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Graduate school, strong retention help drive SDSU’s enrollment increase

students walking on campus
South Dakota State University's fall 2021 semester enrollment is 11,465 students, an increase of 60 students from last year’s numbers.

Figures released today by the South Dakota Board of Regents show enrollment at South Dakota State University to be 11,465 students, an increase of 60 students from last year’s numbers. Graduate student enrollment increased by more than 200 students, and retention of first- to second-year students remains high at 80%.

“We are certainly encouraged by the overall enrollment at SDSU this year and the fact we experienced an increase in headcount,” said SDSU president Barry Dunn. “The 80% retention for a second consecutive year is a strong indication of the quality of education our students receive and the university’s efforts to ensure their success and keep them on track to graduate. Receiving a four-year degree will provide many benefits to our students during their lifetime and will positively impact the workforce in our state and region.”

New students at the undergraduate level remained steady from last year. First-time student headcount includes 2,021 freshmen enrolling at SDSU, while transfer students increased by 30 from the previous year to 476. Graduate school numbers rose by 208 to 1,618 students pursuing advanced educational opportunities. Total credit hours did drop 2.3% from the previous year.

“SDSU continues to be an excellent destination for students at both the undergraduate and graduate level who want to capitalize on the tremendous value we deliver,” Dunn said. “We offer students workforce-ready academic programs in state-of-the art facilities with ample opportunities to pursue their professional dreams. Our graduates are driving economic growth and prosperity for South Dakota.”

Over 55% of SDSU’s total student population are South Dakota residents with 6,330 enrolled, an increase of 121 from the year before. The increased number of South Dakota residents enrolled is a direct reflection of the university’s land-grant mission, according to Dunn.

“SDSU was founded over 140 years ago with the mission of providing access to the benefits of higher education for the citizens of the state,” Dunn said. “The overall impact our university has on the state is tremendous. With unique academic programs like nursing, pharmacy and counseling in the Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Aberdeen communities, along with dozens of online classes and degrees, the opportunities for South Dakotans to receive educational benefits from SDSU exist in all corners of the state.”

SDSU also continues to see an upward trend in the number of graduates with 2,505 degrees conferred in May, one of the largest graduating classes at SDSU. During the past three years, the average graduating class at State has been 2,532 students—the highest three-year average on record.

“The interesting aspect of our enrollment right now is that while students may be taking fewer credit hours for a number of reasons, we continue to graduate students at a very high rate,” Dunn said. “The large number of graduates from our university each year is a positive reflection on the comprehensive educational opportunities we provide and the types of academic programs that impact our society.”

The Jackrabbit ACE First Bank and Trust Scholarship program that launched in March 2020 attracted 34 students. The program is available to qualifying high school juniors and seniors from low-income families. The scholarship funds one dual credit course and textbooks each semester of the student’s junior and senior year of high school. Overall, the number of high school students taking courses from SDSU, including dual credit courses, increased by 166 to 808.

“We continue to see more high school graduates enter college with a significant amount of college credits already earned,” Dunn said. “This creates a number of opportunities for them beyond graduating early. It allows them to explore an additional major or minor, participate in organizations and campus leadership, or even consider studying abroad. But most importantly, it can significantly decrease the cost of their degree.”