South Dakota’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

South Dakota’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in South Dakota if you reward schools for making the best use of their limited resources? Academic Stewardship asks how effectively schools manage their financial and human resources to gain the influence that makes them academically excellent. Schools that are exemplary in Academic Stewardship are doing everything in their power to help students and faculty achieve their full potential.

Colleges and universities in South Dakota deserve to be recognized when they do more with less. It’s impressive when a large wealthy school can spend money lavishly on expensive buildings and programs. But it’s even more impressive when a small school with limited means is able to train and inspire students that the larger wealthier schools tend to ignore.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities reported in late 2021 that almost 75 percent of higher-education professionals at US colleges and universities felt financial constraints prevented their schools from effectively attracting students. Distracted by the size and amenities of larger schools, prospective students tended especially to be overawed by the big research universities.

South Dakota’s smaller colleges, especially its liberal arts colleges, need effective ways of communicating their value to a world that celebrates “bigger is better” and “you need the best.” Unfortunately, most college ranking companies, such as U.S. News & World Report, define “best” in a way that devalues schools with smaller budgets and fewer students even when these schools do remarkable work in advancing their students’ education. By and large, college rankings penalize schools that serve underserved populations.

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell, who for years now has criticized conventional college rankings for misrepresenting what’s good and valuable in education, we decided to construct a new ranking metric that highlights those schools that do more with less. That metric—called the Academic Stewardship metric—takes away both the size and the wealth advantage of schools, and focuses instead on how well schools use the resources available to them to advance the education of their students.

How We Measure the Academic Stewardship of South Dakota’s Colleges and Universities

South Dakota's Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship
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As a metric, Academic Stewardship is defined by a precise mathematical formula, which can be found in our Academic Stewardship white paper. Measuring the Academic Stewardship of South Dakota’s colleges requires measuring two forms of stewardship: 1) Stewardship of financial resources (using the money they have responsibility without waste) and 2) Stewardship of human resources (doing their best to help students, faculty, and administration to flourish). Together, these two types of stewardship form what we call  Academic Stewardship. If you want to learn more about the factors involved in Academic Stewardship, click the more button below.

  1. Stewardship of financial resources: To determine a school’s stewardship of financial resources, we factored in its undergraduate size, budget, endowments and reserves, as well as tuition and fees. All these data are available from the National Center for Educational Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. In addition, we factored in a school’s financial responsibility as gauged by the Federal Student Aid Office at the US Department of Education through its financial responsibility composite scores.
  2. Stewardship of human resources: To determine a school’s stewardship of human resources, we used our InfluenceRanking engine to track the influence of the school’s faculty and alumni but also to control for size of the undergraduate student body. We’ve found that measuring a school’s influence based on the contributions of faculty and alumni make in their fields of study but then also controlling for size of the undergraduate population is the single best indicator of academic excellence. We call this Concentrated Influence. Schools that rank highly in Concentrated Influence are schools that, given their available human resources, invest heavily in their students and faculty, and the results are demonstrable.
    • We measure the influence of colleges and universities based on the publications and citations of the schools’ faculty and alumni who are teaching in and working in areas related to their degrees. To do this, we take publicly available databases, such as Semantic Scholar, Crossref, and Wikipedia and use these to measure the influence of academics in their disciplines. Having measured the influence of persons, we then identify the schools that they’re affiliated with, adding up the influence scores of the faculty and alumni to measure the influence of the schools and their disciplinary programs. Finally, we control these influence scores by size of undergraduate student body so that schools do not score high in influence simply because of a size advantage. We lay out these methodological considerations on our methodology page.
  3. Academic Stewardship: Having measured a school’s stewardship of financial and human resources in the two previous points, we now divide the second measure by the first to define the Academic Stewardship metric. This metric spotlights smaller schools, with fewer financial resources and people, that invest wisely and do proportionately better in building influence than large wealthy schools. Many of these smaller, less wealthy schools are incentivized to make better use of their resources but would never get recognized in conventional school rankings, which directly or indirectly put a premium on the wealth of schools.

Academic Stewardship as so defined is connected to keeping tuition and other costs down, but it should not be confused with affordability or frugality. The schools that this metric ranks as exemplary academic stewards tend to be all over the map when it comes to tuition and other costs. At issue is the influence of schools given the financial and human resources they have on hand. If a school is going to charge more for tuition, then that needs to be reflected in the school having proportionately greater influence.

