Hidden Gem Colleges in the Plains Region | 2023 Rankings

plains hidden gems badge.America’s heartland is vast, fertile, and filled with various industries. Additionally, it’s home to a bunch of amazing colleges. While some 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, otherwise commonly known as the mid-west, 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 2023 Hidden Gems in the Plains.

IOWA

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 77% and a six-year graduation rate of 73%. The upper campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Location Decorah, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,802
Students at Dordt University wear black, white, and gold to cheer on the Defenders teams. The school has off-campus opportunities around the world for their students, offers master’s degrees, and does not charge applicants fees. 100% of those attending Dordt also receive institutional grant aid.
Location Sioux Center, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,662
Northwestern College, also known as NWC and Northwestern Iowa, has just under 1,500 students currently enrolled. 32% of students participate in NWC’s athletic programs, which are part of the NAIA Division II. NWC offers 36 different undergraduate programs, the top three most popular being Elementary Education and Teaching, Registered Nursing, and Business Administration and Management.
Location Orange City, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,496

KANSAS

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 2,217
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. 85% of students attending Pitt State receive grant aid and 67% receive institutional grant aid.
Location Pittsburg, KS
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,398
Competing in the NCAA Division II conference, blue and red are the colors of the Newman University Jets. It also offers students over 30 different clubs to participate in. The university has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 61% six-year graduation rate. Top majors include Elementary Education and Teaching, Registered Nursing, and Biology and Biological Sciences.
Location Wichita, KS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,053

MINNESOTA

Although they offer 75 majors, popular majors at Gustavus Adolphus College Psychology, Biology, Business, Economics, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric. The school does not charge students for applications and 98% of those attending actually receive institutional grant aid. 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 2,230
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. Over 90% of faculty possess a doctorate or terminal degree. Business Administration and Management, Accounting, and Economics are popular majors at SJU.
Location Collegeville, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,668
Partnered with Saint John’s University for men, the College of Saint Benedict is exclusively for women. The school got its start in 1913 with only six students. Today, resources are shared between the two campuses, a partnership that began in 1955. They have an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, 85% first year retention rate, and 76% four-year graduation rate.
Location Saint Joseph, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,668

MISSOURI

Truman is a liberal arts university named in honor of Harry S. Truman, who was a Missouri native. Many first-year students decide to stay on at the school (88% first year retention rate) and nearly 50% of students will graduate with no student loan debt. Popular majors include Business Administration and Management, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Biology. The beloved Bulldog is their mascot and wears purple and white.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,655
Maryville University of Saint Louis has a nearly even split between undergraduate and graduate students and features six colleges and schools. Many students study Registered Nursing, Psychology, and Cyber/Electronic Operations and Warfare. The campus is located just east of the state capital and over 69% of first year students come from Missouri. 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 10,979
Rockhurst University students learn under the traditional Ignatian philosophy regarding academics, leadership, and service. With a heavy focus on values and ethics, students who graduate actually get a transcript for the grades as well as their community service. The school motto, “Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum”, means “Wisdom has built herself a home.”
Location Kansas City, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,688

NEBRASKA

Nebraska Wesleyan University, or NWU, is a private university associated with United Methodists. They have more than 115 undergraduate majors, minors, and pre-professional programs available to students. Competing in the American Rivers Conference, the over 500 athletes are known as the Prairie Wolves and wear black and gold.
Location Lincoln, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,924
The Nebraska campus is one of seven in the Concordia University system. Part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum calls the campus home and students can also find an extensive library, Osten Observatory, student-made sculptures, and more at the school. Biology is the most popular major, though Concordia University-Nebraska offers over 50 undergraduate programs. Over 700 student athletes compete in sports like golf, soccer, tennis, football, and more.
Location Seward, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,224
The College of Saint Mary is the only Catholic university for women in the Great Plains region. The institution offers a cozy 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and has a 77% first year retention rate. Student athletes at the College of Saint Mary are known as the Flames and they compete in the Great Plains Athletic Conference as members of the NAIA. Some of the more popular majors at the institution include Registered Nursing and Rehabilitation Science.
Location Omaha, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,024

NORTH DAKOTA

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, have an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a 78% first year retention rate. Its campus is located next to the Missouri River.
Location Bismark, ND
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,799
“Lux et Veritas” is the Latin motto of the University of Jamestown, meaning “Light and truth.” UJ closed during the 1893 Depression, though reopened again in 1909. The school does not charge application fees and all students receive financial aid. They also offer a variety of scholarships to their athletes and recently introduced men’s and women’s ice hockey teams to the school.
Location Jamestown, ND
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,147
A space-grant college, Minot State University, also known as MiSU, is found just south of the Canadian border. The school is comprised of 91% undergraduates and 9% graduate students many of which are majoring in Social Work, Registered Nursing, and Business Administration and Management. 90% of students receive grant aid.
Location Minot, ND
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,920

SOUTH DAKOTA

At “Augie,” 86% of students are working towards their bachelor’s degree. Students attending AU will follow “The Augustana Plan” for their core curriculum which aims to help with ethics, problem solving, creativity, communication, and more. Students will go on to study Registered Nursing, Biology, Business Administration and Management, and other majors. 100% of students receive grant aid.
Location Sioux Falls, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,019
The University of South Dakota is known for being a non-selective school, with an acceptance rate of about 87%. This institution is the flagship university for the state of South Dakota and is the oldest public university in the state. There are over 50 undergraduate majors to choose from, the most popular of which is Registered Nursing, followed by Health Services and Sciences, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Elementary Education and Teaching.
Location Vermillion, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 9,459
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 2,475

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

Methodology

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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