As the oldest public university in the state, the University of South Dakota is the liberal arts college of South Dakota, as determined by a 1939 law.
South Dakota State University bases its history as the land-grant university — Congress passed a law in 1862 to establish the university, which would focus on agriculture and engineering.
Alumnus and former USD Foundation President Ted Muenster said the mission of each school is different and comes from the histories of each university.
“Students who graduate from USD should have a broad background in a variety of subjects so they can be more productive and knowledgeable citizens,” he said. “The mission of SDSU is to reach out into the state and provide assistance and research support for the industrial and agricultural sectors in the state.”
Muenster said it is also notable both presidents are small-town South Dakotans who attended their respected universities.
“They have a lot of common background, and they work well together,” he said.
Muenster has also seen both universities “make great strides in the last 40 years.”
“Enrollments have grown, campus facilities have grown and the importance of higher education to the economy and the future of the state is more evident now,” Muenster said.
Sophomore Peter Chapman is a journalism major and is also a member of the track and field team at USD.
He said the quality of education at USD was unbeatable.
“Academically, the university is a very professional program and provided me with the major that I was looking for,” he said.
Athletics was his main focus when looking for a college, he said.
“As a high-level competitor in track and field in high school, I knew that in order to continue to progress, I needed to find a college with a high-level program,” he said. “The resources available to us as track athletes are great.”
Chapman also said SDSU was never an option.
“Being from California, there was no recruitment effort on their part to try and recruit me for their program,” he said. “USD is without a doubt the best place I could have gone to college even if the weather is not like my Southern California home.”
Despite SDSU’s further advancement in D-I athletics, Chapman said the transition is going well for USD.
“We will be one of the top five schools in the Midwest for athletics in a couple years when we start recruiting more and more high-level athletes,” he said. “We are without a doubt a Division I college, and our athletics programs are still growing to that level and in track and field.”
Tyler Haigh is a first-year law student and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2012. Originally from Sioux Falls, he wanted to attend USD to be closer to home.
“There is great value for the education you can get at the USD School of Law,” he said. “I plan on staying around South Dakota after school, so that is another reason I wanted to go to law school close to home.”
He said SDSU and USD are both great schools, but that he really liked the graduate programs at USD.
“They obviously have different programs, but USD has the only law school in South Dakota, so it was the best choice for me,” Haigh said. “I did explore going to some different law schools, like the University of Minnesota and other schools around the Minneapolis area, but ultimately USD was the best choice because of cost and it being close to home.”
Haigh said he appreciates a liberal arts degree because there are so many different opportunities to take with such a broad degree.
Haigh said his fiancee is finishing her degree at SDSU next month, and she also plans to attend graduate school at USD for physical therapy.
Junior Emily Vortherms is a musical theater major with a dance minor. She said she chose USD because the theater program was exactly what she was looking for.
“It was also the cheapest option while still being able to pursue the major I wanted,” she said.
Vortherms said she did look at SDSU and Minnesota State-Mankato as other options, but said SDSU didn’t have a big enough focus on Fine Arts majors.
“I was very interested in the theater program at Mankato, but it’s similar to the program we have at USD, so I figured I would benefit just as much by going here,” she said. “At USD, we have a huge variety of Fine Arts majors, so I think SDSU just has a different area of focus than USD.”
For Vortherms, getting a well-rounded education as well as specialization was important.
“I’m going to be able to go into the real world with a very specific set of skills while also having a good understanding of the world outside of my field — which, as an actor, I think is so important to have,” Vortherms said.
Jessica Anderson is a senior elementary education major with a K-12 reading minor and an early childhood endorsement.
She said the main reason she attended USD was because she could transfer in the most of her previous college credits.
“I didn’t consider SDSU at the time because they only had an early childhood education program, and I was interested in elementary education,” she said.
Anderson also looked at Minnesota State University-Mankato and St. Cloud State. Originally from Minnesota, she said she didn’t know a whole lot about SDSU.
As you look even in the political world, Muenster said, it’s pretty rare for SDSU to have prominent political leaders in the state.
“That comes from having the professional schools of law, medicine, business and education,” he said. “We have more graduate, master and doctorate programs — there are a higher percentage of graduate students here, professional students, than they have at South Dakota State.”
Muenster said USD also appeals to students because of economic reasons.
“The typical student here doesn’t have that motivation that they were always coming here,” he said. “Many students here have had thoughts of being at other schools — Northwestern or the University of Iowa — somewhere with more stature and prestige. But for economic reasons they come here — they can’t afford to go to Harvard, even if they could get in to Harvard. The student body is a different mix here.”
Ultimately, Muenster said, the two universities work together and feed off each other more than students usually see.
“It’s all about balances — and that’s the great lesson of life,” he said. “Pretty much every element of life you have to balance things, and that’s what the university administration does.”