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Online Colleges in Illinois

Most Affordable Online Colleges
   Page Contents

Everything is bigger in Illinois. The famed 108-story Willis Tower (formerly called Sears Tower) in Chicago is the second-tallest building in the United States. Illinois also boasts the country's largest bakery. The Nabisco plant in Chicago spans more than 1.8 million square feet.

Illinois also has a large number of colleges and universities where students can pursue online degrees. According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, there are nine different public universities in Illinois spread across 12 campuses and 48 community colleges in all corners of the state. There also are 97 independent non-profit colleges in Illinois and 35 independent for-profit universities. Fall enrollment at all colleges in Illinois topped 806,000 in 2014, the board reports.

Many of those students study online -- especially at the state's community colleges. In 2014 there were more than 111,000 students enrolled in online classes at community colleges in Illinois, the Illinois Community College Board reports. Total online enrollment has increased 21 percent from 2009, the board notes. Students enrolled at community college in Illinois can take classes from other schools in the state through Illinois Community Colleges Online, a consortium that shares courses and programs of the state's 48 community colleges.

The University of Illinois college system has campuses in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, as well as numerous extension facilities throughout the state. Annual enrollment in fall 2015 topped 80,000, the system reports. All three campuses offer a host of online education options, including 15 different fully online bachelor's degree paths and 51 master's degree paths.

The Southern Illinois University System consists of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Total enrollment is more than 32,000 students, the system reports.

Below is the total number of degree-granting institutions for students attending online colleges in Illinois:

Degree LevelNumber of Online ProgramsNumber of Colleges
Associate5523
Bachelor's2723
Master's2223

More than 12.8 million people lived in Illinois in 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. Illinois had a total workforce of more than 5.8 million in May of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes. In 2014, about 20 percent of the state's residents held at least a bachelor's degree, the Census Bureau reports, and 12 percent had a professional or graduate degree.

Illinois residents with bachelor's degrees earned median annual salaries of $51,983 in 2014, the Census Bureau notes. Additionally, residents with professional or graduate degrees earned just under $70,000, the bureau adds.

Most Affordable Online Colleges in Illinois

There are many affordable online colleges in Illinois. Here are the top five two- and four-year affordable online colleges in Illinois. Rankings are compiled using the lowest in-state tuition costs for degrees. Data was compiled by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, part of the National Center for Education Statistics. In the case of a tie, the tie was broken by the schools’ overall score from the Top Colleges tool.

For a comprehensive ranking of the top online colleges in Illinois by quality, rather than affordability, please use our Top Colleges tool.

Most Affordable Two-Year Online Colleges in Illinois

The following are the lowest-cost two-year online colleges in Illinois.

1

Shawnee Community College

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,380
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
28.57%
Institution Type
Public

About

Located a few short miles from the Ohio River, Shawnee Community College is the southernmost college in the state of Illinois. Shawnee Community College offers a fully online Associate of Arts or Associate of Science degree program for students who wish to continue on and complete their studies at a four-year university. The college is a member of the Illinois Articulation Initiative, an organization that helps students successfully transfer to four-year colleges to complete their baccalaureate degrees. Shawnee Community College students also can take a number of online classes as they work to complete the requirements of their associate degrees.

School Website: 
GO
2

Southeastern Illinois College

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,380
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
41.38%
Institution Type
Public

About

Southeastern Illinois College serves about 5,000 students each year in the city of Harrisburg and eight surrounding counties. Southeastern Illinois College switched to eLearning for its content delivery platform, so students enrolling in fall 2016 classes are required to attend an on-campus orientation session. Southeastern Illinois College offers nearly 120 degree and certificate programs. The college offers fully online associate degree programs in the arts, early childhood education, business management and criminal justice. Additionally, the college has many different online certificate programs.

