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The Future of Enrollment and Housing at USD

As the 2022 academic year wraps, USD has seen continued heavy enrollment trends coupled with limited housing options both on and off campus.

Mark Petty, the Dean of Enrollment at USD, expects another increase in freshman enrollment similar to Fall 2022.

“We’re pretty optimistic that our freshman class will be larger than it was last year,” Petty said. “All of our indicators are pointing to having another increase in freshman enrollment for fall of 2023.”

Petty said Fall 2022 freshmen increased 7% compared to Fall 2021, with confirmed 2023 freshmen up almost 2% year over year. 

One factor affecting enrollment is that USD does not cap total enrollment. USD President Sheila Gestring says the university plans on reevaluating USD’s capacity. 

“We haven’t had to talk about [enrollment caps], but we’re nearing that place now,” Gestring said. “We do, however, have programs that are capped.” 

According to Gestring, around seven-to-10 years ago, a facilities consultant estimated that the university could admit around 1,500 freshmen per year based on campus capacities.  

“It’s probably worth going back into doing that, we might be hitting somewhere near a cap here in the next few years,” Gestring said.

More students equals more beds, which provides additional challenges as university and off-campus housing try to accommodate students.

As a result, planned renovations on Olson Hall in North Complex will be delayed.

According to KC Santosh, Chair of the Computer Science Department, the lack of housing heavily impacts international students. 

Santosh is a driving force behind international student growth. When he became department chair in 2020, the computer science program had no more than 15 graduate students. Three years later, they have over 200 graduate students. 128 of those students were international in Fall 2022, compared to 29 in Fall 2021.

Patrick Morrison, Director of the Gallagher International Center, said there are many reasons for the drastic increase in students.

“We did quite a bit of recruitment last year for these programs in our key markets right before the pandemic (and since),” Morrison said. 

Santosh estimates at least 90% of the increase in international students is due to the computer science program.

“People come from a distance of hundreds of miles away: Minnesota, California, Mexico, France, Germany, Ghana, do you want to welcome them in a way that you have to have these people coming from a distance and stick six people in one apartment? Do you want to tell these people that this is how we live?” Santosh said.

Not every international student is able to attend USD. Santosh had to defer 25 students next semester because they cannot find housing. He believes this hurts the school’s reputation in the eyes of prospective students.

“This is jeopardizing our community reputation, not just [our] institutional reputation,” Santosh said. “They want to come to the program. They have friends, cousins, brothers and siblings. How long will it take to recover the reputation to where we are?”

Cody Burggraff, Director of Housing, said some rooms are held for international students.

“With the international office and the enrollment office, we kind of came to a number that we needed to kind of be prepared to hold back just in case,” Burggraff said. “Most students that have applied by this time, they’ve gotten a placement except for a couple that have trickled in…”

A common theme echoed among staff and faculty is that it’s difficult to accurately forecast future enrollment trends. 

“If I had a crystal ball, I’d love to say that I would continue upon that trajectory. Our goal is to never look at decreasing enrollment,” Petty said.

According to Santosh, enrollment projections are accurate when the data is properly analyzed.

“The projection should be based on coherent and consistent data. And if you don’t know what the data looks like, and you just present it based on the messy data, it is still a projection but it’s not going to be accurate,” Santosh said.

Looking toward long-term solutions for housing, Gestring says the university is working with the community to build more off-campus apartments. 

“We’re thinking about doing a land lease with the foundation if they can find someone that’s willing to put up a larger community apartment complex that would be open to students as well as community members,” Gestring said.

The City of Vermillion also purchased a plot of land with the hopes of developing it in the future. 

In the end, USD faculty and staff believe they can handle incoming students next fall. “We guarantee every incoming student will have a bed and we can do that,” Gestring said.