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 percent 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
- Reported appropriate data for the "Religious Affiliation" category
We ranked the resulting 436 colleges on 11 criteria, using provisional 2016-17 data from IPEDS:
- Number of programs offered via distance education
- Ratio of students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
- Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
- Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
- Graduation rate
- Retention rate
- The availability of any tuition plans (Payment, Guaranteed, Other)
- Services (Academic/Career, Placement for Completers)
- Credit offerings (Dual, Life, AP, Military)
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
- 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.
NOTE: Schools' tuition amounts are based on 2016-17 undergraduate and graduate data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
- Catholic Tradition and Culture, University of Mary, Accessed January 2019, https://www.umary.edu/about/mission/catholic-tradition-culture.php
- Library Services for Worldwide Students, University of Mary, Accessed March 2019, http://libguide.umary.edu/worldwide
- About, Apex School of Theology, Accessed January 2019, https://apexsot.edu/about/
- University Ministry, Regis University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.regis.edu/About-Regis-University/JesuitEducated/How-we-live-the-Mission/University-Ministry.aspx
- Online Ministries, Creighton University, Accessed January 2019, http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/online.html
- Points of Pride, Saint Leo University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.saintleo.edu/hubfs/News%20and%20Events/2018/Points-of-Pride-October-2018.pdf
- Education Centers, Saint Leo University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.saintleo.edu/education-centers
- Online Experience, Madonna University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.madonna.edu/admissions/online-experience/
- Quick Facts, Midway University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.midway.edu/about-midway/our-story/quick-facts/
- Chapel, LeTourneau University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.letu.edu/spiritual-life/chapel.html#stq=spiritual%20formation%20credits%20online%20students&stp=1
- Office of Christian Ministry, Ashland University, Accessed January 2019, https://www.ashland.edu/student-affairs/getting-involved/office-christian-ministry
- Defining Aspects, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Accessed January 2019, http://www.byui.edu/about/defining-aspects
Attending a faith-based school is a priority for many people. Christian institutions can provide opportunities for spiritual growth while also connecting students with like-minded faculty and classmates. For many, it's important to attend a school that is founded on shared values.
We've compiled a list of the best online Christian colleges for distance learners. These are not the best schools for religious studies — although many do have robust theology departments — but rather the best religious-based schools for students.
The list of Christian colleges below has been created using a methodology that looks at factors such as the availability of online degrees, student success outcomes and tuition costs. They represent both Catholic and Protestant traditions and take various approaches to how they incorporate religion into their programs. Some top online Christian universities ask students to attend church services or take theology classes, while others don't have any religious requirements at all.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about attending a Christian online school.
How Can I Find a Sense of Belonging at an Online College?
Being able to connect with a like-minded community of believers is one appealing aspect of Christian colleges and universities. However, you might be concerned that will be difficult to do if you're studying online.
Fortunately, you can find many opportunities to participate in spiritual activities at an online Christian school. Some institutions, such as Brigham Young University-Idaho, broadcast their weekly devotionals and services online. Others, such as the University of Mary, offer the chance to meet students face-to-face through short-term mission trips. And a school's ministry services can likely connect you to local church groups and resources in your area.
Several of the best online Christian colleges also have multiple campus locations. If you live near one, you can participate in on-campus Bible study groups, chapel services and campus ministry programs even if you're studying online.
What Opportunities for Spiritual Development Can I Find at an Online College?
Each Christian college and university takes a different approach to spiritual development. Some are very hands-on when it comes to fostering spiritual growth among their students, while others leave religious exploration to each individual.
For instance, students at LeTourneau University are expected to earn spiritual formation credits by attending chapel in person, watching recordings online or participating in other activities such as mission trips. Meanwhile, Creighton University doesn't have any requirements for its students, but it does offer online ministry resources that distance learners can access whenever they want.
Most top online Christian universities are open to students of all faiths, and many offer services for diverse students. These may include both Protestant and Catholic worship services, interfaith prayer groups and guest speakers from a variety of religious backgrounds.
Best Online Christian Colleges in 2019-20
University of Mary
- Distance Education Participation: 61%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 77
The University of Mary has a long tradition of offering distance education, dating back more than 25 years. Over that time, it's developed its online degree programs to meet the educational needs of working adults without neglecting their spiritual welfare. Online classes at Mary can run between 5-15 weeks, and students are able to begin their program at any time, using the Canvas learning management system to access their course materials.
