In 2015, Iowa became the most recent member of the twelve state Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC). Through this Compact, students enrolled at public colleges in member states can take advantage of non-resident tuition breaks, a greater selection of courses and a simplified transfer process. This agreement, which opens so many doors for its in-state distance student, captures Iowa’s support of online education.
To date,more than 50 colleges in Iowa offer online instruction. These include a number of private colleges, as well as the two largest public schools in the state: the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
Before we look at the best online colleges in Iowa, let’s consider how both higher education and online education are faring in the state today.
A Brief Overview of Higher Education in Iowa
In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that Iowa had 67 degree-granting institutions, broken down as follows: 19 public schools, 34 nonprofits and 14 for-profits. The total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the ’12-’13 school year at these schools was: 11,961 at public schools, 10,689 at private nonprofits and 18,797 at private for-profits.
- 19 public
- 34 non-profit
- 14 for-profit
According to a 2014 report produced by IowaCollegeAid.gov, Iowa state believes that by 2018, “1.1 million in the state, or 62 percent, will require postsecondary education or training beyond high school.” The report goes on to state that working professionals in Iowa who hold at least a bachelor’s earn 60% more than those who only hold a high school diplomas. The state, then, is not shying away from the value it believes higher education will bring its citizens.
Tuition-wise, the College Board found that, in the ’15-’16 school year, the average in-state tuition and fees for four-year public schools was $7,880, increasing by only 1% over the last five years, while the out-of-state average was $23,740, only increasing by 3% over the same time.
As for the state’s financial aid efforts, the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs (NASSGAP) reported that Iowa awarded $59.5 million in need-based grants and $4.8 million in non-need grants for the ’13-’14 school year. Grants make up 7.8% of the state’s total fiscal support for higher education.
It should be noted that Iowa also raised its local and state grant spending per college student by over 17.7% between 2010-12, over five times the average of all states during the same period; this is a clear indicator that, in a few short years, government-funded grant support has become a major priority in Iowa, which falls in line with the state’s stable tuition and the value it places on a highly educated workforce.
The State of Online Higher Education in Iowa
The NCES estimates that, as of fall 2012, 39.7% of students enrolled in Iowa’s Title IV institutions were in fully online programs. Of those, 83.1% were undergraduates and 13.1% were living in Iowa, suggesting the state does a tremendous job attracting out-of-state distance students.
The organizations leading the way for online colleges in IA include the Iowa Distance Learning Association (IDLA), the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) and the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC). The IDLA is made up of the providers and administrators that work in support of online programs and courses throughout the state, showing just how committed professionals are to the state’s online educational infrastructure. The IDLA also awards grants to outstanding individuals and institutions conducting distance programs in the state.
The ICN, similarly, is a network of distance learning service providers, largely dealing with video technology. Of note to students is their Iowa Distance Learning Database, a robust, region specific library of distance learning course materials pertinent to Iowa’s students.
Lastly, the ICCOC is a network of seven Iowa community colleges committed to sharing their online resources, connecting students to the distance programs and courses offered at every school in the consortium. All told, these resources are a strong indicator of just how invested Iowa is in distance learning; when compared to other states in the region, Iowa’s online postsecondary programs and services seem more established, more professional and more extensive. A great sign for what’s to come in the state.
Best Online Colleges in Iowa
Below, you will find our rankings of the best online four-year programs in Iowa. Our profiles look at how schools approach online education and then list out their services for distance students and their popular, fully online degrees. After reviewing the best online schools in Iowa, explore our state resources, like a database of every college and university in Iowa or our index of popular in-state scholarships.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||Cost||Address & Contact Info||School Links||Acclaim for Online Programs||School Description|
|1||Iowa State University||Ames||$$$$$||3410 Beardshear Hall|
Ames, IA 50011-2030
Iowa State University’s Engineering-LAS Online Learning program offers a number of different degrees and certificates. Undergraduates can enroll in the bachelor of liberal arts program, which allows students to transfer up to 75% of required course credit from another institution. The flexibility of this degree allows students to select courses that adhere to their personal interests. Graduate students have the option to enroll in more than 20 programs within a variety of fields, including engineering, science, education, and business. Iowa State also offers two online Ph.D. programs in philosophy. The variety of options in graduate education make this one of the best online schools in Iowa for students seeking post-undergraduate studies. All online students at Iowa State, regardless of their degree level, have access to resources, including the campus Writing Center, Tutoring Center, and supplemental instruction sessions.
