PIERRE, South Dakota (STL.News) I recently had the privilege of hearing from two impressive young South Dakota college students. Hattie Seten is the Students’ Association President at South Dakota State University, and she was recently selected to be a Rhodes Scholar. Abuk Jiel is the President of the University of South Dakota Student Government Association. They’re both hard-working, incredibly articulate, and both come from low-income families.
Hattie and Abuk told me their stories at a very special event: I had the privilege to sign SB 171, which funds $50 million for the South Dakota Freedom Scholarship. These funds will work with $150 million in private donations ($125 million have already been pledged!) to create an endowment for a needs-based scholarship in South Dakota.
Once established, this endowment will perpetually create opportunities for thousands of students like Hattie and Abuk to go to college. So many of these bright young South Dakotans just need an opportunity to succeed. I challenged the legislature to approve this funding so that we could provide just such an opportunity, and I am so glad that they followed through.
Let’s be clear – this isn’t a free handout. These students need to graduate, and then live and work in South Dakota for at least 3 years after their graduation. After that time, I am confident that many of these folks will decide to build their careers and raise their families in South Dakota. But until very recently, we’ve struggled with young talent leaving our state. This scholarship will help to reverse that trend.
With all of the new businesses flocking to South Dakota, we have a serious need for workforce development. Our unemployment rate is only 3.1%, which is incredible news! But a low unemployment rate means that it can be tough to find skilled workers to fill job openings. This scholarship will be a crucial part of training the workforce that South Dakota needs to staff up the businesses that are moving to our state.
So many people deserve thanks for their generosity in making this happen. T. Denny Sanford and the folks at First Premier Bank and PREMIER Bankcard helped get this project off the ground with the initial $100 million pledge. The legislature stepped up with an additional $50 million. And both Avera Health and Sanford Health pledged $12.5 million apiece, bringing the total funding to $175 million.
But we need $200 million to make this endowment sustainable into the future, so we will continue to work hard to raise the final funds to make this project a reality. Our young South Dakotans deserve nothing less.