South Dakota is home to more than 20 postsecondary schools, offering diverse two-year and four-year programs through large universities and small community colleges. Many specialties are offered here, including degree options in medicine, law, education, nursing and seminary training. At first, it may seem intimidating to make a choice between these renowned South Dakota institutions.
To simplify the selection process, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in South Dakota, including the top four-year and two-year schools.
To provide the most accurate rankings of schools, our custom algorithm identifies these and several other critical elements. Key indicators in our methodology include acceptance rate, student retention, graduation rate and enrollment rates. Our lists below highlight the top two-year and four-year colleges in South Dakota.
Best Colleges in South Dakota
Four-year colleges in South Dakota encompass a range of large, public universities, colleges for special programs and tribal colleges. South Dakota State University boasts the largest student enrollment among four-year public universities in the state, followed closely by the University of South Dakota. Research is the foundation of traditional higher learning programs here, though postsecondary institutions also support a high concentration of technical programs. South Dakota is especially unique for its many tribal colleges; the state houses the second-largest collection of tribal universities in the U.S.
South Dakota residents with a bachelor's degree earn a higher salary than those without a college degree. Graduates' salary after attending four-year institutions in South Dakota generally exceeds the average national income, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 73% of students who attended South Dakota State University, for example, earned more than those in the state with only a high school diploma. To explore additional benefits of four-year programs, browse our list of the top colleges in South Dakota, below.
|Sioux Falls, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
Located in Sioux Falls, Augustana University was founded as a comprehensive private university that enrolls over 1,900 students from all over the world annually. Augie, as the university is affectionately called, offers overs 100 majors, minors, and pre-professional programs in the fields that include sport management, anthropology, and chemical physics. The university is also one of the few colleges in South Dakota to offer a dual-degree engineering program, which enables students to complete general requirements and a bachelor's of their choice at Augustana, then transfer to one of two affiliate schools to complete their specialized engineering degree. Augies enjoy an engaging and multifaceted campus life, ranging from the First Year Program, which seeks to connect new students to each other and their college community while also building leadership and academic skills, to a host of student clubs and organizations.
University of South Dakota
|Vermillion, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
The University of South Dakota traces its long history back to the First Legislature of the Dakota Territory in 1862. Today USD is one of the biggest and most prestigious public colleges in South Dakota, offering degree programs in areas that include business, performing arts, and sports science. Students will find co-educational opportunities like membership in national honors organizations and global learning options. They can also engage in the school's well-respected research programs through the Center for Academic & Global Engagement,which provides mentorship, networking, and funding opportunities to help students become a scholar and professional in their field. Student life is engaging and varied, ranging from engagement in Greek Life and Spirit Squad to academic and personal assistance from Native Student Services.
South Dakota State University
|Brookings, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 53%||
With a history that predates South Dakota's official statehood, South Dakota State University began as an agricultural school. Today it is a comprehensive university consisting of nine distinct colleges. Located in Brookings, SDSU offers 120 undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as a host of certificate and professional programs. From exercise science and public relations to German and interior design, students of all backgrounds, interests, and goals can find the program that best fits them. Adult learners and other nontraditional students can also further their education while accommodating their busy schedules by taking evening and online courses through the Office of Continuing & Distance Education.
Similar to some of the other best colleges in South Dakota, SDSU provides its student with ample opportunities for social engagement and professional development through its enrichment programs, which includes the First Year Experience, senior internships, and study abroad options. The Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College is a combination academic and residential community designed to help high-achieving students make the best of their college experience.
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
|Rapid City, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 48%||
Based in Rapid City, SD Mines is unique among colleges in South Dakota for its focus on engineering and science. The school offers degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level, including unique programs in atmospheric science/meteorology, geological engineering, geology and paleontology, metallurgical engineering, and mining engineering along with popular programs such as civil engineering, computer science, and biomedical engineering. Given the nature of most of the college's degree programs, SD Mines emphasizes experiential learning, with many courses featuring hands-on activities and real-world projects that build practical skills. Many programs, such as geological or mining engineering, include significant portions of class conducted outdoors and at mining sites. Most students participate in internships and co-op learning experiences, building additional professional experience.
SD Mines emphasizes the global role of engineering and technology, and study abroad programs form another significant component of the school's experiential curriculum, often involving public service. Past SD Mines students have developed water purification systems and renovated public schools in Uganda, Tanzania, and Chile.
