Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. September 18, 2023.

Editorial: South Dakota University System On The Rebound

South Dakota’s public university system seems to be on the rebound.

That could be one takeaway after the Board of Regents released its system-wide fall 2023 numbers last week. Overall, the system saw its second straight year of growth, this time with total enrollment rising 2% from a year ago with 34,370 students.

It’s a cautiously encouraging trajectory for the state system, which struggled to move the enrollment needle much for a few years and also had to deal with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A crucial statistic in the regents’ report included the number of first-time freshmen in the state, which rose 2.6% from a year ago and was up more than 6% from 2021. That might suggest that the issues created in the early years of the pandemic might be fading.

Locally, the University of South Dakota reported 9,868 students, which was up a modest .1% from a year ago but nevertheless marked the third straight year of rising enrollment. The school also welcomed 1,367 first-time freshmen, up 2.6% from last year and its largest freshman class since 2018.

USD’s story behind the numbers reflects what is going on at other schools. They are reaching out to more in-state students while also increasing the number of students both from out of state and internationally.

The latter is particularly important to USD officials. The school enrolled 606 international students, an increase for the third straight year.

“I’m incredibly proud of the vibrant global community we have cultivated at USD, and we are glad to provide a welcoming home to so many students from across the world,” USD President Sheila Gestring said. “Adding global perspectives to our campus not only benefits our students, but it is also an asset to our state’s businesses, international trade and enhancing innovation and competitiveness when these students graduate.”

Also, USD saw its largest incoming law school class in more than a decade, which is an important boost to that program.

“We increased class size while also increasing entering credentials, proving that we can get better and bigger at the same time,” Dean Neil Fulton said.

Another solid sign for the system is the number of students returning. For example, South Dakota State University, the state’s largest university, reported an 83% retention rate, which topped the record of 81% set in 2020. Again, this may be an indication that schools are moving past pandemic issues.

The system is also demonstrating the importance of innovation, and there is no better example than Dakota State University. With its expanding cybersecurity program, DSU saw a solid 8.3% hike in enrollment. Also, USD saw a 20% increase in its new graduate computer science program and an 18% rise in the artificial intelligence (AI) program.

Overall, the snapshot of the report seems to indicate the state system is finding its bearings not only post-pandemic but also in light of the changing dynamics of students in the 2020s. Broadening the system’s reach while diversifying its offerings is producing promising returns. It’s a vital trend that needs to continue.