Head Of The Class

VERMILLION — The University of South Dakota has reached an enrollment milestone, cracking the 10,000 mark for the first time in its history.

This fall's total enrollment at the state's flagship university reached 10,151 students, an increase of 5.5 percent from fall 2009.

USD remains on target for reaching its goal of 11,000 students, President Jim Abbott said. "We can handle (that figure) without spending significantly more dollars for additional space," he said.

The number of USD's full-time equivalent (FTE) students — based on total credit hours generated by all students — rose from 6,896 students in fall 2009 to 7,069 students in fall 2010. The growth of 173 students represents a 2.5 percent increase.

The Board of Regents announced figures for the state's six public universities during Tuesday's phone conference with reporters. The head count for the system was up by 2,661 students, nearly 8 percent, to a new high of 36,440 students. The figure marked the 13th straight year of record enrollments for the system.

The state's public universities have never seen such a large increase in terms of either head count or percentage, said Regents' Executive Director Jack Warner. This year's total not only surged past 35,000 students but surpassed 36,000 as well, he said.

"This is historic in many ways," he said.

Warner said he doesn't believe the nation's current economic problems are fueling the record enrollment, as more people seek additional training or unemployed persons choose to attend college. The recession wouldn't explain the growth in graduate students, he said."I would say (the recession) may be part of it, but that's not the main reason. If that were so, we should have seen this kind of aggressive growth last year," he said.

"During a recession, more (people) gravitate to the public (colleges), and a piece of this might be there. But to show this level of dramatic growth for us has to be explained by something more."

All six public universities recorded enrollment hikes. The following figures were released for fall 2010, which include students from the University Center in Sioux Falls and other sites:

• Black Hills State University, Spearfish: 4,722 students, up 646 for a 15.85 percent increase;

• Dakota State University, Madison: 3,101 students, up 240 for an 8.39 percent increase;

• Northern State University, Aberdeen: 3,296 students, up 624 for a 23.35 percent increase;

• South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Rapid City: 2,354 students, up 177 for an 8.13 percent increase;

• South Dakota State University, Brookings: 12,816 students, up 440 for a 3.56 percent increase.

The number of FTE students for the entire system reached 26,625 for an increase of 1,157 students, or 4.54 percent.

Abbott sees the USD campus growth as good for the entire state.

"Part of the increase relates to our commitment to build a better South Dakota," he said. "Growth is always good and we're pleased about that, but it's about investing in our students and providing them with the best possible resources at USD to ensure their academic and career success."

Abbott noted three major findings arising from the new enrollment figures.

Besides crossing the 10,000-student threshold, USD has also increased its number of new students — freshmen, transfers and re-admitted students — and graduate school students, he said.

"We have over 1,000 strong in our freshman class, which is 8.35 percent over last year," he said. "And we just had our graduate school numbers increase by 19.29 percent. That has been an area of growth for us, and I am very pleased with that number."

USD has also succeeded in retaining more students, which Abbott has listed as a major goal.

"Our freshman-to-sophomore rate is almost 75 percent, compared to 68 percent just three or four years ago," he said.

USD has not encountered problems accommodating the larger number of students, Abbott said. The university has begun offering more housing options, including this fall's opening of the Coyote Village apartment complex offering suite-like accommodations.

Coyote Village has reached 60 percent occupancy, higher than the initial projections of 50 percent for the first year, Abbott said.

Other figures released Tuesday show USD enrolling 6,316 women and 3,835 men. The Vermillion school, which lies in the corner of a tri-state area, also enrolls 7,333 South Dakotans and 2,818 non-resident students.

Since 2003, total enrollment at USD has increased from 7,917 students to 10,151. The significant increase in total enrollment over the eight-year period can be attributed to various dynamics, according to Jeff Baylor, vice president of marketing.

South Dakota State University, which like USD has moved to NCAA Division I, recorded its 11th consecutive year of record enrollment dating back to 8,540 in 1999.

Another record freshman class and increased numbers of graduate students boosted fall 2010 enrollment at the Brookings school to 12,816 students.

The numbers include 2,247 new freshmen and a record 1,475 graduate students. The totals also include an 8 percent increase in students enrolled in Ph.D. programs from last year and a 32 percent increase from 2008.

The strong numbers reflect enrollment projections at the state's largest, most comprehensive university, according to President David Chicoine.

"The keys to sustained, strategic growth at South Dakota State are recruitment of new students, retention of students from the previous year and enrollment of graduate students," the Elk Point native said. "Today's report indicates the university's initiatives in those areas are working well."

SDSU has seen continued growth of full-time, degree-seeking students pursuing their education on the main campus, Chicoine said.

Approximately 42 percent of the new students scored a 24 or higher on the ACT entrance examination, qualifying them for a Jackrabbit Guarantee Scholarship. South Dakotans comprise almost 67 percent of the student body at SDSU.

The record enrollments are all about being responsive to South Dakota's workforce needs, Warner said. The Regents have phased out low-enrolled programs, investing those resources in new and continuing programs, he said.

Besides its programs, the state's public universities have sought to offer better facilities, he said.

"We have taken some pains to invest in the infrastructure of our campuses to make them more attractive than they have ever been, which creates a magnet for students," he said.

South Dakota's public universities have sought to strengthen their ties with the state's residents, Chicoine said.

Chicoine said he didn't know if this year's statewide bus tours of SDSU students, staff and administrators contributed to enrollment gains. However, he said the tour and other efforts have allowed SDSU officials to gain feedback from South Dakotans and become more familiar with different parts of the state.

The face-to-face meetings also provide a chance for South Dakotans to become fully aware of the opportunities offered by higher education, Chicoine said.

"Like President Abbott said, we are in the business of building a better South Dakota," he added.

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