Oglala Lakota College
|Kyle, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 12%||
Oglala Lakota College was founded in 1971 and awarded its first degrees three years later. Located in the city of Kyle, OLC offers associate and bachelor-level programs in areas like business administration, automotive technology, fine art, and pre-engineering. As expected of a college grounded in the culture and history of Native tribes, Oglala also has programs in Lakota studies, tribal law, and is one of the only colleges in South Dakota to offer a master's degree in Lakota leadership and management. OLC also has distance learning options through its Moodle classroom portal. In addition to stellar academic pathways, students at Oglala have the opportunity to join student organizations or participate in athletics as an OLC Braveheart. Because the Lakota community recognizes the importance of an education to professional success as well as personal and community well-being, a number of generous scholarships are available to help students pay for college. Furthermore, because many of the students at OLC are first-generation, the school participates in the South Dakota Jump Start program, which provides students with a personal advisor prepared to help them pick the right program and guide them through the processes of applying and finding funding.
Sinte Gleska University
|Mission, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 12%||
Located in the city of Mission, Sinte Gleska University is a four-year private institution of higher education dedicated to creating and supporting programs that preserve the history and culture of First Nations People as well as providing Native students with educational and career development opportunities. It is not surprise, then, that Sinte Gleska is one of the best colleges in South Dakota for tribe members and those who want to immerse themselves in that rich world. Sinte Gleska offers degree and certificate programs in conventional fields like biology, business administration, and human services and administration. Students may also enroll in programs that directly deals with tribal issues, like a history degree in Lakota studies or an allied health studies program that specializes in the unique healthcare challenges that First Nations People face. There are ample opportunities for community and spiritual engagement through the Heritage Center and the Tiwahe Glu Kini Pi care program. Tuition is low and based on program, but all students have access to financial aid.
Mount Marty College
|Yankton, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 48%||
Located in Yankton, South Dakota, Mount Marty College is a private liberal arts college grounded in the philosophy and values of Benedictine Catholic teaching, which emphasizes community, service, and life-long learning. MTMC offers 28 undergraduate and three graduate degrees, including programs in elementary education, medical laboratory science, and business administration. The school is also one of the few South Dakota colleges to offer nursing programs at three levels. All nursing students get the opportunity to engage in extensive and advanced clinical experience at one of South Dakota's major hospitals as well as the opportunities to join one of the field-related organizations.
Alternative educational programs are also offered at MTMC, including dual credit pathways for high school students and post-graduate workshops for professional teachers in areas like mental wellness and effective usage of technology in the classroom. In addition to study abroad opportunities all around the globe and comprehensive help through the Center for Academic Excellence, MTMC students can participate in intercollegiate and intramural athletics as a Mount Marty Lancer.
Northern State University
|Aberdeen, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 46%||
Located in Aberdeen, Northern State University was founded in 1901 and boasts one of the most beautiful campuses among South Dakota colleges. Hosting a community of over 26,000 people and within a short walking distance of downtown, the NSU campus is a combination of historic buildings, modern facilities, and a campus green to center it all. NSU offers over 50 degree programs and a student-faculty ratio of 17:1. In addition to traditional programs in areas like finance, sociology, and early childhood education, NSU offers online learning, preprofessional, international studies, and honors program opportunities for all students. Research and professional development are also key components of a well-rounded higher education at NSU, and students may find appropriate options through places like the Office of Undergraduate Research; the Center for Excellence in International Business and Entrepreneurship; and the Confucius Institute for the study of Chinese language, history, and culture. Tuition is based on residency status, with reduced costs for students from either of the Dakotas, Iowa, or Minnesota.
Black Hills State University
|Spearfish, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 39%||
Located in Spearfish, South Dakota, Black Hills State University offers a host of degree, certificate, and pre-professional programs through its three colleges in fields like art education, professional accountancy, science communication, and tourism/hospitality management. BHSU also has an established distance learning program and stands out among other South Dakota colleges for offering a master's degree in sustainability completely online.
Academics is not all there is to life at BHSU; the scenic campus is a short distance from hiking, climbing, canoeing, and other outdoor activities. Students can also make friends and gain a professional edge by joining one of the clubs and organizations on campus, including Phi Delta Kappa, the well-respected international association for educators. Tuition is based on program and residency, with students from South Dakota, Wyoming, and Minnesota receiving discounted rates.
Dakota Wesleyan University
|Mitchell, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 48%||
DWU offers educational programs in the liberal arts tradition that emphasize intellectual growth, leadership, and faith. Affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, DSW enrolls fewer than 1,000 students and boasts small classroom sizes with an average student-to-faculty ratio of 13-to-1. The school offers a graduation guarantee that students can earn their baccalaureate degrees in four years. DSW offers degrees in several fields such as business, criminal justice, healthcare, education, and wildlife management. Pre-professional degrees in law and medicine prepare students for further studies in law and medical school respectively.
