Veteran groups applaud Noem’s proposed tuition benefits

Governor Kristi Noem wants to provide free tuition to members of the South Dakota National Guard, regardless of what degree they are getting.
Governor Kristi Noem wants to provide free tuition to members of the South Dakota National Guard, regardless of what degree they are getting.
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 8:40 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - Members of the South Dakota National Guard could be going to college totally free as soon as next year, if a proposal by Governor Kristi Noem makes it through the state legislature.

During the Governor’s annual budget address Tuesday, Noem proposed providing full tuition benefits to South Dakota National Guardsmen attending one of South Dakota’s public colleges or universities. Currently, the state funds 50% of tuition for members of the National Guard going to a Board of Regents school, and 80% of tuition for those going to a state technical college.

“I want to take both of those numbers to 100%,” Noem said during her address. “We should fully support the men and women of our National Guard as they pursue their education, and they serve our state and country.”

The Governor’s Bureau of Finance and Management (BFM) projects that the increase would cost the state just under $2 million a year.

Additionally, Noem’s plan makes it so that the 100% coverage rate would apply to any degree at South Dakota’s public colleges and universities, ranging from two-year degrees to doctorates.

“We support any benefits the state can provide to it’s military,” explained Tom Hafner, a 31 year veteran of the South Dakota National Guard. Hafner now serves as the Commander of the South Dakota chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “So this can only enhance the Guard’s status, and hopefully, their overall strength too.”

The proposal comes at a time where the National Guard, and the military as a whole, has struggled to recruit new soldiers. According to a September report from the Associated Press, the Army alone fell about 25% short of its recruiting goal for the prior fiscal year.

“Tuition costs have continually gone up, any student that possibly has a family to support, this will help them with their outside needs too,” Hafner said. “Their housing, food, those types of things will be positively impacted.”

A draft of the bill with the proposal in it will likely be released in the days leading up to the start of the legislative session next month.