Online Colleges in Illinois

Most Affordable Online Colleges

COLLEGE FINDER

Article Sources

Methodology

Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "Four or more years" or "At least 2 but less than 4 years"
  • Data is reported for all 11 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section
  • At least 1% of students are taking at least some of the classes via distance education
  • "Number of programs offered via distance education" was an integer greater than 0

We ranked the resulting 1,813 colleges on 11 criteria, using 2016-17 data from IPEDS:

  1. Number of programs offered via distance education
  2. Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  5. Graduation rate
  6. Retention rate
  7. The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Guaranteed, Other)
  8. Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
  9. Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
  10. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  11. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

Methodology Sources

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Sources:

  • About the Higher Learning Commission, https://www.hlcommission.org/About-the-Commission/about-hlc.html
  • About the SIU System, Southern Illinois University, http://siusystem.edu/about/index.shtml
  • American Fact Finder-Illinois, U.S. Census Bureau, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml
  • Caterpillar Reaffirms its Commitment to Illinois and Peoria as Company's Global Headquarters, Caterpillar News, http://www.caterpillar.com/en/news/caterpillarNews/careers/caterpillar-reaffirms-its-commitment-to-illinois-and-peoria-as-companys-global-headquarters.html
  • Chicago Key Industries, World Business Chicago, http://www.worldbusinesschicago.com/key-industries/
  • Civilian labor force and unemployment by state and metropolitan area, Rockford, Illinois, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.t01.htm
  • Colleges and Universities, Illinois Board of Higher Education, http://ibhe.org/Colleges%20and%20Universities/default.htm
  • Community Facts, Peoria Illinois, U.S. Census Bureau, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml
  • Community Facts, Rockford City, Ill., U.S. Census Bureau, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF
  • Degrees You Can Earn Online, Western Illinois State University, http://www.wiu.edu/online_learning/#allcourses
  • Distance Education in the Illinois Community College System, Illinois Community College Board, https://www.iccb.org/iccb/wp-content/pdfs/reports/FY14_Distance_Education_Report_10-13-15.pdf
  • Educational Institutions Authorized in Illinois, Illinois Board of Higher Education, http://www.ibhe.state.il.us/consumerinfo/authorize.htm
  • Facts & Statistics, City of Chicago, http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/about/facts.html
  • GSU Online Degrees and Programs, Governors State University, http://www.govst.edu/gsuonline/
  • Illinois College Enrollment, Illinois Board of Higher Education, Fall 2014, http://ibhe.org/EnrollmentsDegrees/default.htm
  • Illinois Community Colleges Online, http://www.ilcco.net/ILCCO/?p=edu
  • Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, Greater Peoria Economic Development District, https://www.eda.gov/challenges/imcp/files/2nd-round/IMCP-2-Pager-Handout-peoria.pdf
  • Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, IL Metropolitan Division, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_16974.htm
  • Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Rockford, IL, May 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_40420.htm#51-0000
  • Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Peoria, IL, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_37900.htm
  • Online Degrees and Programs, Southeastern Illinois College, http://www.sic.edu/academics/online-courses-and-programs
  • Online Degrees and Programs, Southeastern Illinois University-Edwardsville, http://www.siue.edu/online/degrees-programs.shtml
  • Online Degrees, Lincoln Land Community College, http://www.llcc.edu/academics/online/online-degrees/
  • Online Instruction and Degrees, Shawnee Community College, http://www.shawneecc.edu/online_students/default.asp
  • Online Learning, Rend Lake College, https://rlc.edu/online-students/online-options#brochures
  • Online Students, Highland Community College, http://www.ilcco.net/ILCCO/?p=edu
  • Pocket Facts 2016, University of Illinois, https://www.uillinois.edu/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=335058
  • Programs and Courses, University of Illinois, http://www.online.uillinois.edu/catalog/OnlineDegrees.asp
  • QuickFacts, Rockford City, Illinois, U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/1765000
  • QuickFacts-Chicago, U.S. Census Bureau, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045214/1714000/accessible
  • Rockford FAQs, City of Rockford, https://www.gorockford.com/about/faqs/
  • Rockford Region Quick Reference Guide, Rockford Area Economic Development Council, http://www.rockfordil.gov/media/41810/community%20quick%20reference%20guide.pdf
  • State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates-Illinois, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_il.htm
  • Welcome to D2L at NEIU, Northeastern Illinois University, https://neiu.desire2learn.com/
  • Illinois, Institute for College Access and Success, Accessed September 2016, http://ticas.org/posd/map-state-data-2015#overlay=posd/state_data/2015/il
  • University of Illinois Financial Aid, Accessed September 2016, https://admissions.illinois.edu/Invest/financial-aid
  • Illinois AMVETS Scholarships, Accessed September 2016, http://www.ilamvets.org/whatwedo/programs/scholarships/tabid/120/default.aspx
  • CEFS Economic Opportunity Corporation CSBG Scholarship, Accessed September 2016, http://www.cefseoc.org/documents/2016CSBGScholarshipApplication.pdf
  • Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois, Accessed September 2016, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, http://www.isac.org/isac-gift-assistance-programs/golden-apple-scholars-of-illinois-program/index.html
  • ISAC Monetary Award Program (MAP), Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Accessed September 2016, http://www.isac.org/isac-gift-assistance-programs/map/
  • Grant Program for Dependents of Police or Fire Officers, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Accessed September 2016, http://www.isac.org/students/during-college/types-of-financial-aid/grants/grant-program-for-dependents-of-police-or-fire-officers.html
  • Grant Program for Dependents of Correctional Officers, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Accessed September 2016, http://www.isac.org/students/during-college/types-of-financial-aid/grants/grant-program-for-dependents-of-correctional-officers.html
  • National Louis University Online, https://online.nl.edu/online-degrees/
  • Online Degrees, Benedictine University, https://online.ben.edu/programs?cmgfrm=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ben.edu%2F
X

