SDSU expands doctoral, master’s programs after BOR approval

By Pat Bowden Reporter

This past June, the Board of Regents, following SDSU’s desire to have more doctoral students in specific fields of study, have approved four new master’s programs.

The new programs include a joint master’s focus in public health with USD, a joint master’s in analytics and data science with DSU, a doctoral degree in bio-engineering that focuses on renewable energy, bio-recourse conversion and natural resource fields and new joint doctoral degrees in civil and environmental engineering alongside the South Dakota School of Mines.

Although some of these programs were pitched to the Board as long ago as 2004, the reason for approving four new master’s programs at once arose when the BOR decided to attract more than just undergraduate students to the state.

“We wanted to do more with growing the doctoral program opportunities for students, and SDSU is pushing forward with that,” said Paul Turman, vice president for Academic Affairs on the BOR. Turman said the reason for adding the focus in public health and data analytics was to expand those areas as the health and business demand for those specialties has grown statewide.

In order to enhance opportunities in state and fulfill the university’s research mission, Provost Laurie Nichols said that these programs are being added to “round out our graduate programs and give our students more options.”

Assistant Dean of Pharmacy, Daniel Hansen, said that graduate programs are chosen if they fit in with the research mission’s current footprint. Potentially, the added research would allow for a larger research budget.

“I think it cements our place as a research institution having those opportunities to students who are looking to pursue something beyond a bachelors degree,” Hansen said. “It expands the universities research profile and hopefully grant dollars, so it’s definitely an important step for the university.”

The public health master’s will be available as a university initiative, meaning students would be eligible to take it as a dual degree. Hansen said, “Where the program will be housed has yet to be determined because we have yet to hire a program director … It allows us to have another health degree here on campus, so students here could do a dual degree with that new degree and fulfill classes in both majors, so we are excited.”

The programs are the result of what was seen as improving SDSU’s portfolio in terms of what was previously offered and what SDSU could potentially offer during the start of Impact 2018.

        For some of the new programs not much was needed to offer the doctoral level of degree, meaning the curriculum and faculty were already there. The biggest necessity was the approval of the BOR. “SDSU already has the capacity to move students in that direction … the coursework [for the two Ph.D. programs] is already there for the institution,” Turman said.

Along with moving students in the direction of obtaining higher degrees such as Ph.D.’s, the BOR’s end goal is to retain those doctoral-seeking students in the state after graduation in order to further a growing economy.

“[This should attract more master’s students,] because otherwise they would be going outside of the state to get these degrees. The chance of them staying here after their degree improves if they get it here in state,” Turman said. “When you have a competitive Ph.D program you tend to attract and obtain more talented faculty.”

In the past, according to Turman, the BOR’s focus was to attract mainly undergraduate students. As the state has grown, the need to house more doctoral and master’s students has grown, which in succession should attract larger businesses and companies, and vice versa.

“South Dakotas focus used to be on mostly undergrad students, and without generating those doctoral and research students that allow for innovation, that then results in economic development in this state … The labor projections need to be there for the Board, and that tends to be a big priority at this point,” Turman said. “I think we want programs that will attract people here and that the workforce will attract companies to move here. The pieces need to move all at the same time.”

Turman also added that the financial situation needs to be stable for the institution to add such programs and expand current ones.

According to Nichols, the more closely the program is related to the university’s mission, the easier it is to get it approved by the BOR.

“It can be difficult to pitch a new program to the Board. If it’s very closely related to our mission it can get approved very quickly, and sometimes you have to partner with someone else or do something more unique to get a program,” Nichols said.

Having more graduate students also creates more opportunities for undergraduate students. According to Nichols, graduate students do more than merely add volume to the student body.

“Our undergrads are key to our foundation as who we are as an institution. We can’t lose sight that we’re first and foremost an undergraduate university,” Nichols said. “However, adding the graduate students adds frosting to the cake. It allows our undergrad students to work with graduate students in the lab … that makes the whole experience a lot richer.”

In order to retain graduate students and therefore improve the economy, the school does its best to connect graduate students to employers in the state.

“We network them [graduate students] with professionals in the state, so that they’re meeting their employers and understanding job opportunities. That’s the best thing we can do to retain them in the state,” Nichols said. “30-40 percent [of graduate students] would come back in state if they leave after their undergrad, verses 60-70 percent if they get their degrees here.”

SDSU is continually pitching new degree programs to the BOR in hopes of growing the university, and in turn upping the competition level among rivaling schools.

“This is a really exciting time that we’re bringing up programs that we’ve needed in the past. It raises our caliber and increases the competition with rivaling schools,” Nichols said.

A master’s in agricultural education is in the works to be proposed to the BOR this October, with a possibility of it getting it back to the BOR by May or June.