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Presidents defend two state campuses as some legislators sounded skeptical

PIERRE -- The heads of Northern State University and Black Hills State University told lawmakers Tuesday they are working to improve perceptions. But several members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations didn't hide the desire to...

PIERRE - The heads of Northern State University and Black Hills State University told lawmakers Tuesday they are working to improve perceptions.

But several members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations didn't hide the desire to see spending reduced through steps such as closing residence halls.

Rep. Taffy Howard said enrollment fell nine of the past 12 years at Northern.

"Most of the time in the private sector, you stop the bleeding," Howard, R-Rapid City, said. "There needs to be some serious dealing with this."

President Tim Downs said Northern achieved 78 percent retention of first-time full-time students last year.

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That rate was the highest in 15 years for the Aberdeen campus, Downs said.

He said Northern plans to break ground this spring for the regional science education center and "a point of pride" is the university has "zero dollars" of deferred maintenance.

"This is a work in progress and we take this completely seriously," Downs told the committee.

To Howard specifically he replied that enrollments grow when new programs are offered.

"We're trying to do this, and we are doing this, with private funding," Downs told Howard. "We're being very judicious in how we look at every dollar and how we spend every dollars."

Downs said he expects enrollments to increase about 500 students in the next five to seven years. He said more students are stretching their university time to five years so they can work.

He said "for whatever reason" there hadn't been strategic marketing in the past at Northern. "It works. It has to be persistent. It has to be done every day," Downs said.

"We're not sure why they don't choose Northern," Downs said. That is part of the research now underway, he said.

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President Tom Jackson said the 69 percent retention of first-year full-time students at Black Hills last year was highest in the history of the Spearfish campus.

Jackson said two-fourths of the students attend classes in Spearfish, one-fourth are online only, and one-fourth take courses at the university center in Rapid City that Black Hills administrates.

Provost Chris Crawford said off-campus headcount is up but that doesn't lead to any substantial reduction in faculty. "Because we have to support those off-campus students," Crawford said.

The committee also reviewed budget requests for Dakota State University at Madison and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at Rapid City.

Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, asked whether Mines would continue its introductory math program that helps new students in need get up to speed, at a school where mechanical engineering degrees currently are the most popular.

Fiscal officer Heather Forney said the Board of Regents made money available for the current academic year after the Legislature funded the program for one year.

"I think that's a really good question," Forney told Bartels. She told the committee it would be on the list of decisions that need to be considered after legislative session.

Lawmakers review budgets Wednesday for University of South Dakota at Vermillion and South Dakota State University at Brookings. They are the two largest-enrollment public universities in South Dakota.

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Here's a look at some numbers the Legislative Research Council developed for lawmakers this session regarding state universities.

Full-time equivalent students:

Mines had 1,750 in 2006 and 2,310 in 2017.

Northern had 1,809 in 2006 and 1,652 in 2017.

Black Hills had 2,940 in 2006 and 2,646 in 2017.

Dakota State had 1,523 in 2006 and 1,945 in 2017.

On-campus student head count:

Mines had 2,082 in 2006 and 2,656 in 2017.

Northern had 1,989 in 2006 and 1,486 in 2017.

Black Hills had 2,705 in 2006 and 2,053 in 2017.

Dakota State had 1,398 in 2006 and 1,380 in 2017.

Retention of first-year full-time students:

Mines was at 73.9 percent in 2005 and 79.5 percent in 2016.

Northern was at 56.4 percent in 2005 and 77.8 percent in 2016.

Black Hills was at 49.5 percent in 2005 and 69.3 percent in 2016.

Dakota State was at 63.4 percent in 2005 and 71.8 percent in 2016.

Students placed in remedial math and English courses:

Mines had 2.9 percent in 2007 and 4.3 percent in 2016.

Northern had 30.8 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2016.

Black Hills had 45.6 percent in 2007 and 46.6 percent in 2016.

Dakota State had 35.8 percent in 2007 and 35.3 percent in 2016.

Source: LRC budget briefing documents.

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