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. The state is also home to many large and well-known cities, including Chicago, and the capital city of Springfield. Following this trend, it should come as no surprise that Illinois also has a large number of colleges and universities where students can pursue online degrees.

Illinois' many online opportunities come to students through many of the public and private institution of higher learning in the state. The University of Illinois system alone is made of three major universities, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Springfield. Through a collaboration launched nearly 10 years ago, these three universities met the challenge to increase education well beyond brick-and-mortar walls. As of 2017, these universities provided more than 1,400 courses online, along with approximately 60 degree programs and 80 certificate programs. Other online education opportunities may be available through the state's 48 community colleges, 97 not-for-profit universities and colleges and 35 private, for-profit institutions.

Best Online Colleges in Illinois for 2018-19

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With such a big pool of possible colleges to choose from in Illinois, how are you going to find the right choice for you? Fear not: we're here to help you make a well-informed decision on the matter. The following list of the 10 best Illinois colleges and universities was ranked on data sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 2016-17 school year. Details on the methodology we used to compile this list are located at the bottom of the page, and our Top Colleges Tool can be used to create personalized rankings just for you.

1

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$15,058
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.
30%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
28
School Type
4-year

Whether you want to finish just a single course online or are looking to complete an entire online degree program, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has it covered. This university is immersed in online education, to the point that it has entered the world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in partnership with Coursera. There are undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs available online at UoI Urbana-Champaign, as well as certificate and endorsement programs.

The school's Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) was established to guide students who are interested in online degree programs or who want to access online education for other reasons, like personal interests. UoI Urbana-Champaign also runs an online education blog that specifically addresses concerns of online students, including benefits to studying online and easy ways to connect with online classmates.

2

University of Illinois at Springfield

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$11,413
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.
66%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
27
School Type
4-year

The University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) offers online bachelor's and master's degree programs and graduate certificate programs to interested students, as well as dozens of courses online through Coursera.

Students enrolled in "University of I Online" have access to a variety of services, including library resources, veteran services and disability services. Joint agreements in place with more than a dozen community colleges in the state give students access to an UIS advisor while students are still in community college. The university also offers numerous "2+2 agreements" that help students to seamlessly transfer from a community college into UIS to complete a four-year degree.

The University of I Online uses the Blackboard management system. If you aren't sure how to use Blackboard, don't worry: students can access Blackboard tutorials about customizing a home page, submitting assignments and joining discussion boards in order to easily get started with the system.

3

University of St. Francis

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$30,840
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.
59%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
24
School Type
4-year

The University of St. Francis (USF) is a Catholic university in Joliet that focuses on sustainability. The school takes its stance on sustainability very seriously, even offering students the opportunity to take a unique USF sustainability pledge.

This liberal arts university has offered online education for more than 15 years, which started with the decision to make a business program available via distance learning. Students pursuing that online business administration degree program have the option of choosing one of five unique tracks for their studies, including entrepreneurship, marketing and transportation, and logistics management. Other options include a bachelor's program in health care leadership and an RN-to-BSN degree completion program.

