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Colleges in South Dakota

Why go to College in South Dakota?

South Dakota might conjure images of flat cornfields and winding back roads, but residents of the state call it the “land of variety,” referring to its diverse geography, weather, and economy. South Dakota is also a center of academic activity in the Midwest, with several major colleges and universities around the state. Home to major research institutions, small liberal arts schools, tribal colleges, technical schools, and community colleges, South Dakota offers options to accommodate students of all backgrounds.


South Dakota’s total population is around 865,000, making it one of the least populous states in the country. Most of the population is found in the eastern region, including Pierre, the state capital, and Sioux Falls, the largest city.


The state’s climate is characterized by four distinct seasons, with hot summers and extremely cold winters. Temperatures regularly reach 90°F in the summer and dip as low as 10°F in the winter.

Number of Higher Learning Institutions

South Dakota is home to 33 colleges and universities, including both public and private institutions. Many schools are found in Sioux Falls, though South Dakota State University, the state’s largest college, is in the town of Brookings.

Sporting Events

While South Dakota has no professional sports teams, Sioux Falls and Rapid City are home to minor league teams in basketball, hockey, baseball, and indoor football. South Dakota State University and Dakota State University both host NCAA Division I sports teams.


While South Dakota is full of quiet small towns, larger cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City boast an assortment of bars, restaurants, and cultural activities. With their large student populations, towns like Vermillion and Brookings often host college-related events and activities.

What Options are Available for Colleges in South Dakota?


If you live near a college and have the time and ability to attend classes regularly, a more traditional college experience may be right for you. Taking courses on campus, you join a community of fellow students and benefit from the full selection of campus resources, such as computer labs, libraries, tutoring services, and academic counseling. On-campus classes are usually active and engaging, making it easy for you to participate in class discussions, lectures, or group work. The campus environment may also make it easier for you to communicate with faculty members and build bonds with classmates through student clubs, sports, and other activities.

Online Programs

Online programs offer many of the same resources as on-campus courses, though there are some notable differences. Perhaps the biggest is that online learning is far more self-directed: You are typically responsible for working through course material and completing assignments on your own, and you must be able to keep track of deadlines and keep yourself motivated. Some online courses are offered synchronously, with set course schedules and virtual class meetings (often conducted through video conferencing) that mimic the classroom experience. Other courses are asynchronous, meaning they can be completed on your own schedule. If you have work or family obligations, or live in a rural area and can’t travel to a college campus, online learning offers a convenient way to earn a degree in your free time.

Hybrid Programs

If you’re interested in a traditional collegiate experience but have commitments outside school, hybrid programs offer the best of both worlds, allowing you to take a mixture of online and classroom courses. Some hybrid programs let you take any combination of courses as it suits your schedule, while others offer a set number of courses online and others on campus. Scientific and practical disciplines often have lab or practicum requirements that can’t be completed through online classes. A hybrid program can be useful as it allows you to combine the community and support of campus courses with the flexibility of online learning.

Popular Degree Programs in South Dakota

South Dakota’s status as the “land of variety” is also reflected in two of the state’s most popular majors: business management and biology. The state’s top industries, which include agriculture and bioscience, requires both business acumen and knowledge of the life sciences. It should be no surprise, then, that the state’s most popular majors reflect the needs of its major industries.

  • Business Administration and Management

    In a business program, you gain a broad understanding of how businesses function, grow, and maintain profitability, studying topics such as accounting, finance, communication, and development strategies. The number of businesses and industries present in South Dakota make this degree a natural choice.

  • Biology

    Biologists explore the processes underlying life, including how organisms function, grow, and develop. As a biology major, you also examine how these processes affect real world issues like human health and the environment. South Dakota’s agriculture and bioscience industries make this major an ideal choice.

Education Trends in South Dakota

Despite its small population and lack of major cities, South Dakota residents over age 25 are highly educated, boasting a higher number of people with associate and bachelor’s degrees than the average U.S. state. And while the state spends slightly less on each full-time college student than the U.S. average, it actually commits an above-average portion of its tax revenue toward higher education, demonstrating South Dakota’s commitment to its students.

  South Dakota United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $5,062 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 6.4% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 10.7% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 19.0% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 8.0% 11.2%

Paying for College in South Dakota

While it’s true that you can’t put a price on your education, you can certainly keep price in mind when determining where to pursue a degree. South Dakota’s public four-year schools offer lower tuition than the average U.S. school, but higher-than-average tuition for public two-year schools. It’s important to research different schools and determine how their tuition matches up with your financial needs.

Tuition Prices

The following table compiles tuition rates at public two-year and four-year colleges in South Dakota and compares them to national averages. Keep in mind that these numbers reflect tuition only and exclude other expenses like textbooks, transportation, housing, and living expenses.

Financial Aid

Regardless of where you go to school, one of the most important parts of the college admissions process is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines your eligibility for grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study awards. Depending on your income level and background, the FAFSA may unlock funding options that don’t need to be repaid. Grants and scholarships should always be your first choice for financing, followed by work-study awards that pay you to work part-time while attending school. Government loans are another option and have generous repayment policies. Private loans, which generally charge higher interest rates, should be used as a last resort.

Cost for Online Programs in South Dakota

If you’re enrolled in one of the many online colleges in South Dakota, you should still fill out the FAFSA since you have access to all the same financial aid opportunities as traditional students. The only difference is that as an online student, you can avoid many of the costs associated with an on-campus education. While the tuition for online programs is usually about the same as traditional programs, you can save money on transportation, meals, textbooks, and child care.

