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Online Colleges in Iowa

Most Affordable Online Colleges
Article Sources

Sources:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcst.htm
  2. "C2ER," The Cost of Living Index, http://www.coli.org/
  3. Graceland University, http://www.graceland.edu/academics/graduateonline-programs.cfm
  4. Graceland University notable alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graceland_University#Alumni
  5. Iowa State University, http://www.distance.iastate.edu/programs/colleges
  6. List of University of Iowa alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_University_of_Iowa_alumni
  7. List of Iowa State University people, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Iowa_State_University_people
  8. Maureen McCormick, Strategic Communications and Marketing Director for Division of Continuing Education, University of Iowa, interview with the author May, 2015
  9. Mercy College Distance Education, http://www.mchs.edu/distance-education.cfm
  10. National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  11. Ralph Napolitano, Associate Director for Online Learning, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University, interview with the author May, 2015
  12. Regional Accrediting Organizations 2016-2017, Council for Higher Education Accreditation, accessed January 2017, http://www.chea.org/Directories/regional.asp
  13. The University of Iowa, http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/programs/graduate/index.html
  14. Things to do in Des Moines, http://www.catchdesmoines.com/things-to-do/
  15. Upper Iowa University, http://www.uiu.edu/distance/online/
  16. Upper Iowa University Notable Alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upper_Iowa_University#Notable_alumni
  17. University of Northern Iowa Continuing and Distance Education, https://www.uni.edu/continuinged/distance/programs
  18. University of Northern Iowa Notable Alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Northern_Iowa#Notable_alumni
  19. U.S. Census Bureau: American FactFinder, Iowa, http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
  20. Waldorf College Notable Alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_College
  21. Waldorf College Online Degree Programs, http://www.waldorf.edu/Online/Academics/Programs-of-Study
  22. Iowa College Aid - Loan Repayment Programs, Accessed April 2017, https://www.iowacollegeaid.gov/content/loan-repayment-programs
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Iowa is big on higher education, as evidenced by Governor Terry Branstad's initiative to get 70 percent of Iowans to complete post-secondary education or training by 2025. Luckily, there are lots of robust educational options in Iowa, including a steady growth in online education offerings, which are making degree programs more accessible.

Iowa's public universities are leading the way with record numbers of students enrolled in online courses. For instance, the University of Iowa grew its online student enrollment from 2,595 to 5,270 last year. This is probably being helped along by Iowa Learning Online (ILO), which is providing support for online learning all across Iowa, in accredited public school districts, non-public schools and home school students. As students are introduced to distance earning at a younger age, it becomes more likely that they will be comfortable pursuing online degrees at the college level later on.

Best Online Colleges in Iowa

If you're considering an online degree from an Iowa college or university, you have a number of prestigious programs from which to choose. Your decision should be made with research and care, and as such, we put together this ranking of the top online colleges in Iowa, using data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The methodology for this ranking can be located at the bottom of the page.

1

The University of Iowa

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.
$8,104
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.
41.45%
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.
12
School Type
4-year

Home of the Hawkeyes, the University of Iowa offers a variety of bachelor's and master's degree programs online in fields such as education, health, and business studies. The school also offers several certificate programs online in some rather interesting subjects, such as aging and longevity studies or museum studies.

The University of Iowa prides itself on offering cutting-edge online education, including the first-ever online lab course in micro- and nanofabrication. If necessary, students have the opportunity to attend courses through a network of off-campus partners with locations in Des Moines, the Quad Cities, Sioux City, and more. Transfer students will find that there are many resources to help them plan for a successful transfer of credits to their new program at the University of Iowa, including equivalency guides, and guaranteed two-year graduation plans for specific programs.

2

Iowa State 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.
$7,736
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.
15.94%
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.
21
School Type
4-year

Founded in 1858, Iowa State University is a public, land-grant university with several famous alumni, including American botanist and inventor George Washington Carver. The university has not stayed in the past, however -- it offers a variety of fully online graduate degree programs as well as a similarly online undergraduate program in liberal studies. Online graduate programs available at this school include fields such as education, agriculture and engineering.

Iowa State provides distance learners with easy electronic access to ISU Library's materials and services, as well as the University's Academic Success Center, Tutoring Center, and more. Online students also receive the same access to the school's Student Assistance and Career Services resources as on-campus students do.

3

Northwest Iowa Community College

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.
$5,550
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.
57.51%
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.
13
School Type
2-year

Northwest Iowa Community College, though the smallest and most rural member of the state's community college system, was the first institution to become a community college in Iowa. As a member of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium, NCC is able to provide a variety of online associate degree programs, including computer science, financial services and management. All coursework can be taken online, but many of the school's students instead choose to blend their program with an assortment of online and on-campus classes, which is another perfectly viable option. The school also offers many open-enrollment continuing education programs online in partnership with Gatlin Education Services.