School Website: 
GO
3

Rend Lake College

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,455
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
19.43%
Institution Type
Public

About

Rend Lake College has a main campus in Ina and a second, smaller campus in Pinckneyville in south-central Illinois. Rend Lake Colleges uses the Blackboard content management system for delivery of online and hybrid classes. Student can pursue Rend Lake College's fully online Associate of Science in business degree. The college has partnered with Southern Illinois University-Carbondale to allow students who complete the business degree requirements to easily transfer to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and earn a bachelor's or master's degree in business. Students also can take any number of online classes required for associate degrees at Rend Lake College.

School Website: 
GO
4

Highland Community College

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$2,112
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
39.2%
Institution Type
Public

About

Located in Freeport, Highland Community College serves students throughout Stephenson County. Online students can choose from either fully web-based classes or hybrid courses delivered through the Moodle content management system. Some fully online classes at Highland Community College still require on-campus orientation and proctored exams, however. Online coursework includes study in a wide range of topics, from accounting to agriculture, physics to psychology. As a member of the Illinois Community Colleges Online, Highland Community College students also can take classes from other member colleges through the Internet Course Exchange online network.

School Website: 
GO
5

Lincoln Land Community College

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,968
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
23.71%
Institution Type
Public

About

The Lincoln Land Community College District encompasses all or parts of 15 different counties in central Illinois. Its main campus is in Springfield. The college offers a large number of fully online degree programs, although a few distance education programs do require students to attend on-campus courses. Online students can pursue associate degrees in accounting, business administration, computer and computer information systems, criminal justice, early childhood education and nearly a dozen other subjects. Lincoln Land Community College uses Blackboard for its online content management system.

School Website: 
GO

Most Affordable Four-Year Online Colleges in Illinois

The following four-year universities earned top marks for their low tuition costs.

1

Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,380
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
28.57%
Institution Type
Public

About

The second (and smaller) college in the Southern Illinois University System, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville had an enrollment of more than 14,000 students in fall of 2015, the university reports. The school offers an entirely online accelerated RN to BS option for students who have completed the requirements for an associate degree in nursing and wish to pursue a bachelor's degree. Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville also offers online master's programs in healthcare informatics, instructional technology, nursing-healthcare and administration, nurse educator and physical education coaching and pedagogy. Students who attend regular on-campus classes also have the option of enrolling in several dozen different online courses as they work to complete their degree requirements.

School Website: 
GO
2

Northeastern Illinois University

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,380
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
41.38%
Institution Type
Public

About

Northeastern Illinois University serves the greater Chicago metropolitan area though its main campus in North Park and four additional locations throughout the city. Enrollment tops 10,000 annually. Northeastern Illinois University offers a mix of fully online and hybrid courses to help students complete their degree requirements. Students can pursue a wide range of degrees from Northeastern Illinois University, from communications to theater to business. However, much of the coursework must be completed on campus. Students can, however, enroll in many different online classes through the Illinois Online Network of schools.

School Website: 
GO
3

Chicago State University

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,455
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
19.43%
Institution Type
Public

About

In 2017, Chicago State University celebrates its 150th year. The school is located 12 miles from "The Loop," Chicago's central business district. It has an annual student enrollment of more than 7,200. Students can pursue 38 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs. Students can also pursue online education through the Illinois Online Network.

School Website: 
GO
4

Governors State University

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$2,112
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
39.2%
Institution Type
Public

About

Located in University Park about 40 miles south of Chicago, Governors State University serves more than 5,500 students each year. The school offers more than 130 online classes each semester. It also has a handful of fully online degree programs for distance learners. Governors State University offers bachelor's degree programs in nursing and interdisciplinary studies, as well as master's degrees in supply chain management and addiction studies. Lastly, Governors State University has online doctoral degree programs in educational leadership with four different concentrations: higher education administration, K-12 public school superintendent, non-profit/social entrepreneurship and public safety. Courses are delivered either fully online or through more than 85 hybrid courses.