Cost of Living by Region

One of the advantages of being enrolled in online schools in South Dakota is the state’s low cost of living. While rent and mortgages typically aren’t included in estimated college costs, they can have a major effect on both the overall cost of your education and your career options after graduation. The following chart compiles information on average rental and home prices from cities in both South Dakota and some of its neighboring states.

Scholarships for South Dakota College Students

Horatio Alger South Dakota Scholarship Program

$10,000; must be a current senior at a South Dakota high school with demonstrated financial need and at least a 2.0 GPA.

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South Dakota Soil & Water Conservation Scholarship

$500; must have completed at least one year at a South Dakota university, college, tribal college, or technical school and be enrolled in a natural science or agricultural conservation major with at least a 2.8 GPA.

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Bryan Meyer Memorial Scholarship

$500 or $1,500; must have completed at least two semesters of coursework at any accredited college in South Dakota and must be a subscriber or have a family member who is a subscriber to any South Dakota Telecommunications Association member company.

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South Dakota CPA Society Excellence in Accounting Scholarship

$9,500; must have completed at least 90 credits of college coursework with at least a 3.0 GPA and be planning to enter the accounting profession upon graduation.

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Carol and Larry Holt Scholarship

$2,500; must be enrolled at South Dakota State University as an education or science major with at least a 3.0 GPA.

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Can all Scholarships be Used for Online Programs?

Most schools and scholarship organizations don’t distinguish between online and traditional students in terms of eligibility, though it’s usually a good idea to check with the school or organization just to be sure. Certain scholarships, particularly those offered by colleges, have residency requirements that may preclude some distance learners.

Employment Outlook in South Dakota

While South Dakota is small, the state’s economy is diverse and includes areas such as finance, healthcare, retail, and agriculture. While mean wages in the state are lower than the national average, they’re offset by a lower cost of living. South Dakota also boasts a lower-than-average unemployment rate, ranking in the top 10 states with low unemployment. And while its gross state product is lower than many larger states, Forbes ranks South Dakota among the top 10 states for business, citing its prominent banking sector and the low cost of doing business.

  South Dakota United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, May 2017 3.3% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $40,070 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in South Dakota

Top Industries in South Dakota

  • Bioscience: Bioscience is a field with medical, agricultural, and environmental applications. It is important for everything from medical devices manufacture to biorenewable resources. A disproportionate share of South Dakota residents choose to major in biology, reflecting the dominance of this industry.
  • Financial Services: Financial services includes banks, investment funds, insurance companies, credit card companies, and other institutions that manage money. Lenient state regulations make South Dakota a popular place for the financial services sector, and the state is home to major financial institutions including Wells Fargo and Citibank.
  • Agriculture: Agriculture is the largest industry in South Dakota, with an economic impact of over $20 billion annually. Agriculture in the state is dominated by the dairy and food processing industries. Over 98% of farms in the state are family-owned.

Top Employers in South Dakota

  • Avera Medical: 17,000 employees
  • Federal Government: 11,100 employees
  • Sanford Medical: 11,000 employees

State Exchange Programs for South Dakota College Students

While there are many online schools in South Dakota, the state’s low population does result in fewer education options for state residents. As a result, many states offer exchange programs that allow you to attend an institution in another state while paying the same tuition rate as in-state residents. The following table lists some of the options available for you as a South Dakota resident, though it’s important to check with individual schools to ensure you qualify for in-state tuition.

Accreditation for Colleges in South Dakota

Another factor to consider when looking at online schools in South Dakota is accreditation status. Accreditation is a process in which colleges are evaluated to ensure they meet rigorous standards of academic quality. Accreditation lets you know that a school is legitimate degree-granting institution that will be recognized by the government, employers, and other schools. Schools are accredited either regionally or nationally. Regional accreditation is typically reserved for not-for-profit schools, such as four-year colleges and universities. Nationally accredited schools are typically for-profit institutions that offer career and technical training. Of the two, regional accreditation is generally considered more desirable. The Higher Learning Commission is the regional accrediting body responsible for South Dakota.

Entire schools or individual programs can be accredited, and online programs must adhere to the same standards as traditional programs. When looking at online colleges in South Dakota, it’s a good idea to examine the accreditation status of the program you’re considering. The keeps track of most accredited degree programs, colleges, and accrediting organizations, which makes it a useful resource if you want to check the accreditation status of a different online schools in South Dakota.

Resources for Students in South Dakota

  • Select Dakota: Select Dakota provides application and admissions resources for prospective college students of all levels, including current grade school students, recent high school graduates, returning adult students, and transfer students.
  • South Dakota Board of Regents: Governing the major public colleges in the state, the South Dakota Board of Regents offers information on topics such as scholarships, distance education programs, loan forgiveness, and student health services.
  • South Dakota State Government: Education: The state government website provides information on all higher education institutions in the state, including public schools, private schools, tribal colleges and universities, postsecondary technical institutes, and public higher education centers.
  • Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education: WICHE provides a number of informational resources for students, including information on financial aid, academic initiatives, state policies, and more.
  • Midwestern Higher Education Compact: MHEC’s website includes financial and administrative information for South Dakota’s higher education services, including data on education spending, selected performance indicators, and state education demographics.
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