Enrollment in South Dakota’s six state-owned universities increased 4 percent this fall, setting another record, the state Board of Regents announced Tuesday.
Tad Perry, the board’s executive director, said 32,148 students are taking classes in the public university system this fall. That’s up 1,247 students from a year ago.
Enrollment has grown steadily the past decade, increasing more than 6,400 students since 1997, he said.
Even though the number of high school graduates is declining in South Dakota and surrounding states, university enrollment is climbing because of state scholarships, programs aimed at keeping students in school, and the recruitment of older students and those from other states, Perry said.
The state’s Opportunity Scholarship, which gives scholarships totaling $5,000 over four years to South Dakota students who meet academic requirements and take a required list of rigorous high school courses, has played a big role in encouraging students to attend South Dakota’s public and private schools, Perry said.
The amount awarded in the scholarship likely will need to be increased because universities in surrounding states are aggressively recruiting South Dakota students and offering them scholarships, he said.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive in countering that and holding them in this state,” Perry said.
At the same time, South Dakota’s public universities are seeking to attract students from other states, Perry said. If those students attend college in South Dakota, they are likely to stay after graduation and contribute to the state’s economic growth, he said.
In addition, the universities are providing more courses in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Pierre to students older than 25 who are enrolling as part-time students while they continue to work, Perry said. Courses also are being offered electronically to students around the state.
Northern State University in Aberdeen had a 10.2 percent enrollment increase this year, but President Pat Schloss said much of that is due to more part-time students.
The University of South Dakota in Vermillion posted a 5.7 percent enrollment gain. Matt Moen, vice president of academic affairs, said the university has done a better job of attracting students from the region.
“As our academic reputation continues to climb upward, our student numbers are climbing upward,” Moen said.
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology President Charles Ruch said the Rapid City school has seen an enrollment drop in recent years because fewer students are interested in science and engineering. But the declines seem to easing, and this year’s freshman class has 70 more students than last year’s entering class, he said.
Dakota State University in Madison had an enrollment increase of 5.4 percent this fall, mostly because computer and information technology fields continue to grow, DSU President Doug Knowlton said.
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