The South Dakota Board of Regents meet this week in the swanky digs of River Rock Lodge. Among their agenda items is a discussion of declining enrollment at the Regental “university centers,” the off-campus locations created by the Regents to serve Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Rapid City. The university center in Rapid is actually enrolling more students than it did in 2008, but that gain has been swamped by losses at the Sioux Falls and Pierre university centers.
The decline in university center enrollment comes as overall enrollment in the Regental system has increased:
The Regents’ report shows that Sioux Falls and Rapid City high school graduates enroll at Regental campuses at about the same rate as students statewide (36.8% statewide, 36.4% in Sioux Falls, 37.4% in Rapid City). Pierre grads head for Regental campuses at an even higher rate (48.6%). Also worth noting is that graduates from all three cities choose SDSU more often than USD—Go Jacks!
The Regents want the university centers to play a role in increasing the number of South Dakotans with post-secondary credentials to 60%. To draw more students to the university centers, the Regents will discuss focusing the university centers more on certificates and two-year degrees, courses dictated by local labor market needs, and lower costs.
The Regents’ report does not mention another obvious alternative: shutting down the university centers for which demand is declining. Students who place a premium on the in-person university classroom experience are already heading for campus. The students who are too busy to drive to Brookings, Madison, Vermillion, or Spearfish to take classes may well be too busy to drive to a university center for classes. Those seeking an alternative to sitting on campus can scratch that itch much more easily by taking online classes—and that online itch-scratching is growing, as shown by the 33.3% increase in off-campus enrollment. Why should the Regents invest in more physical locations when any South Dakotan with Internet can turn her kitchen table into a university classroom?
The Regents won’t save enough money closing the Sioux Falls and Pierre university centers to fund the tuition freeze they want. But with online courses making satellite campuses redundant, eliminating at least those two university centers would be the sort of obvious efficiency that could make the Governor and the Legislature willing to support more tuition assistance from the general fund.