Why Academic Stewardship Matters to Students and Their Families

The benefits of attending a school with strong academic stewardship include:

  • A clear reason for why students are at the school in the first place. Without the distraction of amenities and luxuries, these schools are at once unpretentious but also passionately committed to their educational mission. The schools in this ranking are financially efficient and academically rigorous. By avoiding frills, these schools take the most direct path to accomplishing their mission of educating students.
  • Valuing character over prestige and self-indulgence. A school that’s a good steward of its resources doesn’t instill shame in its students over what they are missing (such as elite cuisine) but rather pride in what they have and making the most of it. These schools exhibit a culture of good stewardship, which tends to build good character in the students that attend these schools.
  • Avoiding the spoiled-student syndrome. It’s easy to think that offering students endless options and opportunities will enrich their time at school in every way. But spoiling people—whether in business, sports, or academics—has the opposite effect, causing people to take their advantages for granted and in the end achieving less than they might otherwise, a point well-documented in Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. Schools exhibiting academic stewardship avoid this pitfall.
  • The best schools vs. the schools that help students to be their best. Students at schools demonstrating outstanding academic stewardship aren’t so much concerned about being at the “best” school, whatever that may mean, as about being at a school that helps them to be their best. These schools pay attention to their students, hoping that any glory goes to them rather than to the school. Small schools, and especially liberal arts colleges, help themselves by communicating this advantage to prospective students.
  • Emphasizing development over talent and achievement. Schools like Harvard and Stanford have their pick of academic talent, and their students have a long record of achievement even before they apply to such elite schools. But if a school doesn’t have the resources of a Harvard or Stanford, how does it build a great team of students? In that case, it must focus on student development. Colleges exemplifying academic stewardship emphasize student growth and development, ensuring that the schools are doing everything in their power to help students reach their full potential and thereby become their best selves.
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South Dakota’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #1

    University of South Dakota

    Vermillion , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    7K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/22

    What is University of South Dakota known for?

    University of South Dakota’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Communications
    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Law
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    South Dakota State University

    Brookings , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    89%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1155/22

    What is South Dakota State University known for?

    South Dakota State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Economics
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Biology
    • Nursing
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    University of Sioux Falls

    Sioux Falls , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $20K

    Acceptance

    92%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1150/22

    What is University of Sioux Falls known for?

    University of Sioux Falls’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Nursing
    • Chemistry
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Religious Studies
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Augustana University

    Sioux Falls , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    71%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1225/26

    What is Augustana University known for?

    Augustana University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Economics
    • Sociology
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Social Work
    • Religious Studies
    • Nursing
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Black Hills State University

    Spearfish , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    97%

    Graduation

    39%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/21

    What is Black Hills State University known for?

    Black Hills State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Chemistry
    • Communications
    • Physics
    • Mathematics
    • Education
    • Biology
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Mount Marty University

    Yankton , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $30K

    Acceptance

    78%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    930/21

    What is Mount Marty University known for?

    Mount Marty University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Chemistry
    • Biology
    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • History
    • Medical
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    National American University

    Rapid City , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $16K

    Graduation

    19%

    Student body

    1K

    What is National American University known for?

    National American University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Nursing
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    Dakota State University

    Madison , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    84%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1137/22

    What is Dakota State University known for?

    Dakota State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Business
    • Education
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    Northern State University

    Aberdeen , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    45%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/22

    What is Northern State University known for?

    Northern State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Chemistry
    • Literature
    • Economics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Education
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    Dakota Wesleyan University

    Mitchell , SD
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    44%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1020/21

    What is Dakota Wesleyan University known for?

    Dakota Wesleyan University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • Economics
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Religious Studies
    • Mathematics
    • Social Work

    Most Influential Alumni

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South Dakota’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

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Colleges and Universities in South Dakota

Almost 20 higher education institutions award associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the state, and only two schools exceed 5,000 in student population. The average college tuition in the state is $8,450, which is under the national average. Of the 11 public institutions, South Dakota State University is the largest with just over 10,000 students, and it has a tuition of $9,000.

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With a comparable tuition, the University of South Dakota is the second largest and located in Vermillion. Students can earn degrees in areas such as earth science, physics, and engineering. Eight private schools offer degrees ranging in tuition from $3,000 to $33,000. Many of these universities are religiously affiliated, Augustana University being the largest and most expensive. This Lutheran university is located in Sioux Falls and offers programs in economics, psychology, and biology. The most affordable colleges, Oglala Lakota College and Sinte Gleska University, are both tribal institutions charging $3,000 in fees.

Two monuments are carved into the rock of the Black Hills: Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. In addition to its majestic mountains, South Dakota’s lands are some of the richest in fossils. Badlands National Park is home to unique rock formations as well as the fossils of saber-toothed cats, three-toed horses, and ancient marine animals. With vast plains and unique mountains, South Dakota offers a stunning setting for students looking to earn their degree in The Mount Rushmore State.

Find out more about the top programs and higher education opportunities available in South Dakota.


What are South Dakota’s Colleges & Universities?

South Dakota’s Best Overall