Establishing a Dakotas Promise scholarship for qualifying university students will once again be a priority of the University of South Dakota and the South Dakota Board of Regents, according to USD President Sheila Gestring.

Dakotas Promise remains a necessary step to ensure that USD remains accessible to a large population of hard-working and academically qualified applicants that simply cannot afford to further their education, she said Thursday afternoon during her annual State of the University address, given in Aalfs Auditorium on the USD campus. The gap between the cost to attend and available federal and/or merit-based aid is growing.

Gestring said currently, a South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship-eligible student with the highest financial need will still have a gap of approximately $4,400.

USD has been losing Pell-eligible students and furthermore, as the gap grows, so does the difficulty of increasing enrollment and providing educational opportunities for all of those who need and deserve it, she said. Together, with the other regental universities, we will continue to advocate for Dakotas Promise by emphasizing the value a needs-based program would provide South Dakota.

Efforts earlier this year to set aside $1 million to fund the Dakotas Promise scholarship failed in the South Dakota Legislature.

We know we can do more. We must do more, Gestring said. The regental presidents agree this is a priority. The Board of Regents has agreed that this is a priority. Forty-nine other states have already recognized this is a priority and it is time for South Dakota to no longer have the designation of having no needs-based financial aid program.

The University of South Dakotas fall enrollment numbers wont be released until Friday, Sept. 27.

But its important for me to point out a strong correlation between the number of South Dakota high school graduates and the incoming USD class, the university president said. This fall, South Dakota realized a decline of 201 high school graduates across the state. While USD generally captures roughly the same market share of students in South Dakota, this year, our total enrollment may decline due to this dependence on South Dakota high school graduates.

Gestring said USD will work hard to anticipate enrollment trends and adjust our strategies accordingly through forecasting and the newly implemented strategic enrollment planning process.

She said the number of high school graduates is expected to rebound next year, but South Dakota must prepare for future demographic changes among those students.

By 2032, the landscape of South Dakota high schools is projected to look different, Gestring said. Over the next 13 years, South Dakota predicts a decline in the proportion of white students from 86 percent to 74 percent. Non-white students are forecasted to grow by 1,400 students in that same time period.

We have already seen this shift take place in Sioux Falls. The Sioux Falls School District went from 95 percent white students in 1990 to an estimated 61 white students in 2020, she said. As South Dakotas flagship public university, we are committed to recruiting South Dakotas students and preparing them to excel as leaders in our states top businesses and organizations.

As the states population evolves, USD must consider how it welcomes that population and how it supports an increasingly diverse student body, Gestring said, adding that such USD organizations as the Native American Cultural Center and the Center for Diversity and Community are critical now more than ever.

Unless South Dakota makes a real and impactful change one like Dakotas Promise our South Dakota universities wont experience dramatic enrollment change nor will we be able to fuel the robust economy in a way that is necessary to support our vibrant business community, she said.

Gestring said the university spends significant time and resources recruiting students.

Its imperative that we treat our retention efforts in the same way, she said.

USD had a student retention rate of 72 percent in the fall of 2017, and was able to increase that number to 77 percent by the fall of 2018, and 78 percent by the fall of 2019.

Part of our retention growth is the implementation of Coyote Connections which facilitates a more personalize contact with our students and allows faculty, advisors and counselors to engage students to help them work through whatever difficulty they might face, Gestring said.

She praised the universitys Academic and Career Planning Center and faculty who utilize an early alert system to help our students work through difficulties and help them realize the success we want them to achieve.

With these strategies in place, we are confident in our ability to reach a retention rate of 82 percent, Gestring said. This year, USD is adding a re-recruitment strategy to our overall retention efforts. While our retention resources are robust, our efforts currently focus on offering assistance during times of difficulty.

The next addition to our retention strategy may be communicating with students during times when they may not be having trouble, but they may be questioning their decision or questioning their ability to be successful, she said.

Since 2010, USD has increased its four-year graduation rate by 22 percent, Gestring said, and the six-year graduation rate has improved by 12 percent.

Those numbers are nearly double the average rate of change from the states other regental institutions, she said, and I am incredibly proud of our collective efforts to graduate and place students in meaningful careers.

Hope For Health Sciences Facility

Gestring mentioned building improvements that are currently ongoing at the DakotaDome and at the National Music Museum on the university campus and revealed that an effort will be made to secure financing to construct a new Health Sciences building in Vermillion.

With a strong interest in health science programs and an urgent need in South Dakota for a qualified labor force in the fields of nursing, mental health, addiction studies, dental hygiene and social work, now is the time to modernize our facilities and provide a world-class academic and research space this program needs to reach its full potential, she said. We are pleased to announce that the Board of Regents has forwarded our budget request for a new health sciences building to the governor which we hope she will be able to include in her budget proposal to the Legislature.

Gestring said the completion of a new health sciences building will help centralize 11 programs once housed in six buildings on the USD campus.

The new facility will provide hands-on simulation, classroom and lab spaces and will also allow dental hygienes program to nearly double, allowing USD to meet South Dakotas projected shortage of dental hygienists.

Change is also coming to the performance facilities of the College of Fine Arts on the universitys campus, starting this spring.

USD will invest approximately $2.1 million into the renovations of Knutson Theatre and another $1 million into the renovation of Colton Recital Hall in 2021, the university president said. These renovations will include new upgrades like seating, house lights, painting and flooring. These critical improvements will not only enrich the current student performance experience but will also help USD grow its accomplished Fine Arts program.

Gestring said plans are in the work to create an outdoor Patriots Plaza on the campus that will honor veterans, active military service members and the universitys three Medal of Honor recipients.

We are working with our alumni and friends to raise $200,000 to add this meaningful space to our campus, she said, and USD has committed to matching up to $100,000 to ensure this project is successful.

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