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3.4% Fewer Students at Regental Universities = Biggest Drop This Century

Fewer people are going to public university in South Dakota. According to the Board of Regents, all six of our public campi have fewer students than they did last fall:

South Dakota Board or Regents, press release, 2019.09.27.
South Dakota Board or Regents, press release, 2019.09.27.

SDSU saw the biggest enrollment declines by straight count (589 fewer students in the Union or logging in for online classes) and by headcount percentage (4.86%). Northern managed to lose the fewest actual heads (66), while USD saw the lowest percentage decline (1.45%). Systemwide, we’re down 1,217 actual humans taking classes from our Regental institutions, a drop of 3.41% from last year.

Counting by full-time equivalents—the number of credit hours taken divided by 15 credits for undergrads and law students, 12 for graduate students, and 19 for med students—the decline was a little less: 789.1 FTEs systemwide, a 3.02% drop from last year. The slightly lesser FTE drop suggests that the students who are still coming are taking more credits per person… or maybe there was a slight trend of more graduate students, who need fewer credits to count as full-time, and fewer younger new undergrads, which would fit with the long-term demographic trend of fewer traditional freshperson-age Americans we see in other states like Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina….

The Regents can’t really ask South Dakotans to make more babies (well, they could, but that won’t boost enrollment until 2037), so they take this opportunity (and every bit of bad news is an opportunity, right?) to remind the Legislature (as they did last year in response to a 2.0% FTE drop) that South Dakota needs to offer more needs-based scholarships to make it easier for the young people we have left to afford a university education:

“South Dakota’s unemployment rate remains low, and we have a strong job market. That results in some students choosing work over education, especially if they struggle to find the financial resources to attend college,” said Paul B. Beran, the regents’ executive director and CEO. “South Dakota lacks a stable source of state-level, need-based financial aid. In our work with the Governor and state legislators, we’ll continue to stress that such support is critical to make higher education a reality for more students” [SDBOR, 2019.09.27].

That argument assumes, of course, that our Legislature wants more people enrolling in and enjoying instructive experiences in our institutions of higher education.

Whether we count heads or FTEs, this falls enrollment drop is the biggest in the last 20 years:

SDBOR, 2019.09.27
SDBOR, 2019.09.27

Systemwide Regental enrollment remains higher than it was pre-recession. But keeping enrolment from sinking farther will require fighting big demographic trends and convincing older workers that they need to come back and take classes.


  1. Robert McTaggart 2019-09-29 12:01

    Part of this is due to demographic trends, but part of it is that higher ed is a victim of its own success.

    Graduation rates are up, and the time it takes to complete a degree is down. And most baccalaureate degrees moved from requiring 128 credit hours to 120 credit hours.

    So there are fewer students taking 5 and 6 years to graduate, and that gets reflected in the numbers. We are doing what the BOR wants us to do, graduate more students in a timely fashion, and the last graduating class was one of the largest.

    We are not doing bad with regard to getting students from surrounding states, because our tuition is competitive. I hope that population dynamics from around Sioux Falls will eventually catch up with that external growth.

    If students see that adding a minor or a double major to round out their skillsets will benefit them, then that would also boost the bottom line. Often students come in with enough credits to get that extra minor or double major done in 4 years. Pursue your passion, but be prepared for the future workforce.

    There are several minors that readers of this blog may want to pursue. SDSU offers minors in Sustainability, Sustainable Energy Systems, and Sustainable Local Foods. There is the Inclusion and Equity minor; the Global Studies minor; the American Indian Studies minor; the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Minor; and the Youth and Community Work Minor.

    Heck, you could even pursue the Minor in Nuclear Engineering! Please see the link below for the full list.

  2. Robert McTaggart 2019-09-29 12:30

    If you have interests in 2-3 minors and want to build your own major that includes them, I would consider the BS in Interdisciplinary Studies. There are still rules for the gen ed requirements and having enough upper division credits.

  3. Naturalized SD 2019-09-29 19:36

    One thing that I’ve not seen mentioned is a significant decline in International Students. It’s a reality that foreign graduate students provide a significant income to SD Universities, and last year’s enrolment decrease could be linked directly to a significant decrease in International students due to current Federal Policies. This year’s reporting remains to be broken down in that way, but the current policies to international immigrants, including students, is having a direct effect on graduate education in SD, and I would expect Nationally.

  4. John 2019-09-29 21:41

    Immigrants. They built this thing we call South Dakota. Why stop now?! The histories of South Dakota read that we had dozens of foreign language newspapers in this state around 1910. That was good for us, good for the state. We need to re-create that immigrant opportunity zone. Here. Now.
    Chances are that your great or great-great grandparents first language was not English. How was that a tragedy?