All the support services that the school offers to on-campus students are also readily available to online students, including academic advisors, the school's library, tutoring services and the College Store. Northwest Iowa Community College even has a "demo course" for prospective students who would like to try out what an online class might be like without committing to an online program.

4

University of Northern Iowa

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.
$7,817
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.
21.40%
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

University of Northern Iowa offers several bachelor's and master's degree programs fully online, as well as a handful of programs with blended delivery, meaning they are primarily online and require minimal in-person attendance. Some of the fully online bachelor's degree programs available include criminal justice, technology management and tactical emergency services with vulnerable populations. The university's online master's degree programs are also available in a wide range of education fields, such as public policy or philanthropy.

The school has a dedicated Office of Continuing and Distance Education to serve as the main point of contact for all distance learners. They also provide a team of support specialists in case any technical issues may arise, and a series of tutorials and guides to assist with students' eLearning needs. Even from a distance, students can be proud to cheer on the school's Panthers in a wide range of Division I sports, including football, volleyball and track & field.

5

Kaplan University - Davenport

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.
$14,169
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.
99.81%
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.
93
School Type
4-year

Though it now has campuses nationwide, the history of Kaplan University actually began in 1937 as the American Institute of Commerce in Davenport, Iowa. Today, Kaplan University is an institute dedicated to distance education: nearly 95 percent of the school's students complete their coursework in online programs, while even on-campus students take up to 78 percent of their courses online. The school is also committed to small class sizes, with an average of 24 students in undergraduate classes and just 16 in graduate-level courses. Kaplan University's Davenport Campus offers dozens of fully online associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs in various business, legal, health and technology fields, as well as a fully online Doctor of Nursing Practice program. The school is particularly transfer-friendly, as it accepts credits from prior institutions, converts military training into credits and even offers credits for eligible work and life experiences.

6

Buena Vista 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.
$31,318
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.
43.58%
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.
13
School Type
4-year

Buena Vista University became the nation's first "wireless community" in 2000 by giving all students and staff laptops connected to the campus-wide wireless network. Today, the university's passion for innovation continues with its offerings of a few graduate and many undergraduate online degree programs, ranging from psychology and human services, to management and finance. The online bachelor's in accounting program has even been recognized as one the top 25 best in the country.

The school's flexible course schedule allows students to choose from six different start dates throughout the year so that students may take the eight-week classes when it is most convenient for them. Buena Vista University provides distance learners with access to their professors, the student lounge, group discussions with classmates, and specialized tutors around the clock for a highly convenient experience. The school also promises that 100 percent of associate degree credits from their community college partners will transfer to BVU, ensuring an efficient path to degree completion.

7

North Iowa Area Community College

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.
$4,793
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.
51.34%
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.
2
School Type
2-year

Though low on complete online degree programs, North Iowa Area Community College makes up for it by offering its students a variety of individual courses in either fully online or hybrid formats. As a member of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), North Iowa Area Community College partners with six other colleges to broaden its spectrum of online courses even further, offering a truly extensive range of options.

NIACC provides online students with a dedicated counseling office that can be reached by phone, as well as technical support via email. Tutoring assistance is made available by request through a learning support specialist. For students who intend to transfer their NIACC credits elsewhere, the school shares a close relationship with other public and private four-year schools in the area and encourages students to create a plan with their counselors to make the transition as seamless as possible.

8

Briar Cliff 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.
$28,090
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.
34.12%
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

Briar Cliff University was first envisioned as a Catholic college for women by Mother Mary Dominica Wieneke and Most Reverend Edmond Heelan as they looked out over a 175-foot hill covered in briar patches, thus giving light to the institution's name. Almost 90 years later, the Briar Cliff University of today offers fully online degree completion programs in accounting, nursing, health sciences, social work and more, growing the educational quality of Iowa with steady, nurturing success.

The university works closely with students, encouraging fast and efficient degree completion by ensuring that credits are received for prior work. That "prior work" includes transferred credits for previous college coursework, as well as credits for real-life work and volunteer experience. Students may also test out of certain subjects by taking CLEP exams, further streamlining their education. Briar Cliff even provides an Online Learning Readiness Assessment Form so students may gauge whether or not online learning is a good fit for them.

