Whether you're in Des Moines or a more rural part of the state, Iowa's online colleges can provide you with the flexibility to earn an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree around your work schedule or family responsibilities. Having a degree in hand may also help you meet the entry requirements for a job in one of the state's growing industries, like IT and communications, advanced manufacturing, or renewable energy.

Here's a closer look at online colleges in Iowa.

  • Associate degree programs can be found at 32 online schools in Iowa, while bachelor's degree programs are available at 30 schools, and master's degree programs are offered at 26 schools.
  • The public college that has the greatest number of online programs is Iowa State University.
  • The private colleges with the most online degree programs are Kaplan University-Des Moines Campus and Kaplan University-Davenport Campus.
  • While offerings vary from school to school, most schools offer degree programs that focus on topics such as business management, education, psychology, finance, and human resources.

Iowa has provided distance learners with a convenient option thanks to the Iowa Regents Institutions Distance Education initiative. IRIDE, a collaboration between the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa, provides information about programs for all three online universities in one location.

If you're searching for the best online colleges in Iowa, keep reading. We've also listed the most affordable online schools in the state as well as financial aid resources, including Iowa-specific scholarships and loan repayment incentives.

What Makes a Good Online College in Iowa?

OnlineColleges.com uses carefully selected criteria to create our rankings, displaying the best online colleges in Iowa by multiple metrics. All of the schools included in our rankings are accredited by an official agency such as the Higher Learning Commission. For information on the importance of accreditation, check out our "What is College Accreditation?" page. To learn more about accreditation specific to Iowa, visit the Iowa State Department of Education.

Students can use our rankings to determine the right online college in Iowa for their needs and preferences. Our rankings display various factors of each school, including ratio of students participating in distance education, average in-state tuition and total electronic library collections. Take a look at the "What Makes a Good Online College?" section on our "About Us" page to find out why we believe the factors we use in our rankings can help students make an educated decision.


Best Online Colleges in Iowa for 2019-20

If you're considering earning an online degree from an Iowa college or university, you have a number of options 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 our rankings can be located at the bottom of the page.


Buena Vista University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is BVU like?

The first institution in our list of best online colleges in Iowa is a private four-year university founded by the Presbyterian Church along the shores of Storm Lake in 1891. The average student-teacher ratio for classes at Buena Vista University is 9:1, so students can expect a great deal of interaction with faculty.

What online programs are at BVU

Online classes at BVU start six times per year and run for eight-week tracks. Available programs include:

What online resources does BVU offer?

BVU accepts 100 percent undergraduate associate-level transfer credits from its many community college partners, making this a good school for transfer students to consider. Online resources for distance learners include career and personal development, tutoring services and technical support.


University of Iowa

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is UI like?

Founded at Iowa City in 1847, University of Iowa is the oldest postsecondary institution in the state. The university's campus is home to University of Iowa Health Care, of the nation's leading academic medical centers. UI also is home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, which was the first creative writing degree offered by a U.S. college. Seventeen graduates of the program have received the Pulitzer Prize.

What online programs are at UI?

UI offers various online programs, including bachelor's programs in applied studies, enterprise leadership, political science and nursing (RN-BSN). Online master's degree programs include educational leadership, strategic communication, nursing, and social work.

Courses are delivered in several different formats. Some are synchronous with regularly scheduled meeting times in a virtual classroom, while others are asynchronous — students complete coursework at any time, although they still have regular deadlines. UI uses Iowa Courses Online (ICON) for its course management system.

What online resources does UI offer?

Distance learners at UI receive academic advising, IT support, and access to university libraries and the Pomerantz Career Center.


Graceland University-Lamoni

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is GU like?

This private four-year liberal arts college located at Lamoni was founded in 1895 and is sponsored by the Community of Christ. In 2000, GU moved several of its programs to completely online delivery in order to serve a broader student base. Over time, it has served students in more than 40 states and five countries.

Graceland University has been recognized by OnlineColleges.com multiple times, and has even moved up a space from its No.4 ranking on last year's ranking of the best online colleges in Iowa.

What online programs are at GU?

GU offers online bachelor degree programs in business administration, organizational leadership and criminal justice, as well as a dual degree in business administration and organizational leadership.

For graduate students, GU offers online master's degree programs in education with specializations in literacy instruction, special education and instructional leadership. The university also features graduate pathways in nursing, including adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, RN-to-MSN and DNP.

