South Dakota Online Colleges & Universities – Top Schools for ’15

Although fairly large in area, South Dakota is among the nation's smallest states in terms of population. The state had 31 accredited post-secondary institutions operating in 2013. That number includes public and private colleges and universities, as well as career and vocational training schools. Approximately 75,000 undergraduate and graduate students were enrolled in certificate and degree programs in South Dakota that year, placing the state at 42nd in total number of post-secondary schools and 44th in total number of students when compared to the nation as a whole. The list below provides a glimpse of the education options available to South Dakota residents:

College Type Number in South Dakota
Public 12
Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation) 8
Private for-profit 6
Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation) 3

Top Cities in South Dakota for Postsecondary Education

South Dakota's colleges and universities are chiefly located in and around its most populous towns. The following lists provide a breakdown of the most active college communities in the state:

Most Popular South Dakota College Cities by Student Totals

  • Brookings (13,000)
  • Sioux Falls (10,100)
  • Vermillion (9,600)
  • Rapid City (7,600)
  • Spearfish (5,300)

South Dakota Cities with the Most College Campuses

  • Sioux Falls (11)
  • Rapid City (5)
  • Aberdeen (2)
  • Mitchell (2)
  • Yankton (2)

City Spotlight: Postsecondary Learning in Sioux Falls

The local public school system and college landscape in Sioux Falls is heavily supported by the community, and local businesses regularly form partnerships with schools in both the public and private sectors. Sioux Falls is recognized for its outstanding health care facilities, and it is within a day’s drive from most Midwest cities. The beautiful climate and true four seasons make it a great place to live and go to school.

The largest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls is home to 11 public colleges and universities. Six South Dakota universities comprise the South Dakota Public Universities and Research Center (or University Center, for short), a partnership that gives students access to a wide variety of programs from Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota, all in Sioux Falls. The goal of the partnership is to provide area residents access to quality public education, “with a special focus on providing opportunities for non-traditional and adult learners.” UC also works with area businesses to help meet workforce needs. Students can study business, technology, social sciences, communication, health sciences and more from universities that are consistently ranked among the best in the region by U.S. News & World Report. Killian Community College offers affordable associate degrees and certificate programs for careers that include early childhood education, business management, medical administrative services, and health care coding.

Where to Find Online Courses and Programs in Sioux Falls

At University Center, both resident and non-resident students pay the same rate, making distance education affordable even for those living elsewhere. The six-university partnership offers correspondence (mail-delivered) courses, online classes and hybrid programs. Each university hosts its own distance education office to provide custom support to each student.

At the University of Sioux Falls, a Christian liberal arts college, distance learners can take advantage of online professional development courses to fulfill continuing education requirements. All courses are interactive and taught by expert instructors.

South Dakota Online College Programs

Given the state's large area and small population, students in South Dakota may find distance learning programs to be a practical alternative to packing up and moving to a distant college town. The number of degree programs and courses available online from South Dakota postsecondary schools is growing, with nine four-year colleges and universities in the state offering distance learning options. South Dakota State University, for example, offers a number of associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees online, as well as minors and certificate programs. Online students can pursue a degree in fields such as general studies (A.A. or B.S.), nursing (RN to B.S.), or Educational Administration (M.Ed.), to name a few.

College Costs: Tuition and Living Expenses

The costs associated with a college education are substantial, whether attending school in South Dakota or any other state, and students need to be fully aware of all of the expenses they are bound to encounter. First among these expenses is tuition. The range in tuition costs is wide and depends primarily on the type and location of the school in question. Generally speaking, tuition costs for South Dakota colleges are among the most affordable in the United States. Recent statistics rank South Dakota 11th in the nation in terms of average tuition rates, with average resident tuition costs at $8,723 per student annually in 2012.