9

Southwestern Community College

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.
$5,280
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.
49.28%
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.
4
School Type
2-year

Every semester, Southwestern Community College offers hundreds of online courses ranging anywhere from four to 16 weeks in length, depending on how quickly the student intends to cover the entirety of course material. Using these courses, students can obtain an associate's degree fully online in business administration, accounting or agricultural business. Students who intend to transfer their credits to a 4-year college or university in the future should find it to be an easy process thanks to the fact that those credits have already been prepped for transfer. Free online tutoring is made readily available, and online students are granted full access to SWCC's CampusConnect system to fully manage their coursework. Finally, as a member of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), Southwestern Community College students gain access to Canvas, the ICCOC's online learning management system, and a detailed orientation and tutorial to make the transition to online learning as seamless as possible.

10

Graceland University - Lamoni

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.
$25,890
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.
99.48%
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.
10
School Type
4-year

Graceland University has gained an excellent reputation not only for the graceful slope of the hill upon which the college was built, but also for online learning, having been named one of the "Best in the Midwest" by Princeton Review and granted the Platinum Award by the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA). The university offers fully online, fully accredited degree programs for its students to earn, including seven Master of Education programs, four bachelor's programs in business fields, and nine programs in nursing and healthcare fields.

Information and communication are held in high regard at Graceland. Online students report their instructors are easily accessible through email, by phone and in the discussion areas of the online course itself. Graceland University's Frederick Madison Smith Library offers an extensive online catalog of resources to assist online learners in their studies. The University also offers detailed information about how courses from hundreds of accredited colleges will transfer to Graceland so that prospective students can be fully informed before making their decision.

Affordable Online Colleges in Iowa

The following list presents schools in Iowa that offer online degrees at low tuition costs. Tuition figures are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and reflect in-state tuition (when in-state tuition is available) for all students, including online students.

If there is a different way you'd like to see Iowa's online colleges ranked, you can make it happen by using our Top Colleges Tool.

Affordable Two-Year Online Colleges in Iowa

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
Indian Hills Community College$3,84046.09%62-year
Des Moines Area Community College$3,91325.41%72-year
Western Iowa Tech Community College$4,10442.49%52-year
Ellsworth Community College$4,41641.20%12-year
Marshalltown Community College$4,41660.95%22-year

Affordable Four-Year Online Colleges in Iowa

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
Shiloh University$4,510N/A104-year
Iowa State University$7,73615.94%214-year
University of Northern Iowa$7,81721.40%154-year
University of Iowa$8,10441.45%124-year
University of Phoenix-Iowa$10,609N/A44-year

College Accreditation in Iowa

As students review their college choices in Iowa, they should also check into whether those colleges are properly accredited. A number of accrediting organizations exist to ensure the quality of educational programs and institutions. Among these, regional accrediting bodies offer what is often considered the gold standard within academia.

Each state has least one regional accrediting body approved by the Department of Education. In Iowa, regional accreditation is provided by the following organization:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Colleges in Iowa may also have accreditation from other organizations for specific degree programs. However, if a college or university isn't accredited by the HLC, students should double-check the institution's credentials. In particular, check to make sure other accreditations listed by a school are also recognized by the government.

School Interviews

Maureen McCormick
At the University of Iowa, we feel what distinguishes us is that when we offer courses online, they are the same quality as when those courses are offered on campus.

Maureen McCormick

Strategic Communications and Marketing Director for Division of Continuing Education

University of Iowa

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

At the University of Iowa, we feel what distinguishes us is that when we offer courses online, they are the same quality as when those courses are offered on campus. It's the same faculty teaching both courses, so students can be assured they are getting a quality education from a Big 10 university. We have had a distance or continuing education program since the 1920s, and we've grown tremendously in the last 10 years. We work a lot with community colleges in Iowa to transfer in associate degree holders into the University of Iowa. You can transfer in from a community college and have a junior standing. We are also working on adding more online graduate degrees.

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

People need discipline for an online course, particularly guided online study. They need to keep working toward their goals and have milestones. Some are more effective at that than others. A lot of students in the online degree program are older, and they are working the studies into a very busy schedule, so they need to plan carefully. Our faculty plan an entire course ahead of time, and that allows students to work their schedule around the course.

Q. How do you anticipate online learning changing in the future?

Technology is changing at a fast pace. Virtual technology has changed how online learning is delivered. We will continue to look at the program need areas and interests in a particular discipline and work with the colleges to fill those needs. People are looking for ways to enhance their position in the workplace. As a result, decision making in the nonprofit university arena has become more strategic and focused; we are being much more strategic about what we are offering. People used to take courses for fun, but now degrees are becoming more important. Using mobile apps to reach these prospective students is also becoming more important; about 40 percent of the people coming into our website are coming in from a phone or an iPad. In the future, more people will be learning on mobile devices.


