To identify the Best Colleges in South Dakota for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in South Dakota anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in South Dakota
The best colleges and universities in South Dakota have a transformative power for the people and the state. Founded on farming, mining, and trade, South Dakota has entered the 21st century as a growing figure in finance, defense, and tourism. The University of South Dakota 55 , and South Dakota State University 53 – nationally-recognized centers of research and learning – are leading South Dakota’s growth and renovation, from USD’s groundbreaking law, medicine, and business programs, to the visionary technology and engineering work being done at SDSU.
South Dakota’s liberal arts colleges are also doing the valuable work of preparing the next generation of leaders, while also helping working adults find their way in a new working environment. With the strong religious spirit of South Dakota, the best liberal arts colleges are Christian, from the Lutheran> Augustana University 70 to the Catholic Mount Marty College . A strong string of public colleges and universities, like Northern State University 62 and Dakota State University 61 , have put special emphasis on adult education and online education to fill gaps in South Dakota’s job market, helping revitalize America’s first Sunshine State (yes, South Dakota had that name before Florida snatched it up).
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Mount Rushmore State.
The oldest university in South Dakota, Augustana University was founded by Norwegian immigrants as a college and seminary – but not in South Dakota. First located in Chicago, IL, Augustana had a long road ahead of it, with splits within the church causing the school to move first to Wisconsin, then Iowa, and Canton, SD before merging with the Lutheran Normal School in Sioux Falls, its final home. Named for one of the founding documents of Lutheran faith, Augustana put its many parts to good use and grew throughout the 20th century into a trusted liberal arts college. Augustana reached university status in 2015, and has been regularly ranked by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review as one of the best Midwestern regional universities.
Augustana University retains its faith in a traditional liberal arts foundational curriculum, building all of its undergraduate programs on the grounding of the humanities and sciences. Critical thought and analysis are built into all programs, and as a Lutheran institution, Christian faith and theology are also infused throughout the curriculum. With strong connections throughout Sioux Falls, Augustana encourages internships, student research, and study abroad, and is well known throughout the region for its community engagement. With high job placement rates for graduates, and uncommon success in getting students into graduate school, Augustana University earns its ranking as South Dakota’s top college.
Dakota Wesleyan University
The official seal of Dakota Wesleyan University – featuring an alter, ox, and plow – tells the story of the university’s founding in 1885 by Methodist settlers in the rugged Dakota Territory. Sacrificing for the sake of future generations, the farmers and laborers of the area gave donations to build a college that would instruct students in the liberal arts and Christian faith. That’s still the mission of Dakota Wesleyan, which today is ranked as one of the top regional universities in the Midwest. More importantly, from the DWU perspective, Dakota Wesleyan is known for their service to the people of South Dakota, and has earned recognition from the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
As a Christian university associated with the United Methodist Church, Dakota Wesleyan remains dedicated to bringing the traditional foundation of the liberal arts in line with Christian faith and ethics, but in order to better serve the needs of South Dakotans, DWU puts priority on professional programs like nursing and education. A 13:1 student:faculty ratio keeps faculty members in the position of mentors and guides, both academically and spiritually, while excellent career services and professional development helps DWU alumni get jobs – 100% placement for nursing graduates, in fact. Online programs also help Dakota Wesleyan meet working adults where they are. It’s all part of what makes DWU a best Dakota university.
University of Sioux Falls
Founded in 1883, the University of Sioux Falls was the vision of nine Baptist churches throughout South Dakota, the members of which looked forward to a Christian liberal arts education that would give future South Dakotans knowledge and opportunity. It took 11 years from the first meeting of the Baptist Association of the Dakota Territory until that dream was realized, but in the nearly century and a half since, the University of Sioux Falls has brought high-quality education to thousands of students, earning a regional reputation for excellence, academic rigor, and spiritual progress.
The University of Sioux Falls puts Christ-centered faith and service at the center of its curriculum, building a foundation from the classical liberal arts. As the best liberal arts colleges have always done, USF preserves a low student:faculty ratio (14:1) to fulfill the promise of spiritual and academic guidance. Distance education has become a significant concern in recent years, with fully online master’s and bachelor’s-completion programs, and the new nursing school is gaining a great deal of recognition in the region for its top-of-the-line facilities and convenient programs. Taking care of people where they are makes the University of Sioux Falls a definite best South Dakota college.
Northern State University
Northern State University is a small public institution founded in 1901 as a combination industrial and normal school; its first mission was to provide practical technical education for workers, and prepare schoolteachers for South Dakota’s public schools. The plan had been in the works for some time, but once Aberdeen – an important railroad crossroads – began to grow into a prominent city, the Northern Normal and Industrial School became a reality. Today, as a public university, Northern State has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top regional institution for many years straight, and has developed a reputation throughout South Dakota for quality and value.