To help distance learners succeed, Mary assigns each student a personal success advisor. The on-campus Welder Library is also eager to help online students, offering electronic resources, research guides and tutorials, and the ability to request books and other materials by mail.
Faith at Mary: Founded by the Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, University of Mary is a private Catholic institution that welcomes students of all backgrounds and religions. The school embraces Benedictine values such as community and service and promotes service leadership among its students. Online students who are too far from campus to participate in daily Mass or faith-based organization may still be able to study a semester in Rome or participate in mission trips.
Apex School of Theology
- Distance Education Participation: 96%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 5
The Apex School of Theology is one of only a few private, free-standing theological institutes to offer online education. Through the ApexDE program, distance learners have been able to earn degrees such as a bachelor's in theology or a Master of Divinity remotely for more than ten years.
Online courses at ASOT generally run on a semester schedule, though some are available in accelerated 8-week sessions. The school assigns a liaison for each online student so no one has to navigate the distance learning programs alone. For those who need academic help, the school's Writing Center offers online appointments.
Faith at ASOT: At Apex School of Theology, there is a special emphasis on the African-American religious experience, and many of its students are already serving as clergy or ministry leaders. Worship is a central component of campus life and encouraged in online students' personal lives. ASOT maintains articulation agreements with the Seminary Extension of the Southern Baptist Convention, among other institutions, giving students an option to continue their faith-based education after graduation.
- Distance Education Participation: 65%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 86
Innovative learning is part of what makes Regis University one of the best online Christian universities in the nation. The school's Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning leads a university-wide commitment to creating a rich learning environment for students from all walks of life. Meanwhile, the Center for Scholarship and Research Engagement supports student research projects.
Online students can benefit from the flexible scheduling offered by Regis. There are as many as six start dates available each year, and many courses are offered on an accelerated schedule. Students who need academic support can find it through the university's online tutoring and writing support services.
Faith at Regis: As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Regis incorporates the teachings of St. Ignatius into its approach to education. The saint's teachings translate into school-provided opportunities for service work experience and reflection. As part of this educational approach, all students — be they online or on-campus — complete a practicum or capstone project to demonstrate their new knowledge in real-world settings.
- Distance Education Participation: 38%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 22
Creighton University emphasizes small class sizes and personalized learning experiences, and it helps its online students create these experiences through its digital campus, Blueline. Through Blueline, students can earn online degrees such as a bachelor's in leadership or a master's in nursing. The school also has one of the best online master's in educational leadership in the country, according to our analysis.
Online programs at Creighton are designed so students can study on their own schedule, and some programs have accelerated 8-week terms. Graduate students can chat online with live writing tutors through SmarThinking, and all students can seek technical assistance from the university's DoIT information technology help desk.
Faith at Creighton: Creighton University's Catholic view on education is founded on Jesuit principles such as striving for excellence, developing the whole person and respecting each person as a child of God. The school's Ratio Studiorum advising program seeks to assist students not only with academic matters but with ethical concerns as well. To stay connected to their faith, distance learners can access an online ministries page offering daily reflections, online retreats and more.
Saint Leo University
- Distance Education Participation: 68%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 62
Saint Leo University is no stranger to distance education, having offered online degree programs since 1998. It is no stranger to accolades either, having been named among the top degree-granting institutions for minority students by the "Diverse: Issues in Higher Education" publication. It has also been named a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
Many online programs at Saint Leo offer accelerated 8-week courses, with six different start dates throughout the year. Through Saint Leo WorldWide, students may be able to earn credits from work experience, military training or other previous learning. Distance learners also have access to success coaches, online tutoring and virtual student clubs.
Faith at Saint Leo: Founded in 1889, Saint Leo University is the oldest Catholic institution of higher learning in Florida, and it is one of the ten largest Catholic universities in the country today. The school follows the Benedictine tradition and embraces core values that include integrity, respect and excellence. All undergraduate students take courses in religion and philosophy and have the opportunity to participate in service trips and retreats.
- Distance Education Participation: 38%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 22
If you're an online student who would like to make a difference in the lives of the elderly, Madonna University is an excellent place to study. Online programs in gerontology, senior living administration, essentials in end-of-life care and bereavement are available, as well as tangential programs such as nursing leadership and humane studies. Madonna is not limited to this field, however; other options include criminal justice, business and education, to name a few.
