Oct 1, 2021

By Rep. Scott Odenbach, District 31

OPINION — On Wednesday evening, I attended a great meeting at the Joy Center in Spearfish to discuss the results and recommendations of the SB55 Task Force. The room was packed, and it was encouraging to see so many people show up who care about the future of Black Hills State University. While BH has faced some tough challenges over the past few years, there are now some good things happening, and it’s important for people in District 31 and throughout Western South Dakota to care about its success. We are fortunate to have a beautiful university located in Spearfish. It adds to our quality of life, brings in many new young people every year, and is a great benefit to our region.

SB55 was an effort put in motion by the Legislature in 2020 to address needed reforms at our state’s higher education institutions, including Black Hills State University. Examples include a review of duplicative administrative functions and/or program offerings, to trimming programs or majors with low enrollments or numbers of graduates. It also included a mandate to conduct, “A review of functions outside the core missions of teaching, learning, and research.” A very good idea. The South Dakota Board of Regents will be issuing their final report in November.  You can learn more about the process at https://www.sdbor.edu/SB55TaskForce/Pages/default.aspx.

Specific to BHSU, I think there is a consensus that for the past few years an inequitable funding formula from the state, a lack of vision by leadership and the changing landscape of the business of higher education, all combined to provide major headwinds against success. Enrollment has dropped and action is needed to implement a new vision for the future that takes into account everything from changes in technology to changing attitudes about the value of higher education and how it should be delivered. Our new University President Dr. Laurie Nichols is working hard to address these issues, and it is encouraging to see. From a revamp of the marketing department to a streamlined process for scholarship awards, it is clear that those in leadership at BHSU got the message that change was needed – in part spurred on by SB55. In June the Board of Regents sent on for Legislative approval the BHSU budget requests for a new campus location at Ellsworth Air Force Base, as well as funding for space modifications to the BHSU center in Rapid City to accommodate changes to the West River nursing program with SDSU. Both are exciting developments. Also in the works is a potential expansion of the Young Center fitness area, among other things.

Many good people spoke up during the meeting with thoughts and ideas to drive future success. I look forward to working closely with community and university leaders in Pierre during the next Legislative session to seek approval for smart priorities that will benefit the unique mission of Black Hills State University in the future.

Source:  Black Hills Pioneer (https://www.bhpioneer.com/opinion/the-future-of-black-hills-state-university/article_fbf831ca-22d6-11ec-9d6e-23410aba53f8.html )