colleges, South Dakota will align with the overwhelming majority of other states across the nation.

“When the Aspen Institute named Lake Area Tech the nation’s best two-year college in 2017, this is the language they used. Institute is an antiquated term in post-secondary education,” noted one of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Hugh Bartels, a Republican from Watertown and co-sponsor of the legislation. “I want to ensure that the way we refer to our technical schools reflects the caliber of their programs, faculty and graduates.”

A central mission of the Board of Technical Education is to change the public perception of technical education in South Dakota.

“South Dakota is home to one of the very best technical education systems in the nation,” said Board Chairman Dana Dykhouse. “This legislation reaffirms for students and families that the four technical schools in our state offer a high-quality college education that leads to high-paying careers” [“Legislation Would Change Name of State’s Technical Schools,” Rapid City Journal, 2020.01.12].

Funny: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology seem to have no problem conveying the quality of its programs, faculty, and graduates. he South Dakota School of Mines and Technology doesn’t use any of those terms—it’s just a School! Does Mines need a name change to convince engineers to attend, or are better starting salaries than Harvard grads get enough?

School, Vo-Tech, Institute, College, University—no matter what we call a thing, quality tends to speak for itself.

Obama's Lake Area Jacket
President Obama’s jacket—still good! (AP Photo)

HB 1083 does not reduce tuition (it may cause an increase, what with all the new signs and stationery and name badges we’ll have to order), raise instructor pay, expand or establish programs, upgrade facilities or classroom equipment, or take any other substantive steps to help students graduate with less debt and more skills. It does strike a couple statutory instances of the word such and capitalizes one word (Authority, in Section 17). But editing 55 statutes to make a name change happen is probably all the effort we can expect from legislators to improve education.

Alas, it appears that Rep. Bartels got tired before he found all the statutes HB 1083 needs to change. He got SDCL 1-55-1 in Section 32, but he missed SDCL 1-55-2, which authorizes the state’s debt collection agency to shake down students at “any postsecondary technical institute.” Pass HB 1083 as is, put up the new signs on July 1, and vo-tech deadbeats go free!

HB 1083 also misses references to technical institutes in…

But the biggest omission, and one Representative Bartels cannot rectify, is Article 14 Section 3 of the South Dakota Constitution:

The state university, the agriculture college, the school of mines and technology, the normal schools, a school for the deaf, a school for the blind, and all other educational institutions that may be sustained either wholly or in part by the state and that offer academic or professional degrees of associate of arts, associate of sciences, baccalaureate or greater, shall be under the control of a board of five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the senate under such rules and restrictions as the Legislature shall provide. The Legislature may increase the number of members to nine. Postsecondary technical education institutes that offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees and certificates or their successor equivalents and that are funded wholly or in part by the state shall be separately governed as determined by the Legislature.

The bolded part is Amendment R, which the Legislature proposed and we voters approved (barely, thanks this humble blog’s patient explanation) in 2016 to resolve wording issues that made the long-standing governance of our vo-techs separate from the Board of Regents technically illegal. Pass HB 1083, and we will suddenly have four “technical colleges” which are not technically covered by the new language we all worked so hard together to write into our Constitution. Make our vo-techs “colleges”, Hugh, and you open the door for the Regents to commit their long-feared takeover of those campi!

House Bill 1083 won’t change anything but the signage at South Dakota’s four vo-techs. But it just might force the Legislature to place another amendment on our November ballot to make sure the Board of Technical Education can still technically govern our technical schools.


  1. Chris S. 2020-01-25

    Why don’t we just call them community colleges like a normal, less insecure state would? Iowa has a great system of community colleges, and they’re not afraid to call them what they are. Rebranding isn’t going to magically make Lake Area Tech into MIT, and besides which, it’s not supposed to be that kind of school. Lake Area, Mitchell, etc., are perfectly good community colleges. How about we stop being ashamed of them for some bizarre reason, stop obsessing about the branding, and just support their educational mission already?

  2. Terry Sullivan 2020-01-25

    This is another positive step in the development of the state’s four technical institutes which probably should have been addressed when the recognition came that they no longer fit under their local school district’s governance structure. Through their evolvement, they are indeed technical colleges that fit the community college profile, offering associate degrees and college transfer opportunities for the broad publics they serve in their communities not having a complete university presence. Few states call their schools technical institutes anymore, much like few colleges still call themselves colleges any longer. They’re all universities! Most parents want their kids to attend a college or a university. It’s time South Dakota responds and gets in line with the rest of the country. “Round wheels are better, but square wheels are ok.”

  3. Loren 2020-01-25

    This is a really stupid idea. Everyone knows the correct terminology would be “technical UNIVERSITY,” as in “Trump University,” no? ;-)

  4. Debbo 2020-01-25

    It’s not a bad idea to name them “community colleges,” as that is the most common name and well understood nationwide. Maybe phase it in gradually.

  5. grudznick 2020-01-25

    Looks like the Council of Research for the Legislatures really botched another one in Mr. Bartels name. Mr. Bartels does not take kindly to the Councils frequent botching.

  6. Pat Meyer 2020-01-26

    Educate them & they (businesses) will come….

Comments are closed.