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Best Online Colleges in South Dakota

By Seph Anderson | Updated 9/9/2022
2020 Best Online Colleges in South Dakota Badge

This list highlights the best colleges and universities for students who want to pursue an online degree in South Dakota. University of South Dakota, the #1 school, has a reported median alumni salary of $81,500, and offers online programs such as a Bachelor of Science in Health Science or a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. South Dakota State University, ranked #2, offers a low tuition of $10,537. Distance students at SDSU can pursue programs such as a Bachelor of Science in Sociology or a Bachelor of Science in Early Education and Care.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 University of South Dakota $10,537 $81,500
# 2 #2 South Dakota State University $10,537 $77,400
# 3 #3 Dakota State University $10,537 $66,900
# 4 #4 Presentation College $22,495 $68,000
# 5 #5 Northern State University $10,537 $66,100
# 6 #6 Dakota Wesleyan University $11,250 $64,300
# 7 #7 University of Sioux Falls $11,470 $63,200
# 8 #8 Black Hills State University $7,902 $56,000
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

Online Colleges in South Dakota Ranking Details

For each school, we conducted manual research to provide prospective students with more details about the schools' online programs. Explore online degrees offered and accreditation information below.

#1 University of South Dakota

  • Annual Tuition: $10,537
  • Median Salary: $81,500
  • Locations: Vermillion
  • Accreditation: HLC

Founded in 1862, the University of South Dakota is the flagship university for South Dakota and the state’s oldest public university. It is home to South Dakota’s only medical school and law school. Online degree programs—associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral—are offered through the university’s various schools. Popular programs include business administration, public health, addiction studies, dental hygiene, nursing, social work, and kinesiology and sport management. An online PhD in health sciences and several online certificate programs are offered as well. Support services for online learners include academic preparation, IT support, disability services, and library services. Coursework is delivered via the Desire2Learn platform, and tutorial videos are provided.

#2 South Dakota State University

  • Annual Tuition: $10,537
  • Median Salary: $77,400
  • Locations: Brookings
  • Accreditation: HLC

Founded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the largest and oldest continually operating university in the state. Thirteen online undergraduate degrees—bachelor’s and associate programs—are available, and popular fields include geography, medical laboratory science, nursing, psychology, and sociology. Additionally, the school offers a variety of graduate programs in subjects such as agricultural education, dietetics, English, human sciences (available with four different concentrations), mass communication, and nursing. Several online graduate and undergraduate certificate programs are also available. All distance programs are accessible via the Desire2Learn online learning platform. A number of video tutorials and guides provide an overview of the system. The university’s website contains an online survey to help prospective students determine if they are well-suited for distance learning.

#3 Dakota State University

  • Annual Tuition: $10,537
  • Median Salary: $66,900
  • Locations: Madison
  • Accreditation: HLC

Dakota State University (DSU), founded in 1881 as a teacher training school, is a public university located in Madison. A variety of online degree programs are offered at DSU, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Several online certificates are available as well. Popular degree subjects include accounting, elementary education, marketing, software development, analytics, cyber defense, and web development. PhD degree programs are offered in cyber defense, cyber operations, and information systems. Student support services at DSU include career and disability services, library access, veteran benefits, a bookstore, tutoring, and academic as well as personal counseling services. Distance learners can interact with peer tutors using a web conferencing program that enables students to collaborate using video chat, file sharing, and an interactive whiteboard.

#4 Presentation College

  • Annual Tuition: $22,495
  • Median Salary: $68,000
  • Locations: Aberdeen
  • Accreditation: HLC

Founded in 1951, Presentation College (PC) is a private, coeducational Catholic college with its main campus in Aberdeen and an auxiliary campus in Fairmont, Minnesota. The college’s curriculum is focused on health and medical-related programs. A total of seven online programs are offered through the institution’s PC Virtual system: LPN to BSN (completion), RN to BSN (completion), a bachelor's in radiologic technology (completion), bachelor’s degrees in health science and healthcare administration, and a master’s in family nurse practitioner (available in both full-time and part-time formats). The college delivers coursework via the Moodle online learning management system. Online students have access to the same advising and counseling services that on-campus students enjoy.

#5 Northern State University

  • Annual Tuition: $10,537
  • Median Salary: $66,100
  • Locations: Aberdeen
  • Accreditation: HLC

Northern State University is a public university located in the city of Aberdeen. The university offers a number of online degree programs—associate, bachelor’s, and master’s—in areas like accounting, banking and financial services, criminal justice, management, and music education. Several online minors are offered as well, including Chinese, marketing, and public history. Coursework is delivered via the Desire2Learn platform, the South Dakota Board of Regents’ learning management system. Support services for distance learners include career, disability, and health services as well as financial aid and IT support. Online students have access to the Smarthinking 24/7 live online tutoring service.

