S.D. public universities see decline in enrollment numbers, increase in retention rates


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – The COVID-19 pandemic has produced many challenges for public universities as they welcomed students back to the classroom. Wednesday the South Dakota Board of Regents met via a teleconference to update current enrollment figures.

Fall enrollment at South Dakota’s six public universities is down about 2.8% in headcount and full-time equivalent students.

“As you all know, in the last six, seven, eight months, we have been wrestling with the pandemic and the impact of that pandemic is still unknown,” SDBoR Executive Director & CEO Brian Maher said.

However, the rate for students returning to campus was a different story. That number went up by 81% at public institutions.

“My theory is, I believe a whole lot of students want to do what they can to get back to normal. Returning to campus is part of that returning to normalcy,” Maher said.

SDSU had an all-time high retention rate of 81%.

“Student retention is the first key step in ensuring student success and graduation. Our increase of two point seven percentage points is the result of planning, hardwork and one we are very proud of,” SDSU President Barry Dunn said.

Breaking down the enrollment numbers for each of the six public universities — BHSU saw a headcount decrease of about 6.5%; DSU had a 2.5% decrease in its headcount; the School of Mines saw a decrease of about 2%; SDSU had a 1% enrollment decrease and USD was down 4.6%. The only college with an enrollment increase was NSU, which gained four new students. However, their number of full-time equivalent students went down by 47.

“Our faculty, staff, coaches, alumni, donors and of course, our great admissions and academic advisors all did a great part in bringing in this class. If not for a significant decrease in international students due to the COVID-19, Northern would’ve seen enrollment growth across the board,” NSU President Timothy Downs said.

More Numbers:

  • BHSU: Black Hills State University President Laurie Nichols says she believes their enrollment decrease came from two main populations. The first was a decrease of 143 high school students taking dual credit courses. The second area was a decrease of 84 first-time freshman. Nichols says they also saw a decrease in their number of first generations students, Native American students and low income students. Their retention rate, though, increased at every level.
    • Headcount enrollment: -6.48%
    • Full-time Equivalent: -6.49%
  • DSU: Dakota State University President José-Marie Griffiths says they had a 37% increase in students taking online only classes. Like the other public universities, DSU’s retention rate increased.
    • Headcount enrollment: -2.51%
    • Full-time Equivalent: -0.83%
  • NSU: Northern State University President Timothy Downs says they had a retention rate this semester of 76%. Over the last five years he says they’ve averaged a retention rate of 75%.
    • Headcount enrollment: +0.12%
    • Full-time Equivalent: -2.61%
  • SDSMT: South Dakota School of Mines and Technology saw a decrease in it’s full-time equivalent students. However, President James Ranklin says a possibility for that was because there was an increase in courses taken during the summer semester.
    • Headcount enrollment: -2.06%
    • Full-time Equivalent: -5.40%
  • SDSU: South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn says his university had an increase in high school students taking dual credit courses this semester.
    • Headcount enrollment: -0.98%
    • Full-time Equivalent: -1.64%
  • USD: University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring says they had an increase in South Dakota residents attending college there. However, the international students population decreased by 35%. USD’s retention rate was down 80.7%.
    • Headcount enrollment: -4.64%
    • Full-time Equivalent: -2.99%

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