- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The governing body of South Dakota’s six public universities is looking into ways it can increase the number of degrees it awards, retain more students and make its tuition rates more competitive in the region.

The South Dakota Board of Regents met Tuesday in Pierre for its annual planning session, discussing potential goals they want the higher education system to meet in the next six years in addition to its annual legislative budget request and other issues facing the higher education system.

Jack Warner, the executive director of the board, presented it with proposed goals for the state’s university system to meet that he and others have been working on for more than year.

The strategic plan calls for increasing the number of undergraduate degrees awarded each year from 4,800 to more than 5,600. It also says the system should award almost 300 more graduate degrees more than the 1,550 it gave out in 2014.

The college-age population in South Dakota is not expected to grow rapidly over the next several years, so Warner said meeting goals for more degrees will have to come from within.

“Most of this growth is going to have to come from doing a better job with the students we have,” he said. “Improving retention rates, improving graduation rates and moving more students successfully through the system.”

Under the proposed plan, the system would aim to retain 83 percent of students after their first year. Currently, the university retains 77 percent of first-year students for at least a second year.

About 24 percent of students graduate in four years and almost 52 percent graduate in six years. The goal under the strategic plan would be to get those rates to 27 percent and 54 percent, respectively.

The regents were generally receptive of the proposed goals, but wanted some time to review them.

“I don’t want us to get signed up for stuff that is just totally beyond our control,” said Regent Harvey Jewett, the representative from Aberdeen.

If approved, the plan would also set a goal for the university system to become the fourth-best in terms of tuition and fees in the region, it would call for increasing degrees awarded to Native American students to 220 from the current 130 and it would increase the total spending on grant and contract research to $150 million from $97 million.

Ultimately, the regents voted to push deciding on their 2020 plan until at least their October meeting to give the board time to digest the goals.

The regents also discussed the details of their 2014 budget request Wednesday, which they will prioritize and approve on Thursday before sending it along to the governor’s office.

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