DWU emphasizes hands-on learning experiences, with more than 80% of students engaging in some form of experiential learning opportunities such as clinical experience, internships, or mission work. The school boasts learning outcomes such as 100% job placement rates for nurses and athletic training graduates.
Best Community Colleges in South Dakota
Most two-year programs in South Dakota are designed to prepare students for careers in mining or technology. Southeast Technical College serves the largest two-year student population in South Dakota. Community colleges not limited to technical programs include Globe University and Kilian Community College; both offer programs in business, healthcare, education and liberal arts disciplines. Regardless of the concentration, two-year schools in South Dakota are designed to provide accelerated options for career-minded students and professionals looking to enhance their career.
South Dakota community college graduates tend to earn a higher salary than those with only a high school diploma. Two-year programs offer a variety of degrees in fields like finance, business and healthcare to prepare students for jobs in- or out-of-state. If you'd like to learn more about pursuing a South Dakota two-year program, start by browsing our list of the best such schools.
Lake Area Technical Institute
|Watertown, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
LATI, located in Watertown, enrolls over 2,000 students annually and has 29 academic programs. LATI offers education and training in a variety of fields, including financial services, law enforcement, and nursing. The school stands out among South Dakota’s community colleges for its plethora of agriculture specialization programs, including argi-aviation and an online degree in ranch management. LATI offers various programs and services to cater to working professionals and other nontraditional students. These programs include dual-enrollment for high school students, online degree options, and childcare services through the school's Educare Center. LATI also offers skill-specific courses, so businesses can provide their employees with up-to-date instruction in precision training, general management, and much more. Tuition is priced according to program;financial aid, like merit-based awards and veteran benefits, is available. Campus life at LATI is vibrant, with students enjoying themed parties, opportunities to join student organizations like the Rodeo Club, and access to the Watertown Community Recreation Center.
Mitchell Technical Institute
|Mitchell, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
Located in the city of the same name, MTI was founded in 1968 and offers over 30 academic programs. MTI specializes in industrial or otherwise career-specific training and education, so students seeking degrees in fields like wind turbine technology, radiation therapy, and agricultural business will find the school a great fit. Distance learners and high school students can also find opportunities through MTI’s online and dual-credit programs, respectively. While tuition is overall affordable, those enrolled in the dual-credit courses pay an exceptionally low $40 per credit hour. The college also offers a variety of financial aid options, and 89% of students receive some form of assistance. MTI is one of the few community colleges in South Dakota to grant the Build Dakota Scholarship, which awards students in eligible programs a full ride through their degree. All students enjoy academic and professional services, including help from the Center for Student Success, a variety of paid internship opportunities, and access to the newest campus in the region.
Sisseton Wahpeton College
|Sisseton, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 4%||
Established in 1979, SWC is a small college that enrolls about 250 students per year. More than 80% of the students at SWC are tribal members. The school stands out among two-year colleges in South Dakota because it caters its services specifically to bolster the welfare of tribal nations and improve the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives. SWC offers several certificate and associate degree programs in areas like computer systems technology, sustainable environmental studies, and licensed practical nursing. As you might expect, SWC also has programs that cover the language, culture, and history of the Dakota people. Though the school doesn’t offer any four-year degrees, SWC has transfer agreements with several universities in South Dakota. SWC offers other academic and professional services, including peer mentoring, skill- and topic-specific workshops, and cultural activities and events. Tuition is priced by program, but all students can find ample opportunities to help finance their education.
Southeast Technical Institute
|Sioux Falls, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 45%||
Located in Sioux Falls, STI is one of the best community colleges in South Dakota. Offering over 50 career-building degree and certificate programs, STI's catalog features degrees in fields like welding, collision repair, and healthcare administration. The school also has a robust engineering program, enabling students to pursue degrees in civil, architectural, and mechanical engineering, among other fields. Coursework and professional training vary by program, but all engineering students graduate with an associate degree in applied sciences. The low tuition is not the only reason why STI is exceptionally affordable; the school awards over $250,000 in scholarships and roughly 77 full-ride awards annually through the Build Dakota program. Whether they live on- or off-campus, STI students have access to a number of services and activities, including intramural sports leagues, childcare and disability services, and the option to join professional organizations like the Student Practical Nurses Association.
