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Affordability and Access of Education

Introduction and Background

Since implementation of the most recent strategic plan, Impact 2018, in 2013, SDSU has experienced significant growth in physical (i.e. “brick and mortar”) infrastructure. In addition, SDSU has seen many new programs (several of which are online) emerge while it has seen a full-scale effort to gain accreditation for every program that has an accrediting body. Finally, during this period, SDSU has faced significant fiscal challenges—challenges that directly affect how the institution will continue to operate during the next strategic plan. 

The goal of this subcommittee is to identify issues related to “affordability” and “accessibility” of education at SDSU. Subcommittee members have identified several key themes to consider, most importantly, the disparity of scholarship-to-student-loan-monies-borrowed. 

 Lessons Learned

The lessons learned during the current strategic plan are, for lack of a better phrase, those one might label as “caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware.” In recent years SDSU’s changing student demographics (a positive) and aging infrastructure has resulted in the need for new construction and renovation (i.e. “brick and mortar”) such as residence halls, expanded dining services, expansions to the Student Union, enhanced classroom spaces, renovated or new office spaces and so forth. Great progress has been made in recent years. The fact remains that the institution is still playing “catch-up” and negatives still exist, especially in terms of accessibility and affordability. Our international student population doubled and the number of domestic students of color increased; however, there has been little to no additional support and resources specific to the unique needs of these populations. 

Of chief concern for the strategic planning committee is that SDSU continues to evolve to distinguish itself as the go-to institution for South Dakota residents while it also distinguishes itself as a legitimate option for students who reside in the states of its peer institutions and beyond. 

Peer Institution Trends and External Picture: 

The following information charts, provided by Dr. Michaela Willis and augmented by this sub-committee to include “Acceptance Rate,” indicate that SDSU is mostly aligned with both its in-state sister institutions and its peer institutions in terms of Pell awards and student loans. In addition, SDSU is still a considerable “value” in terms of tuition and fees when one compares ’13-14 with ’15-16 and notices that these numbers have risen either commensurately or slightly less than the compared institutions. 

Where SDSU appears to be misaligned with its peer institutions is in the scholarship to loan ratio for incoming freshmen. SDSU’s average freshmen scholarship dollars ($2,457) ranks last among its peer institutions, and it ranks ninth (out of 14) in the number of freshmen scholarship recipients (53 percent). Further, SDSU ranks third in average student loan monies for freshmen ($7,366). Shortening the gap between scholarship or “institutional” aid and student loan monies borrowed should be a key consideration for inclusion in the next strategic plan. Also to be considered are underrepresented student scholarships and endowments, especially for Pell Grant eligible low income students. 

The following information (2014-15 IPEDs Data), also provided by Dr. Willis, clearly lays out this key theme: SDSU’s Scholarship to Loan Ratio for incoming freshmen. 

Average Freshmen Scholarship 

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Freshmen Scholarship Recipients 

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Average Student Loan for Freshmen 

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Freshmen Scholarship and Loan Comparison 

Freshmen Scholarship and Loan Comparison









Strategic Themes 

Strategic themes can be divided into two categories: 1) Accessibility; and 2) Affordability. 

The Accessibility Themes (and questions) directly relate to how SDSU’s students can navigate the university and include the following: 

  • Scholarships: How can SDSU compete both within the state and with peer institutions in terms of scholarship dollars available? 
  • Scholarships: How can SDSU increase the amount of scholarship dollars offered to freshmen and all students? 
  • Financial aid: How can SDSU reduce the amount of student loan dollars borrowed both for freshmen and by all students? 
  • Academic programming and the constraints of operating in a BOR system where institutions are competing with each other: Is SDSU’s academic programming competitive both within the state and with our peer institutions and beyond? 
  • Course credit transfer equivalencies and articulation agreements and other means of allowing students to bring completed credits into SDSU, such as the WICHI passport initiative: Is SDSU exhausting every possibility to allow students to enter with meaningful existing credits? 
  • High school dual credit: Is SDSU a significant player in the high school dual credit game? 
  • Online programming: Is SDSU offering online/distance programming comparable to both its in-state and peer institutions and beyond? 
  • University Center in Sioux Falls: Is the University Center a significant enough feeder for potential SDSU students (i.e. does SDSU’s investment in the center reap enough rewards)? 
  • University College and student success/support initiatives: Is SDSU doing enough to enable students to successfully complete their degree? Should additional support be provided for underrepresented/marginalized students? 
  • Targeted student enrollment initiatives (such as the Wokini Initiative): Is SDSU doing enough to target minority and/or underrepresented student populations, especially those represented within South Dakota? 
  • Facilities: Does SDSU have adequate facilities to effectively educate students in increasingly sophisticated programs and with increasingly sophisticated course delivery methods?
  • Facilities: Does SDSU have adequate facilities to effectively meet the needs of students of underrepresented/marginalized student groups? How can SDSU balance the needs of specific groups while achieving the goal of creating an environment of inclusiveness and accessibility (digital and physical)? Are we meeting ADA compliance and federal regulations? 

