I wasn't as chagrined as a lot of folks upon learning that SD Governor Dennis Daugaard spoke to this year's gathering at Girls Sate in Sioux Falls and gave them a lecture about their educational aspirations. He laid out the practical consequences of pursuing some degrees and forsaking others, putting it thusly: “I’m not saying you shouldn’t follow your dreams. If you’ve got your heart set on being a philosopher and you’re going to get a degree in philosophy, God bless you. Have at it. But know that at the end of that ... four-year road, it’s very difficult to get a job. While there are many good degrees, there are many others that lead to virtually no opportunities." Further along in the speech, Daugaard noted, “In South Dakota particularly, the demands that we’re seeing are in the sciences, engineering, information technology, accounting, the health fields and in the skilled trades, machining, welding, construction trades, manufacturing trades.” Cory Heidelberger's outstanding blog Madville Times has a spirited discussion about the event, the speech, and Daugaard's disregard for a humanities/liberal arts-based university education.
I'm not crazy about the way the Governor disdained the practical value of a liberal arts curriculum leading to a future of "virtually no opportunities." I've seen different and I know better. Just the same, I'll cut him some slack. Daugaard was offering some fact-based advice to a block of some of South Dakota's most outstanding young women and, at the same time, addressing the pressing need for skilled workers and professionals in South Dakota's labor market. Last January Daugaard noted during the legislative session that developing South Dakota's labor force would be a top priority this year. He has already embarked on a series of "workforce summits" around the state, where he's been engaging local business and civic leaders in meetings meant to produce ideas on how expand our state's skilled labor pool.
This talk to the young women at Girl's State meshes with the Governor's overall plan to get a more technically proficient population of workers in South Dakota. It makes sense, up to a point--the point being, what is the Governor doing about making South Dakota an attractive enough state in which to secure the services and lifelong commitments of these highly prized workers? Daugaard seems to think that South Dakota, in its present cultural and economic condition, is a self-selling entity that has enough innate attractions to entice these future technicians and highly skilled professionals to want to stay here in the first place. On that score, I think the Governor is kidding himself.
If Daugaard wants to sell these young women on educating themselves and remaining in South Dakota to pursue their careers, he has to give them reasons why they should do so. That demand for them exists doesn't make the sale. There's equal demand for them everywhere. Actually, given pay differentials between South Dakota and our surrounding states, demand for them elsewhere is greater than it is here in SD. Meantime, these Girl's Staters are being asked by Daugaard to contemplate rearing their future children in a state with the lowest paid teachers in the United States. On a performance scale, South Dakota's public schools ranked dead last in Education Week's survey of American schools in 2013. Daugaard is trying to get the probably sizable group of soon-to-be young moms in the audience interested in furthering their vocational skills, no doubt hoping they'll stay in SD, while ignoring the fact that their home state is a not-very-impressive venue for rearing their children.
Good luck with that, Governor.