Best Community Colleges in South Dakota

Community and technical colleges in the Mount Rushmore State are great at training workers to meet the demands of today's skilled workforce, not to mention preparing students for a successful transfer to one of the top four-year schools in South Dakota. We wanted to sort out the best South Dakota community colleges from the rest, so we gathered loads of data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and crunched the numbers with our proprietary analysis formula.

We scored the state's two-year institutions on affordability, flexibility, student success and other important metrics. Read on to find out which schools are the best community colleges in South Dakota and learn some detail about how they can help students reach their academic and career goals.



Southeast Technical Institute (Sioux Falls)

Southeast Technical Institute has one of the larger student bodies among South Dakota community colleges, welcoming more than 2,200 full-time and part-time learners each semester. If you're looking for the college dorm experience, the Sioux Falls campus features two residence halls that house a total of around 200 students.

The academic catalog at STI contains around 60 degree and certificate programs in ten major subject areas. The most prominent subjects here are business, tech and health care, but degrees in horticulture, human services and media communications are available as well.

STI is also one of the best online community colleges in South Dakota, particularly in terms of the variety of available degrees. More than a dozen study plans here are available exclusively through online courses, including an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S) degree in computer programming.


Sisseton Wahpeton College (Sisseton)

The most intimate learning environment among our best South Dakota community colleges can be found at Sisseton Wahpeton College, a tribal institution located on the Lake Traverse Reservation in the northeastern corner of the state. Fewer than 200 students attend classes here each semester, which can come with several academic advantages.

For one, the student-faculty ratio at SWC was 10:1 in 2017 -- the best such ratio among all public schools in the state. Students who need personalized help from professors should have no trouble finding it.

Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees at SWC are designed for students intending to continue their education at the university level, while certificates are typically for those looking to go straight into the workforce. A.A.S. degrees tend to be career-focused but may also be used for transfer.


Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown)

Founded in 1965, Lake Area Technical Institute was the first technical school established in South Dakota. The Watertown school focuses its efforts on training students to excel in today's workforce, offering primarily certificate, diploma and A.A.S. degree plans.

If you're thinking of making your career in agriculture after graduation, you may want to give some extra consideration to the degree plans here. More than 10 different options are available to specialize your agricultural study, including ranch management, agri-business, dairy agriculture, commodity merchandising and more.

Over 80 degree plans in total are available on campus at LATI. Students looking for some extra flexibility in their course schedule can pursue one of the institution's online study plans known as eDegrees, which provide about a dozen degree and certificate programs that require online courses only.


Mitchell Technical Institute (Mitchell)

Mitchell Technical Institute is a medium-sized community college in southeastern South Dakota that features one of the region's newest campuses. It might be one of the best options for teenage or traditionally college-aged students seeking career training -- more than 70 percent of the student body was 21 years old or younger in 2017.

More than 30 certificate, diploma and A.A.S. degree programs are available on campus at MTI. Students who prefer online courses have around a half-dozen distance education programs to choose from. Electrical construction and maintenance is the top program by enrollment here, followed by agricultural technology.

What's more, we're not the only ones to honor MTI as one of the best community colleges in South Dakota. The Mitchell school was one of just ten nationwide finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2019.

Resources for Transfer Students in South Dakota

If you're planning on transferring to one of the four-year programs at South Dakota universities after finishing your associate degree, don't overlook the initiatives in place to help you succeed. Here's some detail about two of the most popular approaches:

  • The top South Dakota community colleges all participate in articulation agreements -- individual degrees designed to transfer seamlessly and start you as a junior at your chosen university -- with four-year schools in the state and elsewhere. South Dakota State University maintains nearly 50 such agreements with the schools on our list.
  • Most universities in the region offer transfer scholarships that can only be awarded to qualifying students with some college credits under their belt. Check the scholarships portal provided by in-state college info hub Select Dakota to learn more, or talk with a financial aid representative at your destination school.

Select Dakota also provides a course-by-course equivalency calculator to help demystify the transfer process. Also, don't forget to meet with your community college adviser as early in your degree plan as possible to discuss the right courses to take for a smooth transfer.

For additional insight into education in the state, read about the top four-year schools in South Dakota.


We ranked community colleges in South Dakota on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services.

Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points:

  1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  2. Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  4. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  5. The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016

a. Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
b. Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
c. Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students' children
d. Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren't limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.

Article Sources
  • College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed November 28, 2018, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=SD&ct=1&ic=2
  • School pages, accessed November 28, 2018: Living On Campus, Southeast Technical Institute, https://southeasttech.edu/studentlife/livingoncampus/; Degrees, Southeast Technical Institute, https://southeasttech.edu/academics/degrees/#wrap; Online Degrees, Southeast Technical Institute, https://southeasttech.edu/academics/onlinedegrees/; Academics, Sisseton Wahpeton College, https://www.swcollege.edu/index.php/academ; Life at SWC, Sisseton Wahpeton College, https://www.swcollege.edu/index.php/resources-services-info; SWC Board of Trustees Bylaws, Sisseton Wahpeton College, https://www.swcollege.edu/index.php/records-policy-reports-forms/swc-govren/155-swc-board-of-trustees-bylaws; About Us, Lake Area Technical Institute, https://www.lakeareatech.edu/about-us/; Academics, Lake Area Technical Institute, https://www.lakeareatech.edu/academics/; eDegrees, Lake Area Technical Institute, https://www.lakeareatech.edu/academics/edegrees/; About MTI, Mitchell Technical Institute, https://www.mitchelltech.edu/about-mti; Fast Facts, Mitchell Technical Institute, https://www.mitchelltech.edu/media/files/About%20MTI/MTI-Fast-Facts.pdf; Online Programs, Mitchell Technical Institute, https://www.mitchelltech.edu/programs/online; Transfer Information, South Dakota State University, https://www.sdstate.edu/academics/transfer-information
  • Announcing the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Finalists, The Aspen Institute, accessed November 28, 2018, https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/announcing-the-2019-aspen-prize-for-community-college-excellence-finalists/
  • About Us, Select Dakota, accessed November 28, 2018, https://selectdakota.org/aboutus/
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/