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2014 February 3 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : S. Dakota Center Provides New Model for Higher Education

Tracking Trends

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — When it came time to decide on a college, Ally Thompson of Rapid City had a choice that wasn’t available just a few years ago to West River residents.

Rather than moving across the state to Brookings to attend South Dakota State University or even travel the 45 miles to Spearfish to attend Black Hills State University, the 20-year-old woman decided she liked the idea of living at home and saving money while preparing for the next step in her life.

So, she decided to join the growing number of students who are taking classes at the University Center, which offers college-level courses from the state’s six public universities.

“I didn’t see the point in living on campus,” Thompson told the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1eJTR2B ). “My parents can help me and they love me and feed me. I’m comfortable at home.”

The $12.8 million center offers a unique approach to academics, numerous programs to choose from and flexible class times for students. University Centers are also located in Sioux Falls and Pierre.

And that is perhaps the reason the center has seen a steady increase in enrollment since the campus was built in 2011. Prior to the new physical campus that is overseen by Black Hills State University, the school held classes at several satellite sites in Rapid City, including Ellsworth Air Force Base and downtown.

With the new campus came growth and a partnership by Black Hills State University and the other five state public universities.

And it’s not just attracting students in Rapid City. Amanda Kepp lives in Spearfish but commutes twice a week to the University Center for her classes through South Dakota State University.

The 23-year-old received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from BHSU in Spearfish. She is now looking to earn a master’s degree, but she doesn’t want to move. With the University Center, she has everything she wants.

“I just love the Spearfish area, but the program at SDSU is better for me,” she said while preparing for her final exams in December.

Small class sizes allow her to interact with her professors frequently, she said. She also likes the unique construction of the center’s building, which is equipped with the latest classroom technology, big windows to let in natural light and an abundance of easily accessible study rooms.

“Here they have these amazing rooms that you can pop into,” she said as she sat in one of the rooms surrounded by papers and open books. “It’s really study-conducive.”

Not only is enrollment up at the center that was designed to serve 1,700 students, but the number and variety of classes and programs offered have also expanded, which has university leaders working to create a master plan to include additional buildings. Since 2010, there has been a 13 percent increase in total credit hours delivered.

Sid Goss, former interim dean for the center, said the architectural firm FourFront Design Inc. was recently hired to begin to study and create a master plan for the University Center, which will include construction of additional buildings on the 45-acre property.

The University Center offers 65 program options, which include certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.

Programs from all six of the state public universities — Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, South Dakota State University and University of South Dakota — are available.

BHSU gets the first choice to offer the basic classes like freshman composition or introductory math and science. So many of the classes, especially the basic undergraduate prerequisites, are consolidated so that students in programs from any of the universities take the same class.

In classes that cannot be consolidated, students can participate in live classes with a professor coming in on a screen via webcam-type device. Students can interact with the professor and other students in real time in these classes.

It is this unique partnership of all the universities that drew the new executive director, Gene Bilodeau, to the position.

Bilodeau, who started work on Dec. 23, previously served as executive director of a satellite campus for a community college in Colorado.

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