VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota's campus improvements and new student support initiatives continue to propel the university forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said University of South Dakota President Sheila K. Gestring during this year's State of the University address, held Sept. 24 in Aalfs Auditorium.
During the address, Gestring announced the university’s new 2026 Strategic Plan, which provides six strategic themes that will be used to direct university resources into the future. These themes include academic excellence, engagement, facilities and infrastructure, diversity, serving South Dakota and affordability. The comprehensive strategic plan can be found at usd.edu/strategicplan.
Gestring reported that USD has received significant gifts and completed several major renovations that provide students, faculty, staff and friends of the university with enhanced spaces for learning and gathering as a community.
Notable projects include the Patriots Plaza, which will be dedicated Nov. 11, 2020; the completion of the $26.3 million DakotaDome expansion; the grand opening of a new esports arena; the $3.1 million renovations of Knutson Theatre and Colton Hall in the College of Fine Arts; and the finalization of the $9.5 million National Music Museum renovation, which will open its new performance hall and exhibition gallery this spring, with a full reopen in 2022.
Starting in August 2022, the USD School of Health Sciences will be housed in a new, state-of-the-art building, with construction beginning in April 2021. This $22 million project was made possible by a $5 million appropriation from the state legislature and a private matching gift.
USD also announced a third phase of its College of Fine Arts renovation, which includes a new outdoor sculpture yard on the north side of the facility. This project will begin in May 2021 and has an expected completion date of Sept. 1, 2021.
This summer, the law school received a historic gift of $12.5 million, resulting in the renaming of the USD Knudson School of Law. The gift more than doubled the current law school endowment and provides student scholarships to help USD retain and attract the best legal talent to South Dakota.
Enrollment trends reflect the reality of attempting to deliver an educational experience in the middle of a global pandemic, Gestring said.
USD saw substantial growth in new graduate student enrollment. This year, the graduate school grew by 118 first-time students, with substantial growth in the Beacom School of Business and the School of Health Sciences.
Retention is also at an all-time high, up from 72% in 2017 to 78% this fall.
Total student headcount, which includes undergraduate and graduate enrollment for full-time and part-time students, declined by 4.6%. While part-time student enrollment – many of which were non-degree-seeking – declined by 9.2%, full-time student enrollment declined by only 1.9%, meaning the core of USD’s student population remains intact.
This fall, USD’s first-time, full-time domestic freshmen declined by 73 students from last year’s incoming class. While USD admitted twice as many international students compared to last year, it ultimately saw a decrease of 35.6 percent in new international student enrollment due to COVID-19’s impact on global mobility.
Gestring also highlighted several new initiatives designed to help students in need, whether that be financial assistance, mental wellness or career placement.
This fall, USD opened Charlie’s Cupboard, a student-led initiative designed to combat food insecurity for students on campus. The university also partnered with the USD Foundation to develop the new Student Emergency Fund so that students who encounter unforeseen events can find financial support to help keep them on the path to graduation.
The university has also invested in resources that will support the mental and emotional wellness of students, including Therapy Assistance Online, or TAO Connect – an online and mobile tool intended to help students conquer the day-to-day struggles around general stressors like anxiety or depression, or specific troubles like relationships and addictions. USD recently launched a new Work Scholars program, which will provide undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to find on- and off-campus jobs, network with alumni and other professionals and participate in career-building events.
“By connecting our students with potential employers early in their careers, we are facilitating opportunities for them to develop the skills and expertise they need to thrive in the workforce, positioning them to be leaders in their fields,” Gestring said.
To watch the recorded address, visit usd.edu/president.