Looking for answers in declining enrollment at South Dakota universities

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MADISON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Student enrollment numbers at some of South Dakota's public universities are on their way down - including SDSU, which has the largest enrollment of all six state schools.

Photo Source: State Farm / CC BY 2.0 / Pixabay / MGN

The decrease in enrollment at state universities is a common trend throughout the country, as numbers across the board are down around 7 percent since 2017.

For SDSU Vice President of Student Affairs Michaela Willis, seeing student enrollment numbers down is always a concern, but she says there are many factors that go into that, and not all of them necessarily bad.

“One of the main factors that led to that decrease is our four-year graduation rate, which is a really positive story for the university, we've actually increased our four year graduation rate by over 10 percent in the last five years,” said Willis.

Willis says, because four-year graduation rates have increased, students aren't sticking around for extra years of education, which reflects in the school's enrollment totals

“That, of course, decreases our overall enrollment but it improves student success outcomes, and that's really what we're charged to do by the board of regents and the state of South Dakota,” said Willis.

Because of these reasons, Willis says she is not worried about the future of the university

"South Dakota State University is positioned to continue to be a strong partner in the state and we're a strong university, there is always going to be dips and upticks and were positioned very well to weather any of those pieces,” said Willis.

Dakota State University, in Madison, has also recently seen changes to their student enrollment numbers.

According to data from the South Dakota Board of Regents, while Dakota State University has seen an increase in student enrollment over last decade, the university's total student enrollment numbers fell from the fall of 2018 to the fall of 2019.

But Interim Provost of DSU Jim Moran says it is an exciting time to be at DSU. He says, from the fall of 2018 to the fall of 2019, the university saw a 5% increase in the number of first-year students on campus.

DSU also has seen their full-time student enrollment go up by just over 1%.

Moran says, because of the school's technological niche, DSU is a place students are starting to look at more often.

"I think it's because of the unique programs we have, people are finding that Dakota State is a place to be,” said Moran.

Moran also noted transfer students as well as those who take online courses as factors that influence total enrollment numbers.

"Our interactions with external agencies, whether that be the NSA, the military, are giving opportunities for our students that are really exceptional, so the future here is bright,” said Moran.

Moran says DSU has plans in the works to add more on-campus housing for future classes.