What online resources does GU offer?

Distance learners are able to receive career and personal counseling services, academic advising, peer mentoring, and tutoring services.


Iowa State University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is ISU like?

This public land-grant university located at Ames was established in 1858 as the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm. Iowa State created the nation's first state veterinary school of medicine in 1879.

Whether your interests lie in liberal arts or STEM, Iowa State is a university to consider. The 1,900-acre campus is widely renowned for its beauty and large campus public art program. The school is also home to the Cyence supercomputer, which is capable of more than 183 trillion calculations per second.

What online programs are at ISU?

For undergraduates, ISU offers a hybrid B.S. in agricultural studies, as well as fully online bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education and liberal studies. The hybrid program requires two semesters of study at the Ames campus. The education program, meanwhile, is maintained through a collaboration of seven Iowa universities that are members of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance Program.

ISU has more of a focus on online graduate and doctoral programs. The university offers online study in aerospace engineering, apparel merchandising and design, business analytics and community development, among others.

What online resources does ISU offer?

Distance learners at ISU can receive many forms of academic, administrative and technical support, including online tutoring and supplemental instruction, career services and academic advising.


Morningside College

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is Morningside like?

Morningside College is a private four-year liberal arts college that was founded in 1894 at Sioux City. Through its affiliation with the United Methodist Church, Morningside's academic programs focus on developing ethical leadership and civic responsibility in students.

What online programs are at Morningside?

Morningside offers a fully online bachelor's degree completion program in organizational management. The Sharon Walker School of Education, meanwhile, offers 100-percent online M.A. in teaching, with concentrations as a professional educator or in special education. These programs are designed for working teachers and feature different start times each year.

Morningside also offers master's tracks in clinical nurse leadership, family primary care nurse practitioner and adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner. For some courses, nursing students are required to visit the Morningside campus in order to complete hands-on learning and competency testing.

What online resources does Morningside offer?

Morningside students have access to the college's online writing center and data lab. They also are paired with a mentoring adviser to help set goals for college, their careers and their personal lives.


Briar Cliff University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is Briar Cliff like?

Briar Cliff University bills itself as a Catholic Franciscan learning institution. The university was founded in 1930 on the outskirts of Sioux City and was a women's college until 1965.

What online programs are at Briar Cliff?

Briar Cliff offers online degree completion programs in fields such as business administration, nursing, health sciences, operations management and social work. The university also offers online master's degree programs in human resource management, leadership, sports management and health administration. The MSN program for nurse practitioners requires 540 hours of clinical experience, though faculty can usually work with students and arrange for the requirement to be completed at a facility close to the student's home.

What online resources does Briar Cliff offer?

Distance learners at Briar Cliff receive academic advising and academic peer support, as well as career development, counseling and student support services, and access to the Briar Cliff University Writing Center. Furthermore, they can transfer up to 90 credits from other postsecondary institutions into Briar Cliff's online bachelor degree completion programs.


Waldorf University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is Waldorf like?

Located in scenic Forest City, Waldorf University was established in 1903 as a Lutheran coeducational liberal arts institution. Its mission is to create educational programs that can explore the meaning that spirituality and religion can bring to students' lives, encouraging a life of service and continual learning.

What online programs are at Waldorf?

Online degree programs at Waldorf are offered in an accelerated format with multiple start dates each year. The university features online associate and bachelor's degree programs in several different fields, including many pathways in psychology, leadership and leadership communication, criminal justice and healthcare management. Graduate students, meanwhile, can pursue a variety of online master's degree programs in education, healthcare management and leadership.

Waldorf uses the Blackboard content management system for online course delivery.

What online resources does Waldorf offer?

Online student services at Waldorf include academic advising, coaching and tutoring, career and employment support, guidance in mathematics and writing, and access to the Luise V. Hanson Library.


Northwestern College

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is Northwestern like?

Northwestern College is a private Christian college located in Orange City that is affiliated with the Reformed Church of America. Its mission is to encourage students to focus on Christ-centered work and engage in faithful learning and living.

What online programs are at Northwestern?

Many programs at Northwestern are completely online. The college offers a bachelor's degree completion program in early childhood education, as well as a 100-percent online RD-to-BSN program for working nurses. The undergraduate nursing program is designed to be completed in two years or less, with students taking one eight-week class at a time.

Northwestern also offers master's degree pathways in education, with specializations including teacher leadership, special education, early childhood and educational administration.

