Northern sees growth in student enrollment, retention

Students walking on campus wearing masks

ABERDEEN, S.D. – Northern State University saw growth in overall headcount this fall, particularly in graduate students, and experienced its fifth consecutive year with a freshman to sophomore retention rate above 73 percent.

Northern was the only South Dakota Board of Regents institution to see a growth in headcount during this pandemic year, according to figures released today from the SDBOR. Northern’s fall 2020 headcount is 3,431, above last fall’s 3,427.

While NSU saw a slight decrease in credit hours, 26,165 this fall compared to last year’s 26,932, the decrease was less than what the BOR system experienced as a whole. 

Northern’s biggest gain was in graduate student credit hours, which rose by 17 percent. Northern has 76 new, first-time graduate students this fall—the highest number in 10 years.

This fall’s freshman class of 341 is consistent with last year’s 342. Incoming students also have a higher average ACT and high school GPA this year: 21.87 and 3.387, respectively, compared to 21.72 and 3.371 last year.

Northern saw a decline of about 70 international students due to the COVID-19 pandemic—without that loss, enrollment figures would have grown across the board, said NSU Vice President of Enrollment, Communications and Marketing Justin Fraase.

NSU President Dr. Tim Downs praised the team effort that took place across campus to recruit and retain students.

“That includes our coaches, who brought in a record number of student-athletes; the NSU Foundation and our generous donors who contributed to the Student Emergency Relief Fund, which helped us keep students enrolled; and the hard work of our Admissions Department,” Downs said. “Everybody did everything they could, and our strong numbers show that.”

Statewide Numbers

Statewide, fall enrollment is down about 2.8 percent in headcount and full-time equivalent students, the South Dakota Board of Regents reported. The number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students for fall 2020—based on total credit hours generated by all students within the regents’ system—was down by 718 students to a total of 24,586. Total headcount at the six public universities was 33,566, a decline of 2.76 percent or 954 students over last year.

“Across the country, these are challenging and uncertain times for public higher education,” said Brian L. Maher, the regents’ executive director and CEO. “Our universities prepared for the likelihood that the pandemic would impact fall enrollments, so a reduction of about 700 full-time students was not unexpected. We are pleased that so many students and their families are placing a priority on a university education in these exceptional times. We offer a special thanks to our faculty and staff for their dedication, support, and willingness to adapt.”

See the entire BOR press release here.

About Northern State University

Northern State University is a student-centered institution that provides an outstanding educational experience, preparing students through the liberal arts and professional education for their future endeavors. A regional university, Northern offers rigorous academics; diverse civic, social and cultural opportunities; and a commitment to building an inclusive environment for all points of view. Northern also offers a broad-based athletics program, sponsoring 15 NCAA Division II intercollegiate varsity sports that compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NSIC). The university strives to enrich the community through partnerships such as its Educational Impact Campaign, which opened a new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired; new athletic and recreation fields; and, soon, an on-campus regional sports complex. With the $55 million campaign, NSU has been the recipient of more than $120 million in privately funded building projects and scholarships within a decade. To learn more, visit NSU Admissions.