If you shy away from online classes due to concern about your technological skills, USF understands your concerns. Should technical problems arise, students can contact the university's help desk during normal business hours or send an email any time of the day.

4

Concordia University-Chicago

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$30,630
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.
60%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
36
School Type
4-year

At Chicago's very own Concordia University — which has celebrated more than 150 anniversaries to date — students can find degree programs that are not just available online, but in an accelerated format, such as an online Associate of Arts in organizational management or an online Bachelor's of Arts in sports and recreation.

Concordia offers its online courses in a sequential order using an eight-week format. The university's online programs go from certificates and endorsements all the way up to doctoral degree programs, with every level in between represented. Available majors across this spread of different degree programs range from gerontology to school counseling to health and human performance. It's also well worth noting that at the undergraduate level, credit can be granted to students for prior experience, including in some of the school's online bachelor's programs.

5

National Louis University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$10,380
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.
42%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
15
School Type
4-year

Founded in 1886 as a school for kindergarten teachers, National Louis University has broadened its scope since its early days. Its student body can pursue numerous graduate and undergraduate programs, including several that are entirely online. NLU students can opt for various online bachelor's programs, master's programs and one doctoral program (the Ed.D in higher education leadership). In keeping with the university's education-oriented origins, its students can also earn a number of teaching endorsements through online means. Some programs do require a hands-on component, such as the bachelor's in forensic social justice program; such requirements can be completed at one of NLU's five Illinois campus locations.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission (institutional)

Location:

122 S. Michigan Ave,
Chicago, IL 60603
 
6

Lewis University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$30,050
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.
35%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
20
School Type
4-year

Located in Romeoville, Lewis University prides itself on its "practical" degree programs, covering disciplines such as computer science, data science and organizational leadership. Among the university's more unique online offerings is a Master of Science in aviation and transportation, which offers courses in eight-week formats and is touted as having fewer than 15 students per class. Fully online graduate-level certificate programs are also available in many of the same subjects as the degree options.

To assist students in their academic career, this Catholic university assigns a personal Student Services Coordinator to every online student. In case issues arise with learning platforms or online communication, the school further offers around-the-clock technical assistance through its Personal Support Center.

7

DeVry University-Illinois

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$19,948
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.
93%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
37
School Type
4-year

Convenience is a major focus at DeVry University, with classes starting every eight weeks whether students are enrolled in online education or on-campus coursework. Associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs are available online, through the university's six different colleges. In fact, the university's Keller Graduate School of Management offers not only online master's degree programs in subjects such as accounting and human resource management, but also graduate-level certification programs in similar fields.

When students have completed their DeVry education, they can turn to the university for support with career advising, job listing access and more. Resources such as Compass to My Career and HireDeVry have been created by the university so students have more opportunities to build connections for potential employment.

8

Benedictine University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$32,170
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.
31%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
23
School Type
4-year

A private Catholic school, Benedictine University offers its distance learners private tutoring, an online writing center, study skills and time management support, access to a virtual library and much more. Undergraduates can choose from bachelor's degree programs in organizational leadership or management, while graduate students can pursue master's degree programs such as:

  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Public health (MPH)
  • Nursing (MSN)
  • Management and organizational behavior (MSMOB)

Dual enrollment programs are available for the MBA/MPH and the MSN/MBA programs, as well as the MSMOB/MBA and MSMOB/MPH. Benedictine's online courses include applied learning opportunities, which can be completed in the form of internships, business simulations, mini-capstone experiences, practicums or in-residence options.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (institutional)

Location:

5700 College Rd,
Lisle, IL 60532
 
9

Lincoln Christian University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$13,020
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.
45%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
20
School Type
4-year

Although many university students live on Lincoln Christian University's 140-acre campus, many others are enrolling in the university's online degree programs, starting at the associate level and rolling all the way up to master's degree programs.

Several of Lincoln Christian's online offerings feature a focus on religion, allowing students to pursue majors in the Bible, Christian ministry, or theology entirely through distance learning. The university also offers other secular disciplines online, such as business administration and organizational leadership.

Of course, online students can still head to campus to enjoy the activities there if desired. Lincoln Christian is home to six varsity sports, and its Red Lions team competes in Division I play with the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCAAA).