|2||Graceland University - Lamoni||Lamoni||$$$$$||1 University Place|
Lamoni, IA 50140
As one of the most successful online colleges in Iowa, Graceland University was nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report as 22nd in the nation for “Best Graduate Online Education Program,” and number 20 for “Best Graduate Online Nursing Program.” These two graduate programs include a number of different concentrations, such as special education and classroom management, family nurse practitioner, and RN to MSN. Graceland also offers a doctoral program in nursing practice. Other online programs include business administration, healthcare management, organizational leadership, and nursing. All of the courses and coursework in Graceland’s online programs are designed to be available entirely online. The school offers a dual major program in business administration and organizational leadership. Students do not need any prior college credits to enter the program. The curriculum teaches the basics of business, including marketing and finance.
|3||University of Iowa||Iowa City||$$$$$||101 Jessup Hall|
Iowa City, IA 52242-1316
The University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, offers flexibility to distance learners by offering the choice between instructor-led courses with a more traditional schedule or courses that are self-paced and allow up to two full semesters for class completion. Degrees are available for undergraduate and graduate learners. There are also non-degree certificate programs for students seeking professional development. The Schools of Liberal Arts, Science, and Business all offer a variety of accredited online programs, including radiation sciences, social work, political science, and enterprise leadership. Graduate degrees are available in the fields of education, communication, nursing, social work, and others. One feature that makes UI stand out from other online colleges in Iowa is the “Zoom” virtual classroom software. This software is used to join on-campus classes and schedule face-to-face meetings with professors. It’s one of the best online schools in Iowa.
|4||Buena Vista University||Storm Lake||$$$$$||610 W 4th St|
Storm Lake, IA 50588
If a student has earned an associate of arts degree from one of the dozen community college partners of Buena Vista, then 100% of the credits are able to be transferred into an online bachelor’s program at the school. This usually translates to around 68 transfer credits. Online bachelor’s programs include accounting, psychology, education, and criminology. Graduate programs are also available, including teaching English as a second language, organizational leadership, and several different degree programs focused on providing education and support for disabled and special needs students. The low student-to-teacher ratio found in the university’s online classes make it easy for students to receive the personal attention they require to succeed. Partner community colleges include Des Moines Area, Ellsworth, Iowa Central, Indian Hills, Iowa Lakes, Iowa Western, and others. The school offers six terms per year.
|5||University of Northern Iowa||Cedar Falls||$$$$$||1227 W 27th St|
Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0005
At the University of Northern Iowa, students have online options in certificate programs, undergraduate, and graduate studies. Courses are either taught entirely online or in a blended format requiring minimum in-person attendance on campus at Cedar Falls. Programs are available in various fields, including criminal justice, non-profit development, liberal studies, and technology management. The school offers students the opportunity to engage with instructors and participate in real-time classes through Adobe Connect’s Interactive Video Conferences. Guided Independent Study is also available for students who require more flexibility. It gives students the freedom to enroll at any time and take up to nine months for course completion under the guidance of a faculty member. UNI is among online colleges in Iowa to offer an individual studies program for undergraduates and graduates. This program allows students to create a personalized curriculum that reflects their personal and career objectives.
|6||Mount Mercy University||Cedar Rapids||$$$$$||1330 Elmhurst Dr NE|
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4797
For the 2016-2017 school year, Mount Mercy University offered online courses at a 40% discount from the regular tuition price for undergraduate students. Mount Mercy is among online colleges in Iowa to offer affordable programs in four different concentrations: business, human resource management, nursing (RN to BSN program), and criminal justice. Courses within the business major are taught in five-week and 10-week sessions. Business students are required to interact with other learners through online discussion, complete writing assignments and group projects, and take quizzes within certain time frames. No prior college hours are required for admission to the online programs, and all four of the online programs are available on a rolling basis to accommodate your scheduling needs. There is a class start date scheduled in nearly every month of the year. Ninety-four percent of students are employed or in graduate school within nine months of graduation.
