Sanford giving $25 million to South Dakota technical school scholarships to help fill jobs

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford is donating $25 million to South Dakota for a scholarship program for the state’s technical schools, the governor’s office announced Wednesday.

The state is matching Sanford’s gift by pledging $25 million of its own to create the Build Dakota Scholarship Program, which officials say will help fill empty jobs and address a worker shortage that is hindering South Dakota’s growth.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard said the program is aimed at students entering “high-need” workforce programs at state technical institutes. It will allow students beginning in the fall of 2015 to graduate without debt and to fill jobs that South Dakota businesses have had trouble filling. An August report from Daugaard’s office determined that the state is facing a labour supply shortage for industries that require considerable training.

“The establishment of this scholarship will mean that each year hundreds of our young people will have the opportunity to enter high-demand fields without incurring debt,” Daugaard said in a statement. “The impact of this will be huge, not only for the students who receive the scholarship but for our entire state which has been faced with workforce challenges.”

Sanford made his money in the banking business and owns First Premier Bank/Premier Bankcard. He has given away more than $1 billion of his fortune to groups across the country.

Available for students who agree to remain in South Dakota for three years to work in their studied field, Daugaard expects to award 300 full scholarships per year, starting in the fall of 2015. The scholarship program will involve all four of the state’s technical schools: Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City, Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell and Lake Area Tech in Watertown.

In 2020, an endowment would shift to fund about 50 scholarships annually. The governor’s office also put forward another $1 million in funding earlier this year to help address the worker shortage.

“Business leaders across South Dakota have told me that workforce is the single largest obstacle to our continued economic growth,” Economic Development Commissioner Pat Costello said. “Some businesses have been unable to expand because of the lack of workers. Others have turned down business. This new scholarship will go a long way in addressing that problem.”