What online resources does Northwestern offer?

Distance learners can access a variety of student support services through My Northwestern, including academic and writing support, career development, technical help and more.


Upper Iowa University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is UIU like?

Upper Iowa University's rich history began at Fayette in 1857. Over time, the university has grown extensively. UIU manages 21 U.S.-based education centers, as well as a location in Hong Kong.

What online programs are at UIU?

Upper Iowa University features both traditional and self-paced online programs, both managed through the D2L platform. Traditional online programs are delivered asynchronously so that students can study at any time. Students typically take five eight-week classes at a time, as well as an accelerated six-week summer session.

The university has a large portfolio of online degree programs for its students. UIU features online associate degree programs in criminal justice, general business and psychology, as well as bachelor's programs in sociology, accounting and entrepreneurship, among many others. At the graduate level, students can choose online master's programs in business administration, education, public administration and more.

What online resources does UIU offer?

Distance learners can receive academic and technical support, career development services, and access to UIU's Henderson-Wilder Library. Furthermore, UIU encourages transfer students at all levels of study: students can transfer up to 90 credits toward bachelor's programs or 12 credits toward graduate programs at UIU.


University of Northern Iowa

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Number of Programs Offered
School Type

What is UNI like?

Rounding out our list of best online schools in Iowa is University of Northern Iowa, which was founded in 1876 as Iowa State Normal School to train teachers.

What online programs are at UNI?

UNI hosts a variety of delivery options for online coursework. Students can set up prearranged coursework with certain instructors, while other classes are delivered in a blended combination of online and in-class instruction. Some classes have interactive video conferences through Adobe Connect, while others are delivered asynchronously through the Blackboard content management system.

Across these different formats, UNI offers online bachelor's degree programs in elementary education, liberal studies and criminal justice. Graduate students can pursue even more different online master's programs, including study in science education, public policy and early childhood education.

What online resources does UNI offer?

UNI distance learners can receive technical support, library access, student counseling, academic advising, and career development and support services.

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Affordable Online Colleges in Iowa for 2019-20

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.

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Financial Aid Resources in Iowa

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Student Loans in Iowa

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

Costs for Out-of-State Student in Iowa

Iowa attracts plenty of out-of-state students from across the country to its nationally recognized institutions like Iowa State University and The University of Iowa. Even smaller, regional schools can be popular with non-resident students from neighboring Illinois and other states.

However, non-residents will need to budget extra for out-of-state tuition. Iowa is one of the few states in the nation that doesn't participate in a regional tuition exchange program. That means there are limited options for non-residents to reduce their tuition costs.

You could qualify for in-state tuition by:

  • Moving to Iowa 12 months prior to the start of classes
  • Taking fewer than six credit hours per semester while working at least 30 hours a week until achieving residency status
  • Enrolling in the Iowa National Guard

As part of proving your Iowa residency, schools will look for indications that your move to the state was for more than merely higher education purposes. They will want to see if you registered to vote, pay taxes and have your vehicle licensed in Iowa.

If you decide to attend full-time as a non-resident, look for scholarships that can offset the cost of out-of-state tuition. Your college admissions officer might be able to help.

Below are some links outlining the classification of out-of-state students in Iowa.


Best Careers In Iowa

What are the best jobs to have in Iowa? It depends on what you're looking for. Does your preferred job have a high salary, or job security, or the potential for growth? Many of the jobs that have these qualities require a degree in a particular field or subject, which is why it's important to consider what you want to major in before you enroll in college.

Let's look at the best jobs in Iowa — taking into account average salary, employment numbers, projected growth and other relevant data — so you can decide which majors might be good for your needs.

EmploymentEmployment GrowthMedian High School SalaryMedian Bachelor's Salary

Top Iowa Industries

*Industry rankings determined by annual mean wage, employment, projected growth and location quotient. Data is sourced from the BLS, 2019 dataset.

Top IndustriesEmploymentProjected GrowthAverage Salary
Ambulatory healthcare services1,096,12011%$59,070
Monetary authorities-central bank303,74013%$67,382
Hospitals; state, local, and private1,194,51011%$57,657
Pipeline transportation442,38010%$66,142
Lessors of nonfinancial intangible assets (except copyrighted works)401,89010%$65,205
Educational services; state, local, and private1,352,38010%$56,710
Insurance carriers and related activities861,87011%$57,198
Data processing, hosting, and related services552,4709%$61,134
Postal service420,4609%$61,528

Iowa is widely known for agriculture and manufacturing, from egg farmers with hens that produce a staggering 16.5 billion eggs each year to advanced manufacturing companies contributing more than $31.2 billion to Iowa's economy. However, many of the high paying or high demand jobs in Iowa are in more skilled areas, reflecting the amount of effort it takes to qualify for them.

