Educational Attainment

South Dakotans Getting More Educated

While more South Dakotans are graduating from high school, there has been a slight decrease in the number of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees obtained, according to federal data. Rates for those with professional and graduate degrees remains steady. 

At the same time, the proportion of South Dakotans without a high school diploma has been dropping, as has the rate of those who did not get further education beyond a high school diploma or GED. 

   Less than high school diploma  11.7%  8.9%
   High school diploma or GED   33.9%  31.2%
   Associate's degree   9.2%  11.1%
   Some college, no degree  20.3%  21.3%
   Bachelor's degree  17.6%  19.6%
   Professional/graduate degree  7.2%  7.9%

Although high school graduation rates have improved in South Dakota, the state still lags behind national educational attainment rates. Rates have continued to increase across the United States. In 2015, 27.5 percent of South Dakotans had obtained a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 30.6 percent nationally. In 2006, those rates were 24.8 percent and 27 percent respectively.

In 2015, South Dakota ranked 34th nationally for the percentage of residents who have completed a bachelor's degree or higher, dropping five places from 2014. Massachusetts clinched the No. 1 spot with 41.5 percent, and West Virginia landed in last place at 19.6 percent. 

When it comes to college degrees held by young adults, South Dakota has slipped behind the nation. In the years leading up to the Great Recession in 2008-2009, South Dakota exceeded the national rate for bachelor's degrees or higher among those age 25-34. Since the recession, that has reversed. In 2006, 30.3 percent of South Dakota's young adults held a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 28.8 percent nationally. In 2015, South Dakota's rate was 31.3 percent compared to 34.1 percent for the nation as a whole. 

Nationally, South Dakota ranks 30th for the percentage of young adults holding college degrees, compared to No. 1 Massachusetts (50.9 percent) and No. 50 Nevada (21.5). 


South Dakotans who live in a metropolitan area continue to rank 10 percentage points higher than those living in non-metropolitan areas for having earned a bachelor's degree or higher degree. Those living in micropolitan areas continue to hold these degrees at nearly but not quite the rate of those in metropolitan areas. 

For the years 2011-2015, 29.7 percent of South Dakotans in metropolitan areas held these degrees compared to 28.9 percent for micropolitan areas and 19.9 percent for non-metro areas. For the years 2006-2010, those rates were 28.6 percent, 27.3 percent and 18.1 percent respectively. In 2000, they were 24.5 percent, 24 percent and 15.1 percent respectively.

For bachelor's and advanced degrees, the Sioux Falls metro area continues to exceed the rate of the state as a whole and that of the Rapid City metro area. In 2015, the Sioux Falls metro area rate for bachelor's degree or higher was 31.7 percent compared to 27.5 percent for the state and 30.0 percent for the Rapid City metro area. 

Even higher rates are found in the Brookings and Vermillion micropolitan areas (homes to the state's two largest universities). For the years 2011-2015, the Brookings micropolitan area averaged a 40.8 percent rate for residents holding a bachelor's degree or higher, while the Vermillion micropolitan area averaged 45.0 percent. These rates are more than double the rates in the Huron and Watertown micropolitan areas. 


In South Dakota, Asians are far more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to have earned a bachelor's degree or higher. For the years 2011-2015, Asians averaged a rate of 43.6 percent on this score, compared to 28.5 percent for whites, 20.6 percent for blacks, 15.3 percent for Hispanics and 10.4 percent for Native Americans. 

Women continue to outpace men for educational attainment in South Dakota, but rates declined for both groups in 2015. In 2000, 20.8 percent of women had earned a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 22.3 percent for men. By 2006, 25.5 percent of women held college degrees compared to 24.2 percent of men. In 2015, the rate was 28.9 percent for women and 26.0 percent for men. 

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