Online Colleges in Minnesota

Minnesota has long recognized the benefits of online learning across all levels of education. Read on to learn more about online education in Minnesota, including key trends, programs and resources.

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Minnesota is an economic powerhouse. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state supported more than 2.5 million workers in 2013 across diverse industries. The mean annual wage for all workers that year was $47,370, well above the national average. As of July, 2014, its statewide unemployment rate of 4.5 percent was one of the lowest in the nation.

What's Minnesota's secret? At least part of its economic success can be credited to its highly educated workforce. According to data from both the U.S. Census and the non-profit Lumina Foundation, an impressive 47.7 percent of working-age Minnesotans held college degrees in 2012, including Associate, Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees. Not only did this figure represent faster-than-average growth over the previous year's rate, but also eclipsed the national average of 39.4 percent. Still, Lumina warns even these impressive trends may not be enough.

Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2025, a full 60 percent of U.S. jobs will require a college degree. If Minnesota's higher education attainment continues to climb at the current rate, it will fall just short of meeting this demand. In other words, the state needs still more college educated workers. Online education, which makes higher education more convenient and accessible for many students, can be a key part of the state's solution.

Minnesota is a pioneer in online education, and it has the record to prove it: Minnesota scored an "A" for innovation in online learning from the 2012 "Leaders & Laggards" report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to its efforts in promoting online options at postsecondary schools. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education counts nearly 200 public and private institutions statewide, and many of these now offer online courses or full online degrees. The University of Minnesota, which launched its first online course in 1996, hosts over 30 fully-online programs through its Digital Campus.

As one of dozens of schools partnering with the popular massive open online course (MOOC) platform Coursera, the University of Minnesota extended higher educational access to students from all across the globe, and at no charge. Students enrolled in MOOCs do not traditionally earn college credit for their work, but the platform cultivates both professional and personal enrichment among students who would otherwise be unable to attend college.

Many national online colleges also offer degree programs to students in Minnesota. Some even have physical locations in the state, which may offer hands-on training or blended learning opportunities. DeVry University, ITT Technical Institute and University of Phoenix are among the national colleges that have campuses in Minnesota.

For students who want a broad overview of online options in the state, Minnesota Online is a comprehensive directory of online programs from schools within the Minnesota State College and Universities system. The site offers ctourse listings, financial aid advice, demo courses and much more.

The Most Affordable Online Colleges in Minnesota

The following list ranks the 10 schools in Minnesota that offer online degrees at the lowest tuition costs. This ranking is based on a number of factors that are important to prospective students such as the actual degree programs that are taught online, and information on tuition fees, accreditation and notable alumni. Tuition figures are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics (2013-2014) and reflect in-state tuition (when in-state tuition is available) for all students, including online students. See our Methodology section for more details on the ranking methodology.

#1 - Metropolitan State University

  • In-State Tuition: $6,642 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 9 Bachelor's degrees and 3 Master's degrees
  • Notable Alumni: U.S. Army General Frank J. Grass, NFL Hall of Famer Carl Eller and Minnesota Senate President Sandy Pappas.

Founded in 1971, Metropolitan State University is younger than many schools featured on this list, but it aims high, with a goal to serve 20,000 students a year by the year 2020. One of the ways it hopes to accommodate students is through flexible course options, which includes several online degree programs. Even campus-based students can take advantage of online courses, both through MSU specifically and through Minnesota Online, which is a collaboration of online courses managed by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.

#2 - St. Cloud State University

  • In-state Tuition: $7,514 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 4 Bachelor's degree programs (including minors) and 4 Master's degrees.
  • Notable Alumni: Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner David Frederickson, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, actor Richard Dean Anderson and St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James B. Bullard.

St. Cloud State University is a public university and one of the largest in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. According to its official website, SCSU's online courses are just as high-quality and rigorous as those offered on campus. Another unique program: SCSU's off-campus programs, which allow students to complete most coursework online and the remainder (mostly hands-on labs) at centers all across the state.

