Enrollment figures slide


SDSU’s student enrollment dipped for the first time in more than a decade, a fact with a variety of explanations including a sizable enrollment spike in recent years and a slight reduction in transfer students.

South Dakota’s largest university dropped 91 students from last year’s headcount to 12,725 students.

Statewide, enrollment fell 337 students, just shy of a 1 percent decrease. That figure sounds insignificant, but it marks the first drop in university attendance in 13 years and comes on the heels of an 8 percent single-year increase last year. It also overshadows a growth in overall enrollment in full-time students, rising nearly 100 students overall from last year’s record-setting state enrollment.

“This wasn’t entirely unexpected,” said South Dakota Board of Regents executive director Jack Warner of the enrollment drop. “… Last year’s growth was probably not sustainable.”

SDSU President David Chicoine accounted most of the decreases from less graduate students taking one or two courses and a loss of about 100 transfer students. Conversely, new student enrollment met the expected target range of 2,200 to 2,300 students and that retention rate is anticipated to exceed 80 percent. Those numbers will not affect the university’s Master Plan phases that will expand residence halls and form new athletic facilities, he said.

The university’s dealings with 10 percent reductions in state appropriations last spring is believed to have little effect on enrollment numbers. Chicoine said increased tuition from an average of $6,800 to $7,400 recovered half of the reductions and did not figure into this year’s numbers of new student enrollments. That could change.

“What happens is you challenge lower income households to access to higher education in our state,” Chicoine said. “We’re mindful in trying to raise private scholarships.”

Rising attendance numbers could become a greater challenge in the next several years. High school enrollment numbers in South Dakota expect to decrease each year until 2018. Evidence of that factor is also found in the state’s technical schools, which dropped 1.7 percent from last year after similar gains with state schools.

The question becomes whether SDSU’s and the state’s 2011 figures are the beginning of a trend or a one-year blip after last year’s nearly 8 percent cumulative uptick.

“It’s a very small decrease,” Warner said. “We’ll find that we’ll be back on the growth path, it’s just likely to be more moderate.”