University Center will become Community College for Sioux Falls

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — University Center at Sioux Falls is getting a new name: Community College for Sioux Falls.

That’s what University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring told a committee of South Dakota lawmakers Wednesday.

Gestring and the center’s latest executive director, Carmen Simone, talked about the institution’s future with members of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

The new name and the altered mission surprised some lawmakers.

None of it was mentioned in an April 5 news release that the South Dakota Board of Regents issued about University Center.

The regents govern South Dakota’s six traditional public universities as well as the university centers in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

Gestring and Simone repeatedly used various phrases Wednesday about the former University Center.

Finally the committee chairman, Senator Ryan Maher, an Isabel Republican, asked:  “What are we going to call this institution?”

Gestring, who started in June as president, initially answered that the new name was still in negotiation.

Then she turned to her superior, Paul Beran, who started in September as executive director and chief executive officer for the regents.

“The location will be called the Community College for Sioux Falls,” Gestring said.

The University of South Dakota based in Vermillion has been first among three equals as the University Center manager since at least 2016.

South Dakota State University at Brookings and Dakota State University at Madison also offer courses at the Sioux Falls campus.

Gestring said a reason for the change to emphasizing two-year associate degrees at the new Community College for Sioux Falls was to get a positive financial result for all three partners.

Senator Justin Cronin, a Gettysburg Republican, wondered why the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations wasn’t told about the changes during the 2019 session that ended March 29.

“I’m displeased with the fact this was never brought up,” Cronin said. He described this as a huge change, in part because state government doesn’t fund any two-year community colleges.

Gestring said the center’s structure is changing for simplicity.

“I believe it is a drastic change,” Cronin replied. He said the center/college budget should be separated from USD. He said the topic came up quickly.

Three weeks ago, the regents issued a news release announcing a new memorandum of understanding would take effect between the three universities regarding the center.

One sentence indicated USD’s role would expand: “The MOU allows USD to create a new college within its academic structure that will focus on innovation and workforce development.”

But there wasn’t any mention that the center would be deepening its emphasis of a two-year program, using attrition to reduce faculty and hiring more graduate students and adjunct professors to be more efficient.

“The change is in the operating and management of the center,” Gestring replied to Cronin.

Gestring said she recently was in conversation with Augustana University President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin about the potential for the public center/college providing students who could finish four-year degrees at the private Augustana campus in central Sioux Falls.

University Center in Sioux Falls began more than a decade ago when Tad Perry was still executive director for the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Perry’s idea was to create joint campuses in areas that were underserved by public universities in places such as Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Pierre.

University Center in Sioux Falls was the first to be built. UC-Sioux Falls held its first classes in January 2009.

It began as a place where all six of the South Dakota’s traditional universities could offer courses toward a four-year bachelor’s degree.

The Legislature in 2006 had approved construction of a $20 million package of two buildings and purchase of 263 acres of land on the northwest side of Sioux Falls through a combination of state general funds, student payments, foundation grants and federal funding.

The money paid for the main classroom building and a second building known as the GEAR Center. GEAR stands for Graduate Education and Applied Research.

The regents opened a third building for science and technology classes in 2011.

Enrollment at Sioux Falls reached as high as 3,890 in fall 2010. By 2013, it was down to 2,802. It kept falling year after year. The fall 2018 head count was reported at 1,108 on the center website.

In 2016, the University of South Dakota began taking the lead role. That’s also when regents began publicly discussing a community college model.

A 2017 consultant’s report emphasized switching the emphasis to two-year associate degrees while continuing to offer some four-year degrees and graduate programs.

Simone told lawmakers Wednesday the center would be “more community-college like” after the changes.

Cronin noted that South Dakota doesn’t have a publicly funded two-year college. There are two-year technical institutes that focus on vocational training in Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Watertown and Rapid City.

Sen. Susan Wismer, D-Britton, said USD budget numbers and enrollment declines at University Center were presented to committee members last summer. Wismer said the state Board of Regents shouldn’t spend more time on further separating numbers.

The committee vice-chair, Representative Sue Peterson, a Sioux Falls Republican, said the committee should consider a formal definition of self-support tuition.

Defining self-support has been a discussion between legislators and the regents “for quite some time,” USD’s Gestring said.

The regents in April 2015 placed the Rapid City university center under management of Black Hills State University at Spearfish.

Enrollment at the Rapid City campus dropped steadily every year for at least five years. There were 2,041 students in 2013 and 1,378 in 2018.

The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, one of the six traditional campuses overseen by the regents, was founded in 1885. Its admission standards generally are considered more rigorous than at BHSU-Rapid City.

The regents also have withdrawn most programs from the Pierre center. Its headcounts were 170 in 2013 and 70 in 2018.

A separate foundation board for Capital University Center oversees the building that opened in 2009.

To win the Legislature’s support more than a decade ago for the Sioux Falls center, the regents agreed to various laws prohibiting such things as state tuition support, dormitories and sports. Those bans have remained in place, making the three centers more expensive for students.

Online courses also bloomed in popularity during the past decade, further affecting the centers.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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