#3 - Minnesota State University in Mankato

  • In-state Tuition: $7,557 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 5 Bachelor's degrees and 9 Master's degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Former Minnesota Speaker of the House David M. Jennings, record producer and clothing designer Adrienne Armstrong, Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock

Minnesota State University in Mankato is a large public university based in Mankato, which is located about 75 miles from the Twin Cities. It strives to serve students from all across the state, both through various satellite campuses and an ever-growing catalog of online degree programs.

#4 - Bemidji State University

  • Tuition: $8,124 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 7 Bachelor's degrees and 5 Master's degrees, plus an online R.N to Bachelor of Science in Nursing bridge program.
  • Notable Alumni: U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Michele Leonhart, San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke, and several NHL hockey players.

Bemidji State University is a public university located near the shores of Minnesota's Lake Bemidji. Part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, BSU was founded in 1919 as a teaching school. It has since grown considerably both in terms of its program offerings and the size of its student body, which include enrollees from all across the globe. The college continues to invest more in its already thriving online course catalog. Students can earn degrees in areas like business, engineering, nursing, education and criminal justice from the comfort of home while still having access to many of the same student support services afforded campus-based students.

#5 - University of Minnesota

  • Tuition: $11,448 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 16 undergraduate and 4 postgraduate
  • Notable Alumni: Eight Nobel Prize laureates and two Pulitzer Prize winners. The school also produced two United States Vice Presidents - Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale

The University of Minnesota's Digital Campus launched its first online course 1996. As of 2013, the school offered online courses to more than 36,000 students. Options included enrollment in 30 fully online degree and certificate programs and another 20 blended programs with what the school calls a "significant" online component. The school offers a number of additional web-based tools that support online learners, including digital "active learning classrooms" and eTextbooks.

#6 - University of Phoenix (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $12,400 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 46 Associate degrees, 102 Bachelor's degrees, 41 Master's degrees, and 8 Doctoral degrees.

The University of Phoenix is an example of a national university that offers campuses both online and through its dedicated Minneapolis/St. Paul campus. According to its official website, the University of Phoenix serves nearly a half-million working professionals each year, many of whom complete their educations 100 percent online. Students also have the option of blending online and campus-based courses, which is an especially convenient option for students enrolled in hands-on disciplines that incorporate a lot of clinical or laboratory work.

#7 - DeVry University (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $16,010 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited:
  • # of online programs: Dozens of online Associate, Bachelor's and Master's degrees in: business, engineering, liberal arts, health sciences, information sciences, media arts and more.

Like the University of Phoenix, DeVry University is a national college serving students both online or through more than 85 campus locations nationwide, including its Edina campus in Minnesota. Students can earn degrees of all levels, and across a diversity of disciplines, from the comfort of home, including DeVry's ever-popular online MBA programs operated through the Keller Graduate School of Management.

#8 - Concordia University St. Paul (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $19,700 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 10 online undergraduate and 7 online graduate degrees.

This St. Paul-based Lutheran liberal arts university was founded in 1893, and, thanks in part to its emphasis on adaptability through technology, continues to serve nearly 3,000 students each year. Students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in a number of subjects entirely from home, all while still having access to many of the same support services available to campus-based students, including academic and career counseling. Key disciplines include business, communications, nursing, education, criminal justice and more.

#9 - Crown College

  • Tuition: $22,430 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 3 Associate degrees, 6 Bachelor's degrees and 6 Master's degrees.
  • Notable Alumni: Veggie Tales co-creators Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki; Christian and Missionary Alliance President Dr. Gary M. Benedict, and Heart of the City Ministries founder Dan Alder.

Crown College is a private Christian college located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. According to its official website, it also happens to consistently rank among the nation's "Top Online Programs" and "Top 10 Online Christian Colleges," as ranked by U.S. News & World Report and other publications. Students can earn entire Associate and Bachelor degrees entirely online, or combine online and campus-based courses.

#10 - University of Northwestern

  • Tuition: $28,020 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 3 undergraduate and 6 postgraduate
  • Notable Alumni: Grammy award-winning conductor Henry Charles Smith and former Minnesota Independent Republican Party Chairman Ron Carey.