    Yet similar to the experience of our immigrant forebears; we know that folks who leave their origin are better off.

    Contrast this with the shocking number of Americans who’ve never left their birth state, or flown, or traveled abroad, or visited more than 10 states.

  5. Debbo 2019-09-29 23:31

    I saw something in a news source (Sorry that’s so vague), about military recruiters liking colleges because they use the student debt database to find likely victims.

    The GOP doesn’t want higher education to be easier to achieve because that would shrink their “volunteer” military pool. High tuition + high interest rates + no bankruptcies = “voluntary” recruits!

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-30 05:35

    Time to complete a degree is down? That’s not what I see on IPEDS: nationwide, “the graduation rate within 150% of normal time at 4-year postsecondary institutions” has hardly moved over the last twenty years, staying between 53.8% for the 2009 cohort and 56.4% for the 2000 cohort. Is South Dakota’s trend different?

    I can see the difference the 128-to-120 credit switch would make.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-30 05:43

    John, interesting link on movers making more money. Curious: do people living outside their home state tend to have higher incomes because it takes job offers with high pay to get people to move, or are talented people who can make more money more inclined to take that risk and move in search of opportunity in the first place?

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-09-30 05:49

    Debbo, I don’t know about access to a database, but military recruiters are definitely using student debt relief as a recruiting tool.

    On cost, in the seven-state area, South Dakota’s in-state tuition was third-highest in the region, behind Minnesota and close to Iowa (see Fact Book 2019, p. 42). Our non-resident tuition was cheapest in the region for undergrads and second-cheapest for graduate students.

  9. Edwin Arndt 2019-09-30 08:31

    According to news reports, enrollment at North Dakota State University
    is down 5% this fall. Don’t know as to the why.

  10. Dicta 2019-09-30 09:25

    This does not hold as true for South Dakota schools as others, but something has to give in higher education. The value of a bachelors degree has gone down while the costs of schooling have absolutely skyrocketed. When my parents attended college, they could work 20 hours a week at minimum wage and completely pay for school and have some left for a decent spring break. Now? Good luck. This impact is being felt elsewhere, as debt laden millenials are buying homes much later in life than their parents, if at all. It is a racket, and something has to change.

  11. John Dale 2019-09-30 12:27

    It’s difficult in this day-and-age to get work when character besmirches travel at the speed of light.

    One option for me – an unapologetic free thinker and resident of every social credit score imaginable – was to get my PhD. I liked the Cybersecurity offerings of Dakota State. Alas, I was not accepted, but I wonder who was?

  12. Dicta 2019-09-30 13:26

    I struggle to believe such an obvious narcissist would not be admitted anywhere. Who wouldn’t want such an ADVANCED mind as a colleague?

  13. John Dale 2019-09-30 13:32

    Dicta – “anywhere”

    Not correct. Just Dakota State University. As a pro privacy evangelist, I wanted a look at what Intel was doing at an isolated university in the heartland. If I had been accepted, I would have tried my best to steer an honest course for surveillance capitalism. Honestly, I didn’t not expect to get in with my social score; just too patriotic and constitution-loving.

    With any luck, the algorithmic thresholds will change, however, to favor a disposition like mine.

  14. John Dale 2019-09-30 13:37

    Dicata – Narcissism is a personality disorder that should be diagnosed by a professional. I think the condition has been mis-applied to many talented people for political reasons. Hitler’s reich did this as well as they disarmed the population, leading-up to their onslaught.

    Someone who is confident, talented, compassionate, empathetic, and outward is not narcissistic, but when confronted with a true alpha, many betas who indeed have narcissistic disorders and delusions of grandeur come quickly falling back to earth, and they do get their feelings hurt, experience psychological discomfort, under the fog of which their own narcissistic tendencies are too easily projected.

    If accepted to DSU, I would have brought “DigitalCNC” with me. I have around 160,000 lines of enterprise Java/HTML5 code that exercises the platform that nobody here and nobody at DSU has taken the time to evaluate, a precursor to conclude that I am not worthy of a PhD opportunity.

    Have a nice day.

    Here is that URL to an overview of my work:

  15. Dicta 2019-09-30 14:13

    You used the terms Alpha and Beta in a post unironically. Incredible.

  16. John Dale 2019-09-30 14:21

    Dicta – why do you find the use of the Greek alphabet so incredible?

    Or is it in references to the relative merit that comes with that kind of assignment?

    If, for instance, a girl does a job better than a boy, her abilities are apha.

    If a man is better at his job than another man – especially in the case of combative arts – he is alpha.

