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South Dakota losing more graduates to better wages, opportunities elsewhere

South Dakota is second to last in the nation for university graduates leaving the state after graduating.

PIERRE, SD – Those with degrees from the state’s universities continue to exit South Dakota in large numbers after graduation. The US Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC) issued a report  showing the extent of South Dakota’s brain-drain problem.

By 2017, the most recent year available, South Dakota held a score 23.99, 2nd to last in the nation behind only Vermont (26.29).The average annual pay for South Dakotans in 2020 was $44,960, 49th in the nation (including D.C.), ahead of only Arkansas and Mississippi, the South Dakota Board of Regents (BOR) reports.

This statistic is one factor in the continuing trend of ‘brain-drain’ in South Dakota. The term is a euphemism for a state’s young, college educated population leaving the state, for better opportunity and higher wages elsewhere.

Nursing students make up 8.7% of BOR graduates according to the BOR Graduate Production Dashboard, the largest single group by field. According to the Graduate Placement Dashboard, 70.1% of nursing graduates between 2015 and 2019 were not working is South Dakota one year after graduation.

While help wanted signs are posted everywhere across the state, it’s the type of jobs that are (or are not) available that is the problem, according to Reynold Nesiba, a South Dakota State Senator and Professor of Economics at Augustana University in Sioux Falls. “They are, for the most part, lower wage job openings.”

He says there is a disconnect between the number of graduates coming out of South Daktoa universities and the number who can find wage-competitive jobs in the state. The lawmaker hopes that a state report – Senate Bill 55 – will answer the quesiton as to how to create a high-wage economy that is going to be attractive to South Dakota university graduates.

The report includes an interactive map giving a ‘brain-drain-score’ based on the share of highly educated people born in the state 31-40 years earlier who no longer lived there.

So where do South Dakota graduates go?  The JEC report showed the top 5 destinations for highly educated South Dakotans leaving the state are Minnesota, California, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.

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