The University of Northwestern in St Paul is another small, private Christian college that extends its reach considerably through online education. Students can complete three online undergraduate degrees in Biblical Studies, and six online master's degrees in a diversity of disciplines, including Education, Human Services and Business. Bonus: High school students can enroll in the school's "Early College" program, which allows them to earn college credit online while attending school.

Online Colleges: Expert Interview

Lynn Johnson

Lynn Johnson, Interim Director of Distance Learning, Bemijdi State University

Q. Can you tell us a little about the online programs offered at your school?

Bemidji State University currently has 11 undergraduate completion programs, 3 grad programs and 2 grad certificates that are offered entirely online.

BSU typically offers nearly 500 online courses each academic year. This spring, 260 courses were offered online, and 239 are scheduled to be offered online this fall.

Bachelor's degree completion programs are offered in accounting; applied engineering; biology; business administration; criminal justice; elementary education; marketing communication; nursing; psychology; social work and technology management. BSU refers to these programs as a 2+2 option; the first two years of an undergraduate program can be completed on campus at BSU or by transferring in with an Associate of Arts degree from a two-year college, and the final two years of the program can be completed entirely online or through a combination of online and on-campus courses.

BSU offers online graduate programs in business administration (MBA); a Master of Arts in teaching, which begins this fall; a Master Of Science in education; and a Master Of Special Education. It offers online licensures in FasTrack post-baccalaureate secondary teaching; health; special education: emotional behavioral disorders; and special education: specific learning disabilities. BSU also offers online certificates in camp nursing (and is one of the only programs in the nation offering camp nursing at the graduate level) and in online teaching.

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

I try to help students understand that online courses can take more discipline than on-campus courses, because it will be up to the student to make the time to log in each day and complete assignments, etc. There is not as much accountability to "go to class," so it does become a matter of scheduling time to be online.

Also, it's harder to "hide" in an online course. Discussions are posted so the instructor is able to see who is participating and who hasn't logged in for a few days. Online courses require active participation; this can surprise some students who think it might be an "easy" way to take course.

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

I expect online programs will continue to evolve into blended programs when possible, where students and faculty have the chance to interact in person or via video/live chat/streaming media at least a couple of times during each class. Students indicate this interaction, even a couple of times each course, helps them connect to their faculty and other students. They do appreciate the opportunity to meet occasionally, even while they need the flexibility to complete most of their work online and asynchronously.

Snapshot of Minnesota Cities

Minnesota's name is drawn from the Dakota word for "clear blue water," thanks to its large share of lakes. These waterways, combined with the state's forests and other geographical features, supported thriving agriculture, mining, fishing and forestry trades early one. Minnesota's economy has grown and evolved considerably since then, and its highly educated workforce has drawn employers from across the nation. The following cities and metropolitan regions provide a snapshot of the state's largest economic centers, including their typical earnings and industries. All economic data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the 2014 Cost of Living Index published by The Council for Community and Economic Research. All demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and the latest Labor Force Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington Metropolitan Area
Together Minneapolis and St. Paul make up Minnesota's famous Twin Cities, and are part of the state's largest metropolitan area. It is also a thriving economic center: The BLS reports that as of 2013, the district supported nearly 1.8 million workers in a plethora of industries, including Trade, Transportation and Utilities; Education and Health Services; and Professional and Business Services. The BLS reports that the mean annual wage for workers in the region was $51,050 in May, 2013, which is well above both the statewide and national averages that same year. The Cost of Living Index is 108.2, with home prices averaging $342,280.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metro was home to an estimated 3,175,000 people in 2013, and according to the BLS, supported a full 4.7 percent of the state's total workforce as of July, 2014. This share only grows when one accounts for commuters from surrounding communities, like St. Cloud, Red Wing and Northfield.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
The City of St. Paul calls its city the "Most Livable City in America," thanks to its local economy and cultural vitality. It is also home to several Fortune 500 company headquarters, not to mention a number of historical and cultural landmarks. In 2013, The Huffington Post published an article applauding the Twin Cities for their healthy residents, naming the region the "most active metropolitan area" in the nation.

