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A message from the class of '93.


This past summer I had the pleasure to speak before the Youth Business Academy. The YBA is a program designed and administered by the South Dakota Industry and Commerce Association and the Greater South Dakota Education and Research Foundation. The goal of the program is to "stimulate curiosity and provide answers to questions that students and educators may have about how the private enterprise system works in our country." Students are divided into "competitive companies" each under the guidance of a "real world" business person. A variety of business situations are simulated requiring management decisions. The experience is enhanced through films, panel discussions, formal lectures, and field trips to area businesses. This year's class consisted of 130 or so young men and women, each one being sponsored through a scholarship provided by a South Dakota business. To be eligible for a scholarship, the student must currently be a junior, of "good character", and maintaining a strong average or better grades. (An aside here: having a 17 year old myself who has attended a similar program, I am well aware that these youngsters have a "meeting" agenda beyond that of learning more about the workings of the free enterprise system. But the YBA has a long and strong tradition in South Dakota as being several days of intensive and extensive participation. They knew what they were signing up for.)

After being introduced by Ms. Julie Johnson, President of the ICA, and turning to my audience, I will never forget the initial impression I had looking out on all those young, eager faces. I experienced a feeling I had not discovered through all my college education and degrees, professional speeches and meetings, and running in "powerful and influential" circles in Washington, DC and New York City. Even teaching in six universities was not quite comparable. It sounds terribly corny, but their presence and attention gave a new meaning to my career. More to the point, these young adults are critically important to the future of South Dakota. I needed to know more about them.

The ICA was a curious as I, and they supplied me with the YBA '92 mailing list. I designed a two page questionnaire and a cover letter and mailed it to 131 households scattered all over South Dakota. Over a six week period 73 had been completed and returned, a 56 percent response rate. Researchers are usually thrilled to get a 25 percent response to mailed questionnaires with no follow-up. My first hypothesis, that these indeed were special people, was confirmed.

Results of the Survey

First, and not surprising given their initiative to sign up for this program, these young men and women are quite comfortable regarding their capabilities to ultimately succeed in the business world. Better than three-quarters provided the personal assessment that they were "very confident" they would be successful in business; the remainder admitted that they might have some question about their business prowess.

The source of this degree of confidence? It's difficult to tell, although almost nine out of ten of them said their high school education was either "some" (55%) or "a great deal" (32%) of help in preparing them for the business world. The rest were of the opinion that their high school was of "little, if any" help. Inspiration was also found closer to home. One-half of the students returning the survey disclosed that "parents and family" (35%) or "business role models" (14%) got them interested in business. The other one-half considered a career in business as a "preference and personal goal."

Their paths to a successful business career are perhaps intuitively obvious as well. All but a few plan to go to college with all but one having the opinion that a college education is "very important" (89%) or "somewhat important" (10%) to be successful in business. What was surprising, at least to me, was that 28 percent of the students answered "yes" to the question: "Would you skip college if you knew you could start your own successful business straight out of high school?" My guess is that these individuals would register "high" in confidence and come from a very supportive high school and family environment.

Confidence has a way of breeding optimism. With but a few exceptions, these YBA student-respondents were optimistic regarding both their "future income and wealth" prospects (94%) and their "quality of life" (96%). The bad, but interesting, news was that more than one-half -- 54 percent of them -- were pessimistic about the US economy. Once again their confidence in their future in business shines through.

What they are not so confident about is their future in South Dakota. While about three-out-of-four of these students would prefer to live and work in South Dakota, all other things being equal, 68 percent of all those responding to the survey believed the probabilities 50-50 or less that they would be employed in the state following college graduation. But that's not half of it. When asked "Assuming comparable jobs, would you accept a lower salary to live and work in South Dakota?" these high schoolers were split down the middle. Remarkably, one-half of them said "yes"! In fact, of those willing to accept a lower salary, 32 percent said they would sacrifice up to $3,000 per year to live and work in this state; 13 percent would be willing to take up to $5,000 less; and a few would even cut their annual income by better than $7,500 per year. And even if the state doesn't have a place for them now, they won't hold a grudge. If their first job takes them out of South Dakota, two-thirds of them want to come home. Fortunately, if and when they do leave most of them won't go far -- 70 percent said that if they can't live in South Dakota, their second choice would be somewhere in the midwest, preferably in a medium size town. Although a rather large proportion -- 23 percent -- liked the idea of living in a large urban center.