Ralph Napolitano
Online learning will continue to be integrated and pervasive. I like to say 'learning in the online world' because now most classes, even face-to-face classes, have some kind of online component to them.

Ralph Napolitano

Associate Director for Online Learning, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Iowa State University

Q. How prevalent are online programs at your school?

We have a lot of master's and certificate programs. That's where our demand is right now, but we are looking into expanding our bachelor's degree programs as well. Certificate programs and non-conventional degree programs are in high demand, and we feel that's a good area of focus for us because we can accommodate those needs within our existing structure. By putting together a number of courses and packaging them as certificate programs, and then coupling some certificate programs into a degree program, we can create some stepping stones for our students that lead to a degree. The popularity of these certificate programs is a reflection of the job market today. The market requires that you be a specialist as well as a jack of many trades.

Q. How should students prepare for online programs?

If someone were to call me out of blue and say they were interested in getting an online degree, I would ask how long it's been since they were a student. That's because technology has really changed. If their expected mode of learning is to read a book, listen to a lecture, and take a test, then there will be an adjustment period for them. So I might suggest that they take a free online course or a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and see how comfortable they are with discussion forums and other online learning features. Test the waters in a low-risk situation to see how comfortable they are with the technology. If they were recently a student and are thinking of going back, then I'd ask about what their needs are: career advancement, lifelong learning, degree completion? There are a lot of different options depending on what your goals are.

Q. What changes do you expect to see in online programs?

Online learning will continue to be integrated and pervasive. I like to say "learning in the online world" because now most classes, even face-to-face classes, have some kind of online component to them. Almost all our courses rely on an online learning management system; it's become a chalkboard from 50 years ago.

What we are seeing is a trend with more and more residential students participating in some level of online enrollment. They may want to work off campus for a semester but need to take a couple of courses so they don't fall behind. Or they may be on campus and they take an online class for the scheduling convenience or because they just prefer an online class. There are a lot of reasons why so many students are selecting at least some online courses to complement their face-to-face classes.

We're also seeing an increase in blended courses, combining face-to-face with online elements. In a flipped classroom, traditional classroom activities like lectures may be delivered online so that class time can be used for discussions or for homework or for other activities that use the time spent with the faculty the most effectively.

Financial Aid in Iowa

Iowa Loans

Students seeking financial aid assistance in Iowa are encouraged to first apply for scholarships and grants to help cover their cost of tuition, as these awards do not need to be paid back. Iowa does not offer any state-based loans to students, though they do provide some loan repayment incentives for those in particular fields, such as Nursing and Education. If you are still in need of financial assistance, you may apply for federal and private loans to help defer your tuition costs. To qualify for federal loans, you will need to provide information about your family's financial situation by filling out the FAFSA. Learn more about student loans in the Ultimate Guide to Student Loans.

Additional Resources for Financial Aid in Iowa

Featured Cities in Iowa

The 2015 American Community Survey (census.gov) provides the data on the following metropolitan areas.

Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA Metro Area

Total Population

601,187

Median salary for high school grads

$30,348

Median salary with a bachelor's degree

$52,187

% of the population enrolled in college or grad school

23.7%

Median rent

$802

Fun Facts

Iowa is the only state in the country to be bordered on both east and west by rivers. To the east is the mighty Mississippi and to the west is the Missouri River. Visitors to Des Moines enjoy taking in the gilded domes of the state capital, as well as the State of Iowa Historical Museum and the historic Terrace Hill. Two other popular attractions are the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden and the Science Center of Iowa.

Cedar Rapids, IA Metro Area

Total Population

263,003

Median salary for high school grads

$30,356

Median salary with a bachelor's degree

$51,429

% of the population enrolled in college or grad school

26.3%

Median rent

$682

Fun Facts

Cedar Rapids has a thriving arts and culture scene. It is the home of Orchestra Iowa, the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and the National Czech & Slovack Museum & Library. Many residents and visitors enjoy taking in the baseball games of the minor league Cedar Rapids Kernels, a Class-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.

Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL Metro Area

Total Population

383,145

Median salary for high school grads

$28,002

Median salary with a bachelor's degree

$47,119

% of the population enrolled in college or grad school

25%

Median rent

$686

Fun Facts

John Deere has a powerful impact on the economy and culture of the Quad Cities, with the museum at the John Deere Pavilion and the John Deere Harvester Works factory that offers tours. Arsenal Island also offers tours, and the Black Hawk State Historical Site on Rock Island is a must-see for history buffs.

 
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