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New identity is latest attempt at a viable future for Sioux Falls college campus

Slater Dixon
The University of South Dakota - Sioux Falls.

A new name and mission for a community college in Sioux Falls is the latest attempt to find a viable identity and purpose for the 13-year-old campus.
The South Dakota Board of Regents recently approved changes to the school intended to improve its financial sustainability. The school's new name is the University of South Dakota – Sioux Falls. It will offer in-person classes with a focus on health care, education and business.

The campus has had multiple names since it opened in 2009. It was originally intended to offer enough classes for students to complete four-year degrees from various South Dakota public universities, but struggled to sustain enrollment numbers. The school was aligned specifically with USD in 2016, when it began the transition to a community college model. However, the school continued to face difficulties with enrollment and branding.

“There was a bit of an identity crisis. People weren’t sure what was offered, what was delivered,” said USD President Sheila Gestring. “The discussions over this last year were, ‘We need to come up with a plan for this site that people understand, that people recognize and that has a focus.’”

To make the school financially viable, USD is consolidating its facilities. The university currently offers nursing curriculum out of a leased space at the Sanford USD Medical Center campus in central Sioux Falls. Those offerings, as well as the master's programs in social work and public health, will be moved to the three-building campus on the west side of town. USD also plans for its new certified residential nurse anesthetist program to be housed at the western campus.

In addition to nursing and health care programs, USD will continue to offer a two-year associate of arts in general studies degree at the Sioux Falls campus. That program previously struggled to attract students due to a “self -support” requirement that meant off-campus classes cost about $100 more per credit hour. This year, the Legislature voted to repeal the requirement.

“We are now able to align the tuition and fees with what is charged on the main campus in Vermillion,” Gestring said. “That was making it incredibly difficult for us to be price competitive, and with that removed, we think that’s a huge opportunity.”

USD is also seeking donors to fund scholarships for students at the Sioux Falls campus, as well as companies interested in offering tuition reimbursement.

“When there’s one campus delivering, there’s more motivation to go out and fundraise for that campus,” Gestring said. “There’s no immediate news coming out, but that’s always a push for us and we’re starting those conversations.”

Besides a pharmaceutical lab maintained by SDSU, USD will be the primary provider of curriculum at the site. Gestring said she’s thankful to the Board of Regents and legislators for the opportunity.

“We’re delighted and a little bit nervous because it will take a lot of work on our part, but we’re excited to do it,” she said.

Slater Dixon is a junior at Augustana University studying Government and Data Science. He was born in Sioux Falls and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.