PIERRE | The numbers of high school graduates have stayed flat for the past 10 years in South Dakota, and that trend is reflected with enrollments at the six state universities and the four public technical institutes.

The state Board of Regents released data Wednesday showing the headcount increased slightly and the credit hours went down slightly for the fall 2016 semester.

Meanwhile the state Board of Education, whose members partially oversee the locally managed technical institutes, learned Tuesday that headcounts totaled 6,569. That was an increase of 246 students and the largest enrollment in at least the past six years.

Black Hills State University at Spearfish was the only campus to show losses in both categories. BHSU lost 151 students for a head count of 4,244, a decline of 3.44 percent. The school saw full-time equivalents drop 57.6, to 2,824.9, a 2 percent loss.

BHSU President Tom Jackson said a loss of 110 students at University Center in Rapid City affected his school’s enrollment numbers. BHSU manages the Rapid City campus. On the other hand, BHSU had 92 percent retention of first-year students, he said.

Freshmen enrollment is up at BHSU, the school reported. There are 587 new freshmen at BHSU this fall, a bump of 7.5 percent over last year, according to the school.

“The fact that we continue to graduate record number of students is a good problem to have,” Jackson said in a news release. “Ultimately that is our goal, to continue to graduate more students and provide South Dakota and the surrounding region with a career ready workforce.”

Retention was the positive news from many of the university presidents on a teleconference Wednesday morning. Generally their campuses reported higher percentages of students moving from the first year to the second year.

Northern State President Timothy Downs said NSU’s retention was 74.3 percent and he expressed confidence about reaching the school’s 75 percent goal “in the very near future.”

Downs said alumni in contiguous states are helping recruit students from those places and the freshmen class has 323 students, up from 308 last fall. “This is a positive trend we’re going to continue to work on,” he said.

Mike Rush, executive director for the regents, said the campuses have been “working hard” on recruiting freshmen.

He said there promises to be better times soon with more high school graduates starting in 2019 through 2024.

The state universities saw head counts climb by 10,000 from 1996 through 2010, but there has been less than 1 percent change overall during the past six years.

The same pattern held true for high school graduates during the past decade, fluctuating between a high of 8,594 during the 2007-2008 school year and a low of 8,082 for the 2014-2015 school year.

The number of high school graduates during the 2015-2016 school year hasn’t been publicly posted.

Among the tech institutes, fall enrollment at Mitchell rose by two students to 1,272. Lake Area at Watertown climbed 215 students to 2,061. For both institutes, this was at least the fourth consecutive year of increases.

Southeast at Sioux Falls slipped by 33 students to 2,163. Western Dakota at Rapid City gained 63 students to 1,073, recovering after two slimmer years.

For the other state universities, there were positive developments.

At South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, school President Heather Wilson said the overall number of students is up by 500 from five years ago and there is a 13 percent increase in freshmen this fall from South Dakota high schools.

Mines saw a gain of 16 in headcount to reach 2,859, while full-time equivalents fell 10.4, a drop of 0.43 percent. 

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The number of first-time, full-time freshmen enrolling at Mines who graduated from South Dakota high schools is up from 202 last fall to 229 this fall.

“I’m particularly pleased to see so many more South Dakota students choosing to come to Mines,” Wilson said. “I hope these numbers mean that a larger proportion of South Dakota students overall are choosing engineering and science as their life’s work.”

Among the regents’ campuses, Northern State University at Aberdeen reported the largest increase in headcount. The gain of 91 put NSU at 3,587 students, an increase of 2.60 percent.

However, when credits are measured against students, NSU lost the equivalent of 41.6 full-time students, a 2.10 percent decline.

The only campus to report gains in both categories was Dakota State University at Madison.

DSU’s headcount increased 45, putting the school at 3,190 students, a 1.43 percent rise. Measured by credits, DSU added the equivalent of 37.8 full-time students, an increase of 2.03 percent.

The six universities combined for a headcount increase of 92, or 0.25 percent, and a full-time equivalent decrease of 84.1, a loss of 0.32 percent.

Overall there are 36,531 students at the universities this fall. That is one student shy of tying the record headcount set in 2014. The full-time equivalents this fall total 26,599.7 students. That’s the lowest in the past seven years.

University of South Dakota President Jim Abbott said his school’s headcount rose “slightly” — up 67, or 0.67 percent, to 10,038 — while full-time equivalents were “flat” at 7,400.4, a loss of less than one.

South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn said the Dakota Return program offering scholarships to children of alumni who have moved away from South Dakota attracted 99 students this fall, double the number of two years ago.

“It’s a good way to bring talent back to our state,” said Dunn. SDSU gained 24 students, for a headcount of 12,613 and gain of 0.19 percent. The school’s full-time equivalents slipped by 11.4, falling to 10,130.1, a loss of 0.11 percent.

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