Western Dakota Technical Institute
|Rapid City, SD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 38%||
Located in Rapid City, WDTI was founded in 1968 and is the only school of its kind in western South Dakota. WDTI offers degree and professional development programs in some of the fastest-growing fields, including computer-aided drafting, environmental engineering, and health information management. WDTI stands out among community colleges in South Dakota for its Medical Simulation Center, a state-of-the-art facility that enables students in health-related programs to practice important skills. For example, the PediaSIM “Peter” Simulator allows students to interact with and treat a 6-year-old "boy" in trauma, nursing, and emergency response care scenarios. Not only do these simulations help hone crucial skills, but they do so while keeping practitioners and patients out of harm’s way. WDTI students also get access to other services and support, including tutoring and workshops through the Student Success Center. Financial aid opportunities are available to both on-campus students and distance learners.
Living in South Dakota
If you're thinking about applying to one of the best colleges in South Dakota, continuing reading to learn more about living in the Mount Rushmore State.
Named for the Lakota and Dakota Sioux Native American tribes, Midwestern South Dakota is the fifth least densely populated state in the U.S. South Dakota is steeped in Native American culture and history; American Indians comprise the second most populous ethnicity in the state. Historically, South Dakota's fertile farm lands and predominantly rural atmosphere have made agriculture one of the state's largest assets, while the service industry has increasingly impacted the local economy in recent years. Also, tourism draws visitors to the state for its mild climate and scenic views, ranging from the Black Hills Mountains to Mount Rushmore.
South Dakota has a per-capita income of $26,747 as of the most recent data from 2016. In addition, 27% of South Dakotans 25 and older had a bachelor's degree or higher, slightly below the national average of 29.8%. Over 90% of residents age 25 and older had at least a high school diploma, higher than the national average of 86.3%.
Below, we've profiled two of South Dakota's major regions:
- Eastern South Dakota
- Major Cities: Sioux Falls, Brookings, Watertown
- Attractions: Great Plains Zoo and Delbridge Museum, Mccrory Gardens, Pioneer Park
- Cost of Living: Sioux Falls' Numbeo Cost of Living
- Popular Schools: South Dakota State University, Southeast Technical Institute, University of Sioux Falls
- Western South Dakota
- Major Cities: Rapid City, Spearfish, Kyle
- Attractions: Mount Rushmore, Black Hills Caverns, Dinosaur Park
- Cost of Living: Rapid City's Numbeo Cost of Living
- Popular Schools: Black Hills State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Oglala Lakota College
South Dakota residents can access in-state tuition prices at public colleges in the state. Students 18 or older must provide proof of state residency; minors must live in South Dakota with either a parent or legal guardian to qualify for reduced tuition.
- For Minors:
If a student is a minor when they plan to enroll, they must prove that their guardians live permanently in the state to claim residency themselves. To establish South Dakota residency, a minor must live with a parent or guardian in a household within state borders. If the parents are divorced or separated, the minor must reside with a parent living in South Dakota. Minors must show proof that they lived with their parent in South Dakota prior to turning 18 and prove their intention to continue living with that parent until the beginning of the school year.
- For Adults:
Individuals age 18 and older who plan to claim residence must meet specific criteria, including:
- Physically residing in South Dakota for at least one year prior to declaring residence
- Proving intent to make South Dakota their home
- Ability to prove financial independence; adults under age 23 may have to formally claim emancipation from their guardian
Additional Resources for South Dakota College Students
Higher Education News
Official State Links
- Best Colleges in South Dakota of 2017
Rank School Location 1 Augustana University Sioux Falls, SD 2 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD 3 Mount Marty College Yankton, SD 4 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD 5 Northern State University Aberdeen, SD 6 Dakota State University Madison, SD 7 Sinte Gleska University Mission, SD 8 Oglala Lakota College Kyle, SD 9 Presentation College Aberdeen, SD 10 Black Hills State University Spearfish, SD Best Communiy Colleges in South Dakota 1 Mitchell Technical Institute Mitchell, SD 2 Lake Area Technical Institute Watertown, SD 3 Sisseton Wahpeton College Sisseton, SD 4 Southeast Technical Institute Sioux Falls, SD 5 Western Dakota Technical Institute Rapid City, SD
- Best Colleges in South Dakota of 2016
Rank School Location 1 Augustana University Sioux Falls, SD 2 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD 3 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD 4 Dakota Wesleyan University Mitchell, SD 5 Mount Marty College Yankton, SD 6 Dakota State University Madison, SD 7 Black Hills State University Spearfish, SD 8 University of Sioux Falls Sioux Falls, SD 9 Northern State University Aberdeen, SD Best Community Colleges 1 Mitchell Technical Institute Mitchell, SD 2 Lake Area Technical Institute Watertown, SD 3 Sinte Gleska University Mission, SD 4 Oglala Lakota College Kyle, SD 5 Western Dakota Technical Institute Rapid City, SD 6 Southeast Technical Institute Sioux Falls, SD 7 Sisseton Wahpeton College Sisseton, SD