South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow has proposed creating a $2 million learning center at Northern State University (NSU), which, he says, will help rural schools deal with teacher shortages and make the Aberdeen campus a national center for distance education.

One of six public universities in South Dakota, NSU has an emphasis on teacher training. The university has an enrollment of more than 3,100.

Under the governor’s plan, the school would offer upper-level high school chemistry, physics, calculus, and other courses via distance learning to the state’s K-12 districts.

“Our intention is to become a provider of coursework to small school districts, large school districts—wherever the demand might be to help meet the challenge of teacher shortages [or of] bringing upper-level classes into high school programs where [they] are not available now,” said NSU President John Hilpert.

Eventually, all NSU students would be required to take courses in distance learning technology, regardless of their major.

Tad Perry, executive director for the state Board of Regents, said the focus would make NSU unique. “I know of no institution anywhere that has eLearning as a core part of its curriculum,” Perry said.

Janklow has amended his proposed budget to launch the center. Preliminary figures call for about $1.3 million from the state’s general fund, about $500,000 from the Aberdeen-based Great Plains Education Foundation, and about $450,000 from NSU.

The effort is part of the governor’s digital education program, which has included wiring the schools, training teachers in classroom technology, and interactive learning among schools. The state Legislature will consider the idea as part of its appropriations process.