South Dakota joined the Union in 1889 along with its neighbor directly to the north. As the fifth least populous and fifth least densely populated state in the nation, South Dakota was home to just 33,000 students in 2013. However, these students do enjoy a variety of higher education options that are extensive relative to the size of the state’s population. With 12 public universities and eight non-profit private schools, the Mount Rushmore State was actually pretty well-established in the business of higher education several decades before achieving statehood.
Its first postsecondary learning institution emerged during the Midwestern state’s days as part of the Dakota territory. Augustana College was founded in 1860 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church and, in addition to being the oldest of South Dakota’s schools, is also the largest private college in the state. Granted, with 1,850 students, size is all relative. But the draw for its students is hardly a mystery. Augustana is not only home to a world-renowned choir and concert band, but nearly half of all its students participate in the school’s excellent study-abroad program. These resources contribute to the school’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report as the 3rd Best College in the Midwest.
Just two years after the opening of its first private school, South Dakota established its first public university. The University of South Dakota is a dominant presence in the small town of Vermillion. Here, the coed research university houses the state’s only medical, law, and accredited business schools. It is also the state’s only true liberal arts university, and with nearly 10,000 enrolled, its second largest school overall.
The title of the state’s most popular school belongs to South Dakota State University. The most rapidly growing of the school’s public institutions, SDSU in the town of Billings is home to just under 13,000 students.
In addition to its popular four year programs, South Dakota can actually boast one of, if not the, most successful community college sectors in the nation. South Dakota’s 52.9% three-year graduation rate from its public two-year institutions dramatically exceeds the national average of 20.4% and is by far the best mark in the nation.