Augustana Growth Plans Fight Academic Headwinds

While news remains quiet on St Thomas’ bold move from Division III to the Division I Summit League, tiny Division II Augustana University continued to act on expansion plans of their own. Last week, the Sioux Falls-based private university’s board of trustees approved their plans to move to DI in their 2030 vision, called ‘Viking Bold’. In addition to the DI jump, the strategic plan includes a number of other initiatives:

  • Foster a climate of innovation, leveraging the campus community and its global network of alumni support along with many businesses and organizations in Sioux Falls.
  • Offer new academic programs and graduate degrees; expanding the performing and visual arts.
  • Grow enrollment from 2300 students to 3,000+.
  • Invest in the physical campus by expanding and renovating student union and new student housing. Transform into a digital campus.
  • Make an Augustana education more affordable and accessible for more students with innovative scholarship partnerships (Current tuition $39,621).
  • Create partnerships with alumni and regional organizations to ensure financial sustainability (grow the endowment – currently $67 million).

Sound familiar? It should. It is a standard blueprint employed by nearly every college and university (including the University of Denver) – all institutions facing a shrinking candidate pool, a more diverse student body, rising operational costs and a broad reassessment of the college’s business proposition’ by students and parents alike.

According to Inside Higher Ed. “College enrollment in the U.S. has decreased for the eighth consecutive year, according to new data released Thursday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center”. And, as the Baby Boomer generation ages and millennials defer marriage and families, the battle to secure an ever-shrinking student pool will become much more difficult.

The University of Denver, located in a major regional hub, can draw from a relatively large pie. But Sioux Falls-based Augustana has a much smaller base to draw from for students. While Sioux Falls currently has a healthy 2.5% growth rate, there are only 270k residents in the metropolitan area and the state of South Dakota is only growing at a 1.7% rate. Add to that, Augustana has to compete with two subsidized state universities, South Dakota and South Dakota State, for students. Additionally, many local high performing students may elect to matriculate out of state to higher-profile institutions and/or schools that better match their skills and interests.

Augustana is clearly banking on DI sports as a critical driver to put the Vikings on the map. But with a current budget of only $10.3 million per year, including football, can they compete? It will most certainly fall on the Summit League and member presidents to decide if their ambitious plans will actually work.

Then again, the Augustana 2030 strategy may be a ‘Hail Mary’ plan, crafted during volatile times, which will either allow Augustana to survive and prosper in a declining market or, ultimately,  be the victims of what is certain to be a college shakeout over the next 10-20 years.

One thought on “Augustana Growth Plans Fight Academic Headwinds”

  1. I don’t want to see this school get into in the Summit League.

    It’s dilutive to the Summit brand, is underfunded, tiny and and is a less-than-fun destination for travel. This school should not be harboring D-I ambitions until it gets to 4,000 students and/or has an endowment of $300 million. In my mind, that’s a minimum threshold for D-I success.

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