VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota is aligning its strategy to respond to the state’s changing landscape in high schools and the workforce, said USD President Sheila K. Gestring, who delivered her annual State of the University address Sept. 26 in Aalfs Auditorium.
Gestring spoke optimistically about the university’s future growth, as it continues to introduce new industry-relevant courses and offerings.
The university is also focused on accomplishing significant campus building projects and renovations over the next few years with an eye to the future.
During the address, Gestring unveiled plans for a new on-campus Patriots Plaza, which will honor veterans and active military service members as well as USD’s three Medal of Honor recipients. USD has committed to matching donations up to $100,000 to ensure the success of this project, Gestring said.
Other notable projects include the $26.3 million DakotaDome expansion, $9.5 million National Music Museum renovation and $3.1 million renovation for USD’s fine arts performance facilities. USD is also proposing a $22 million new School of Health Sciences building, and Gestring reported that USD’s budget request has been forwarded to the Governor by the South Dakota Board of Regents.
“A driving force behind the growth in health sciences is South Dakota’s tremendous need for a qualified health and human services workforce,” Gestring said. “Healthcare occupations are projected to make up 14% of the state’s workforce by 2024. Nearly 1/3 of all USD graduates have graduated from health-related fields, with nearly two-thirds of USD’s graduates are employed in South Dakota. USD is uniquely positioned to expand its ability to support local health care employers and services in South Dakota.”
Gestring identified strong opportunities for growth within the state, including the new USD Community College for Sioux Falls and the unique partnerships it brings with its Bachelor of Science in Technical Leadership degree program in collaboration with Southeast Tech.
Retention is at an all-time high, up from 72% in 2017 to 78% this fall. Four-year graduation rates are also up 22% since 2010, nearly double the average rate of change from the state’s other regental institutions. While numbers for this year’s total headcount were not yet available, the USD School of Law reported a record class of 85 students, which is a 16% increase over last year and one of the largest classes in a decade.
Gestring also highlighted the demographic shift occurring in South Dakota, and reported that by 2032, the landscape of South Dakota high schools is projected to look different. Over the next 13 years, South Dakota predicts a decline in the proportion of white students, from 86% to 74%, she said. Nonwhite students are forecasted to grow by 1,400 students in that same time period. This shift has already taken place in Sioux Falls, which went from 95% white students in 1990 to an estimated 61% white students in 2020.
Gestring prioritized affordability as one of her top focuses after being named USD’s 18th president last year. South Dakota is the only state without a needs-based financial aid program. Currently, a South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship-eligible student with the highest financial need would have a gap of approximately $4,400 between cost and financial aid.
Gestring has already implemented several initiatives to decrease costs to students, including moving to an online bookstore format, which saved students over $500,000 in textbook costs this fall, and launching an Open Textbook Fellowship program, which is projected to save 2,000 students $150,000 this year by encouraging faculty members to use free or low-cost open textbooks in their classes.
To watch the recorded address, visit usd.edu/president.