A Guide to Online Colleges in South Dakota

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South Dakota is named after the Dakota and Lakota Native American tribes and is a place filled with ancient burial grounds, grasslands and prairies, wild horses, and the sacred Black Hills: a group of low pine-covered mountains considered sacred to the Sioux tribe. It is also nicknamed “The Mount Rushmore State” which is just one of several points of interest across the state. Actually, South Dakota is almost like two states in one. Two very distinct cultures and ecological environments await visitors, depending on which side of the Missouri River you visit. “East River” is where the majority of the population is located and is known for its fertile soil and consequent agricultural community where “West River” tends to be more focused on ranching and defense spending. Tourism in South Dakota also draws upon casinos, national parks, and unique towns such as Deadwood, sought out for it’s intact “American Old West” structures. Drama seems to be a reoccurring theme across this state where the plot continues to thicken even today. European settlers made their mark through trade and in much more grand ways literally through the carving of Mount Rushmore. Though a divided state in many ways culturally, the landscape is truly what tells the story with its unique cave dwellings, Badlands of layered rock formations, and majestic creatures like the Bison and bighorn that still roam the land. Whether you’re looking for an adventure through the wild west, or a glimpse into the ancient traditions of what we now call America, there’s a story and a home for everyone in this dramatic state.

In-state tuition is often applied to public schools offering online programs. Many online programs require some face-to-face time, or more numerous support services at their brick and mortar locations. Intensive study experiences — often on the weekends or in several week long bouts — enable many online students to accelerate their time until graduation. And students looking at online education can drastically expand their educational options if they also look to hybrid degrees (degrees where degrees can be taken partially, or mostly online). Finally, one of the most common stipulations in scholarships is that students be from a certain state or region, often more funds are available to students seeking degrees in-state.

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Featured Online Schools

Top Schools

The majority of the top schools in South Dakota offering online degree programs are public schools. We selected schools with the best regional rankings, affordable tuition rates, and number of degree programs. South Dakota State offers 21 degrees that range from the associate to master’s level and include programs in general studies, agricultural education, dietetics, and educational administration. The University of South Dakota is the state’s flagship university and provides 17 programs completely online, also with a range from the associate to master’s level. Some of their online degree offerings include a bachelor’s in business administration, Master in Social work, and an associate degree in general studies. Dakota State University — another highly ranked and regionally accredited university shines for the highest number of degrees offered online: 25. Dakota State has comprehensive degree offerings from the associate to doctoral level including a doctoral degree in cyber security and a doctoral degree in information systems. Black Hills State University offers 7 online degree programs. Dakota Wesleyan University is the only private university that made it to our top schools list and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. DWU provides four online programs at the undergraduate and graduate degree level.

How to Become a Resident

Being a resident is an essential step for securing in-state tuition costs. South Dakota is one of the more lenient states and allows for not-as-stringent terms with regards to residential classification. First an individual must establish domicile. This is achieved when an individual has lived consistently in the state of South Dakota for 12 consecutive months. This must occur before applying to programs. After 12 months of continuous presence in South Dakota, those who were initially classified as “nonresidents” may petition for reclassification. If you are petitioning for classification as in every state, it is important to provide appropriate and ample documentation such as a driver’s license, voter registration card, tax document such as a W-2, and also a utility bill such as a gas, electric or water bill. Active duty personnel and spouse stationed in South Dakota will also qualify as a resident for in-state tuition purposes. Anyone who has graduated from a South Dakota High School also qualifies as does anyone who marries a South Dakota resident. Other contributing factors to consider include the following: the residence of an dependent student’s parents or guardian, the status of the source of the student’s income, the state in which student’s automobile is registered, and residence claimed by the student on loan applications, federal income tax returns, and other documents.

In 2015-16 the average published tuition prices for South Dakota public four-year universities was $8,289 for in-state tuition. That’s about $1,100 below the national average for public schools. Some of the highest value schools are also our top picks for online options. South Dakota State University is one of the top schools in the region and the tuition rates are just over $8,172 for in-state tuition. Out-of-Staters pay $11,403. For the University of South Dakota, the difference again for in-state and out-of-state tuition is about $3,000 and over a 5 year time period (most 4-year degrees take an average of 5 or even 6 years to complete) means a savings of $15,000. South Dakota State, and Black Hills State both show the same amount of savings. Room and board is also a great fee that is not an issue for those studying at home via online learning and will often save students close to $40,000 just by studying online. These combined savings total up to on average $60,000! There is most definitely something to be said for staying in-state, particularly when your state offers as affordable of tuition as South Dakota.

Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota with a total populations of 168,586. Famous for its river and cascading falls, Sioux Falls was once home to a number of Native American tribes including the Cheyenne, Osage, Dakota, and Kansa (among others). Today, burial grounds may still be observed on the higher peaks that surround the Big Sioux River. Along came the French voyagers and explorers in the 18th century who would be an integral component to shaping what is the contemporary landscape of Sioux Falls. Today Sioux Falls is still home to its natural components — sweeping landscapes, peaks and a tremendously powerful river — but is also known as an industrial hub. Industries prominant in Sioux Falls include construction, manufacturing, and health care. Visitors and locals alike enjoy Falls Park which includes a five-story observation tower from which you may take in the sites of the waterfalls and some of the city’s historic architecture. Other popular destinations include the Center for Western Studies museum, Delbridge Museum of Natural History, and the Great Plains Zoo (where you can view baby rhinos), and Cloud 9 balloons, for hot-air balloon rides over Sioux Falls. Recently, Sioux Falls has been a popular location for immigration and benefits from the diversity that brings to the culture and particularly when it comes to dining including Brazilian, Vietnamese, and Italian cuisine.

Rapid City, South Dakota, is the second most populous city in the state and is located about thirty minutes outside of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This city is located against the eastern slope of the Black Hills mountain range. Residents are fortunate to be surrounded by several breathtaking state parks and memorials such as Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Park, and Custer State Park. Wind Cave is known for its magnificent boxwork and frostwork formations. The rugged beauty surrounding Rapid City gives way to adventurous and exhilarating outdoor activities like climbing, hiking and horseback riding. Locals love to get out and take day trips to the Black Hills mountains, Keystone, Deadwood — an intact town from the wild frontier. When staying close to home downtown Rapid City is known for it’s clothing stores, salons, and Native American arts as well as quaint restaurants. In fact, Rapid City is one of the culinary centers of South Dakota and is known for its restaurants on Mount Rushmore Road and Downtown. Rapid City has been a tourist destination for well over a century and continues to bolster its economy with its retail and hospitality industry as well as with a number of construction and healthcare jobs.

Aberdeen is named after Aberdeen, Scotland, and as you may imagine is known for its green land and agriculture. Being the hometown of the Milwaukee Railroad meant that Aberdeen was a hub for the rail line (and nine different rail lines, at that). As a result, Aberdeen turned into a distribution hub in the 1890s and saw rapid growth. Today the most popular industries are in manufacturing, retail, and healthcare. Like so many people from South Dakota, the people of Aberdeen love to get outdoors and explore the natural beauty and are fortunate to be in between vast nature reserves, ancient sacred land, mountains and south of the Sand Lake Refuge — a beautiful spot for marshy land waterfowl, bald eagle watching, and a home for native prairie restoration. Aberdeen locals love to hunt pheasant and fish. HuntFishSD is a great way to stay connected to this South Dakotan sport. As a fantastic spot for families, Aberdeen is also home to a number of free festivals, and fairs where you’re likely to run into someone you know as Aberdeen seems to have a strong community compoonent that is truly an asset for families, small business, and students.

Sioux Falls


Population: 168,586
Cost of Living: 81.6%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, healthcare, construction
Local Online Degrees: 5

Rapid City


Population: 72,638
Cost of Living: 84.2%
Top Industries: Retail trade, Construction, healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 2

Aberdeen


Population: 27,800
Cost of Living: 80.7%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Retail, Healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 2

Brookings


Population: 23,225
Cost of Living: 78.7%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Educational Services, Healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1

Watertown


Population: 22,057
Cost of Living: 80.5%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Healthcare, retail
Local Online Degrees: 2

The Best Online Colleges in South Dakota

  • 1. South Dakota State University

    Online Programs: 21
    Type: Public
    Website

    South Dakota State University is a public research university located in Brookings, South Dakota. Brookings is located about an hour north of Sioux Falls. This public institution was founded in 1881 and currently enrolls 12,589 students. According to U.S. News South Dakota State University is the 202nd best school in the nation, 110th top public school and notable for its engineering program. The university offers over 200 programs from bachelor’s to doctoral and encompasses a broad range of fields fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission There are 9 colleges for degrees including agricultural and biological sciences, arts and sciences, education and human sciences, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, university college, honors college and the graduate school. The student body is truly diverse and represents 45 states and over 85 countries. Online, SDSU provides 21 degree programs that range from an associate to master’s degree in fields like agriculture, sociology, mass communications and more. Tuition is also affordable at just $335 per credit hour.

  • 2. University of South Dakota

    Online Programs: 17
    Type: Public
    Website

    The University of South Dakota is a public research university located in Vermillion, South Dakota. Vermillion is located at the mouth of the Vermilion River just North of the Missouri River. Currently ranked as one of the top public schools in the nation according to U.S. News the University of North Dakota is known for its beautiful campus and fantastic programming for undergraduates and graduates alike. Currently, there are a total of 10,038 students enrolled who benefit from small classes and a student-to-faculty ratio of just 17:1. USD is a flagship university and though enrollment is over 10,000 they boast a “small college feel” due in part to the small classroom sizes but also the unique and diverse opportunities that are suitable for individuals. On campus students benefit from a number of clubs and organizations as well as personally enriching facilities like their wellness center, sorority and fraternity life and cultural assets. Online, USD offers a total of 21 degree programs that range from the associate to master’s level including a A.A. in general studies, B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies, an M.S. in Agricultural Education and more.