The BLS considers Duluth Minnesota's second largest metropolitan region, though it remains significantly smaller than the Twin Cities metro. As of May, 2013, the BLS estimated that Duluth supported more than 123,000 workers. Mean regional earnings that year were $40,700, or a bit under the statewide average. The region's largest industries by employment, as of July 2014: Education and Health Services; Trade, Transportation and Utilities; and the Government. The Cost of Living Index in Duluth is

An estimated 274,000 people called Duluth home in 2013, though its economy draws commuters from across St. Louis, Douglas and Carlton counties.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
Duluth is situated on Lake Superior, which is the largest freshwater lake in the world, and according to the website "Visit Duluth", was once home to more millionaires (per capita) than any other city in the world. It was also once named one of the top four Midwestern small cities in the nation by Money Magazine, based on sheer livability. Many of its restaurants, parks and museums are accessible by an extensive, climate-controlled skywalk downtown.

Rochester is Minnesota's third-largest economic center. It is just a touch smaller than Duluth, statistically speaking, but according to the BLS, still supported more than 100,000 workers in 2013. The region's largest industries, as of July, 2014: Education and Health Services; Trade, Transportation and Utilities; Manufacturing; and the Government.

The U.S. Census estimates that as of 2013, 110,742 lived in Rochester proper. Of residents age 25 and over, 42.7 percent held at least a Bachelor's degree that year.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
Rochester is a Midwestern mecca of arts and culture thanks to its Rochester Art Center, the Rochester Symphony, Chateau Theater and more. Perhaps Rochester's best known legacy, however, is its world-famous Mayo Clinic, which not only trains and supports surgeons and physicians from all across the world, but contributes thousands of dollars each year to medical research.

Helpful Resources

There are a number of resources prospective students researching online colleges in Minnesota may find helpful. Minnesota Online is an online directory of web-based courses and degree programs offered through the large, public Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system. The Minnesota Office of Higher Education offers additional resources to now-and-future college students, including key information on college readiness and financial aid. While all the colleges featured in our list provide plenty of information about their programs on their websites, it is important to remember that tuition, program options and accreditation status can change. We suggest contacting schools directly to learn more.


  1. About Saint Paul, City of Saint Paul, http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=2219
  2. American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce, 2012, http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml
  3. A Stronger Minnesota through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, 2014, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/downloads/pdfs/minnesota-brief-2014.pdf
  4. Bemidji State University, http://www.bemidjistate.edu/academics/distance/
  5. Concordia University St. Paul, http://online.csp.edu/
  6. Crown College, http://www.crown.edu/online/
  7. Devry University, http://www.devry.edu/degree-programs.html
  8. Duluth Facts, Visit Duluth, http://www.visitduluth.com/about/duluth_facts.php
  9. Economy at a Glance: Minnesota, Bureau of Labor Statistics, July, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.mn.htm
  10. Lynn Johnson, Interim Director of Distance Learning, Bemijdi State University, interview with the author May, 2015
  11. May 2013 Metropolitan Area and Wage Estimates: Duluth, MN-WI, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_20260.htm
  12. May 2013 Metropolitan Area and Wage Estimates: Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_33460.htm
  13. May 2013 Metropolitan Area and Wage Estimates: Rochester, MN, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_40340.htm
  14. May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Minnesota, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_mn.htm
  15. Metropolitan State University, http://www.metrostate.edu/msweb/explore/col/courses_programs.html
  16. Minnesota State University in Mankato, http://www.mnsu.edu/ext/online/
  17. Online Learning, Minnesota Department of Education, http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/EnrollChoice/Online/
  18. State & County QuickFacts: Minnesota, U.S. Census Bureau, 2013, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/27000.html
  19. St. Cloud State University, http://www.stcloudstate.edu/continuingstudies/distance/
  20. "What The Twin Cities Can Teach Us About Living Well," Huffington Post, November, 18, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/18/minneapolis-health-happin_n_4213678.html
  21. The University of Minnesota, http://digitalcampus.umn.edu/programs/
  22. University of Northwestern, https://www.unwsp.edu/web/online-programs/online-programs
  23. The University of Phoenix, http://www.phoenix.edu/degrees.html

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