February 13, 2015 Capitol-ism

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South Dakota Chamber Of Commerce - Capitol-ism E-Newsletter

 February 13, 2015

Special Report – Career Education

How Best to Govern the Technical Institutes?

Things are getting technical as legislature focuses on technical institutes.


As the saying goes, “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there.”  The 1960s were chaotic, turbulent and fast paced compared to the 50s.  Looking back, the 60s were not all that different from the 50s in terms of the economic structure.  The Baby Boomers had all been born by mid-decade and were growing up.  They would be heading to an economy that had distinct structure with some doing “manual labor”, young adults in “middle management” and waiting for the right people to retire - or kick the bucket - and “executives” now known as the Greatest Generation (don’t tell the Millennials).

It is into that economy that technical institutes were also born.  It made more sense to have the local school boards manage the technical institutes.  They were focused on kids that were “good with their hands”.  Today, the economy just like the rest of us, has changed.  While we mortals have slowed down a bit, can’t remember where we put the car keys or anything about the 60s; the economy has become digital, lightning fast and the only thing it forgets is the stuff we wanted to keep.

The growth of the “knowledge economy” has created an entirely new employment structure that needs critical thinking skills and technical knowledge at the old “manual labor” level.  The technical institutes needed to teach more advanced material in more creative ways.  They have done a masterful job of keeping up with the demands of business which has evolved to an operational model that is more distant from the K-12 system than ever before.

The technical institutes need sophisticated equipment and teachers that have life experience in the industry and first hand grasp of the pressures of the positions that students will fill in their future.  The institutes teach in a fast paced shorter time frame and are preparing students for careers not just jobs.  They truly do not fit within the K-12 system smoothly and are not seeking to be universities so they don’t fit well with the Board of Regents.

South Dakota’s Constitution grants the Board of Regents authority over all post-secondary education.  Theoretically the Regents could have exerted control over the technical schools all along but the tradition of those institutes being a locally based and supported school made that impractical, if not completely unwise.  It would be like reminding a younger brother that the family dog was all yours until he came along and that you were taking it back.

The relationship between the technical institutes and the Board of Regents has been rather like a family . . . in the midst of a divorce.  Glibness aside, it must be said that the overall relationship between these groups and people who run them is professional and respectful and works rather well.  That said it must also be acknowledged there are points of friction

Both systems are appealing to young people in the state’s K-12 school districts.  Both systems offer career education promising strong futures to attendees.  While many enrollees leave universities and a portion end up in technical institutes, it is a misnomer to suggest all university dropouts are ending their four year education.  Many will graduate from a different university where they can ditch well-earned, if not flattering, nicknames.

The issue of credits transferring from one system to another is always interesting.  Whether or not the basic English courses offered at the technical institute are taught by the same level of teacher as is required by a university is an important element of the discussion.  Is the curriculum as rigorous?  Try as one may, there is a difference between reviewing “War and Peace” and reading “Hatfields and McCoys”.  To be fair (a standard Capitol-ism strives for when all other options have failed), this transfer issue has become less pressing as the number of special agreements regarding transferring credits has increased.

The high demand for certain skills taught by the technical institutes has created a geographic element to this issue.  There are four long-established technical institutes in South Dakota and they are located in Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Mitchell.  There are other communities that have a strong manufacturing presence with a high level of demand for many skills.  These communities are establishing training facilities and in making sure that the education they offer is recognized, they look to affiliate with an accredited institution. 

Yankton has operated “R-Tech” for many years.  Aberdeen is creating educational opportunities for their citizens and Brookings has a program that it is developing and has a relationship with a school in Minnesota.  No report from Two Dot but if anything ever happens there, we will add them to the list.

What Now . . . What Next?

This brings Capitol-ism to a question that is before the 2015 Legislative Session.  If the governing system stemming from the 60s is designed to address the current needs, what system would be better?  The answer is that no one is certain.  Should there be an independent board like the Regents that oversee the four technical schools?  Are they better being “owned” and governed by the communities so there is a sense of pride and meaning in their existence?  Should they be a division of the Board of Regents or will the Regents reduce them to shop classes?

The answer to the question “What is the bestest (someone mention English classes) way to govern the technical institutes?” is not clear but the fact that there are systemic barriers to embracing the best answer and there are two proposals that seek to remove them as a way of setting the stage so South Dakota can embrace the answer to the first question when it emerges.

The first bill deals with changing the governing system for the four current technical institutes and the second deals with changing the constitution to clearly state that the Legislature, rather than the Board of Regents, will determine the best way to govern the technical institutes and the locations that education will be available.

Both bills have passed the House State Affairs committee and will be voted on by the full House of Representatives next week.  Here is a close look at those two bills.

HB 1118 – creating option for Technical Institute governance (Mickelson R-Sioux Falls) – This bill outlines the procedures for creating a “Local Education Agency” to govern technical institutes.  The bill makes it clear how a technical institute can proceed to create a board that will govern the institute.  Procedures of electing board members and length of terms are included.  This bill also makes it clear that a technical institute can have a governing board other than the local school K-12 board.

HJR 1003 – Constitutional Amendment regarding technical institutes and the Board of Regents.  (Mickelson R-Sioux Falls) – This is a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would change the relationship between the Board of Regents and the four technical institutes.  It affirms the Regents control over “academic or professional degrees of associate of arts, associate of sciences, baccalaureate or greater”.

The bill also provides for legislative control over the Technical Institutes with this language – “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”.

Should HJR 1003 be approved, it will be placed on the ballot for the 2016 election and need to be approved by a majority vote.

Thank for your support of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  See you at Business Day!


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