    If a researcher’s skills and abilities are better than another’s, that researcher would be alpha.

    Is the “everyone gets a trophy” culture behind your shock?


    Rest assured, not being accepted into the DSU program was very motivating for me personally. I’ll be watching their research outcomes – and enrollment – closely ..

  17. Donald Pay 2019-09-30 19:09

    MFI is right. There are multiple reasons for the decline. The college cohort is now entering the post-millennials, or Gen Z. Fewer kids were born after the boomers cycled through childbearing.

  18. Robert McTaggart 2019-09-30 19:38

    More people will need to be re-trained as the economy changes, but one needs to work and do that at the same time. If more people want to start their own business, having that additional training will be of interest.

    So there are indeed a growing number of online courses, and more degrees are being offered completely online. Students may want to stay at home and take online classes. However, the best metrics tend to occur with in-class and on-campus experiences.

    In addition to a full bachelors or masters degree there will be other things such as certificates or a minor or more boutique classes that are of interest.

  19. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-01 05:12

    Edwin, I’ll bet North Dakota’s why is similar to most other states’ why: there just aren’t as many traditional college-age young people to recruit.

  20. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-01 05:20

    Dicta, I’ll buy half of your formula. College costs have gone up—faster at public colleges, where state support has fallen back from past levels of support due in part to the Republican anti-education agenda—but the economic value of a degree and the return on investment has increased since the 1970s:

    “We estimate that the return to college hovered between 8 and 9 percent until the early 1980s, then climbed to almost 16 percent following the technology-fueled economic expansion of the 1990s, where it remained, more or less, through the Great Recession. Over the past several years, this return appears to have declined slightly, drifting down by roughly two percentage points to just under 14 percent” [Scott Jaschik, “Is College Worth It? Yes,” Inside Higher Ed, 2019.06.10].

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-01 05:25

    Retraining people for economic/workforce shifts and providing a university education strike me as two different things which perhaps ought to be carried out by different institutions. The fact that we have to retrain workers with old university degrees suggests that their previous university degrees focused too much on specific, obsoletable technical skills and not enough on the general curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity that a timeless liberal arts education develops.

  22. John Dale 2019-10-01 09:35

    Cory – “not enough on the general curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity that a timeless liberal arts education develops”

    We trained a whole mess of Engineers to create and maintain the social credit score system. Unfortunately, many of them were not American.

    I agree with your comment regarding liberal arts degrees, but unfortunately the spoils of labor arbitrage were not reinvested in a brigade of constitutional moralists; just not many jobs in being an ethical free thinker. Trust me. I know.

    I agree that college has been deemphasized among American high school graduates and that this coupled with the lack of fulfilling jobs (there were plenty of jobs in tech that relied on the exploitation of everyone else and the overthrow of the republic) created a drop in demand. So, too, likely did stories of student loans and government oppression therefore.

    Also, The Internet is also likely filling an education void, offering several lifetimes of lectures on nearly every topic from experts in every field.

    “Free education” is here. But it’s free as in free beer, not free as in freedom; more like, ‘choose whatever track of secret society brainwashing you wish’.

  23. Porter Lansing 2019-10-01 12:59

    How many ways can John Dale invent to classify himself as a victim? Some people are just happy being a bum. No need to justify it. That’s why he hangs with liberals. We don’t care. We judge ourselves without needing to blame society, government, or others. John Dale is what he is because he made life choices that made him that way. What’s worse than an unhappy bum? #FalseVictimhoodRanger

  24. Porter Lansing 2019-10-01 13:25

    … cont. ~ No matter how much John Dale tasks that big brain, he’s still not yet as pathetic as Donnie Trump. Have you noticed who and how many Trumpy has blamed for his impeachment? You know he’s painted himself into a corner when he brings out the ultimate victimhood excuse and blames Barack and Hillary.
    AITA for enjoying that he’s not sleeping and his golf game has gone to hell? (The Golf Gods always punish golf cheaters.) Keep being that overachieving bum, John Dale. Trump CAN be matched in his false victimhood game.

  25. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-01 17:07


    Even those who pursued a degree in the true liberal arts tradition need to be retrained.

    In particular, too many are avoiding math because they believe it to be too hard or take too much time.

    Then they find out that they should have actually taken more math.

    The path of least resistance in academia is not really the path to having several careers as the market changes.

  26. John Dale 2019-10-02 05:07

    Portern Lansing – change the subject. I’m getting old as the topic of most of your posts.

    I like hanging out with liberals. Conservatives. Libertarians. Mostly, though, I like hanging out with patriots, who don’t usually fit into labels/categories.