Distance learners are offered support from academic advisors and faculty from day one. Online support at Madonna includes academic advising, tutoring and an IT help desk that can assist with questions regarding the use of the Blackboard delivery system. Students who need help with papers can access the Madonna Writing Center via Skype.
Faith at Madonna: Madonna is a Catholic institution that was founded by the Felician Sisters and has grown into one of the largest Franciscan universities in the country. Its core values include peace and justice, reverence for creation, respect for the dignity of each person and education for truth and service. Each year, Madonna University selects a mission and heritage theme to guide the intellectual and professional development of its students.
- Distance Education Participation: 76%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 25
Located in Kentucky, the Midway University campus is also a working horse farm. While you'd have to go to campus to participate in Midway's equine studies program, online students are more than capable of enjoying the university's strong offerings in the areas of business, nursing and teaching education. In fact, the school makes the OnlineColleges.com ranking of best online colleges for K-12 education.
Midway offers five start dates each year for its online programs. Classes are offered on an accelerated 8-week schedule, with some running for 4 or 6 weeks instead. Taking as few as two 8-week classes at a time qualifies students for need-based financial aid. Students interact with one another and with faculty through the school's Moodle Rooms learning management system, and academic help is available through online tutoring.
Faith at Midway: Affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Midway University is a private institution that welcomes students of all spiritual backgrounds. Within its educational programs, the university seeks to foster core values that include acting with integrity, valuing the dignity of all people and providing service to others.
- Distance Education Participation: 57%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 30
In addition to being one of the best online Christian colleges, LeTourneau University touts itself as a Christian polytechnic university. Its online majors include aviation management, finance, health care management and engineering alongside liberal arts fields such as human services and Christian ministry.
Courses may run for 5 or 10 weeks, and students often take only one course at a time. The LeTourneau Student Success Center connects students to online tutoring, as well as other digital resources that can help with test-taking, stress management, MS Word and more.
Faith at LeTourneau: LeTourneau is an interdenominational institution supporting the spiritual development of its students through chapel services, mentorship and life groups. It views scientific discovery as complementary to biblical revelation. Students are required to complete 38 spiritual formation credits each year, and credits can be earned through chapel services, ministry participation or mission trips. Chapel programs are recorded and posted online, where they can be viewed by distance learners.
- Distance Education Participation: 47%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 12
A private Christian institution, Ashland University focuses on developing the whole student by crafting a values-based education both in and out of the classroom. Online degrees at AU include associate, bachelor's and graduate options, as well as a handful of certificates and several online courses through Ashland Theological Seminary. Some programs don't charge a registration fee, and others feature accelerated 7-week courses.
Distance learners have access to a number of online tools to help them successfully transition from the classroom to the workplace. These include the career guidance tool Eagle Exploration, mock interview system InterviewStream and the AU Career Connect jobs database.
Faith at Ashland: Founded by the Brethren Church, Ashland University promotes participation in the kingdom life through its Office of Christian Ministry. There are a number of weekly worship opportunities on campus, short term mission trips within the Isaiah Project and internships through the Brethren Connection. Online students who are too far away to take advantage of these opportunities can still stay connected through weekly email devotionals.
Brigham Young University-Idaho
- Distance Education Participation: 80%
- Number of Programs Offered Online: 14
Innovative teaching and learning are among the hallmarks of Brigham Young University-Idaho. The school utilizes a year-round calendar and offers foundational courses in core areas such as eternal truths and academic fundamentals. What's more, BYUI embraces a learning model that involves three engaging steps: prepare, teach one another, and ponder and prove.
Online courses at BYU-Idaho are designed to mirror the experience of on-campus students. Distance learners have ample opportunity to interact with their peers as well as faculty through audiovisual materials and discussion boards. Online tutoring, video tutorials and practice quizzes are also available to enhance online learning.
Faith at BYU-Idaho: All students at BYU-Idaho agree to live by an honor code that reflects the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This code includes abstaining for drugs and alcohol, using clean language and dressing modestly. Church attendance is required, and students must receive an annual ecclesiastical endorsement from the bishop of their ward. Online students are expected to participate in church activities locally but can also view weekly devotionals online.
How Can I Pay For School? Christian Financial Aid
Paying for tuition and fees can be a challenge for students at both secular and Christian colleges and universities. In addition to government grant and loan programs, a number of financial assistance options exist specifically for those attending Christian institutions. Read our article on Christian financial aid to learn more.