Educational Attainment

South Dakotans Getting More Educated

More South Dakotans are graduating from high school and pursuing higher education than ten years ago, according to federal data. Just 8.8% of individuals over 25 had less than a high school diploma while 19.6% of South Dakotans have a bachelor’s degree.

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%  8.8%
   High school diploma or GED   33.9%  29.0%
   Associate's degree   9.2%  11.5%
   Some college, no degree  20.3%  21.8%
   Bachelor's degree  17.6%  19.6%
   Professional/graduate degree  7.2%  7.9%

Although graduation rates are improving across South Dakota, the state still lags behind national educational attainment rates. The Rushmore State has persistently ranked 2-3 points behind national educational attainment rates for the past ten years. In 2016, 28.9% of South Dakotans had obtained a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 31.3% nationally. In 2006, those rates were 24.8% and 27% respectively.

In 2016, South Dakota ranked 30th nationally for the percentage of residents over the age of 25 who had completed a bachelor's degree or higher, moving up four places from 2015. Massachusetts clinched the No. 1 spot with 42.7%, and West Virginia landed in last place at 20.8%.

For the first time since the Great Recession, South Dakota matched the national rate for bachelor’s degrees or higher among those aged 24-34. 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. Following the recession, that trend reversed. In 2015, the percent of South Dakotans who earned at least a bachelor’s degree was 31.3% compared to 34.1% for the nation as a whole.

Nationally, South Dakota ranks 22nd for the percentage of young adults holding college degrees, compared to No. 1 Massachusetts (51.3%) and No. 50 Nevada (22.7%).


The percentage of South Dakotas with at least a bachelor’s degree continues to be 10 percentage points higher in metropolitan areas than in non-metropolitan areas. Those living in micropolitan areas continue to hold these degrees at a slightly lesser rate than those living in  metropolitan areas.

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

For bachelor's and advanced degrees, the Sioux Falls metro area continues to exceed the rate of the Rapid City metro area as well as the state as a whole. In 2016, the rate for bachelor's degree or higher in the Sioux Falls metro area was 34.1% compared to 28.9% for both the Rapid City metro area and South Dakota.

The Brookings and Vermillion micropolitan areas posted even higher educational attainment rates as they house the state's two largest universities. For the years 2011-2015, the Brookings micropolitan area averaged a 40.8% rate for residents holding a bachelor's degree or higher, while the Vermillion micropolitan area averaged 45.0%. 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% on this score, compared to 28.5% for whites, 20.6% for blacks, 15.3% for Hispanics and 10.4% for Native Americans.

Women continue to outpace men for educational attainment in South Dakota. In 2000, 20.8% of women had earned a bachelor's degree or higher, compared to 22.3% for men. By 2006, 25.5% of women held college degrees compared to 24.2% of men. In 2016, the rate was 31.1% for women and 26.6% for men.

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