The Affordability Themes (and questions) directly relate to how SDSU’s students can afford the university and include the following: 

  • Scholarships: How can SDSU compete both within the state and with peer institutions in terms of scholarship dollars available and how can SDSU reduce the amount of student loan dollars borrowed both for freshmen and ALL students? 
  • Scholarships: How can SDSU improve accessibility and affordability for underrepresented people through directed scholarship dollars? 
  • Financial aid: How can SDSU reduce the amount of student loan dollars borrowed both for freshmen and ALL students? 
  • Costs: How does SDSU reconcile the increasing cost of tuition and fees with household incomes remaining relatively static? 
  • Jackrabbit Guarantee: Is the Jackrabbit Guarantee giving enough opportunity to all students that have the potential for college success? 
  • At-risk and Underrepresented students: Does SDSU recognize the fiscal and environmental realities of these student populations, including low-income situations, peer support groups or lack thereof. 

SDSU’s administration, along with the SDSU Foundation, will have to make several key decisions for both short- and long-term success, and the foundation for making these decisions should be embedded in the next strategic plan. 

Short-term tasks (each of these can also be considered long-term as well):

  • Continue enriching and adding cutting-edge academic programming, including online/distance programming 
  • Continue seeking accreditation for programs that qualify 
  • Continue exploring all possibilities for credit transfer 
  • Continue expanding and improving dual credit offerings 
  • Scrutinize University Center in Sioux Falls and determine SDSU’s relationship with it 
  • Align, where necessary, student success/support entities on campus with those of the sister and peer institutions 
  • Continue to attract targeted underrepresented/marginalized student groups, many of whom reside in South Dakota 
  • Continue improving existing facilities while looking ahead to future development 
  • Ensure offices that directly work with diversity, inclusion, accessibility and equity are physically accessible to all students (i.e. not located on the outskirts of campus or basement levels) 
  • Work to increase amount of scholarship dollars awarded to incoming freshmen 
  • Work to decrease the amount of student loan dollars borrowed 
  • Scrutinize the Jackrabbit Guarantee to ensure its sustainability 
  • Continue to enrich financial aid practices 
  • Continue to work with at-risk and underrepresented student populations to both attract them to campus and retain them through degree completion.

Long-Term Tasks 

  • Work with the BOR to loosen restrictions on duplicating academic programming that exists at the sister institutions 
  • Become a leader in on-line/distance programming, especially Dual Credit programming 
  • For programs that do not have accrediting organizations, continue to improve the IPR process so as to ensure academic/programmatic rigor 
  • Broaden and strengthen credit transfer articulation agreements 
  • Identify and complete necessary physical infrastructure facilities, especially those related to classroom spaces and faculty office and work spaces that are accessible and ADA compliant 
  • Close the gap between student loan dollars borrowed and scholarship monies received for ALL students 
  • Continue building a strong partnership between our university and the SDSU Foundation 
  • Establish benchmarks for recruiting at-risk and underrepresented student populations to both attract them to campus and retain them through degree completion 

Report prepared by: Joe Cassady, Animal Science department head; Carolyn Halgerson, director, Financial Aid; Jason McEntee, English department head; Lisa Schramm, assistant director, New Student Scholarships; Wes Tschetter, vice president, Finance and Business; Kas Williams, program adviser, African American Programs.