10

Olivet Nazarene University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$33,940
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.
34%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
11
School Type
4-year

At Olivet Nazarene University, students can pursue online education through the university's "Olivet Online." The university, located in Bourbonnais, was founded in 1907 and follows a Christian philosophy. Its School of Graduate and Continuing Studies (SGCS) focuses on adult learners and nontraditional students.

Many of the online programs at Olivet Nazarene University have ongoing start dates. Consider, for example, the school's online Bachelor's of Science in applied management degree program, which has a start date every month or every other month of the year. The university also uses an accelerated format and has designed many of its online programs so that they can be completed in two years or fewer.

Affordable Online Colleges in Illinois for 2018-19

Here are some of the most affordable two- and four-year online colleges in Illinois. Data was compiled by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, part of the National Center for Education Statistics.

For a comprehensive ranking of the top online colleges in Illinois by quality, affordability, and/or several other factors, please use our Top Colleges tool.

  • School Type - 2 Years
  • School Type - 4 Years
  • COLLEGE NAMETUITION & FEES/YEAR
    Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
    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.
    NUMBER OF ONLINE PROGRAMS OFFERED
    Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics..
    SCHOOL TYPE
    John A Logan College$5,10028%12-year
    Southeastern Illinois College$5,34055%92-year
    Shawnee Community College$5,60037%32-year
    Highland Community College$5,65528%12-year
    Lincoln Land Community College$5,78432%212-year
  • COLLEGE NAMETUITION & FEES/YEAR
    Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
    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.
    NUMBER OF ONLINE PROGRAMS OFFERED
    Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics..
    SCHOOL TYPE
    Pacific College of Oriental Medicine-Chicago$9,3086%24-year
    Rasmussen College-Illinois$9,36088%544-year
    University of Phoenix-Illinois$9,84047%154-year
    Chicago State University$10,25253%44-year
    National Louis University$10,38042%154-year

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.

Financial Aid Resources in Illinois

Students who choose to study in Illinois have a number of financial aid options, beyond what is offered by the federal government. With various state scholarship and grant programs, Illinois students — even those who attend school online — can reduce their total college expenses.

For example, the University of Illinois provided $13.4 million in institutional merit scholarships and $11.2 million in need-based grants and scholarships in 2014-2015. That represents 53 percent of the school’s financial aid offerings, with loans and work-study comprising the rest.

Considering that the average debt for graduating Illinois students is $28,984 according to the Institute for College Access and Success, finding ways to offset the cost of college is necessary to help make degree programs more affordable.

That being said, here are some Illinois-based financial aid programs to explore if you're considering a program of study in the Prairie State.

Illinois Scholarships

Illinois scholarship programs are open to a wide array of students. Here are a few examples:

1.Monetary Award
Type : Grant
Criteria:
Applicant must be an Illinois resident who is attending an Illinois school. FAFSA and financial need are required.
Award Amount
$4,968
Application Deadline
October 1
Renewable
No
Repay Required?
No
School Specific Scholarship?
Yes
Application URL
2.Illinois Incentive for Access
Type : Grant
Criteria:
Applicant must demonstrate financial need, complete FAFSA, and attend an approved Illinois school.
Award Amount
$500
Application Deadline
October 1
Renewable
No
Repay Required?
No
School Specific Scholarship?
Yes
Application URL
3.Illinois Veteran Grant
Type : Grant
Criteria:
Applicant must be a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and attend an Illinois public university or community college.
Award Amount
N/A
Application Deadline
October 1
Renewable
Yes
Repay Required?
No
School Specific Scholarship?
Yes
Application URL
4.Student to Student Program of Matching Grant
Type : Grant
Criteria:
Applicant must attend a participating Illinois school and demonstrate financial need. Application is available through participating schools.
Award Amount
N/A
Application Deadline
October 1
Renewable
No
Repay Required?
No
School Specific Scholarship?
Yes
Application URL

Be sure to read the Ultimate Guide to Grants for advice and strategies on finding grants.

Illinois Loans

Although Illinois did have the Capstone Loan Program at one time, there is no longer a state-based student loan program. Students seeking loans are encouraged to fill out the FAFSA to qualify for federal loans.

Learn more about student loans in the Ultimate Guide to Student Loans.

Additional Resources for Financial Aid in Illinois

  • The Illinois Student Assistance Commission is the state financial aid organization committed to helping make college more affordable for Illinois students. It offers free resources to help families navigate the financial aid process.
 
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