enjoy a 98% job placement rate, with average starting salaries for its Bachelor's degrees holders at a handsome $62k/year. Not bad these days, not bad at all. Only problem with all this, at least from the perspective of a South Dakotan whose taxes go to support the school, is that just 26% of its grads find work here
First-year South Dakota placement rates, by campus, 2012. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Students," Nov. 2014, p. 9.in South Dakota, which seems quite odd on a couple of fronts, actually.
First off, there's the matter of the school's mission. From its website, Mines acknowledges that it is a national-class school, noting that "the nation needs more well-prepared engineers and scientists to help meet the challenges of the twenty-first century." All South Dakotans should take some pride in the fact that we have a school of this caliber in the state, one that trains its students to take their places in work settings around the United States--and no doubt in many other parts of the world.
This is fantastic, but what I find troubling about it is that the school essentially is committed to serving as an academic conduit through which students, by a 3-to-1 margin, are being trained here, then exported out of the state. For this I don't fault Mines, but I do wonder why our state's political and business leaders don't see an inherent problem. Are South Dakotans getting a fair return on the investments that we make in the intellectual capital created by the school and then sent abroad in such sizable quantities? These numbers make me wonder if the discussions about privatizing Mines a few years ago didn't have some merit, after all. I think the notion could use some reconsideration.
More challenging, particularly to our elected officials, is the problem of why South Dakota doesn't have an economic environment that can capture more Mines graduates and entice them to stay here. From the table above you can see that our state's universities, except for Mines, have reasonably high in-state placement rates. Why not Mines? And why is Governor Dennis Daugaard pitching studies in engineering and technical fields when the one school that specializes in that area of training loses 75% of its graduates to other states? A couple of months ago, Governor Daugaard spoke at Girls State and told those promising young women, no doubt the cream of their generation's crop, that they should get a degree in one of the technical fields: "In South Dakota particularly," he said, "the demands that we're seeing are in the sciences, engineering, information technology, accounting, the health fields and in the skilled trades." Looking at it from the perspective of a recent Mines graduate, I'd say this is a load.
I understand that Daugaard is stressing these studies in order to be consistent with his year-long commitment to addressing South Dakota's chronic workforce shortage. That we're short of people with technical skills is a given. That our top technical school grads have trouble finding jobs in those fields is a fact. Is it that the jobs aren't actually there in the quantities that Daugaard thinks they are? Or is it just that South Dakota's lousy wage structure can't attract top people in these fields to stay here? There's a reason for the deplorable in-state placement numbers from the School of Mines. I just wish somebody in our state's leadership would address it, up front.