Best South Dakota Schools
By Iris Stone
In this ranking, we examine top value universities and colleges in South Dakota for 2020.
It probably goes without saying that colleges in South Dakota are some of the most affordable in the United States – at least in comparison to the outrageous fees you’d pay at some of the nation’s elitist private schools – but that’s not all South Dakota has to offer in the way of higher education.
If you’re looking for a challenging, religious education, consider attending Augustana College. If you love STEM and want to secure your financial future, there’s no better choice than the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. If you’re more interested in traditional academics and competitive athletics, South Dakota State and USD are both worthy contenders.
There’s no one way to define “value,” but we understand that schools that are focused on their students – which means offering them plenty of academic options, helping them stay on track, preparing them for the future, and being sensitive to their financial limitations – often win out in the end. As such, we’ve developed a ranking system that identifies those schools that best fit the bill, and South Dakota doesn’t disappoint! You may also want to check out the online learning opportunities with our ranking of the Top Online Colleges in South Dakota.
Read more about the methodology we used for this article here.
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Five core values live at the heart of this South Dakota college's identity: Excellence, Liberal Arts, Community, Christian, and Service. A private school affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Augustana College upholds strict standards of conduct and maintains a rigorous academic curriculum. But its challenging atmosphere doesn't discourage applicants; a 61% acceptance rate (the second lowest in the state) brands Augustana as a selective and popular college in South Dakota. You may also have noticed that its net price is substantially lower than that of selective religious colleges in other areas; thanks to the state's affordable living costs and real estate prices, Augustana has emerged as both a cheap South Dakota college and a budget-friendly choice for students all over the U.S.
South Dakota State University
Although SDSU isn't officially a "flagship" campus in the South Dakota university system, it's the largest and most comprehensive choice for local residents. With more than 12,500 students from nearly 80 nations around the globe, land-grant status, and a thriving research program, SDSU looms large as one of the best South Dakota colleges. Given its Midwestern location and the responsibility that comes with a land grant, South Dakota State has worked hard to establish itself as a leader in agronomy and agricultural innovation. And if you have an interest in husbandry, look alive: majors like Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Agricultural Systems Technology, Horticulture, Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, and Dairy Manufacturing offer endless opportunities to learn about the industry.
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has been dedicated to science and engineering since 1885, establishing itself as an academic leader that was way ahead of its time - and in fact still is today! Forget career-oriented; SD Mines' academic programs are future-oriented. You can choose from degrees in Biomedical Engineering, Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, Physics, the Applied Biological Sciences, and many other fields that are known for pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Its 88% acceptance rate might not make it one of the best universities in South Dakota in terms of selectivity, but its $700,900 net 20-year ROI proves unequivocally that SD Mines is leader in producing successful graduates.
University of South Dakota
The University of South Dakota is the flagship campus of the public school system and offers a perfect representation of life in this Midwestern state. Although the campus is large (274 acres!) it has a small town feel, thanks in no small part to the friendly, good-natured attitude of its nearly 10,000 students. And why shouldn't the Coyotes (or "Yotes" for short) be smiling? A $15k annual net price qualifies USD as a cheap college in South Dakota, while its 56% graduation rate and $165k 20-year ROI (the 3rd highest in the state in both categories) imbue confidence in students that their futures will bring both success and security.
Northern State University
Area residents know Northern State University as one of the most affordable universities in South Dakota, but a low net price isn't the only highlight of life on this small, 72-acre campus. Full of open green spaces and within easy walking distance of downtown Aberdeen, NSU offers a fun yet relaxing environment for your studies. With an 83% acceptance rate, you probably won't stress much about getting accepted - but that doesn't mean Northern State's academic climate is easy and breezy. College is what you make of it, and you'll have opportunities galore to challenge yourself at NSU. You might consider joining the Honors Program, competing in the Annual Undergraduate Research Competition, or getting involved in the Center for Excellence in International Business and Entrepreneurship.
A small, private college in South Dakota, Mount Marty offers classical liberal arts education rooted in Benedictine values. Although it is a Catholic school, MMC accepts students of all faiths, and its religious background is most apparent in its mission to develop students with "intellectual, professional, and personal skills" who also possess "moral, spiritual, and social values." Above all, this affordable college in South Dakota encourages its students to strive for personal growth, whether that means joining a campus ministry group, participating in community service (including spring break trips to help rebuild impoverished towns in the wake of natural disasters), or working with the Peace and Justice Center.
Dakota Wesleyan University
Dakota Wesleyan University's history is almost as long as Dakota State's, and it claims an equally impactful mission statement. Its founders were Methodist settlers who envisioned an institution that would last for centuries, becoming a fixture of the local community and a stronghold of traditional religious beliefs. These settlers would be elated to hear about DWU's reputation as a top university in South Dakota today, especially for religious students (although the school happily welcomes scholars of all faiths and backgrounds). Academic programs still include majors of faith, like Religious Studies and Christian Leadership, but Dakota Wesleyan also recognizes need for secular knowledge in the modern world; Allied Health, Education, Graphic Design, and International Business are just a few examples of degree programs that could help jumpstart your career.
Originally founded in 1881 as a teaching college, DSU has significantly expanded its academic programs over the last 130 years, yet still continues to emphasize practical degree options for the real world. In keeping with the times, this top South Dakota college has evolved into one of the premier technological centers in the Midwest; subjects include information technology and systems, computer management, network security, and game/web design. And if these majors interest you, you'll probably also want to consider joining some the many DSU student organizations that cater to the tech friendly and computer savvy. The Animation Club, Gaming Group, and Computer Club are great for meeting new people, while organizations like Women in Science and Technology and the Health Information Management Club offer fun networking and professional development opportunities.
This concludes our ranking of best value South Dakota colleges and universities.
About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.