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Dakota State enrollment steady in light of COVID crisis

September 23, 2020

Dakota State University is reporting steady overall enrollment this fall semester, significantly better than was anticipated for a semester in the midst of the COVID pandemic crisis.

Enrollment Numbers

Total number of students (headcount) and Full-Time-Equivalents

Dakota State has 3,186 students enrolled this fall, taking class credits that all together translate into 2,045.8 Full-Time-Equivalent (FTE) students. Total students enrolled at DSU have decreased 2.5% from Fall 2019. However, there has been only a 0.83% decrease in FTE this fall compared to Fall 2019. This indicates that this fall more students are taking more classes. This is a positive trend. Research has shown that students who take a full-time class load are far more likely to eventually achieve their desired degree. Fewer than 25% of part-time students achieve their desired degree, even eight years after they started their college education.

Undergraduate and graduate students

DSU has 2,740 undergraduate students enrolled for Fall 2020; 386 of them are first-year freshmen. The number of undergraduate students has decreased 2.77% from Fall 2019. Once again, however, undergraduate FTEs have decreased only 0.80% from the previous year.

There are 446 graduate students enrolled in master’s, certificate, and doctoral programs for a total of 194.5 FTE. This is four students fewer than Fall 2019, but only two FTE less.

Undergraduates account for 86% of DSU’s total student body; graduate students account for 14%. This distribution is the same as last year.

On-campus students/Residence Hall Occupancy Level

This fall on-campus enrollment is 1,262 undergraduates, and 46 graduate students.  The last few years, even as DSU has continued to increase its residence hall capacity, the university’s residence hall occupancy levels have stayed close to 100%. This fall, the university chose to set aside and keep empty about 4% of DSU’s total residence housing, to have rooms available to quarantine or isolate students who might become exposed to or ill with COVID-19. The 753 students living in DSU residence halls are occupying 97% of the remaining available residence hall spaces.

Online-only students

Since 2014, DSU’s online-only enrollment has been rising.  DSU expected that the pandemic would lead to more students taking all of their courses online. Indeed, online enrollment rose even more significantly this fall, to 1,759 students.  In addition, more of those students are taking more classes. Combined credit hours taken by online-only students equals 741.51 FTE. This is more than an 8% rise in online-only FTEs this Fall 2020 compared to Fall 2019, and more than a 3% rise in the number of online-only students compared to Fall 2019.  The number of online-only undergraduates especially increased, by almost 10%. Online-only graduate student FTEs increased by 2.5%.

Students from South Dakota

Dakota State continues to welcome increasing numbers of students from South Dakota. While the pandemic seemed to negatively impact out-of-state enrollment, it seems to have positively increased DSU’s enrollment of state residents. Both on-campus and online South Dakota resident enrollments have risen by 7.2%. The number of on-campus transfer students from South Dakota is now up from 39% last year to 56% of all transfer students this Fall 2020.  South Dakota students transferring to DSU’s online programs now make up 43% of all online transfer students, from 35% last year. On campus, this fall 62% of incoming first-time freshmen are from South Dakota, up from 54% of Fall 2019’s first year class.

Expected Enrollment Changes

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, university leadership was anticipating some changes to the university’s total FTE and headcount numbers. Dakota State recently shifted South Dakota’s Respiratory Care degree program from DSU to South Dakota State University, decreasing DSU’s existing headcount and FTEs.

Over the last few years there has been a substantial decrease in international students coming to U.S. colleges and universities, and DSU has been no exception.  The COVID-19 pandemic has added to that trend.

The pandemic has also significantly limited travel within the U.S., with the result that many out-of-state students are under quarantine constraints. In addition, many families are reluctant to have a daughter or son far away from home during this public health crisis.  Dakota State expected that on-campus enrollment of out-of-state students would decrease as a result, and that has proven to be true.

However, all of these expected changes were generally offset by gains in other areas, so overall the impact of all of these expected enrollment reductions was minimized.

Praise for Enrollment Efforts

DSU President José-Marie Griffiths gives praise to the enrollment management staff, those in the Admissions Office and Enrollment Services Department, the university’s Information Technology Services support staff, along with the DSU faculty, for their many innovations to creatively engage prospective students via the virtual world as soon as the pandemic crisis began in March.

Large numbers of schools across the region and the country closed all in-person operations this spring. This radically changed the ways DSU’s Admissions staff would normally recruit and register high school students through the spring to attend DSU this fall.  Coordinating with high school counselors and teachers, or making visits to prospective students, became difficult or even impossible. In addition, when DSU went to a totally virtual environment in the spring, with no on-campus activities, the many DSU campus visits, tours, and other recruiting events scheduled for spring had to be completely reimagined and migrated to a virtual, online environment and approach, literally in a matter of days.

“The many staff involved in our admissions activities came together with energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and skill to develop new systems and virtual activities to continue their recruitment and registration work,” President Griffiths reported. “They never skipped a beat. We are so very proud of both their efforts and their results. They have illustrated to all of us the work ethic, commitment to excellence, and determination that are hallmarks of all of our DSU employees. Our enrollment this fall certainly speaks to what we have been saying as a community since last March – we are indeed #DSUStrong.”

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Jane Utecht
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