#6 Dakota Wesleyan University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,250
  • Median Salary: $64,300
  • Locations: Mitchell
  • Accreditation: HLC

A four-year university located in Mitchell, Dakota Wesleyan University was founded in 1885 and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Several online degree programs are offered by the university, including an RN to BSN, a master's in education, and a master's in business administration. Additionally, two online certificate programs are available. All coursework is done asynchronously, with students accessing lectures, coursework, and discussions at their own convenience. Students may have to participate in a live chat with either a professor or classmates, but this is done on a case-by-case basis, and students agree to a time in advance of the actual discussion. Financial assistance is available for online students, and it is possible to transfer credits from previous coursework.

#7 University of Sioux Falls

  • Annual Tuition: $11,470
  • Median Salary: $63,200
  • Locations: Sioux Falls
  • Accreditation: HLC

Founded in 1883, the University of Sioux Falls (USF) is a Christian liberal arts university located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city. It is religiously affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. USF offers online certificate, bachelor’s, and master’s programs. A degree can be earned online in such subjects as business, nursing, management, healthcare, and health administration. Online degree completion and accelerated programs, ideal for those busy with family, work, or other obligations, are offered in accounting, business, and health administration. They are available fully online.

#8 Black Hills State University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,902
  • Median Salary: $56,000
  • Locations: Spearfish
  • Accreditation: HLC

Located in Spearfish, just outside of the Black Hills National Forest, Black Hills State University (BHSU) has been in continuous operation since 1883. BHSU offers online graduate programs in the following fields: strategic leadership, curriculum and instruction, secondary education, sustainability, and reading. Additionally, two online bachelor’s degrees are available in business administration and general studies. Rounding out BHSU’s online programs are two minors and a certificate program. Coursework is delivered via the Desire2Learn online learning platform. Support services for online students include library resources, a course management system, computer support, training, a bookstore, and more. Each semester, a virtual orientation session is conducted to educate distance learners about various university resources and services that are available. Advising is done via email, telephone, or live chat.

Overview of Higher Education in South Dakota

In the state of South Dakota, there are 22 colleges and universities. These include the following:

Six state universities: Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, South Dakota State University, and University of South Dakota
Six private colleges and universities: Augustana University, Dakota Wesleyan University, Mount Marty College, National American University, Presentation College, and University of Sioux Falls
Six tribal colleges and universities: Ihanktonwan Community College, Lower Brule Community College, Oglala Lakota College, Sinte Gleska University, Sitting Bull College, and Sisseton Wahpeton College
Four technical colleges: Lake Area Technical College, Mitchell Technical College, Southeast Technical College, and Western Dakota Technical College.

The South Dakota Board of Regents has the constitutional authority to govern the system of higher education in the state, specifically managing South Dakota’s six public colleges and universities as well as the school for the deaf and school for the blind and visually impaired.

Currently, nine of the state’s four-year institutions offer online degree programs as an option, which over 6 million students across the country are taking advantage of.

In 2022, the state’s public universities served nearly 35,000 students taking credit-based courses. Meanwhile, the total number of college students in South Dakota was above 50,000. Currently, nine of the state’s four-year institutions offer online degree programs as an option, which over 6 million students across the country are taking advantage of.

South Dakota offers a variety of opportunities when it comes to higher education. In particular, the state provides a unique offering of online degree programs, with 28 programs offered entirely online. More than 7,000 undergraduates, 2,600 graduate students, and 105 international students have taken this higher education route so far.

Online Learning

While some degree programs are 100% online, others are hybrid, meaning part of the course takes place in person and part of it takes place online. Looking at online courses, most tend to be asynchronous, meaning students are able to watch lectures, complete readings, and turn in homework on their own time.

It usually takes a full-time student four years to complete an online bachelor’s degree. Online graduate and professional degree programs vary in length based both on the type of degree program and the number of hours a student takes each term.

Why Study in South Dakota?

Leading the way in terms of the highest enrollment in the state is South Dakota State University (11,405). On the other end of the spectrum, Mount Marty University has the smallest enrollment in the state, with 1,167 students. The combined enrollment at South Dakota State University (11,405) and the University of South Dakota (9,459), accounts for over 20,000 of the state’s 50,000+ student enrollment.

To provide some context to these relatively high graduation rates, the U.S. Department of Education reports that the average four-year graduation rate among public colleges and universities is 33.3%. However, 57.6% of the same group earned their degree within six years, a percentage that 7 institutions in South Dakota exceed.

The national average retention rate — defined as the percentage of first-year students who completed their first year and enrolled again the following fall — was 82% in fall 2020. In terms of South Dakota college and university retention rates, five schools had retention rates at or above 80%.

Why Study Online in South Dakota?

No different than the effect it has had on colleges and universities across the U.S., the pandemic fast-tracked online higher education offerings at institutions throughout South Dakota.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “In fall 2020, some 75 percent (11.8 million) of all undergraduate students were enrolled in at least one distance education course, and 44 percent (7.0 million) of all undergraduate students exclusively took distance education courses.”