The small student body at Northern State – just 3500 students – gives all the opportunity to develop strong, collaborative relationships, between students and faculty as well. Northern is becoming well known throughout the region for their online programs, making outreach to working adult students a priority; thus far, 14 fully online degrees, with a strong showing in business and management, are available for South Dakota’s working professionals. Students receive top-notch financial aid from Northern as well, with the Great Plains’ largest guaranteed scholarship program, the WolfPACT. Quality and affordability make Northern State one of South Dakota’s best universities.
Dakota State University
The first teacher training school in the Dakota Territory, Dakota State University began its life as Madison Normal School, well before South Dakota had been accepted as a state. Once South Dakota became a state, it began the long sequence of changes that many normal schools endured, growing into a teacher’s college, state college, and eventually a state university – all the while going through numerous name changes to avoid confusion with other Dakota universities (it was even briefly General Beadle State University, in honor of a prominent former president). Today, the Dakota State University is a small public university with a strong focus on technology.
Dakota State’s strongest marketing slogan is “Technically, We’re Better,” cleverly boasting their expertise in areas like computer science, information systems, and cyber operations. DSU is well-known for their cutting-edge professional and academic technology, including laptops and tablet computers for every student, and smart classrooms throughout campus. DSU’s online degree programs have also been highly ranked nationally, offering convenient educational opportunities for South Dakota’s professional population. A 94% job or graduate school placement – with some majors clocking in at 100% – helps make Dakota State University one of the best universities in the Dakotas.
Mount Marty College
Founded by the Sisters of Mercy – an Irish order of nuns dedicated to women’s education and Christian service – Mount Marty College was originally a Catholic girl’s high school before becoming a college in 1936. MMC was perfectly poised for the boom in women going to college that occurred during and after WWII, proving that Catherine McAuley’s vision early in the 19th century to uplift women and children with education and care was not only ahead of its time, but prescient. Today, Mount Marty College is a coed, four-year institution ranked as a best Midwestern regional college by U.S. News & World Report.
Mount Marty College’s curriculum is founded on the traditional liberal arts, but its Benedictine heritage also puts Catholic values such as community service and ethical responsibility at the heart of all the college’s programs. Add to that mix the most up-to-date career and professional study, and Mount Marty is designed to prepare leaders. The college is also dedicated to outreach, and at least a third of MMC students are adult learners, benefiting just like traditional undergraduates from an 10:1 student:faculty ratio and excellent student support. With 95% job and graduate school placement, and 90% success rate for graduate school applications, Mount Marty College is easily among South Dakota’s best colleges.
University of South Dakota
South Dakota’s flagship, the University of South Dakota is a major, public research institution in the beautifully named Vermillion, SD. USD dates its founding to the first Dakota Territorial Legislature in 1862, with one minor detail – with no funding, the university did not actually open until 20 years later. However, it is nonetheless the oldest university founded in South Dakota (the older Augustana University was founded in Chicago, IL). Ranked in the top tier of national universities by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and the Princeton Review, the University of South Dakota is especially known for South Dakota’s only law, medical, and accredited business schools.
Small by the standards of public research universities (with just under 10,000 students), the University of South Dakota uses its size to its students’ advantage, providing the same kind of mentorship and support that small liberal arts colleges are known for. USD’s foundational curriculum follows the traditional liberal arts standards, but some of the state’s best professional programs – such as nursing, health science, criminal justice, and business – use the most current knowledge and experienced practitioners to give students all the job market advantages possible. USD is one of the Midwest’s leaders and a model for South Dakota universities.
South Dakota State University
The largest, most comprehensive institution in the state, South Dakota State University was founded in 1881 on a federal land grant. Under the land-grant system, SDSU began as an agriculture and mechanics school, bringing the most current knowledge in those fields to the farmers and workers of the territory. It was what the Dakotas needed at the time, and over the next century SDSU built on its foundations to become a leading STEM research and learning institution, ranking as one of the most important public research universities in the Midwest. SDSU is also the home of the globally-influential South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station.
Considering its history, South Dakota State is not surprisingly the state’s premier institution for biology, agriculture, and engineering; in recent years, however, SDSU’s College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy have emerged as crucial elements of the state’s healthcare infrastructure. SDSU offers more master’s and doctorate degrees than any other university in the state, and the Office of Continuing and Distance Education is well known for its outreach efforts to the working adults in South Dakota’s rural and urban areas. No other university meets the needs of South Dakota’s people as thoroughly and expertly as South Dakota State, the definition of a top Dakota university.