North Dakota institutions defy national trend of declining college enrollment

Local News

Despite national trends showing declining college enrollment during the pandemic, some North Dakota institutions say they aren’t experiencing that this fall.

“We’re coming off a 6 percent increase last fall, coming off a 10-year high in summer enrollment this past session, so we’re comfortable,” Dickinson State University Interim Vice President Mark Jastorff said.

Jastorff attributes the continued growth to new programs, few COVID-19 restrictions and a tuition freeze through 2023.

“I think you just have a perfect storm allowing Dickinson State to hold its enrollment,” Jastorff said.

Minot State University’s president says he’s not seeing a drop either — holding steady at around 3,000 undergraduates.

“Right now, we’re flat from where we were a year ago,” Dr. Steven Shirley said.

Shirley says the state’s relatively open status during the peak of COVID-19 helped retain students. Plus, full in-person classes and activities are set to return in the fall.

“I think some of that maybe comes back to the state of North Dakota and this part of the country,” Shirley said.

Other institutions are even seeing growth, like the University of Mary in Bismarck.

“Yeah, we’re probably bucking the trend a little bit, which is great,” University of Mary Director of Undergraduate Recruitment Joe Kittell said.

Kittell says enrollment during 2020 stayed consistent, and they were still able to recruit students with campus tours and other in-person strategies that some places just stopped doing.

“We’re approaching some of our record-type things. Our team is still working extremely hard to get that class in and seal the deal on them all,” Kittell said.

Kittell says more numbers will be released on the extent of the increase when classes start.

Those at Bismarck State College say their enrollment hasn’t dropped either.

“Our enrollment is very strong, we’re remaining steady back to the fall of 2019,” Bismarck State College Dean of Enrollment Management Karen Erickson said.

Erickson notes that new programming, including BSC’s polytechnic institution, has helped draw students.

“I think that speaks to the great work that our faculty and staff have done, and the polytechnic mission that BSC is advancing,” Erickson said.

Classes for all four of those institutions will begin within roughly the next month.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds overall college enrollment fell about 600,000 students this spring, the largest enrollment decrease since 2011.

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