|7||Briar Cliff University||Sioux City||$$$$$||3303 Rebecca Street|
Sioux City, IA 51104
Like several other online colleges in Iowa, the distance learning programs at Briar Cliff University are designed for adults returning to education. All applicants must hold at least an associate degree or an equivalent number of credits. Briar Cliff offers six different degree completion programs that can be accessed entirely online, including accounting, business administration, health sciences, nursing (RN to BSN), operations management, and social work. Up to 90 credit hours from prior course completion at other institutions can be transferred towards a degree. Most of the online programs have three start dates throughout the year: August, January, and June. U.S. News & World Report ranked the college as one of the best regional colleges in the Midwest. The business administration program has evening courses available. The school’s Student Advice Blog offers free online tips and advice to all learners.
|8||Upper Iowa University||Fayette||$$$$$||605 Washington St|
Fayette, IA 52142-1857
The Center for Distance Education at Upper Iowa University features undergraduate programs in three dozen concentrations. Graduate and certificates programs are also available. Online bachelor’s degrees can be earned in three different BA concentrations, or students can choose from the over two dozen BS majors, including communications, human services, and public administration. Many of the school’s majors are offered in various formats, allowing students the flexibility to choose whether a completely online program, a self-paced program, or a program in paper-based format works best for their needs. Paper-based programs do not require access to a computer; students submit their assignment through mail or email and complete tests though a proctor. The amount of online programs available at Upper Iowa make it one of the best online schools in Iowa. Student resources include the library’s many digital databases, tutoring and writing services, and career development assistance.
Most Affordable Online Colleges in Iowa
Below you’ll find another listing of the online schools in Iowa, this time sorted by their tuition rates, from lowest to highest.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||School Link||Cost|
|1||University of Northern Iowa||Cedar Falls||School profile||$$$$$|
|2||Iowa State University||Ames||School profile||$$$$$|
|3||University of Iowa||Iowa City||School profile||$$$$$|
|4||Upper Iowa University||Fayette||School profile||$$$$$|
|5||AIB College of Business||School profile||$$$$$|
|6||Mercy College of Health Sciences||Des Moines||School profile||$$$$$|
|7||William Penn University||Oskaloosa||School profile||$$$$$|
|8||Graceland University - Lamoni||Lamoni||School profile||$$$$$|
|9||Buena Vista University||Storm Lake||School profile||$$$$$|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Iowa
For Iowa residents entering their junior year of college. A GPA of 2.8+ and a demonstration of financial need is required. Average award is $5,200 at public universities and $7,600 at private colleges. Funding is provided by the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.
Helen Boyack Memorial Scholarship
The Helen Boyack Memorial Scholarship is for incoming freshmen at Iowa State University who graduated from an Iowa high school. Selection is based on financial need; preference is given to students with a GPA of 3.0+. This is a one-time award of $2,000.
Iowa Tuition Grant
For Iowa residents enrolled in an eligible Iowa private college or university. The award is for undergraduates only, and preference is given to applicants with the greatest financial need. Funding is provided by Iowa College Aid.
Iowa Vocational-Technical Tuition Grant
For Iowa residents enrolled in an Iowa community or technical college. Applicants must demonstrate financial need, and must be enrolled in at least 3 credit hours per quarter. Award amount is $1,200 per year for two years. Funds are provided by Iowa College Aid.
Jane and Clem Werner Scholarship
Administered by the Iowa Community Foundation, this $5,000 scholarship is awarded yearly to one student from each of the following schools: Davenport Central, Davenport North, Davenport West, Bettendorf, and Rivermont Collegiate. GPA of 3.0+ is required, and financial need is considered.
Norman V. Peale Scholarship
The Peale Scholarship is open to freshmen entering Northwestern College with an ACT score of 29+. Finalists in the National Merit Competition are automatically considered. The total amount is $17,500, distributed over 4 years; An additional grant of $1,000 per year is available.
Northwestern College provides this grant program to students who have demonstrated financial need and show evidence of academic potential. The award amount is determined by Northwestern College based on applicants’ FAFSA information; award is renewable for 4 years.
The Presidential Scholarship is available to freshmen entering Northwestern College with an ACT score of 25+. Award amount is $13,000, distributed over 4 years. An additional grant of $1,000 per year is available based on high school GPA and SAT scores.
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