Mitchell Tech named Best Community College in South Dakota

Sep. 14—MITCHELL, S.D. — For the second year in a row, Mitchell Technical College has been named the Best Community College in South Dakota by finance outlet

South Dakota's four technical colleges were among 668 total community colleges evaluated for the award across the U.S. This year, Mitchell Tech is also ranked as the 11th Best Community College in the nation. Mitchell Tech's overall rankings were determined by composite scores from three areas: cost and financing, education outcomes, and career outcomes. Mitchell Tech scored first in all three areas, compared to other community colleges in South Dakota.

"This study gives a well-rounded depiction of the overall strengths and weaknesses of community colleges across the nation, proving that students don't have to travel outside the region to receive a high-quality education," Mark Wilson, president Mitchell Technical College, said. "To know that Mitchell Tech ranked so high nationally — and best in the state of South Dakota — just proves that our faculty and staff are working hard to ensure that every dollar invested here by local and state stakeholders and industry partners is being used for the betterment of our students, to ensure that they are equipped to excel in their careers."

Carol Grode-Hanks, vice president for academics at Mitchell Technical College, said the ranking is impressive when considering the number and quality of schools involved in the survey.

"It's pretty impressive. It just goes to show what we do at Mitchell Tech is truly live out our mission on a daily basis," Grode-Hanks said. "WalletHub chooses these schools from the American Association of Community Colleges' list of membership, which is around 1,000 schools, and they choose the 668 colleges to evaluate independently. So when we come up with number 11 in the nation, that is pretty awesome."

Nationally, Mitchell Tech ranked second in education outcomes in the study, which considered retention, graduation and transfer rates, student-to-faculty ratios and the number of full-time faculty, as well as life experience and special learning considerations.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 81 percent of first-time, full-time students who started their educational journey at Mitchell Tech in Fall 2021 returned for a second year or completed their program, and 71 percent of students who started college in Fall 2019 completed their programs. Mitchell Tech has a student-to-faculty ratio of 17 to 1, with 72 full-time educators on staff, according to its 2022 Fast Facts document.

Clayton Deuter, vice president of enrollment services for Mitchell Tech, said the school has benefited from the state keeping tuition and fees low as well as a variety of scholarship options available, including the popular Build Dakota Scholarship program.

"Over the last three years, we have not seen an increase in tuition and fees here at the tech colleges in South Dakota, which is a great thing," Deuter said. "We also have the Build Dakota Scholarship which helps a lot of our students go to school here for free. Right now we have a little more than 200 who are receiving that scholarship."

Grode-Hanks said the state has been instrumental in helping keep programs affordable for all kinds of students.

"When we talk about not raising tuition or fees, it's because of the generosity of the state giving us the funds we need for renovation, for salary support, for equipment. All of that continues to help keep costs lower for the student, and that's important," Grode-Hanks said.

According to an internal report of Mitchell Tech graduate outcomes in 2022, 99 percent of the 460 graduates in the labor market were employed full-time within six months of graduation, with 95 percent working in their field of study. Of those graduates, 338, or 81 percent, are pursuing careers in-state. Students self-reported average wages of $24.86 per hour in Mitchell Tech's 2022 survey. In the most recent year released by the Office of the U.S. Department of Education, Mitchell Tech had a default rate of 1.6, meaning that for every 100 graduates who entered repayment that year, an average of 1.6 defaulted on their loan payments over a three-year period. The national average student loan default rate was 2.3 for the same year.

Those career outcomes hinge greatly on the quality of faculty and staff at the school, Grode-Hanks said.

"You won't find a better group of faculty than you find at Mitchell Tech. They are dedicated to not only their profession, their students but also their industry partners," Grode-Hanks said.

The high rankings for the school are a benefit on a number of levels. They serve as a good promotional tool, particularly among parents who may feel more comfortable sending their children to study at Mitchell Tech knowing that they have a conduit to a good-paying job after graduation.

And while community college enrollment has been on the downswing since the economic crash of 2008, Mitchell Tech continues to buck that trend, Deuter said.

"Anytime you get a positive word out about your school is a big benefit, but it shows the value of what we're doing here," Deuter said. "We've been fortunate, as community colleges have been shrinking since 2008 nationwide. We've grown or held our own every year, so we feel pretty fortunate about that."

The recognition is nice for Mitchell Tech, but it's the faculty, staff, administration, industry partners and students themselves that make the school a special place. That's something they want to continue into the future.

"I think the biggest thing is that it's a team effort. Every person at Mitchell Tech plays a part in this. It really is a wide group of people that help make this happen, and it didn't happen by accident, it's a lot of hard work on everybody's part," Deuter said. "But it's what we do everyday. We don't see this as extra special, it's just what we do."

Community college and technical schools are an important piece of the post-secondary landscape and offer students expanded options to enter their career field, according to a statement from WalletHub. The combination of affordability and education quality has wide-ranging appeal to thousands of potential students.

"Community colleges offer students the ability to get higher education without having as much financial strain," according to WalletHub, an organization dedicated to helping consumers "efficiently attain top WalletFitness so they may enjoy life instead of worrying about money."

On average, enrollment at a community college costs roughly 65 percent less than at a public university, and 90 percent less than at private universities, making them an affordable option for education. Recognizing that community colleges vary in their return on investment, WalletHub conducted the Best and Worst Community Colleges study to assist students in making the wisest educational investment. To do so, the organization compared more than 668 community colleges across 19 key indicators of cost and quality.

The full list of results can be viewed at