School Website: 
GO
5

Western Illinois State University

Accredited
 
Tuition/Year Tuition per year refers to the average in-state tuition for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
$4,968
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
23.71%
Institution Type
Public

About

Western Illinois State University has a main campus in Macomb and a second campus located in the Quad Cities/Moline region. Western Illinois State University serves more than 11,000 students each year. The school offers completely online bachelor's degree programs in general studies and nursing (for students who already have an associate degree or approved diploma in nursing). It also has online master's degree programs in business administration, instructional design and technology, and education. Online coursework is taught by Western Illinois State University professors. For students who attend one of the school’s two campuses, the university offers dozens of online courses, including study in accounting, communications, business, economics, and many more.

School Website: 
GO

College Accreditation in Illinois

Students who attend online colleges in Illinois want to ensure their degree is valid and comes from an institution that's accredited by an organization approved by the Department of Education. One organization is responsible for accrediting schools in the state's main university, community college and technical college systems:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

The Higher Learning Commission is one of six regional accrediting bodies in the U.S. and accredits colleges in 19 states in the North Central region.

Students can check with the Department of Education to make sure their college is accredited by a nationally-recognized body and that their degree meets common standards of educational quality.

School Interviews

Below are interviews with leading educators in the state of Illinois. They provide unique insight into attending college in Illinois.

Dr. Mary Herrington-Perry
Online courses are as tough as -- and in some cases tougher than -- their face-to-face equivalents, and they require substantial self-motivation and time management.

Dr. Mary Herrington-Perry

Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs and Enrollment Management

Eastern Illinois University

Q. What can you tell us about the online programs offered at Eastern Illinois?

Because EIU is primarily a residential university, it is important that our online programs augment on-campus enrollment. This is why our focus has been on developing online programs that serve 1) nontraditional students (i.e., those whose work and family responsibilities make it difficult for them to take classes on campus on a regular basis); and 2) new markets off campus.

EIU offers three wholly online programs designed for nontraditional students interested in earning a baccalaureate degree:

  • General Studies
  • Nursing (RN to BS Completion program)
  • Organizational and Professional Development

We also offer low-residency programs that combine online coursework with some face-to-face courses offered at times convenient for nontraditional students (evenings, weekends, summers). For undergraduate transfer students, these include:

  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Recreation Administration
For graduate students, these include: 
  • Art Education
  • Communication Disorders and Sciences
  • Community Arts
  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Music Education

Our second focus is on developing online programs for new markets. This fall we will inaugurate low-residency graduate programs in Aging Studies and Health Promotion and Leadership, and we plan to offer both our MBA and Financial Planner programs wholly online. Next year, we plan to offer a new graduate program in Cyber Security as well as online versions of our Master Teacher and Natural Sciences programs.

Q. What advice would you give to students interested in an online degree program?

First, be sure that online learning is right for you. Online courses are as tough as -- and in some cases tougher than -- their face-to-face equivalents, and they require substantial self-motivation and time management. You can't just "show up" and expect to pass. Instead, you have to complete some activity virtually every day -- read assignments, post answers to questions about them, critique others' responses, take quizzes/tests, participate in group conversations and projects, write papers, etc. If you have questions about whether you're up to the challenge, read the Illinois Online Network's advice for prospective online students at http://www.ion.uillinois.edu/resources/tutorials/pedagogy/StudentProfile.asp.

Second, if you're considering enrolling in online courses in a state other than the one in which you reside, be sure that state has approval to offer courses in yours. Not all of them do. At EIU, we keep online students apprised of these authorizations at http://www.eiu.edu/adulted/applicants-outside-il.php. (FYI, state authorization is a federal requirement tied to federal financial aid rules.)

Third, be sure your online courses are being taught by faculty members who have been trained to teach online, as all of EIU's are. (This information should be available on the instructor's course website or syllabus.) Not only does teaching online require special knowledge of technology and how to use it to engage students in the learning process, it also requires excellent writing skills, since this is the teacher's primary means of communicating with students. Teachers (like students) also need to have excellent time management skills: Students have access to the Internet and thus to their online courses 24-7; teachers need to recognize that students may ask important questions at any time of the day or night, and that they expect a prompt response.

