After the Dakota Territory Legislature established the Dakota Territory Spearfish Normal School, Van Buren Baker was named its administrator. When he left this position in December 1884, the school was nearly bankrupt.
The school reopened in September 1885 with 70 students enrolled. The coursework initially consisted of high school classes and one year beyond high school.
The Normal School Main Building was constructed in 1887 and stood until 1925. A laboratory school was opened in 1895 and lasted until 1963.
By 1922, "State Normal" began to offer four-year degrees. In 1941, the college was renamed Black Hills Teachers College, reflecting its mission and curriculum.
In 1953, Black Hills State Teachers College began offering graduate courses in education. In 1961, BHTC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Air Force to offer classes at nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City. In 1964, the higher education institution was officially designated Black Hills State College.
After an act of the South Dakota Legislature, the school's name changed to Black Hills State University on July 1, 1989. BHSU now offers 63 bachelor's degree programs, seven master's degree programs and five associate's degree programs.