Separate from tuition and fees are a variety of expenses that commonly fall under the heading of room and board. Living expenses in South Dakota are low compared to the nation as a whole, at 6 - 10 percent below the national average, depending on the location. The following chart provides cost of living (COL) statistics for Sioux Falls, one of the state’s most notable towns (compared to the national average of 100):

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Greenville -5.9% -13.4% -8.5% 1.6% -13.1% 2.2% 0.6%

Return on investment (ROI) analyses factor in the career and salary potential of a college’s graduates. Specifically, many take the cost of attending a college for four years, subtracted from the average lifetime earnings of that school’s graduates. This post-diploma metrics helps students gauge the value of a degree from that institution. In South Dakota, the following colleges came out on top for ROI in 2013:

  • South Dakota School of Mines & Technology
  • South Dakota State University
  • University of Sioux Falls
  • University of South Dakota
  • Dakota State University

Merit-Based and Need-Based Scholarships

Student financial aid is a must for most individuals seeking a college education. Financial aid comes from a number of sources, primarily in the form of loans, grants and scholarships. Student loans and grants are most often obtained through either federal or state government programs. In 2012, 62 percent of South Dakota undergraduates received federal funding, placing the state in the bottom 20 percent.

Scholarships offer students an additional means for funding their college educations. Merit-based and need-based scholarship programs are available on the local, state and national levels, and through public and private associations and organizations. Scholarships for South Dakota students are offered by sponsors such as the following:

  • 3M and the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium
  • American Indian Science and Engineering Society
  • American Society of Civil Engineers
  • Casey's General Stores, Inc. (Future Farmers of America)
  • Dakota Corps
  • Foundation of the Better Business Bureau
  • Horatio Alger Association
  • Korean American Scholarship Foundation - Midwestern Regional Chapter
  • Medical Group Management Association - Midwest Section
  • MetLife Foundation (Future Farmers of America)
  • Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation
  • South Dakota Board of Regents
  • South Dakota Retailers Association
  • Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation

Accreditation for South Dakota Colleges and Universities

Full and proper institutional accreditation should be a basic requirement for a student choosing a college or university degree program. In addition, receipt of federal financial aid for students depends on a school's accreditation status by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency. The primary regional accrediting agency for colleges and universities in South Dakota is the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Schools in South Dakota typically have multiple accreditations. In addition to regional accreditation for an entire institution, specific programs, colleges, or departments tend to hold specialized or programmatic accreditation. Programs at the University of South Dakota, for example, have been accredited by various agencies, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB), the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

South Dakota may have the third fewest students in online programs, but those who do take advantage of the state's distance learning options enjoy some of the most affordable programs in the country. But affordability isn't everything. Read our interview with Dakota Wesleyan University about what sets them apart.

Online Departments in South Dakota
  • Dakota Wesleyan University -

    How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

    Dakota Wesleyan University has always been a place of community; now DWU offers the adult learner a unique opportunity to become part of the DWU community in a digital format.

    The DWU digital campus is a place where the adult student will learn with their peers juggling career, family and personal commitments while remaining dedicated to the challenge of earning a degree. The programs’ asynchronous manner allows students to participate in class discussions, submit coursework and communicate with faculty and classmates anytime during the day or night. More than just a place to go to class online, the digital campus serves as a community in which to develop relationships with peers and faculty members both in and outside of the class environment.

    Our distinct tradition of delivering personalized education grounded in our values of learning, leadership, faith and service are present in these online programs. Our commitment to engaging discussions of ethics, values and compassion will remain at the forefront of our online degree programs.

    What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

    In addition to the focus on community, the M.B.A. and the Bachelor of Science in nursing are highly practical programs.

    For those who have already earned a baccalaureate degree, DWU’s Master of Business Administration program is open to all academic disciplines and professional backgrounds creating a learning experience rich in diversity and perspective. The entrepreneurial and strategic leadership focus of this program is enhanced by a values-driven emphasis that is informed by an active and applied Christian worldview. The DWU M.B.A. is designed for those in small to medium-sized businesses. The program is appropriate for working adults and those who wish to be full-time students.

    For registered nurses aspiring to continue their education with an RN-B.S. nursing degree, students will have the opportunity to earn credit for their professional RN experience and complete this degree in as few as 12 months. This degree builds upon previous knowledge and provides the opportunity for students to develop abilities and skills related to the roles of a bachelor's-prepared nurse.

    The RN-B.S nursing program includes core nursing courses which focus on enhancing skills in leadership and management; decision making and problem solving; nursing research and evidence-based practice; health promotion; health assessment; service to community; in-depth study of pharmacology; and care of families, populations and communities.

    Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

    In the next five years Dakota Wesleyan University will continue to provide programs for adult learners and that diminish the distance between learning and application. DWU plans to add at least one undergraduate program and one graduate level program while also adding personnel in teaching, technology and student support. DWU looks forward to connecting with more alumni who wish to advance their education while developing new partnerships with organizations and professionals. We believe our online programs play a pivotal role in the contributions DWU will offer to South Dakota and our region.

    Beyond five years DWU will closely monitor emerging technology’s impact on higher education and adjust accordingly. We will take advantage of new opportunities to share our commitment to student-centered education and our values of learning, leadership, faith and service.

Any prospective student who is interested in online distance learning should consider an online college in South Dakota. These fully online programs are available through accredited four-year institutions in South Dakota. Numerous online schools in South Dakota grant degrees and certifications that are identical to those granted on campus. Not only are the degrees equivalent, but the faculty, admissions, and tuition costs are comparable as well. South Dakota online colleges are abundant, so to ease the search we’ve cataloged all of the best programs and listed them in one place. Discover all of the possibilities provided by online programs in South Dakota!

Click here to see our methodology.
Dakota State University
Tuition and fees: $7,212 Enrollment: 4,412 Accredited: YES Website: Dakota State University

If a student is looking for one of the online colleges in South Dakota that offers a large and varied list of degree programs, Dakota State University should be at the top of the list. With plenty of graduate programs and even more undergraduate ones, DSU is an excellent school to look into.

Northern State University
Tuition and fees: $7,269 Enrollment: 3,358 Accredited: YES Website: Northern State University

With master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees available online, Northern State University is great for students looking at online colleges in South Dakota. Degrees can be earned in anything from teaching to marketing and even gerontology, and NSU features the biggest guaranteed four-year scholarship in the Midwest.

Black Hills State University
Tuition and fees: $7,320 Enrollment: 5,263 Accredited: YES Website: Black Hills State University

Black Hills State University offers quite a few distance learning programs that are mostly focused on teaching and education. The school even offers unique accelerated programs for students to get out of school and into their careers faster. Out of all the online colleges in South Dakota, Black Hills should definitely be a consideration for future educators.

South Dakota State University
Tuition and fees: $7,404 Enrollment: 13,020 Accredited: YES Website: South Dakota State University

The online school at South Dakota State University is quite extensive, with classes offered in a variety of different fields. You can obtain an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree through SDSU, so the school is a wise choice for students looking for one of the bigger online colleges in South Dakota.

University of South Dakota
Tuition and fees: $7,704 Enrollment: 9,643 Accredited: YES Website: University of South Dakota

Since the University of South Dakota is one of the biggest online colleges in South Dakota, it comes as no surprise that their list of available online programs is quite large. Every degree is accredited, and while some programs require you to spend time on campus, others can be completed fully at home.

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
Tuition and fees: $9,370 Enrollment: 2,312 Accredited: YES Website: South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Utilizing the user-friendly Desire2learn platform, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology has been consistently working on their already-stellar online program, making it easy for students to be successful in an online learning environment. Mines is a great school for students looking for online colleges in South Dakota that offer courses in construction and engineering.

Presentation College
Tuition and fees: $16,205 Enrollment: 881 Accredited: YES Website: Presentation College

Presentation College is high on the list for online colleges in South Dakota when it comes to medical degrees. Nursing, medical coding and radiology are just a few of the medical degrees that can be obtained online from this awesome Catholic school, so it is definitely worth looking into.

Dakota Wesleyan University
Tuition and fees: $21,750 Enrollment: 735 Accredited: YES Website: Dakota Wesleyan University

Dakota Wesleyan University only offers two online degree programs, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality. Both their MBA and RN degrees are accredited and excellent at putting students on the right path toward a successful career in the business or medical world. DWU is worth a look when researching online colleges in South Dakota.

University of Sioux Falls
Tuition and fees: $23,740 Enrollment: 1,390 Accredited: YES Website: University of Sioux Falls

The University of Sioux Falls boasts three core online programs for enrolled students, the most notable being its fully online RN-to-BSN degree program. The college also has a management degree completion program and a K-12 professional development.