Keepin’ it steady

SARA BERTSCH Editor-in-Chief

Enrollment rates reveal increase of 32 students

The South Dakota Board of Regents released enrollment figures last week, displaying that of the six public institutions, only three increased enrollment over the last year, including South Dakota State with a mere 32 students.

Officials at SDSU are choosing to look at this small amount as a positive thing given the declining rate of the high school population in South Dakota according to Provost Laurie Nichols. 

“South Dakota State has historically done very well in small, rural communities in South Dakota. I think we’re feeling this a little bit right now,” Nichols said. “Truthfully, I think right now in the next year or two we are going to work very hard to be very solid and very stable, and if we can grow a little bit that’s great.”

Despite the flat rate, the first-time freshman class did reach the strategic enrollment goal with 2,222 students enrolled for the fall semester. The range the university shoots for is between 2,200 and 2,300 under IMPACT 2018. This is the sixth consecutive year the university has hit this range. 

The International Office has seen strong numbers in the last few years as well. According to Greg Wymer, the director of international students & scholars, since the spring semester of 2012 until fall of 2015, the university has seen an 84 percent increase in degree-seeking international students. 

This year’s number has increased by 83 students, bringing the total enrollment to 763. 

“The international student enrollment has just really skyrocketed. We’re doing very well in the international market,” Nichols said. “When you put the whole thing together, we are doing better and I think it’s our recruitment efforts, building our international programs, adding ESL has made a huge difference. All those things put together do start to impact the numbers.”

Other information released in the enrollment figures show an increase in the number of students coming from other states, especially Minnesota. Minnesota has the largest number of students attending SDSU, with 2,557 currently enrolled; 598 are freshmen. 

But Minnesota is not alone. There are students from all 50 states attending SDSU, and this year’s nonresident enrollment increased by 77 students, reaching 5,185. 

“The one of the things that it says about us is that our name is getting out there and our brand is a little bit more recognized now than it was five or 10 years ago,” Nichols said.

Part of the increase is attributed to the Dakota Return program. This program awards nonresident children of alumni to waive fees between the resident rate, Minnesota rate and the nonresident rate, according to Doug Wermedal, the interim vice president for student affairs.

The program brought in 72 students, exceeding the set goal by 28 students. 

“Enrollment at SDSU is a lot of little right answers,” Wermedal said, meaning that in order to increase enrollment, finding small amounts of students in various spots will eventually add up.

One area which was not as successful was graduate school enrollment, with 18 less enrolled students than last year, bringing the new number to 1,261. This year’s graduates consist of 960 master’s students and 301 Ph.D. students.  

Nichols was disappointed with this area after seeing that all indications led them to believe the graduate enrollment would be growing, but once the numbers were released, they saw the opposite. 

“We’ve got to get that turned around as well. Make sure we are stable and hopefully growing,” Nichols said. “One explanation I heard is that we are in a very strong job economy right now and jobs are plentiful. That can be a tipping point for graduate school.”

On a brighter side, Nichols said that SDSU continues to attract academically strong students. The enrollment data showed that 44 percent of the incoming students registered scores of 24 or higher on the ACT. 

“We want to bring in really strong students. We want students who are academically positioned to do well and be good students when they come, so that’s part of our mix too,” Nichols said.

Overall, Nichols and Wermedal see that SDSU is in a good standing position when it comes to competing institutions. In the report released by the SDBOR, SDSU remains the only institution with a five-figure headcount. 

“One of the ways we are competing well is to see where enrollment rates in other institutions stand,” Wermedal said. “Obviously we want to see a larger increase, but we characterize it as a good thing.” 

Nichols believes that despite the flat rates of enrollment, it all comes down to the students who make up the numbers. 

“When you think about ‘why did you come here’ and ‘what’s important to you,’ it’s all of the students you are going to meet and become friends with or interact with one way or another,” Nichols said. “All of that really comes down to our students. They form our collegiate athletics, they form our clubs, they form everything.”