At the same time, more than 15,000 college students in South Dakota enrolled in online-only courses. In terms of undergraduates, 27,534 undergrads took at least one course online at their South Dakota college or university. As you will notice in the chart below, undergraduate enrollment in online courses was on the rise well before the pandemic even began.

The number of online degree programs offered by colleges and universities in South Dakota continue to rise in 2022. For instance, South Dakota State University now offers 11 online bachelor’s degree programs, including 18 online minors, and five online associate’s degree programs. At the University of Sioux Falls, students can earn a degree online through the institution’s Accelerated Degree Completion Program. In addition, students interested in earning a graduate degree online can participate in an online MBA or an online MEd program.

Whether you’re a full-time student or a non-traditional college student trying to balance academics with professional and personal commitments, South Dakota’s colleges and universities are committed to providing high-quality, accessible, and affordable online education. And if you’re interested in a non-degree program, there are more than 50 certificate programs from which to choose.

Accreditation of Online Colleges in South Dakota

Higher education is an expensive investment. As you consider different schools and begin to narrow down your college search, checking prospective schools’ accreditation status is key.

In simple terms, accreditation serves as an official stamp of approval for a college or university.

In order for a college or university to gain accreditation, it must undergo an extensive review of the institution’s academic programs. The actual accreditation review process is conducted by a third-party contractor of the U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation — the entities that provide oversight to national and regional accrediting bodies. The Higher Learning Commission is the primary accrediting agency for colleges and universities in South Dakota.

To learn more about accreditation and determine whether the institutions on your shortlist have achieved this stamp of approval, you can review our List of Online Colleges by Accreditation.

While majors like business, management, education, and STEM tend to be popular across many institutions and states, there are many other majors to explore in South Dakota.

At South Dakota State University, nursing is the most popular major, accounting for 16% of all undergraduate majors at the school. Moreover, nursing is also the most popular undergraduate major at the University of South Dakota, with the number of nursing degrees awarded three times greater than the next closest major, animal science.

Alternatively, at Augustana University the most awarded undergraduate diplomas in 2020 were business administration and management, followed by biology. At Sioux Falls University, nursing was the most popular major, with business administration and management coming in second.

Beyond nursing, business, and animal science, agriculture-related majors are also popular at the state’s colleges and universities, as agriculture is the leading industry in South Dakota.

Cost of Online Universities in South Dakota

In 2021-2022, the average annual undergraduate tuition at 4-year, public institutions in South Dakota was $9,102 for residents and $12,294 for non-residents. It’s worth pointing out that both the resident and non-resident averages are below the national averages of $10,740 and $27,560, respectively.

While the tuition costs of online programs and courses may be slightly higher than that of traditional, in-person programs at some institutions, if the cost is greater, it is typically a relatively small amount. However, you should check with your institution’s business office or financial aid office to confirm any differences in tuition rates.

Of course, if you plan to live on or near campus despite taking entirely online courses, you will need to take additional costs into consideration such as housing, food, and other school supplies.

Financial Aid for Online Students in South Dakota

In addition to federal student aid opportunities that may be available through the FAFSA — including grants, loans and work study — the state of South Dakota offers several grant and scholarship programs to qualifying applicants:

This program is aimed at encouraging South Dakota high school graduates to obtain a college degree from South Dakota college or university and remain in the state after graduating to work in a critical-needs teaching area.

Similar to the Critical Teaching Needs Scholarship above, this program is for South Dakota residents planning to attend a college or university within the state and then serve the state in an area of critical need.

The Jump Start Scholarship program is for students attending a public high school in South Dakota from which they graduate a year early. State scholarship funds are allocated for scholarship use at a South Dakota college or university.

The Opportunity Scholarship provides scholarship funds for high-achieving South Dakota high school students attending a college or university within the state.

The South Dakota Need-based Grant Program provides need-based scholarship aid to students who filled out a FAFSA and meet program guidelines.

In addition, there are a number of endowed scholarships awarded each year by the South Dakota Board of Regents, including the Ardell Bjugstad Scholarship, Annis Irene Fowler/Kaden Scholarship, and Marlin R. Scarborough Memorial Scholarship.

For additional information on financial assistance for online students, visit our Guide to Financial Aid for Online Students.

Employment Outlook for College Graduates in South Dakota

First, it goes without saying that a college degree increases your lifetime earnings potential incrementally with each degree level you earn. That being said, a lot can be learned from job growth projections provided by the state of South Dakota.

In August 2022, the South Dakota Department of Labor & Regulation published a list of the projected “hottest jobs” in the state between 2020 and 2030. These include jobs with the highest projected demand and highest wage occupations.

Among jobs with the greatest predicted increase in number of available positions are registered nurses (+899), sales representatives - wholesale and manufacturing (+604), accountants and auditors (+538), first-line supervisors of retail sales workers (+468), and general operations managers (+387).

In addition to the "hot jobs” projection guide, the Department of Labor and Regulation provides a host of additional career-related resources, including information on the current labor market, career exploration and planning, a South Dakota Career Interest Survey, and much more.

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