Fall enrollment is down in the state’s public university system for a third year in a row, but Board of Regents leadership says it’s not all bad news.
The fall 2020 headcount for the state’s six public universities is down 2.8%. That’s a loss of 954 students system-wide from last year’s enrollment. It’s not the worst drop in recent memory, but the decrease continues a trend that started in 2018.
BOR executive director Brian Maher says there is some good news: 2019’s first-year students came back this fall at a higher rate than previous years.
“So while our enrollment number, our raw number is down, our retention rate is actually improved," he says.
Retention of new degree-seeking students was 78% last fall. This fall, Maher says it jumped to 81%.
“That’s a major accomplishment in any academic year, but it’s truly admirable during the pandemic as adjustments had to be made by students and faculty to promote health and safety.”
Black Hills State University in Spearfish saw the biggest enrollment difference this year with a decrease of 6.5%. President Laurie Nichols says that loss is almost completely from two groups of students. First: high schoolers enrolled in dual credit courses.
“Black Hills State starting school a week earlier than normal and all of the western South Dakota high schools starting two weeks later than normal created a three week gap in the start of school, which was just unsurmountable," she explains.
Nichols adds first-year students who deferred their admission due to the pandemic also contributed to the drop in enrollment.
Other campuses saw smaller decreases in enrollment with the exception of Northern State University in Aberdeen. Its enrollment remained flat, with a less than one-percent increase.