Hidden Gem Colleges in the Plains Region | 2022 Rankings

America’s heartland is vast, fertile, and filled with a variety of industries. Additionally, it’s home to a bunch of amazing colleges. While some of those colleges are certainly household names, some aren’t quite as well known – though they should be! We wanted to feature some of the best colleges in the Plains region that deserve more attention.

To qualify as a Hidden Gem, a school must meet the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications per year
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
  • Offer 5 or more unique majors
  • Have a 10% acceptance rate or higher

The following states are included in the Plains Region: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Here are the Hidden Gems in the Plains.


Luther College got its start as a Lutheran seminary by Norwegian immigrants. The seminary would be closed at the start of the Civil War and college classes would be opened later to only 16 students. Today, the college has a first year retention rate of 84% and a six year graduation rate of 80%.
Location Decorah, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,951
Unlike many other schools, Cornell College accepted women since it opened in 1853. Today, there is a pretty even split between men and women attending: 53% and 47% respectively. Biology is the most popular major on campus. Purple and white are the official school colors of the Cornell Rams.
Location Mt. Vernon, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,028
Students at Dordt University wear black, white, and gold to cheer on the Defenders teams. Offering up to the master’s degree, only 11% of students study at the graduate level. The school has a 72% acceptance rate and does not charge students to apply. Additionally, Dordt has an 81% freshman retention rate.
Location Sioux Center, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,547


Benedictine College’s core values are built into the four “pillars” of the school which are known as Catholic, Benedictine, Liberal Arts, and Residential. The college’s motto is “Forward. Always Forward.” A majority of students decide to major in Finance, Registered Nursing, and Theology. Its campus is located along the bends of the Missouri River.
Location Atchison,KS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,158
Gus the Gorilla is the mascot of Pittsburg State University. The Gorillas compete in sports like track, basketball, football, and volleyball. Their motto is “By doing, learn.” Pitt State’s most popular major is Registered Nursing, followed by Construction Management. 62% of PSU’s incoming class is from Kansas, though many Missouri and Oklahoma residents go there too.
Location Pittsburg, KS
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,645
Baker University has a rather specific school color: cadmium orange. 36% of the student body studies at the graduate level and the highest degree offered is the doctor’s. 100% of Baker students receive institutional financial aid. There is an 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio at Baker, and a 75% first year retention rate.
Location Baldwin City, KS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,769


Partnered with Saint John’s University for men, the College of Saint Benedict is exclusively for women. Resources are shared between the two campuses, a partnership that began in 1955. The College of Saint Benedict got its start in 1913 with only six students. They have an 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio, 85% first year retention rate, and 76% four year graduation rate.
Location Saint Joseph, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,748
Popular majors at Gustavus Adolphus College Psychology, Biology, Business, Economics, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric. The school does not charge students for applications. Gus the Lion is the mascot for the school’s sports teams - the Golden Gusties. Black and gold are the official school colors.
Location St. Peter, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,237
Saint John’s University is a men’s school, and the brother college of St. Benedict - an all women’s school. Their partnership began in 1955 and the two joined 1961. Saint John’s campus is nestled between Lake Sagatagan and Stump Lake. Accounting, Economics, and Biology are popular majors at SJU.
Location Collegeville, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,727


This university is named in honor of Harry S. Truman, who was a Missouri native. Popular majors include Business Administration, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Biology. Athletes are known as Bulldogs and their mascots are Spike and Simone. 94% of students at Truman State study at the undergraduate level.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 5,231
Rockhurst University athletes are known as the Hawks and they participate in 14 varsity sports, including basketball, lacrosse, tennis, and golf . Registered Nursing is by far the most popular major at the university, followed by Business Administration and Management. The school motto, “Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum”, means “Wisdom has built herself a home.”
Location Kansas City, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,990
Maryville University of Saint Louis has a nearly even split between undergraduate and graduate students - 44.5% and 55.5% respectively. The campus is located just east of the state capital. A majority of first year students come from Missouri, though students come from all over the country to attend Maryville.
Location St. Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 10,013


Nebraska Wesleyan University, or NWU, is a private university associated with Methodists. They have over 119 undergraduate majors, minors, and pre-professional programs available to students. Competing in the American Rivers Conference, they are known as the Prairie Wolves and wear black and gold. The school currently has over 530 athletes.
Location Lincoln, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,044
The Nebraska campus is one of seven in the Concordia University system. Blue and white are the colors of the Concordia bulldogs. Over 700 student athletes compete in sports like golf, soccer, tennis, football, and more. Biology is the most popular major, though this school offers 50 undergraduate programs.
Location Seward, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,703
Focusing on healthcare programs, Nebraska Methodist College offers six unique majors: Registered Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Respiratory Care Therapy, Health Services, and Health Care Management. There is a 13 to 1 student to faculty ratio and all students receive institutional financial aid.
Location Omaha, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,128


Although the University of Mary calls North Dakota its home, campuses can be found all over the world, including in Rome, Italy and Arequipa, Peru. They accept about 72% of applicants. University of Mary has a 13 to 1 student to faculty ratio and 80% first year retention rate. Its campus is located next to the Missouri River.
Location Bismark, ND
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,779
Red and green are the official colors of the Minot State University Beavers. Their mascot is named Buckshot. Also known as MiSU, the school is comprised of 91% undergraduates and 9% graduate students. The campus is located just south of the Canadian border. Minot State University is a space-grant college.
Location Minot, ND
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,125
“Lux et Veritas” is the Latin motto of the University of Jamestown, meaning “Light and truth.” Its campus is located near the winding James River. UJ closed during the 1893 Depression, though reopened again in 1909. Orange and black are the school colors and the mascot is a Knight. UJ does not charge application fees.
Location Jamestown, ND
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,115


The master’s degree is the highest level of education offered at Augustana University. However, only 14% of the student body studies at that level. The remaining 86% are undergraduates. Augustana, also known as AU, has a 12 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio. About 48% of incoming students are from South Dakota, though many also come from Minnesota.
Location Sioux Falls, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,113
Known more commonly as SD Mines, this school’s ambitious motto is “Advancing the frontier of innovation.” The alumni are equally ambitious, going onto careers in politics, law, business, military, and academics. The most popular major at SD Mines is Mechanical Engineering, followed by Civil Engineering and Chemical Engineering.
Location Rapid City, SD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,525
A whopping 99% of students at the University of Sioux Falls receive institutional financial aid to help cover tuition costs. 77% of students return to continue their education at USF. Just under 50% of the incoming class are native South Dakotans, with many others coming from the surrounding states, particularly Minnesota.
Location Mitchell, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,675

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!


Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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