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.



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 certificates, diplomas and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree programs.

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

Students looking for some extra flexibility in their course schedule can pursue one of the institution's online study programs. Known as eDegrees, these programs include study options in entrepreneurship, dental assisting, photography, financial services and computer information systems.


Southeast Technical Institute (Sioux Falls)

Southeast Technical Institute has one of the larger student bodies among South Dakota community colleges, welcoming more than 2,100 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, construction and health care, but degrees in horticulture, human services and digital media production are available as well.

Prospective online students can find more than a dozen distance education study plans here. The list of fully online degrees includes A.A.S. programs in computer programming and healthcare leadership and a one-year diploma program in office assisting.


Western Dakota Technical Institute (Rapid City)

Students who enjoy a close-knit campus environment should take a look at Western Dakota Technical Institute. Fewer than 1,100 students attend classes here each semester, and the 12:1 ratio of students to faculty-members was the best such figure among the best South Dakota community colleges.

Western Dakota Tech provides several study plans for students hoping to enter the trades or other hands-on career fields. Welding and fabrication students can choose between a nine-month diploma and a 20-month A.A.S. program, aspiring plumbers have certificate and diploma programs available, and an A.A.S.program in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) can prepare you for a career in a strong and stable industry.

Several health care and tech programs are offered here as well. Computer science, computer-aided design, health information management and medical laboratory technology programs are all available at the associate degree level.

CTE in South Dakota

Career technical education (CTE) is designed to increase student success while also helping to close the skills gap in the modern workforce. Statistics show that CTE programs in South Dakota are having a positive impact on high school achievement — 98 percent of students who concentrate their studies in CTE subjects go on to graduate, compared with a statewide average of 84 percent for the general high school population.

College students who earn CTE credentials in South Dakota also report high rates of success after graduation. Roughly 85 percent of graduates from career and technical education programs at the college level go on to find a steady job, join the military or enter an apprenticeship program in six months or less after finishing their programs.

Here's a quick list of resources you can use to learn more about CTE in South Dakota and how it may be able to help you succeed:

  • The career and technical education page maintained by the South Dakota Department of Education (DOE) offers loads of information on approved CTE programs in South Dakota, general facts about CTE and more.
  • A list of the sixteen approved career clusters for career technical education students can be found elsewhere on the South Dakota DOE site.
  • The Workforce Training Program run by the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation can provide tuition assistance to students in eligible CTE or apprenticeship programs.

Training for career and technical education students is typically offered through public two-year schools in the state, although programs in some job sectors may be available through other sources. A few private, for-profit schools maintain locations in the state, and apprenticeship programs can provide a very hands-on education in your chosen field.

Transferring Credits 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 program, 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 transfer agreements — individual degrees designed to transfer seamlessly and start you as a junior at your chosen university — with four-year schools within and outside of the state. South Dakota State University maintains nearly 50 transfer 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.

You can also take advantage of 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 program as possible to discuss the right courses to take for a smooth transfer, and take a look at our college transfer guide to learn more about transfer agreements and get some additional guidance with the transfer process.

Resources for Community College Students in South Dakota

  • South Dakota Works is a great resource for community college students and graduates looking to explore the state's job market or seek additional career training after college.
  • The South Dakota Department of Education maintains a list of student scholarships that may be able to help reduce some of the costs of your education.
  • Select Dakota is a deep resource for students who want to learn more about the four-year institutions where they can earn a bachelor's degree once they've finished their program at a two-year school.
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