International outreach boosts College of Engineering enrollment by 10 percent


The College of Engineering is outstripping the rest of South Dakota State University’s college enrollment growth, leaving other colleges in the dust.

The college was only one of three colleges, including the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions and the Graduate School, to see positive growth within the past year. The other five colleges fell in the negative.

Between fall 2015 and fall 2016, the College of Engineering saw an overall enrollment growth of 9.7 percent. SDSU’s overall enrollment grew by less than one percent.

This spike in enrollment, which in particular was seen in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is attributed to the college’s outreach efforts, according to College of Engineering Dean Lewis Brown.

Between fall 2014 and fall 2016, the number of international students in the college jumped from 128 to 264, more than doubling their numbers in a span of two years.

“We took a look at the demographics of South Dakota and the upper Great Plains and it was very clear that the pool of graduating seniors wasn’t going to grow, it was going to decrease. So we’ve probably sharpened our K-12 outreach recruitment and we’re looking in other places for growing enrollment and, in particular, overseas,” Brown said.

When a department or college enrollment sharply increases or decreases as engineering has, however, the fund for that particular college does not necessarily change by the same percentage, according to Provost Dennis Hedge.

The decentralized budget model (DBM) that was introduced in 2013 helps regulate internal fund allocations based on two factors: 20 percent is based on how many students are in that college and 80 percent is based on how many courses are taught to students, both in and out of that college, regardless of major.

“Those two factors do relate to overall enrollment and the total number of credit hours that are being taught,” Hedge said.

Many students are now coming to college with a number of dual credits from high school, which in turn decreases the amount of students signing up for general courses such as speech or entry-level composition, Hedge said. With less money coming in from service type courses (general courses that most freshmen take), the university has been putting more emphasis on students exploring other academic opportunities, such as picking up a minor or studying abroad.

The mechanical engineering department has seen significant growth over the past ten years to more than 500 students enrolled, according to Brown. He said these increases in engineering are often unpredictable, but don’t last forever; which the steady growth in the department contradicts. 

“Mechanical engineering has been off the chart, run away enrollment for ten years now. No one can figure out why. Coast to coast, in every engineering school, ME enrollments have been the hottest thing going,” Brown said.

This increase in mechanical engineering majors does not follow any job market demand, according to Brown, who believes that relations tend to “lag” over the years.

Nonetheless, through this national increase in mechanical engineering degree-seeking students, many international students have chosen SDSU. 

According to Mashi-Ur Rahman, junior mechanical engineering major and international student from Bangladesh, SDSU’s “affordable” tuition and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) authorization are what drew him to the university.

“A friend of mine used to be here … I came to know about this university and I researched online, on the Facebook page, and I found it’s pretty affordable compared to other universities,” Rahman said. “The people here are more welcoming than I thought they would be … not like one of those big cities.”

This strong student-university match may not have been by accident, either. According to Brown, the international outreach focused on “high-quality students” who speak strong English and would be prepared for the college experience, among other factors.

“[We looked for high-quality students] who were culturally a good match for upper Great Plains students — so clean cut, honest, hard working, academically well-prepared — and we kind of hit the jackpot. We found there are good students all over the world; we’ve had some tremendous students,” Brown said.

This has added to the diversity of SDSU and Brown believes it adds to the ultimate college experience. The change has had a “phenomenal impact on the college” according to Brown, adding, “These hallways used to be almost exclusively white, upper Great Plains students, now the colors and the languages from everywhere in the world – North America, South America, Africa, Asia – it’s fantastic,” Brown said.

Rahman has enjoyed his time at SDSU and said he, too, would recommend the university to friends back home, because of it’s “safe neighborhood.”

“From diversity-wise, it’s fine, I think it’s the right amount here. It’s not too much or not too little,” Rahman said.

However, despite how much Rahman enjoys South Dakota, he believes many international students will soon begin to attend college in other countries, due to the recent political immigration bans and new regulations set in place.

“Many students back home are choosing to go to Australia or Canada instead next fall, because of the restrictions Trump is putting in place,” Rahman said. “They don’t have to go through extra hassle in other countries … you don’t want to feel disrespected where you go, you want to feel respected. That can be pretty hard on the people.”

Looking forward, the university is beginning a new strategic plan that will take into account the current state of high school graduates in the area, as well as duplicated headcount – which accounts for students seeking multiple degrees.

“We’re going to analyze all of these data points, get a good foundational understanding of how those things will impact us ultimately and what our yield percentage will most likely be, and then come up with hopefully good, accurate numbers going forward,” Hedge said.

Meanwhile, Brown does not believe the growth in the College of Engineering is sustainable, but will continue to push for improved student outreach.

“What’s wrong with being 12,500 or 12,600 students? — I don’t think continued growth is necessary for a high-quality institution, and growth is never infinite, it doesn’t happen,” Brown said. “I don’t know how we’re going to sustain that, but we’re going to try.”