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Friday, July 10, 2009

Update: More Numbers (and Maps!) from Regents on Enrollment Patterns

Last week I noted that a Board of Regents study of South Dakota student enrollment geographical patterns failed to support the conclusion the Regents touted, that having campuses in each geographical region of the state keeps in-state enrollment high.

In response, the Regents office graced me with the full report... with maps! (Note: I converted the document from Word .docx to PDF: it's a beefy 2MB... but the Word .doc version would have been 4.1MB! The report has background and explanatory text; the enrollment maps are included below.)

One set of maps break down South Dakota high school graduate enrollment by county and state campus. For instance, take the graduates from Lake County who choose the South Dakota Regental institutions for their higher ed. Which schools did they choose in the 2006–2007 academic year? (Distances figured from Madison.)
  1. SDSU: 43% (38 miles)
  2. DSU: 36% (0 miles)
  3. USD: 15% (97 miles by Hwy 19)
  4. NSU: 2% (167 miles)
  5. SDSM&T: 2% (345 miles)
  6. BHSU: 2% (373 miles)
These numbers and the rest on the maps show some correlation between where students live and where they choose to go to university. Unfortunately, they still don't answer the important question: if South Dakota students don't have a state university in their backyard, how much more likely will they be to choose an out-of-state school?

To illustrate, consider Tripp County, about as far removed from a state campus as you can get in South Dakota. Let's figure distances from Winner:
  • SDSU: 49% (264 miles)
  • BHSU: 19% (258 miles)
  • USD: 15% (175 miles)
  • SDSM&T: 9% (215 miles)
  • DSU: 5% (219 miles— but Doug! Talk your brother up to those kids!)
  • NSU: 4% (254 miles)
These numbers suggest that geography matters less when there's no campus within reasonable bicycle range. The closest campus to Tripp County, USD, is only the third most popular choice among the county's in-staters. The two top choices are a good hour and a half farther away.

The real rubber-meets-the-road data would be the breakdown of what percentage of kids in Tripp County went out-of-state, and how far they went, as well as an assessment of how many Tripp County students would pick another South Dakota campus if BHSU were closed, or how many Lake County students would flee the state if DSU closed. Alas, the Regents acknowledge they don't have that data, and such data, especially the latter speculative data, would take serious time and money to get.

So, to be clear, I'm not advocating the closing of any state campus. I'm simply saying that the data we have doesn't necessarily argue that keeping all six campuses open is essential to keeping students in the state. As the Tripp County enrollment patterns demonstrate, there is more to college choice than geography. If we did close a state campus, there is every possibility that a good selection of quality programs and cheap in-state tuition would still keep lots of South Dakota students in state.

But see for yourself: enjoy the maps, see if any instructive patterns leap out at you. (Click each one for a larger image!)

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