Gestring emphasized several new and innovative initiatives designed to support, educate and retain students, including a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a holistic model for student success, with a specific focus on rural students. As part of this program, USD will increase capacity for participation in student internships through Coyote Career Kickstart. This program connects USD students to financial support and career preparation through meaningful work opportunities, alumni mentors, professional development tools and soft skills training.


“USD has always been and will continue to be a leader in supporting our students,” Gestring said. “We do so much at USD, but at our core, our mission is about supporting our students – their successes in the classroom, their access to real-world opportunities and their journeys to becoming lifelong learners. As our students develop and begin the next phase of their life after USD, they are incredibly prepared and ready to tackle the challenges ahead. We know this through our conversations with our industry partners and through what our students tell us.”


Part of focusing on student success includes increasing mental health services for students and supporting students who are experiencing food insecurity. Gestring emphasized the impactful efforts of Charlie’s Cupboard, a student-led, on-campus food pantry, which is in its third year of operation and has served more than 3,000 students since its founding. USD is also in its third year of operations for the Student Emergency Fund, which was originally launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and provides much-needed support to students facing financial hardships. Over the past two years, 59 students have received emergency grants, which assisted in retaining 85% of these students.


USD is also serving students and the region by creating educational pathways at USD – Sioux Falls. At USD – Sioux Falls, students can pursue degrees that range from associate to doctorate, in fields like education, business and health care. This uniquely positions USD to meet student and workforce needs by expanding options to students in the Sioux Falls region and beyond, Gestring said.


“By consolidating several programs – including Sioux Falls-based nursing classes, the Master of Public Health, the Master of Social Work and USD’s new CRNA program – we have created a health sciences hub that serves not only our students, but regional employers as well,” Gestring said. “This health sciences hub, much like our Vermillion-based programs, will provide students opportunities to learn in an interprofessional, team-based environment, replicating modern hospitals and clinics. It will also allow for USD’s partnerships with Sanford Health and Avera Health to continue to grow, providing students with unique clinical experiences and opportunities for future careers, and filling gaps in the health care workforce.”


Gestring also pointed to campus improvements like USD’s new School of Health Sciences building, the upcoming $31.25 million Wellness Center expansion, and significant renovations to Richardson Hall, McKusick Technology Center and the Knudson School of Law building as signs of exciting progress at the university. 


Earlier this week, USD released enrollment data that showed the largest incoming class of international students in university history, with double the new student enrollment over last year’s record-setting enrollment. This year, USD enrolled 219 incoming international students from 35 countries, surpassing last year’s previous record of 103. This new classes includes 159 international graduate students – an increase of 137%, with almost all the growth coming from computer science. 


Overall, first-time, full-time undergraduate enrollment is up approximately 7.7%. Among these students, enrollment from Nebraska reached a historic high, with enrollment from Iowa and Minnesota reaching record rates as well. New graduate enrollment is also up 17.7% from last year. New Native undergraduate student enrollment continues to increase, with a 17.9% improvement over last year. Gestring attributed this growth to enhanced recruitment efforts, as well as the impact of the university’s new Native American Living Learning Community. 


As part of their experience in this living learning community, students attended weekly programming on campus, which included film screenings, dinner with Native staff and faculty, and presentations from Native alumni or speakers, among other programing. Retention for participating students ranged from 77% in the fall to 88% in the spring.


Preliminary data indicate that USD also experienced a record setting retention rate of 81.7%, which exceeds the university’s peer average. This is a testament to the caliber of students choosing USD and their likelihood of success upon graduation, Gestring said.


“Whether you enter the doctor’s office or the classroom, it’s likely you’ll be met by a USD alum carrying on our university’s tradition of excellence,” Gestring said. “Our alumni include the CEOs of Sioux Falls’ major hospital systems; the administrators serving our schools; the leaders behind major marketing agencies; the public servants listening to our communities; and the dental hygienists, nurses, health care professionals and doctors who put your health first. We could not be more proud of the legacy our graduates have established and the future that our students are creating.”
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