Q. Will online learning change much in the future?

There already is some evidence that the online market is glutted -- at least, enrollments have stopped growing. This complicates enrollment management efforts, especially in Illinois, which is seeing a dwindling supply of high school and community college students to fill face-to-face classes. If the supply of online learners also is diminishing, institutions will need to ensure that their online programs truly are competitive -- that is, that they are producing high quality graduates who not only secure employment but also know and can do what employers expect. At EIU, all students complete the same requirements and learning outcomes, whether they are taking their courses in a classroom at 10 a.m. or at home at 2 a.m. But this is not the case at all institutions. What this means for online students is that they should expect their courses and programs to define learning and program outcome measures more explicitly. Their knowledge and skills will be assessed more frequently, and their post-program success will be tracked more carefully.

As Illinois higher education continues to see reduced funding, institutions also may begin rethinking their investments and their students' investments in remedial education, which potentially could be provided to students for free via online solutions such as Khan Academy and MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching).

Last, I think you'll also see institutions rethinking their online program inventories. Some of them may begin to retrench and refocus their offerings on programs that support their missions and address truly unmet needs in the higher education marketplace -- which is what EIU's plan for online programs has called for all along. In the long run, online programs likely will get better, though there may be fewer of them.


Dr. Vickie S. Cook
Online learning will continue to mature. More universities are looking to add additional and new online options to their current program offerings.

Dr. Vickie S. Cook

Director of Center for Online Learning, Research and Service

University of Illinois Springfield

Q. Can you tell us a little about the online programs offered at the University of Illinois-Springfield?

The University of Illinois Springfield is both a mature online course provider and a leader in the field of online learning. UIS faculty began teaching online in 1998. Thirty students were enrolled in the initial programs. Today, over 1,700 students are majors in online programs. This deliberate and slow growth has allowed UIS to continue to offer high quality, high touch programs to students through online media.

Q. What advice would you give to students interested in an online degree program?

My best advice would be for students to do diligence in finding out about a university and the program of study they are interested in pursuing. Here is a list of items I think are important to potential students:

  1. Find out as much as possible about an institution -- its on-ground offerings, as well as online programs and supports.
  2. Talk to the program coordinator -- not just an admission staff member who likely won't be with the student throughout the program.
  3. Talk with faculty and other students in the programs they are interested in pursuing.
  4. Explore what types of supports are available for tutoring in a content area, math, writing, etc.
  5. Ask if there is an orientation available for online students.
  6. Determine if the school is accredited by a regional accrediting agency such as the Higher Learning Commission.
  7. If there is any pushback from the university regarding the questions being asked, it might not be the best place to consider enrolling.

If the university seems like a good fit for the student, then the student should address his or her ability to excel in an online program. Here are some additional components that students should consider when thinking about enrolling in an online program:

  1. Be prepared to work diligently toward completion of a degree plan.
  2. Be self-disciplined in completing work in a timely manner including vacations and holidays depending on the program they may be enrolled in. Know that you must have access to stable WiFi even if that is through a local library or a restaurant and a computer to do your work.
  3. Feel confident in their reading and writing ability at the university level.
  4. Identify a support system of family or friends who can assist with life issues that may occur during their program of study.
  5. Be prepared to contact their faculty members and program coordinator or other offices on campus when information is needed, connection to an on campus office is necessary, or finding assistance through the university support offices.
  6. Be familiar with and prepared to purchase or use both hardware and software requirements for the particular program your university offers. Always check with the university for any student discount programs that might be available, especially for software used by a program study.
  7. Students must be self-determined in their approach to their degree program and advocate for a high quality learning experience whether on campus or online.

Q. How do you anticipate online learning might evolve in the coming years?

Online learning will continue to mature. More universities are looking to add additional and new online options to their current program offerings. We will also see more technologies being added as learning options in online courses. Perhaps the most important aspect of online learning is that course work be available through use of any device. Mobile technologies in online classes will continue to develop and be a strong influence on the future development of apps for learning.

