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Fall enrollment numbers at local colleges see varying impacts from COVID-19

Fall enrollment numbers at local colleges see varying impacts from COVID-19

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Fall student enrollment numbers at local college campuses have seen varying impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

Bismarck State College has 23 fewer students enrolled this fall, a slight dip of 0.6% from last year. BSC's enrollment currently stands at 3,716 students and it remains the third largest public college in the North Dakota University System in terms of student population.

BSC President Doug Jensen in a statement said the college believes it limited the impact that COVID-19 could have had on enrollment by offering students "the in-person experience they told us they prefer and expect."

"I am certain that by providing face-to-face and hybrid classes in a safe environment this fall, we not only served our students well, we minimized the impact COVID had on our enrollment," Jensen said.

Though not a part of the North Dakota University System, United Tribes Technical College has 107 fewer students enrolled this semester, nearly a 25% drop from last year's tally of 434. College spokesman Brent Kleinjan attributed the decline to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It'll get better next year when COVID's gone," he told the Tribune.

Dickinson State University saw its student population increase by 6% from last year, up to 1,441 from 1,350 students enrolled last fall.

"This is a good day for DSU," President Steve Easton said Tuesday after enrollment figures were released.

A University of Mary spokesman did not immediately respond to an inquiry regarding enrollment numbers. U-Mary is a private institution.

The North Dakota University System's 11 public colleges and universities take an official headcount four weeks into the fall semester. Systemwide, enrollment is down 2% from last year's total of 44,938 students to 44,001 this year.

University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott during an interview Wednesday said they were "preparing for the worst, hoping for the best" in regards to enrollment numbers.

Officials are trying to discern what factors helped limit an enrollment decline so far, he said. Many people this summer predicted steep declines in student enrollment that could have been disastrous for higher education institutions.

Hagerott credited the State Board of Higher Education for empowering college presidents to create plans to safely bring students back to campus for in-person learning, and credited students for complying with mask and social distancing guidelines.

"We're quite happy with the students, faculty and staff," Hagerott said, noting that North Dakota has fared well compared to other states that have seen higher education institutions shift to full distance learning due to COVID-19. "There are places where people just didn't cooperate. Here, there has been a lot of teamwork."

It's too early to tell how many students chose online learning over in-person classroom learning because of the hybrid instructional model that allows for both options to work in conjunction with each other, he said.  

Looking ahead, "Probably my biggest concern is what happens with the flu season coming. You combine flu with COVID. And so that's what we're watching. We're encouraging everyone to get a flu shot," Hagerott said.

Flu season typically peaks from December to February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reach Bilal Suleiman at 701-250-8261 or Bilal.Suleiman@bismarcktribune.com

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