The remainder of the survey questions attempted to garner the students' judgements on current economic development initiatives and their "generational inheritance". Most of the students felt that their towns were being moderately promoted by community and business leaders (54%), while a significant number judged the development efforts of their town officials and businesses as "very aggressive" (31%). Therefore, as one might expect, the survey found that ninety percent of the respondents were living in towns which, in their opinion, were economically stable (51%) if not growing (39%). The remainder (10%), were living in "dying" towns with a life expectancy of 5 to 10 years. On the state level, better than two-thirds of these business-conscious young adults expressed the opinion that state government economic development programs were either "of some consequence" (61%) or "comprehensive and effective" (7%). The rest thought the state effort "virtually non-existent" (13%) or were "unaware of any" such programs (20%). Finally, the students were asked "What perceptions do you think non-South Dakotan's have of South Dakota?" Only 13 percent thought that perception would be "good". Most felt non-South Dakotan's were "indifferent" toward the state (61%) and the remainder held the opinion that the perception of their state was "bad" (25%). When they were asked whether they care how others might perceive them, a combined 90 percent said "somewhat" (45%) and "absolutely" (45%).


This survey is hardly a representative sample of the approximately 8,300 South Dakota high school seniors. That is, it is a biased sample. But that's what makes it interesting and informative. These are good students with an implied interest in business who were sufficiently motivated to compete for a YBA scholarship. They are being encouraged by family and business role models, attending effective high school programs and virtually all of them plan to go to college. They are confident about their ability and optimistic about their personal future. And they had a valuable "real world" business learning experience at YBA, which I suspect enforced their perceptions. These individuals are primed to be business leaders -- and get the heck out of South Dakota at their first opportunity and never look back. Or so I thought. They deserve more credit than even I give them. They know a good thing when they see it. The question is do we?

A very special thanks to my collaborators:

Amy Fonder, Sioux Falls; Amy Abrahamson, Spearfish; Andrew Rose, Fort Pierre; Angela Scheier, Salem; Anne Ashmore, Crooks; Billie Jo Moe, Brookings; Brandon Schieckoff, Rapid City; Brenda Meier, White Lake; Brian Butterfield, Mitchell; Carla Gossman, Bison; Carmen Noack, Philip; Carrie Simon, Bowdle; Chad Peterson, Wakonda; Chad Pekron, DeSmet; Chentelle Wuebben, Dell Rapids; Connie Shepherd, Elkton; Corrine Pollock, Clark; Curt Carson, Wessington Springs; Cynthia Mangelsen, Clark; Daniall Liebig, Gettysburg; Dawn Leesch, Sioux Falls; Heidi Bloodgood, Mitchell; James Enderby, Lead; Jamie Parish, Yankton; Jason Brown, Wall; Jason Doll, Gregory; Jeffrey Peterson, Lemmon; Jena Page, Colton; Jennifer Eckert, Elk Point; Jennifer Mehrman, Yankton; Jimmy Slattery, Elk Point; Joby Dutton, Faith; Kaarin Ekstrum, Philip; Karmi Mattson, Beresford; Karyna Broadhurst, Aberdeen; Kathy Kirkeby, Vienna; Keith Overland, Red Owl; Kris Gustad, Volin; Kristin Steinheuser, Hitchcock; La'Ketha Hampton, Ellsworth AFB; LaJena Johnson, Onida; Lance Wipf, Yankton; LaRae Youngbluth, Wagner; Laura Schieber, Watertown; Leslee Cullis, Custer; Margaret Childs, Parker; Marla Jacobsen, Gregory; Matthew Wegner, Groton; Matthew Althoff, Yankton; Melinda Miller, Woonsocket; Michael Adam, Yankton; Michelle Amdahl, Summit; Nancy Hanisch, Humboldt; Nancy Winckler, Delmont; Neal Campbell, Huron; Nicole Paulson, Mitchell; Nisha Saxena, Brookings; Orson Opheim, Lodgepole; Patricia Bultsma, Platte; Reed Ulvestad, Pierre; Renee Wormstadt, Artesian; Roxanne Peterson, Colome; Scott Sandal, Howes; Sharee Haar, Aberdeen; Shelly Anderson, Wall; Stacey Myers, Howard; Stacy Meert, Sioux Falls; Steven Tuschen, Salem; Teresa Larson, Kimball; Theresa Bass, Castlewood; Wade Herley, Yankton; and Thorsten Nowak, Germany.

About the author: Robert J. Tosterud, Ph.D., is holder of the Freeman Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies and Professor of Economics at the School of Business, University of South Dakota.
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Title Annotation:South Dakota high school students
Author:Tosterud, Robert J.
Publication:South Dakota Business Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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