  • 3. Dakota State University

    Online Programs: 25
    Type: Public
    Website

    Dakota State University is a public university located in Madison, South Dakota. Madison is nestled between Lake Hermon and Lake Madison. There are 3,145 student enrolled at Dakota State University who benefit from small classrooms and a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. Currently, Dakota State University is ranked as the 32nd top public school in the Midwest according to U.S. News and the 108th school in the region. Some of Dakota State’s pride points include highly innovative classroom settings featuring up-to-date technologies, classrooms that operate to truly prepare the learner for success in the workforce, and providing relevant job-ready curricula. These high need degrees land jobs and include a BS in computer game design, BS in biology for information systems, and a BSE in Elementary/Special education among others. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Dakota State University. Online, Dakota State offers an even broader range of degree programs for a total of 25 degree programs that range from an associate to doctoral degree.

  • 4. Northern State University

    Online Programs: 11
    Type: Public
    Website

    Northern State University is a public four-year university located in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Aberdeen is located south of North Dakota and West of the Cheyenne River Reservation and Standing Rock Reservation. USA Today College lists Aberdeen as the number two best small college town in the U.S. There are 3,449 students enrolled who benefit from small classroom sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. According to U.S. News Northern State University is the 103rd best school in the Midwest, and 29th best public school. The student body represents 42 states and 49 countries. Additional points of pride include their 75 students clubs and organizations, high percentage of students who receive financial aid and their 10,000 square-foot fitness center. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Northern State University to offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs. There are five colleges offering degrees: college of arts and sciences, business, education, fine arts, and graduate studies. Online, Northern State University offers 11 degrees including 7 bachelor’s degrees and 4 master’s degree programs in fields that range from financial services to music education.

  • 5. Dakota Wesleyan University

    Online Programs: 4
    Type: Private
    Website

    Dakota Wesleyan University is a small four-year university located in Mitchell, South Dakota and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The university campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are 991 students enrolled who benefit from small classroom sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1. U.S. News ranks Dakota Wesleyan University as the 33rd best college in the region and the Higher Learning Commission accredits DWU to offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Though affiliated with the United Methodist Church, as a part of its mission statement DWU highlights “an inclusive educational community.” The four core values are learning, leadership, faith, and service. Though a small student body, the academic offerings are vast and include over 40 majors and minors for undergraduates everything from accounting to wildlife management as well as a graduate college. Online, DWU offers two bachelor’s degrees as well as 2 master’s degrees in organizational leadership, nursing, an MBA, and a M.A. in Education.

  • 6. Black Hills State University

    Online Programs: 7
    Type: Public
    Website

    Black Hills State University is a comprehensive public university located in Spearfish, South Dakota. Spearfish, as you may have guessed, was an area of South Dakota where the native Sioux tribes would use the creek to spear fish and is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are 4,395 students enrolled at BHSU. BHSU is known for its business school, online graduate degrees, outdoor adventure areas, and as a military friendly university. Comprehensive means that BHSU offers degrees that range from the associate to doctoral level as well as professional certifications. The Higher Learning Commission accredits degree programs at BHSU. Students may study everything from accounting to tourism and hospitality. We also like this program because it is affordable. Tuition is just $8,004 per year — about $1,400 below the national average! Online, BHSU offers 7 degree programs: 2 bachelor’s and 5 master’s degrees in fields like a BA in Business Administrations and an MS in Strategic Leadership.

Monitoring the accreditation of a university you are interested in attending is incredibly important. Accreditation ensures your credits can transfer that you can receive Federal financial aid, and most importantly that certain standards of educational quality are during your schooling. The highest accreditation standard for most programs in the United States is provided by regional accreditation agencies. The regional accrediting agency for South Dakota is the Higher Learning Commission, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Making sure that a University you’re hoping to attend is regionally accredited — or accredited by a real and respected accrediting agency — is one of the most important choices you can make in ensuring the quality of your education.

Three Steps for Securing Financial Aid

  • Submit your FAFSA.
  • Check to see if additional forms are needed at your university of choice.
  • Search and apply for private scholarships.

Through the previous three steps most students find themselves offered some sort of federal grant, work study, private grant, scholarship, or stipend.

Great South Dakota Higher Education Resources

South Dakota Department of Education
The South Dakota Department of Education provides information for students, teachers, and parents including teacher certification and credentialing, an college and career readiness.
South Dakota Board of Regents
For information on distance education, tuition rates, loan forgiveness, universities offering associate degrees and more head here .
South Dakota Technical Schools
If you’re interested in career-prep or technical associates programs, check out this site.
General Scholarships Board of Regents
These scholarships are good for South Dakota universities that are members of the regents system.
WolfPact Scholarship
For the largest scholarship in South Dakota check here!
University of South Dakota Scholarships
These scholarships for the University of South Dakota are based on merit, talent, and field-of-study.
South Dakota State
For the Jackrabbit Guarantee and scholarship for Native American students head here.
Grants
For a list of grants for all types of learners go here.
Great Nonprofits
For some of the best nonprofits — for potential employment or internships opportunities — in South Dakota be sure to check this list.
South Dakota State (Gov’t Jobs)
For career readiness, workforce training, internships and more look here.

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