Friday, November 28, 2014

What??!! Only 26% Of "Mines" Grads Find Work In South Dakota? Something's Amiss Here.

      That South Dakota School Of Mines And Technology (known locally as "Mines") 
is one of the country's leading engineering, science and technology schools is well known.  Its graduates 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.


  1. We simply don’t capitalize on this. What do you think this city would look like for our children and grandchildren if we bonded $180 million in tax dollars over the next 30 years to help create and maintain a relevant, high tech, economic base?

  2. "I just wish somebody in our state's leadership would address it, up front."
    Haha, good luck with that John. Daugaard's business friendly policy, of which his pay them nothing and pocket the profits mentality is the cornerstone, is a complete failure. The sooner everybody figures that out the better we all will be. Unfortunately we are stuck with four more years of Daugaard and his failed policy, which if you look at it, is just an extension of previous failed policy of the same kind. Voters have decided they like what we have here, they get what they elect.

  3. Dennis, what can the city do with $180M in bonds to create more engineering jobs?

  4. Most of the high paid grads are going into the oil extraction biz, making our school Frack U. Hopefully as we transition to wind and solar, the school will keep pace with the energy industry and be trend setters in new renewable technologies. I'd love to see more local investment in the manufacture of wind and solar technologies.

  5. We do it by switching the paradigm of how we see money move in our local economy. We start with the realization that we can get jobs for low skilled, low paid workers, but what we really want is high skilled, high paid workers.

    The true profit engine of our economy today is knowledge. Companies are not hiring Mines graduates because of what they can make, they are hiring them because of what they know. The intellectual propriety of the patents they create and help create is where the real value is, particularly in, but not limited to, IT. This isn’t generally obvious because the value of intellectual property doesn’t show up on Profit and Loss statements and so sometimes we will see a company pay billions of dollars for another (typically a start-up) that has never made a profit. The purchaser is buying patents the not profitable company has developed and owns.

    So, instead of spending money to build a new civic center, which is just a building that designed to create profits in Rapid City, we take that money and use it to specifically design and create a corridor designed around the School of Mines, it’s knowledge, and it’s product: young people with engineering degrees who have that knowledge. There is very little actual need to ship them to other places as they will never actually build something, they will use their knowledge of highly advanced and technical engineering to design things that will be build at remote locations (often China). They will sit in offices. We can build offices here.

    A place to start would be a building that is absolutely state of the art in things such as teleconferencing. At the same time we contact the companies that typically hire the graduates, tell them our plan, and provide an economic incentive for them to satellite operations here, for instance a lower starting salary, which we make up to the graduates by refinancing their student loans at a decent interest rate (say 1%), or simply paying some of them off as they stay here (which many, many want to). Everyone starts to win.

    With the Civic Center we are talking about spending $300 million dollars over the next 30 years. That is an enormous amount of money we could use in outside of the box thinking that could actually elevate our local economy dramatically in a few short years (imagine Rapid City filled with Twenty-Somethings earning an average starting salary of about $50,000).

    1. Dennis, I'm making this a headlined post.