USD posts increased enrollment By: Randy Dockendorf
Yankton P&D The University of South Dakota has posted modest enrollment gains this fall, but USD President Jim Abbott believes those numbers could climb with the completion of several campus construction projects. USD recorded an enrollment of 9,291, up 48 students for a 0.5 percent increase. The number of full-time equivalent students â�?�? based on total credit hours generated by all students within the system â�?�? increased by about eight students, to 6,803. â�?�?It feels really good, even though the growth was modest,â�? Abbott said. USD continues to move toward its strategic goals, Abbott said. He has made enrollment gains, along with academic excellence, as priorities as the school makes it move to NCAA Division I. â�?�?It will be interesting to see what happens. Our stated goal is 11,000 students by 2012,â�? he said. â�?�?I think the new student center and the Division I transition will be helpful. The economy may make a difference, but I feel really comfortable.â�? Abbott noted a number of achievements beyond the raw enrollment data. â�?�?Our freshman class has held steady,â�? he said. â�?�?We are particularly pleased overall with the trend of our freshman class each year as the ACT (college entrance score) gets higher and every year the retention is better.â�? According to figures released Wednesday by USD officials, first-year retention of first-time, full-time freshmen is at its highest point in 16 years at the university. In addition, the freshman class achieved an average ACT assessment score of 23.24 out of a perfect score of 36, compared to 23.06 for the same group in 2007. Both marks surpass the national average of 21.1. Other figures show 46 percent of first-time, full-time USD freshmen had an ACT score of 24 or better, compared to 45 percent in fall 2007. The achievement makes it the fourth consecutive year that the average ACT composite score for first-time, full-time freshmen increased at USD. The enrollment gains have come despite a number of building projects that have forced changes in facilities and student life, Abbott said. He pointed in particular to the demolition of the Coyote Student Center and the use of a temporary student center until completion of the Muenster University Center, scheduled for later this year. â�?�?We are particularly pleased (with the ability to attract students) because our campus looks like a major construction zone,â�? Abbott said. â�?�?We havenâ�?�?t had a student center for awhile, but we will shortly.â�? Such projects are necessary to recruit and retain students, Abbott said. â�?�?The student nowadays demands not only appropriate facilities but also excellent facilities,â�? he said. â�?�?We have done an overwhelming amount of building the last few years. The student center will be finished, the medical school just got finished, the wellness center is on the drawing board and the labs are being done.â�? Abbott believes the investment will pay off. â�?�?I think we will see specific, positive effects,â�? he added. The increased enrollment â�?�? and rising student expectations â�?�? have led USD officials to re-examine housing options in recent years. The move has included residence hall renovations and the opening of apartment-style housing. â�?�?Even without growth, we have not had appropriate housing for our juniors and seniors,â�? Abbott said. â�?�?We hope to present a plan to the Board of Regents, comprehensive plans for housing generally and specific plans for the short term for the next 24 months.â�? The rest of South Dakotaâ�?�?s six public colleges and universities reflect a mix of modest and robust growth. The Board of Regents released enrollments Wednesday, recording 11 straight years of growth for the system despite falling high school enrollment in the Midwest. This fallâ�?�?s enrollment gained 795 students, a rise of 2.5 percent to a record 32,943 students. The number of full-time equivalent students increased by nearly 414 students, or about 1.7 percent. Fall enrollment at the other universities include: â�?¢ Black Hills State University of Spearfish, 4,011, up seven students, or 0.2 percent. â�?¢ Dakota State University of Madison, 2,780, up 210 students, or 8.2 percent. â�?¢ Northern State University of Aberdeen, 2,805, up 250 students, or 9.8 percent. â�?¢ South Dakota School of Mines and Technology of Rapid City, 2,061, down nine students, or down 0.4 percent. â�?¢ South Dakota State University of Brookings, 11,995, up 289 students, or 2.5 percent. This fallâ�?�?s 33,000 students represent a growth of more than 7,000 students during the past 11 years, said Regents Executive Director Tad Perry. The growth has occurred across the board, Perry said. The stateâ�?�?s public colleges are attracting and retaining a higher percentage of graduating high school seniors, both from South Dakota and other states, he said. In addition, the schools are attracting more non-resident students, more graduate students and more international students. â�?�?We have focused in a major way on better recruitment and retention of the traditional college-age student, as well as drawing more adult learners back into higher education,â�? Perry said. â�?�?The enrollment numbers today demonstrate real progress toward those goals.â�? The continuing education of both recent high school graduates and older, non-traditional students can boost the stateâ�?�?s economy, Perry said. â�?�?The task of the Board of Regents is to prepare the stateâ�?�?s work force, and that is particularly important in todayâ�?�?s knowledge-based economy,â�? Perry said. â�?�?We are engaging more persons in post-secondary higher education, and that will lead to a more robust work force for the state.â�? Recent economic problems are raising concerns about college enrollments, particularly the ability of students to obtain loans, Perry said. â�?�?Weâ�?�?re all concerned about the financial crisis. The bottom line issue is itâ�?�?s going to hit Main Street, and itâ�?�?s going to start affecting peopleâ�?�?s ability to borrow funds,â�? Perry said. Perry doesnâ�?�?t believe the troubled economy will affect current enrollment because the fall semester is under way and students have resolved any issues with financial aid. However, university officials are monitoring the long-term economy, Perry said. If problems persist, universities will need to work with the federal government, state resources and private fund-raising to provide the scholarships, loans and other needed financial aid to keep students in school, he said. â�?�?If we donâ�?�?t get this under control nationally, it will have an effect down the road,â�? he said.