Many of the top jobs in Iowa are in fields that support the agricultural and manufacturing industries in the state. Financial professionals who work in banking, leasing or insurance are important players in the financial decisions and developments of Iowa's food processing companies (a list that includes 36 of the country's top 100 food manufacturing and processing companies). And many of these companies are in urgent need of IT professionals who can handle their needs for telecommunications and data processing services.

In addition, over a third of Iowa's population qualifies as rural, according to Iowa.gov. Because rural areas tend to have more spread-out populations, providing healthcare and education to the entire population can be difficult, which leads to increased demand for medical professionals and teachers. Iowa is working to fill these demands with initiatives such as the Teach Iowa Scholar Program, which awards qualified Iowa teachers who teach in designated shortage areas up to $4,000 a year for their services.

Considering the differences between urban and rural areas of the state, it's obvious that location matters. In the sections below, we'll get a little more specific and look at high demand careers in Iowa's most prominent metro areas.

Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA Metro Area

Total Population
Median salary for high school grads
Median salary with a bachelor's degree
% of the population enrolled in college or grad school
Median rent

Key industries in the greater Des Moines area include manufacturing, trade and professional services, insurance and financial services. The region also has a strong presence in technological and data center operations and is home to centers for both Facebook and Microsoft.

However, its real strength is in insurance and financial services. More than 80 insurance companies are located in the Des Moines region, making it the highest concentration of insurance-related jobs in the U.S. Some of the most high demand jobs in Des Moines include actuaries, financial managers and operations research analysts.

Best CareersMinimum EducationAverage SalaryEmployment
Financial ManagersBachelor's degree$132,3403,490
ActuariesBachelor's degree$110,940300
Computer Systems AnalystsBachelor's degree$85,7103,630
Computer and Information Systems ManagersBachelor's degree$136,6801,610

*Career rankings determined by annual mean wage, employment, projected growth and location quotient. Data sourced from the BLS, 2019 dataset.

Cedar Rapids, IA Metro Area

Total Population
Median salary for high school grads
Median salary with a bachelor's degree
% of the population enrolled in college or grad school
Median rent

Like the state capital of Des Moines, the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids region has a strong presence in insurance and finance. It's also a national leader in educational assessment -- both ACT and Pearson are headquartered in the area. The University of Iowa employed more than 22,800 workers in the region as of 2017. On the other hand, Collins Aerospace is the largest private-sector employer in the region, with more than 9,400 workers as of 2016.

What do these employers have in common? A need for technology, programming and engineering. Together, they create high demand for computer and information systems managers, electrical engineers and software developers in the Cedar Rapids area.

Best CareersMinimum EducationAverage SalaryEmployment
Computer and Information Systems ManagersBachelor's degree$122,880N/A
Financial ManagersBachelor's degree$123,400870
Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and TestersBachelor's degree$107,5303,330
Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and TestersBachelor's degree$107,5303,330
Electrical EngineersBachelor's degree$105,350720

*Career rankings determined by annual mean wage, employment, projected growth and location quotient. Data sourced from the BLS, 2019 dataset.

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

Total Population
Median salary for high school grads
Median salary with a bachelor's degree
% of the population enrolled in college or grad school
Median rent

Defense manufacturer Rock Island Arsenal is the largest private-sector employer in Scott County, with more than 6,100 employees. Agricultural and forestry equipment maker Deere and Company, meanwhile, employs more than 6,000, and Genesis Health System employs just over 5,170. With such a focus on manufacturing and so many products that need to be shipped across the U.S., it's no surprise that the most high demand jobs in Davenport include engineers, marketing managers and logisticians.

Best CareersMinimum EducationAverage SalaryEmployment
Mechanical EngineersBachelor's degree$87,110620
Financial ManagersBachelor's degree$112,7901,050
Industrial EngineersBachelor's degree$86,840680
Marketing ManagersBachelor's degree$130,100420
LogisticiansBachelor's degree$84,650620

*Career rankings determined by annual mean wage, employment, projected growth and location quotient. Data sourced from the BLS, 2019 dataset.