The university was founded in 1963 as Southwest Minnesota State College (SMSC). It admitted its first class of students on September 19, 1967. The college became Southwest State University (SSU) on August 1, 1975, and kept that name for nearly thirty years until adopting the current name of Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) on July 1, 2003.
The student newspaper, originally called The Impact, was first published May 10, 1968. The name was changed to The Reader in 1974, and then back to The Impact in 1980. In 2003, the name was changed again to The Spur to be more consistent with the Mustang theme and to spur students into action.
The R/A (Recreation/Athletic) Facility was built in 1996 and serves as a 4,000 seat multi-purpose venue.
On January 2, 2002, a fire destroyed the Student Center, which originally featured an underground living area and a glass dome. The concrete framework for the dome was incorporated into the new student and conference center and is still visible in the food court area. The new student center was completed in 2005. When completed, it featured a replica of the original dome with the words "Student Center Dome: 1972–2002" written on it at the Alumni Heritage Center, located near the Mustang Zone in the upper level.
In 2005, SMSU developed the first bachelor's degree culinology program in the nation to be approved by the Research Chefs Association.
On September 6, 2008, the new Regional Event Center officially opened on the western edge of campus. The athletic field was named Mattke Field after the old field, and in honor of a past football coach. The center is used by the Mustang football and soccer teams, as well as teams from Marshall High School, and for other regional activities (such as concerts). It took two years and $16 million to complete.
Southwest Minnesota State University provides undergraduate education in the liberal arts and professional studies for the following areas: Accounting, Agriculture, Agronomy, Anthropology, Art, Biology, Business Administration, Chemistry, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Culinology, Economics, Education, English, Environmental Science, Exercise Science, Finance, Foreign Languages, Geography, Global Studies, Hispanic Studies, History, Hospitality Management, Humanities, Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Justice Administration, Liberal Arts and Sciences (AA Degree), Management, Marketing, Mathematics, Music, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, RN to BSN, Social Work, Sociology, Speech Communication, Theatre Arts, and Women's Studies. The university also supports a Center for Rural and Regional Studies, and offers master's degrees in Business Management, Education, Special Education and Physical Education. The most popular majors are Business Administration and Education.
In addition to being regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the university also holds accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music, the Minnesota Board of Teaching, the American Chemical Society and the Council on Social Work Education.
Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) has specialized graduate programs in education, special education, and business administration. The SMSU MBA program has degree options in marketing, leadership, and the general MBA. Students have the ability to take classes both onsite and online in Minnesota. The graduate school does not currently have a student senate, however there is an MBA student organization that students can be a part of. A critical element to the success to the undergraduate and graduate business programs is access to the The Southwest Marketing Advisory Center, where students have the chance to do original research on actual businesses.
Most of the SMSU campus was constructed between 1965 and 1973 according to a unified plan. The brick and concrete buildings are interconnected via tunnels and enclosed walkways, providing a continuous and controlled environment during both summer and winter. The residence halls are not connected. There are many courtyards with gardens between the buildings. The campus is virtually barrier-free, allowing easy access to students in wheelchairs.
The university's residence halls were named by the students during the late 1960s and reflect various themes and values of the times, e.g. Aquarius, Casa Futura, Methedras and Kama Sutra. Armstrong Hall was named after astronaut Neil Armstrong in honor of his trip to the moon in 1969. Manchester Hall was named for pop singer Melissa Manchester after a concert she gave on campus.
In 2009, the university opened a new dorm, named Sweetland Hall in honor of a late president, Douglas Sweetland.
Residence Halls:Traditional Halls – Six complexes of four connected halls that were built in the 1960s and feature a common bathroom for the whole floor.
Sweetland Hall – A new complex with around 250 beds with a bathroom shared by suit-mates (two to four people).
Foundation Apartments – Apartment style residence hall with laundry and kitchen appliances in each apartment.
There are no fraternities or sororities on campus in order to promote a safe and friendly environment for all students.
The Southwest Marketing Advisory Center (SMAC) is located on the second floor of the Science and Technology building, Room 203. SMAC is a self-funded entity within the academic marketing program at Southwest State. Its mission is to serve the marketing and research needs of southwestern Minnesota while giving real-world experience to junior, senior and graduate-level student employees.
Each student attending Southwest Minnesota State University pays a .43 cent per credit fee to fund the Minnesota State University Student Association, a student-led nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of all students.
The school athletic teams are the Mustangs. Their colors are the prairie colors of brown and gold.
The Mustangs compete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC), which is a part of NCAA Division II. Programs for men include basketball, wheelchair basketball, baseball, cross country,track, football, and wrestling. The programs for women are basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball.
SMSU features several facilities that are open to the general public and school groups.SMSU Museum of Natural History – The SMSU Museum of Natural History is focused on the plants and animals native to Minnesota.
SMSU Art Museum – The SMSU Art Museum comprises two art galleries: the William Whipple Art Gallery I and II, named after a former Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts at Southwest. Gallery I is located in the SMSU library, and the smaller Gallery II is located on the second floor of Founders Hall. The museum also features art on display at various locations around campus.
SMSU Museum of Indigenous Americans – features Native American artifacts including pottery, artwork, baskets, projectile points
SMSU Planetarium – The planetarium is located in the Science and Math Building and features a variety of laser and multi-media presentations. There is also a roof-top observation deck and telescopes for public night viewing of the sky.
Greenhouse – The greenhouse is open to the public during regular school hours. The collection includes cacti, aloes, agaves, bananas, pineapples, palms, cycads and herbs. There are informational displays about many plants. Students in Biology, Agronomy and Environmental Science classes carry out plant experiments in the greenhouse.
ADM & SMSU Environmental Learning Area – The 22-acre (8.9 ha) ADM & SMSU Environmental Learning Area is located on the northwest corner of the campus, by Mattke Field. The open area features trails through different ecosystems including prairie, woodlands, ponds and marsh.
Ikeem J. Wilson, application developer
Isiah Whitlock, Jr., actor
Alvin Ashley, former Arena Football League player
Chuck Brown, former State Representative
Kory Kath, State Representative
Jeff Loots, former Arena Football League player
Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture
Marty Seifert, former State House Minority Leader
Satyajit Dattagupta, Vice President for Admissions Tulane University