It Takes a Village: South Dakota’s Collaborative Workforce Education Program

By Keley Smith-Keller

What happens when state funding is limited, unemployment rates are low, and employers are desperate for skilled trades workers?

In South Dakota the answer is a collaborative workforce education effort, called the Build Dakota Scholarship program. In the spirit of collaboration, this $50 million scholarship training program is funded by a $25 million donation from South Dakota philanthropist, Denny Sanford, and a $25 million match from the state of South Dakota.

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard said the program is aimed at students entering high-need workforce programs at one of South Dakota’s four technical institutes (South Dakota’s technical colleges). It allows students to graduate without debt and to fill jobs that South Dakota businesses have had trouble filling. An August 2014 report from Daugaard's office determined that the state is facing a labor supply shortage for industries that require considerable training. The scholarships are for diploma (one year) and associate of applied science (two year) degree programs in these high-need workforce areas: nursing, paramedic, precision manufacturing, welding, engineering technology, construction, automotive and energy technology.

The program has expectations for Build Dakota Scholarship graduates. Awarded students must agree to remain in South Dakota for three years to work in their studied field. The program’s aim is to award 300 full scholarships per year. The scholarship program will involve all four of the state's technical schools:

  1. Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls,
  2. Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City,
  3. Mitchell Technical Institute in Mitchell and
  4. Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown.

Scholarship graduates who move out of South Dakota before their three-year work commitment is completed will have their scholarships converted to loans. See www.builddakotascholarships.com for more information.

But, What About Dropouts?
Despite the program’s popularity and rigorous screening by the technical institutes, dropout rates during 2015-16 were at 18 percent: 54 students and $294,370.78 in scholarship dollars. It became apparent that a better predictive tool was needed to screen Build Dakota Scholarship applicants.

Three South Dakota researchers decided to investigate a better screening tool to more accurately predict retention and persistence-to-graduation for scholarship applicants:

  1. Keley Smith-Keller, Ed.D. – Assistant Director, Postsecondary Education, SD Department of Education/Division of Career & Technical Education;
  2. Tracy Noldner, Vice President Student Affairs & Institutional Research – Southeast Technical Institute;
  3. Sherri Hoss, faculty member, Certified Nursing Assistant Program, Southeast Technical Institute.

Research supports the link between career decidedness and persistence to graduation (Mechur Karp, 2013). Based on this premise, Smith-Keller and colleagues used the Cognitive Information Processing Approach for Career Development (CIP) (Peterson et al, 2003), as a basis for surveying first-time, full-time students enrolling at Southeast Technical Institute. This model describes career decision making (and, subsequently, choosing a career training program) as a problem-solving activity. In this model, if students can master specific problem-solving steps, they can identify and solve career-related issues throughout their lives. For more information on this theory: http://career.fsu.edu/content/download/283129/1982407/Article_CoreConceptsofCIP_2003.pdf.

An online survey was developed which targeted first-time, full-time students who were in their first semester of classes. Build Dakota Scholarship recipients were intentionally targeted in the survey. The survey asked students to respond to five survey questions. These questions aligned with the CIP model.
Questions were:

  • How do your interests fit the program you have chosen?
  • In what occupation do you see yourself when you’re finished?
  • What is your eventual career goal?
  • Describe to me how you made this important decision, to enroll in this particular program.
  • Tell me how you plan to reach your occupational and career goal.

One hundred forty-four surveys were returned. Researchers developed and tested a four-point, Likert-like rubric for each question. Response range: Undeveloped, Emerging, Developing, Mastery. Points for responses ranged from 1 (Undeveloped) to 4 (Mastery). Survey responses were scored and respondents could be categorized as follows: Undeveloped = 5; Emerging = 6-10; Developing = 11-15; and Mastery = 16-20. Student scores will be compared to retention data for the survey respondents.

Preliminary Findings
Correlational data is to be calculated this fall for respondents, but there is preliminary data that support the research premise. Data on dropouts were available for the Build Dakota Scholarship program for 2015-16 recipients in May 2016. Reasons articulated by these dropouts fell largely into two categories – program selection (program didn’t fit student’s interests) and secondly, attendance issues (students were dropped for failing to show up for class). This latter factor may be related to career maturity (Kerby, 2015).

Next Steps
Based on findings, researchers are developing a scholarship screening approach that better measures scholarship applicants’ career maturity. As an example, the scholarship application form includes the questions from the research survey. Plans are to refer students with undeveloped responses to the technical institutes’ Student Success Centers.

The research project has yielded other career decision-making tools, too. A CIP-influenced career decision-making map has been created for South Dakota high school students and school counselors. In addition, a parent’s guide to career decision making, also based on the CIP model, has been developed as a complementary tool. These products can be accessed at www.sdmylife.com.

In Summary
South Dakota has created a workforce training model that involves the whole “village”, private philanthropists, state funding and support, and research efforts, all in an effort to better prepare tomorrow’s workforce in the state.

Kerby, M. (2015). Toward a new predictive model of student retention in higher education: An application of classical sociological theory. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, August 2015, 17(2), pp. 138-161.

Mechur Karp, M. (2013). Entering a program: Helping students make academic and career choices. Retrieved from: http://www.isac.org/dotAsset/6392c9c0-0801-4e0d-b072-be14ec0736f0.pdf

Peterson, G. W., Sampson, J. P., Reardon, R. C., & Lenz, J. G. (2003). Core concepts of a cognitive approach to career development and services. Retrieved from: http://career.fsu.edu/content/download/283129/1982407/Article_CoreConceptsofCIP_2003.pdf


Keley Smith Keller 2016Keley Smith-Keller, Ed.D., LPC, is the assistant director for postsecondary education with the South Dakota Department of Education/Division of Career & Technical Education. She is a licensed professional counselor in South Dakota and she has worked with career development issues at the postsecondary and secondary level for the past 20 years. She is also a committee member and past co-chair of the NCDA Ethics Committee. She can be reached at keley.smithkeller@state.sd.us.


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