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Students at Mitchell Technical Institute have lunch on Wednesday afternoon. The school had an increase in enrollment this year of 15 students. (Matt Gade / Republic)

SD's tech school enrollment up 4%

PIERRE, S.D. — The number of students attending South Dakota’s technical schools is up 4.3% and surpassed 7,000 total students, state leaders said Monday, Sept. 30.

A total of 7,122 students were reported to be in attendance for the fall 2019 semester, an increase of 297 students over last year. That figure counts all full-time, part-time and dual-credit students. In the last 12 years, headcount enrollment at South Dakota’s tech schools has climbed by 42.2%, up from 5,010 students in fall 2008.

“While enrollment at two-year colleges trends downward nationally, South Dakota students and families have continued to see the value in pursuing technical degrees,” said South Dakota Board of Technical Education Executive Director Nick Wendell. “Partnerships with industry leaders, the governor and state legislators have allowed our technical institutions to create state-of-the-art environments to prepare the next generation of South Dakota workers.”

The change in full-time equivalent figures — which divides the total credit hours in the system by the number of students taking classes — was negligible, seeing a 0.1% decrease across the state’s four schools. South Dakota had 5,668 full-time equivalent students.

At Mitchell Technical Institute, the number of total students fell by 32 to 1,191, down 2.6%t against 2018, when 1,223 were in attendance. MTI had 1,221 students in the spring 2019 term.

It marks the second time in three years that MTI has experienced a drop in fall enrollment since setting a record in 2016 with 1,274 students. That 2016 season capped a 16% growth period over a five-year period and a 10-year period where MTI enrollment had grown by 69 percent thanks to new programs, online classes and new campus buildings.

Mitchell Tech wasn’t the only South Dakota technical school to experience a headcount drop. Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown had its fall enrollment dip for the first time in 15 years, with enrollment dropping by 15 students from 2,245 to 2,228. Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls climbed by 8% and has 2,456 students enrolled, up by 188 students.

Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City had the largest jump in both headcount and full-time equivalent students. Western Dakota Tech had a 14.5% increase, adding 158 students. It also makes MTI the state’s smallest technical school, based on headcount enrollment. Western Dakota Tech now has 1,247 students, while MTI has 1,191.

The increase at technical schools is contrasted with a decrease of 1,217 students at the state’s six public four-year universities, a decline of 3.4%.

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