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VERMILLION, S.D. | Scores of Northwest Iowa students have seized the opportunity to save several thousand dollars by enrolling at the University of South Dakota over the last two years.

Starting with the 2016-2017 school year, the South Dakota Board of Regents has allowed new freshmen and transfer students from Iowa to be eligible for the same tuition rate as South Dakota residents at USD and three other public universities.

The added incentive contributed to a 67 percent increase in Iowans attending USD. The number has jumped from 244 in the 2016-17 academic year to 311 this fall, according to the college.

"We have been thrilled with the initial success," said Scott Pohlson, USD vice president of enrollment, marketing and university relations, adding that how long new Iowa students will continue to receive in-state tuition is an open question.

"This will depend on how Iowans continue to respond to the in-state rate, so hopefully this lasts for years to come," Pohlson said.

Overall, the number of new out-of-state students was slightly down this year, while USD's total enrollment rose 2.2 percent to 10,261 students, the second-highest mark for the fall semester in college history.

With its proximity, USD has long attracted students from Northwest Iowa to its main campus in Vermillion, about a 10-minute drive to the border for the two states.  But the number of Iowans enrolling at USD had dropped off in recent years as Iowa's three public universities stepped up their focus on keeping more students in the state.

"We had seen a steady decline in Iowa students since fall 2011 of 25 percent and felt that a new approach to Iowa recruitment would be helpful in attracting top talent from Iowa," Pohlson said.

USD's tuition and fees for South Dakotans and new Iowa students is $8,772 for the 2017-18 school year, about $3,200 less than out-of-state tuition. That translates to a savings of about $12,800 for Iowa residents over four years.

The in-state tuition also is comparable to 2017-18 tuition and fees for Iowa students at the University of Iowa ($9,189), Iowa State University ($8,636) and University of Northern Iowa ($8,699).

Kaitlyn Strock, of Spencer, Iowa, is a sophomore who considered attending UNI, but found with the tuition break that she could attend USD more cheaply.

Hunter Bryan, a 2016 graduate of Woodbury Central High School in Moville, Iowa, was going to attend USD, regardless of the tuition break he got by being the first wave of students to get it. However, cost was a concern for Bryan, who didn't want to graduate with a mountain of college debt, during an era when the average student exits owing $37,172.

"It eases the stress of the whole college process" of taking classes and paying for living expenses, Bryan said.

"You don't have to have the burden of money on your shoulders."

So a host of freshmen and sophomore students from Iowa are paying in-state tuition and fees this year, while some upperclassmen Iowans who started at USD before 2016 are paying the non-resident price of $12,019.There are some oddities for Iowa students on campus, since officials when beginning the lower tuition option in 2016 didn't apply it to existing Iowa students.

In at least one case, for example, two siblings from the same Iowa family are paying two different rates.

Besides Iowans, USD also offers in-state tuition to children of alumni, no matter where they live.

South Dakota natives who attend USD this week said they aren't upset that Iowa students are getting the lower tuition. Cley Charlson, a junior from Sioux Falls, said he understands the rationale of offering in-state tuition to draw out-of-state students.

In fact, Charlson likely would have attended the University of Minnesota, if an option of accessing less expensive in-state tuition were possible.

"It is a great idea, to get a diversity of people coming from a different state," Charlson said.

Pohlson said any resentment South Dakota students might have felt about Iowans getting a lower tuition was perhaps softened by the fact that tuition overall has been reasonable.

"There are always risks associated with a change in pricing strategies, but our tuition was held flat for South Dakotans. So the hope is that by making affordability a priority for USD and the South Dakota Board of Regents, we are doing our part to keep USD a top value in the Midwest," he said.

Courtney Dahlberg, of Newell, South Dakota, said the lower tuition rate for Iowans isn't widely discussed on campus.

"I am OK with it. It is a good opportunity for people to get outside of the state where they were born and raised," Dahlberg said.

Bryan, who is a graphic design major, said there appears to be an increasing number of Iowa kids from his home W-C school going to USD, which he said might be attributable to the ability to get the in-state tuition price.

Pohlson said the prime growth of Iowa students is coming from people who live in the Sioux City "backyard," and further south to Council Bluffs, plus some students from Cedar Falls, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Pohlson said that in spite of Iowans being able to nab in-state tuition, when looking at the direct costs of tuition, fees, room and board, in terms of overall revenue, "we would conclude that the Iowa in-state rate strategy was a net gain for USD."


County and education reporter

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