    Have a nice day.

    Robert McTaggart – math is what AI is good at. Consciousness, not so much. Morality, definitely not. Philosophy is a good field.

    Also, thanks for the support from the silent majority of folks who read. You are loved.


  27. Porter Lansing 2019-10-02 06:05

    John Dale. Don’t tell me what to do. You may have all the opinions you choose but you shall not go uncriticized. There may just be young and easily influenced readers who haven’t had enough life experience to realize how twisted from normalcy your outlook is.
    Inventing and blaming nonexistent entities for your foolish choices is false victimhood and needs to be recognized and exposed. You keep telling lies and I’ll keep knocking ‘em out of the park.

  28. happy camper 2019-10-02 06:33

    We’re basically at full employment and salaries have risen a great deal (due to supply and demand not mandated minimum wage laws I might add), so young people probably look at their options and decide getting a job right after high school is a better than advanced education and horrible debt. When the economy falters people commonly go back for their masters when this bull run ends and no easy jobs undergraduate rates may increase. DSU is building a new dormitory so they must expect continued high enrollment.

  29. Porter Lansing 2019-10-02 07:24

    Is it feasible that the anti-education, religious zealot Republicans in Pierre for the last several decades have dumb downed the public schools so much that South Dakota kids aren’t proficient enough to pass entrance exams, anymore? That with a group of leaders down playing the importance of a University education may have created a perfect storm of apathy among the descendants of non brain drainers.

  30. John Dale 2019-10-02 11:24

    You can hold a shovel for $20/hr.

    You can drive equipment for $30-40/hr.

    You can install 5G light poles for $60.

    You can surveil your fellow man for $80 using 5G light poles – assuming you can keep your mouth shut.

    Why go to college? The Chinese don’t want smart Americans! They want obedient Americans that open a huge defensive rift by taking the $80/hr and shutting-up.

  31. John Dale 2019-10-02 11:44

    Porter Lansing – “There may just be young and easily influenced readers who haven’t had enough life experience to realize how twisted from normalcy your outlook is.”

    First, it sounds like you have some sort of Christ complex or delusions of grandeur – like you think its your responsibility to save the youngsters from .. John Dale? Really? I guess I am honored you believe I’m so effective.

    Second, you should explain to the group how you think you know so much about my life choices or .. maybe STFU? Cite your source there, big guy ..

    Lastly, everyone’s life outcome is the result of several random factors and some intentional human factors. If that were not true, why is Ethiopia struggling to make food or why Epstein dead?

    Acknowledging and accommodating/working-around all these factors is just fine. Whining about them and not making an attempt to do something about these factors is not acceptable.

    For instance, I am doing something about the disinformation and slander being spread about me by countering your narrative in public.

    Never give-up.

    Never surrender, kids.

    People like Porter will try to own your isht all day long.

    Don’t let them.

  32. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-03 12:08

    Retrained to specific technology, perhaps, Robert, but not completely re-universitied. One doesn’t have to retake a rigorous liberal arts education

  33. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-03 12:11

    John Dale, it is immensely fortunate that many of the engineers we have trained are from other countries. Educating international students is not a threat to our campuses, our economy, or our national security. Quite the contrary: recruiting international students boosts enrollment and university revenues, builds skills among workers who will either stay here and contribute or go home and build their economies and thus create more markets for our goods, and creates a growing pool of young professionals who, if welcomed and educated properly (i.e., protected from Trumpist idiots), will tell their folks back home, “Hey, America really is the land of opportunity! Yay, America!”

  34. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-03 12:18

    Plus, more international students coming to our campuses means more jobs for our professors and university support staff and more customers for our university-town shops and restaurants and landlord. And it’s not like international students take sats away from American students; there are fewer American students to start with!

    More professors with more grad students means more smart people employed at institutions where they will have time and money to do good research and development to drive American innovation.

  35. John Dale 2019-10-03 12:24

    Cory – I think some thought should be given to what fields of study within American universities are available to international students.

    At the same time, looking at things like Fluoride in the water and its effects on in-utero male babies (dropped IQ) and what this means for entrance requirements at American universities.

    In the longer term, it should be a strategic goal of the US to avoid training international students in fields of study that will be weaponized against America. Nuclear Physics, Computer Sciences, AI, Information Systems.

    If other countries become more proficient in these fields than the US, then I’m sure those other countries would be forthcoming and open and allow US instructors to go into their departments and help define the national identity of students flowing through their programs; especially China.

    Wait, what?

    I am not against international students. I just happen to be for US students more than I am for international students. I want to understand the reasons our universities are not chalked full of US students with very little/no room for international students.

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