SDSU recruitment: Challenges and opportunities


Andrew Rasmussen, News and Opinion Editor

Enrollment has declined 8.1% over the past two years, reflecting a national trend of public universities experiencing falling enrollment.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, enrollment for Spring 2019 went down 1.7% across the nation.

South Dakota State University is facing a variety of challenges when it comes to recruiting new students.

“It’s just a very competitive recruitment and enrollment environment for high school students, for traditional-aged college students,” Shawn Helmbolt, Director of Admissions said.

Students are presented with options such as a four-year program versus a two-year program or a technical track versus a higher education track. Aside from choosing a specific educational pathway, prospective students also have a variety of “good options in a very competitive environment,” Helmbolt said.

SDSU is striving to find its place in that competitive market in a way that is attractive to students.

Other factors for the decreasing enrollment and recruitment struggle is the strength of the economy both regionally and nationally.

“Looking at history, when our economy in our region and in our country is strong, enrollment at colleges and universities tend to trend downward just a little bit,” Helmbolt said. “This affects the nontraditional student enrollment.”

Students in high school that are looking at attending universities are very interested in the overall value an institution can offer to benefit their desired pathway.

“We are really trying to focus our recruitment messaging and our campaign messaging targeted at high school students and transfer students at the outcomes of their educational experience here at SDSU,” Helmbolt said.

According to the Helmbolt, showcasing the opportunities SDSU has to offer both inside and outside the classroom are important to prospective students.

Some of the areas the university is focusing on include the Sioux Falls metro area and more out of state students.

Another enrollment push comes from the Wokini Initiative, aimed at helping American Indian students at SDSU.

The Wokini Initiative started in 2016 with a goal: improve the retention and graduation rates of American Indian students at SDSU. The program currently holds an 80% retention rate for recipients of the program’s scholarships.

“The Wokini Initiative has allowed us to put some additional resources towards supporting American Indian students in regards to their pathway to higher education,” Helmbolt said. “That includes a position here at the university that is focused on providing support for American Indian students through that college search process.”

The Sioux Falls area has also been identified as a recruitment and enrollment primary territory due to a large amount of growth in the area, according to Helmbolt. 

“For us to be successful as a university, we have to be successful in that market,” Helmbolt said. 

This area is considered to be a great opportunity because it allows students to be close to home while providing them with a “unique experience here in Brookings and at SDSU,” Helmbolt said. 

New initiatives for the Sioux Falls market will be rolling out over the next few months. 

 Non-resident students are also an area of opportunity for SDSU recruitment and enrollment. South Dakota Board of Regents offers a number of tuition discounts for students from surrounding states. 

 The South Dakota Advantage program allows students from Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado to receive in-state tuition. Students from Minnesota also receive a reciprocity tuition cost at a slightly higher rate.  






“Our folks, our recruitment staff are out there in those spaces sharing that message providing that information about SDSU and talking about that great value that those students can have, that out-of-state experience that students can have at SDSU for an in-state price,” Helmbolt said.

In addition to promoting what SDSU has to offer, scholarships are also used to entice prospective students to the university. 

 “We try to enhance and align our scholarship resources so they can have the greatest impact from a recruitment and enrollment prospective,” Helmbolt said. “So they can have the greatest impact on affordability for our students but also have an impact in attracting very academically talented, driven individuals to the university that are going to take SDSU to the next level.” 

 “Trying to engage those students when they come to see us, try to get them in front of our great faculty and staff and our academic programs,” Helmbolt said. “Let them see what SDSU can offer for them in a very impactful way when they are coming to see us.” 

One way to engage these students is introducing them to a variety of locations and people on campus. 

“We show them things like the Rotunda building, we show them the Wellness Center, the library, Matthews Hall, Ben Reifel Hall and just around campus,” Clay Feller, an admissions ambassador said. 

 Feller  said “every tour group is different and has a different level of involvement in the tour.” 

 Hunter Cooper, a freshman mechanical engineering student, said he “received phone calls and mail from SDSU and an official tour,” all of which helped him decide on attending SDSU. 

“Those visit experiences are the most impactful piece of that recruitment opportunity, so that’s something we are continuously trying to tweak and adjust our visit programs to provide those types of experiences for our students,” Helmbolt said. 

 Cooper said his touring experience gave him a good idea of what South Dakota State has to offer.