Top Cities For Students In Illinois

Illinois has a large and diverse economy, and students who successfully complete degree requirements from online schools in Illinois may face strong job prospects in many different industries. Here are three of the largest cities in Illinois, along with information that is helpful to online students.

Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, IL

Total Population

7,312,675

Median salary for high school grads

$29,136

Median salary with a bachelor's degree

$53,412

% of the population enrolled in college or grad school

9.9%

Median rent

$871

Economics

Chicago has one of the most diverse economies of any major U.S. city. Chicago is home to several dozen Fortune 500 companies where graduates from online schools in Illinois can potentially find work. Major employers in the Chicago area include Allstate Corp., McDonald's Corp., Mondalez International, Abbott Laboratories and Kraft Foods, to name just a few. Chicago has a strong presence in automobile manufacturing, finance and business services, metals fabrication, biotechnology, finance technology and food manufacturing. The average median hourly wage for all workers in the Greater Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metropolitan region was $18.68 in 2015, the BLS notes.

Demographics

The "Chicagoland" region that encompasses Chicago and parts of Wisconsin and Indiana is the 22nd largest metropolitan region in the world, the City of Chicago reports. The Greater Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metropolitan region had a workforce of more than 3.5 million in May of 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Nearly 35 percent of Chicago residents over age 25 held at least a bachelor's degree in 2014, the Census Bureau notes.

Fun Facts

Chicago is a hub of cultural diversity and entertainment. There are more than 200 theaters and nearly 200 art galleries in the city, the City of Chicago reports -- none more famous that the Art Institute of Chicago. With 26 miles of lakefront and 15 miles of beaches, students also have many options to take well-earned breaks from their studies.

Rockford, IL

Total Population

346,031

Median salary for high school grads

$28,182

Median salary with a bachelor's degree

$47,365

% of the population enrolled in college or grad school

7.5%

Median rent

$600

Economics

Manufacturing has long been the backbone of Rockford's economy. Workers in the city supply the world with a variety of fasteners, as well as precision cutting tools, aerospace components and machine parts. There are more than 150 machine and tool and die shops in Rockford, the Rockford Area Economic Development Council notes. Companies in Rockford employed nearly 170,000 people in April of 2016, the BLS reports. That's nearly 7 percent of the total workforce in Illinois. Median hourly wages in Rockford were $16.46 in May of 2015, the BLS adds.

Demographics

Rockford is considered an inland port due to the interconnectivity of its rail, air and ground transportation systems. About 21 percent of the city's residents over age 25 had obtained at least an associate or bachelor's degree in 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reports. In the same year, residents with graduate or professional degrees earned median annual salaries of $62,494, according to the bureau.

Fun Facts

Beginning in 1943, the Rockford Peaches women's baseball team played for 12 seasons. The team was featured in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. Rockford has more than 10,000 acres of parks and forest preserves and more than 12 golf courses.

Peoria, IL

Total Population

380,241

Median salary for high school grads

$27,095

Median salary with a bachelor's degree

$51,176

% of the population enrolled in college or grad school

8.4%

Median rent

$552

Economics

Peoria and the surrounding area is known as the "Earthmoving Capital of the World" due to the high number of companies that work in the earthmoving industry. More than 15 percent of the region's workforce is employed in manufacturing jobs, the Greater Peoria Economic Development District reports.

Demographics

Peoria is situated on the Illinois River about equal distance from Chicago and St. Louis. Just over 33 percent of Peoria residents over the age of 25 had obtained an associate or bachelor's degree by 2014, the Census Bureau reports. In 2014, residents with advanced degrees earned median annual salaries just under $70,000, the bureau notes. Peoria had a workforce of 176,630 in May of 2015, the BLS reports. Median annual wages in the city for the same period were $36,608, the BLS adds.

Fun Facts

Peoria is home to Caterpillar Inc.'s new $250 million global headquarters. The machine manufacturer's massive campus covers six blocks and encompasses more than 1.9 million square feet of office space.

 

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