Classroom Lab

Students are busy in a classroom laboratory in this photo from website of the USD Community College for Sioux Falls.

In early April, no one knew what the formal name of the institution now known as the USD Community College for Sioux Falls would be called.

Despite that uncertainty, Carmen Simone was confident that it would not be known as a university center.

“That’s being changed because it’s part of our past,” she said. “It’s very confusing for people because they think they’re getting a degree from University Center-Sioux Falls, and they’re not. University Center-Sioux Falls was never authorized to grant degrees. The three institutions that are partnered there are each authorized to grant degrees, so you’re really getting a USD degree, a DSU degree or an SDSU degree. There’s no such thing as a UCSF degree.

“That has been very confusing for people and no one quite understood what the role University Center really was then in that old model. We’re trying to get rid of that and give some clarity and brand the three universities that are there,” Simone said, who is now a USD vice president and dean now that USD has formally launched the community college. “They have very strong brands, strong appeal, very specific programming that they bring to the table and we don’t want to cloud that in any sort of way.”

The new community college will also continue and improve the former UCSF’s partnership with Southeast Technical Institute.

“We’ve had partnerships with Southeast Tech off and on over the years,” she said, “and for the last few years it has not been as strong of a partnership as we would like it to be and we really want to grow that partnership. We want to make sure everything we do is hand-in-glove and complementary and not competitive, especially when we’re serving the businesses in Sioux Falls.

“We want to be able to go there together and offer non-credit workforce training and those kinds of opportunities in a way that’s cohesive and collaborative,” Simone said. “We’re very, very excited about this partnership with Southeast Tech.”

The Bachelor of Science in Technical Leadership program being offered at the new community college is designed specifically to take graduates from Southeast Tech or any other technical institute “and build on their two year degree the next two years to give them a baccalaureate without losing credits,” she said. “Those credits will transfer into a program that’s only about two years old now. Before that program was put into place, those students would have had to start over if they wanted to advance their career.”

The bachelor degree in technical leadership is designed for students who have received their AAS (Associate of Applied Science) degrees and are employed in entry-level positions in, for example, automotive or welding fields.

“They’re looking to start moving up in their company and they don’t have the skills to become a manager,” Simone said. ‘This program is designed to give them those skills for that next step in their career so they can climb that career ladder.”

The type and levels of education that individuals should receive, she said, keeps swinging. At one time, an emphasis was given to helping young people achieve a four-year college degree or higher. In recent years there has been a focus on offering technical education.

“There were years where everybody was supposed to get a four-year degree,” Simone said. “Now we’re at a pendulum swing where nobody should get a four-year degree; they should all go to technical school and get hands-on training. The real answer is in-between because we need all of all spectrum in order to fulfill the needs of our society and it really should be the student that’s making the choice in deciding which kind of institution they want to attend and what program they want to seek.

“We’re all about empowering the students to make those choices. We want to make sure they’ve got that full complement of choices,” she said.

Simone said the South Dakota Board of Regents has set a statewide goal of 65 percent of South Dakotans having a post-secondary credential by the year 2025.

“They know they have to partner with the technical institutes, the publics and the privates (universities) and we all need to work together to get South Dakota to that attainment level,” she said. “When the look at Sioux Falls, in particular, we don’t have a public higher-ed institution there and this is a way to help serve that community without creating a seventh university which people are so afraid of which we can’t afford to do.

“We’re doing this in a way that reaches students that typically don’t think about going to a university. That’s our target audience,” Simone said. “We know that are hundreds of high school graduates every year in the Sioux Falls region that don’t go on to the technicals, the publics, the privates (universities). They don’t do any of that. For the last two years, the university center had become much more community college focused in trying to serve that population of students that’s not going to college.”

The word “university” can be a bit intimidating for some South Dakota students, she said.

“We’re trying to create something that’s much more community college-like here in South Dakota so we can get students on that pathway,” Simone said, “and then once they get some success under their belts, they’ll transfer into one of the universities and complete their degrees. We’re just trying to get them started.”

The USD Community College for Sioux Falls is housed in facilities constructed approximately a decade ago for the UCSF.

“There’s the Gear Building linked to the main administration building and across the street there’s a Science and Tech, we call it, building, so we have three buildings with beautiful, state-of-the-art laboratories, gorgeous facilities,” she said.

Current enrollment is approximately 900 students.

“It’s a crying shame,” Simone said. “We should have thousands.”

The focus of the higher-ed institution in Sioux Falls was originally to appeal to non-traditional students.

“They’ve been getting younger the past few years as we’ve been looking at some of the data,” she said. “As we’ve started focusing on this community college mission, we’ve started reaching a younger demographic. Some of our older, non-traditional students are taking classes online, which is great. We want them to have access to that, too.

“But I also know online isn’t the answer for everybody. Not every student is comfortable in that environment or able to learn in that environment,” Simone said. “We want to make sure we’ve got a variety for students. There are quite a few who are site-bound in Sioux Falls, who have families and are working a job and are trying to make ends meet and who have career aspirations and need to get a degree. Those are the students we also want to serve … those who would not go to Vermillion or Brookings or Madison because they just physically cannot do it without quitting their jobs and moving their families.”

She said it’s important to communicate to people with jobs and families that a college education is not beyond their grasp.

“They need to recognize that they haven’t lost their lifeline to college,” Simone said. “You can start college anytime. You don’t have to be 18. You can be 60, 70 and start college and we have students who do that. We want to be accessible for all of our students. I think this gives people a really good opportunity to get started.”

The facilities of what was known as UCSF are more than adequate for the new community college.

“They’re just gorgeous,” she said. “For me, we should be serving thousands of students, not 900. We will be as we get off the ground down the road.”

Simone said she’s been asked if the community college will be building residence halls.

“Our students are from Sioux Falls. They have a home already,” she said. “For the students that need to leave home for some reason or other -- maybe they have a really tough life and can’t stay where they are -- we’re not going to build residence halls but we can have resources available to point them in directions of apartment and things like that and help them like that.”

She added, with a laugh, that the community college also will not be fielding a football team.

“USD already has a football team,” Simone said. “That’s not what our mission is. It’s very workforce-focused.”

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