In 2010, Illinois realized major changes were required for its higher education planning. The Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success was established as the pathway to “One Illinois,” a strategic plan to offer affordable high-quality educational opportunities to all residents of the state, thereby providing more advanced job opportunities to everyone.
As part of the state’s overhaul, colleges and universities throughout Illinois were asked to double their efforts to deliver high quality online programs. Schools throughout the state met the charge, upping the number of overall offerings, both in terms of individual courses and fully online programs, encouraging more students in-state to take online courses and drawing in unprecedented numbers of out-of-state distance students.
But before we look at the institutions with the best online colleges in Illinois, let’s start with the state of higher education and online education in particular in Illinois today.
A Brief Overview of Higher Education in Illinois
In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that Illinois had 186 degree-granting institutions, broken down as follows: 60 public schools, 83 nonprofits and 43 for-profits. The total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the ’12-’13 school year at these schools was: 34,403 at public schools, 30,598 at private nonprofits and 10,991 at private for-profits.
- 60 public
- 83 non-profit
- 43 for-profit
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 $13,190 while the out-of-state average was $22,730.
As for the state’s financial aid efforts, the National Association of State Student Grant & Aid Programs (NASSGAP) reported that Illinois awarded $372.323 million in need-based grants and $1.051 million in non-need grants for the ’13-’14 school year. Grants make up 98.95% of the state’s total fiscal support for higher education.
The State of Online Higher Education in Illinois
The NCES estimates that at least 10.1% of students enrolled in Title IV institutions in Illinois are in fully online programs. Of those, 72.5% were reported to be undergraduates and 39.7% were found to be living in Illinois, indicating the state does an excellent job of attracting out-of-state distance students.
Illinois Community Colleges Online (ILCCO), a consortium of all 48 community colleges in the state, is a prime example of how online colleges in IL is being embraced by the state. The organization serves both distance students and schools. For students it is a comprehensive database of every distance course and program offered at an Illinois community college, along with streamlined enrollment and resources that prep first-time distance students. For colleges, it means an unprecedented level of shared resources and support from their fellow community colleges, along with training opportunities designed to improve the implementation and coordination of every school’s online programs.
Illinois is also a member of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), an organization that facilitates affordable online education opportunities for students residing in states throughout the region. Illinois has partnered with 11 other states, giving students greater access to the entirety of the region’s excellent online opportunities. One of the compact’s biggest draws is reduced tuition, which lets students pursue online courses and programs outside Illinois at heavily reduced rates, bordering on in-state level pricing. For those who want to learn more, the Illinois Department of Higher Education provides some excellent background information on the state’s membership in the MHEC and the terms of a reciprocity agreement that go along with membership.
Best Online Colleges in Illinois
Below, you will find our rankings of the best online four-year programs in Illinois. 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 Illinois, explore our state resources, like a database of every college and university in Illinois 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||University of St. Francis||Joliet||$$$$$||500 N Wilcox St|
Joliet, IL 60435-6188
Located southwest of Chicago in Joliet, Illinois, the University of St. Francis is steeped in almost 100 years of tradition. Established as a place of education for the members of the Third Order of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate congregation, USF has since moved to full university status. In addition to the school's downtown campus, the St. Bonaventure Campus, the Albuquerque Campus, and several other physical buildings in the Chicago area, USF offers online programs, including the online business program that started the school's venture into web-based learning more than 15 years ago. Today, more than 1,500 students are enrolled online at USF in one of the leading online colleges in Illinois. The school's Academic Resource Center (ARC) is the first stop for students looking for tutoring, workshops, computers, or any other type of assistance. For those students taking courses through distance learning, the ARC may be accessed online by email or by phone.
|2||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Champaign||$$$$$||601 E John Street|
Champaign, IL 61820-5711
Set in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, the historic University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded in 1867, one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions secured following the Morrill Act of 1962. With more than 43,000 students, over 150 programs of study, and one of the largest public university libraries in the world, Urbana-Champaign is one of the premier public institutions in the United States. It's also one of the top online colleges in Illinois. For many years, Urbana-Champaign was well-known for its distance learning, but now this university has become a true leader in online education. In 1960, a team at the school even developed the first computer-based educational system, PLATO, and, later, an Urbana-Champaign alum, Marc Andreessen, helped design the world's first graphical web browser. Today, the university's eLearning system is one of the best in the country, offering more than 800 online courses, including over 75 online degrees and certificate options. Additionally, the school's online library boasts over 1,000,000 unique visitors per week and both its support staff and electronic resources are of the highest quality.
|3||Concordia University - Chicago||River Forest||$$$$$||7400 Augusta|
River Forest, IL 60305-1499
Established as a teacher's college in 1864, Concordia University Chicago is now a prestigious comprehensive university and one of the best online colleges in Illinois. With more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to choose from, including online degrees in several fields — such as a bachelor's degree in sports management and recreation — students can find the program and the delivery model that suits their life best. CUC's online system allows students to go through the lessons when it's most convenient for them. Online students take one course at a time, ensuring that they may dedicate their full attention to that class until it's completed. At CUC, more than 3,500 students total and more than 40% of the graduate students take courses online, leading to the school's online resources being some of the best out there. This includes Concordia's online instructors, an industry-leading collection of professors from around the world.
|4||Lincoln Christian University||Lincoln||$$$$$||100 Campus View Drive|
Lincoln, IL 62656-2111
Founded as a Bible institute in 1944 and affiliated with the Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ, today Lincoln Christian University is one of the top online colleges in Illinois. LSU is headquartered in its namesake Illinois city of Lincoln but also serves students at various other locations, such as its Bloomington-Normal (Illinois) location, its Indianapolis, Indiana location, and its campus in Las Vegas, Nevada. While there are a number of programs at LCU that feature some level of online capability, there are also programs that are fully online, such as the school's bachelor's degrees in business administration, psychology, and Christian ministry. LCU requires its online students to take a mandatory orientation course, which helps familiarize students with its online system and prepares them for success. Learners at LCU enjoy access to the school's library, as well as assistance like technical support, academic advising, and financial aid. Online students are invited to utilize the school's on-campus library and fitness center, and are also encouraged to get involved with the school's many on-campus organizations.
|5||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago||$$$$$||601 S Morgan|
Chicago, IL 60607
Boasting 29,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is easily the Windy City's largest university. The school draws from a long, esteemed history—its roots reach back to the founding of the Chicago College of Pharmacy in 1859. Today UIC is a collection of 15 colleges and one of the leading online colleges in Illinois. The institution offers its students 64 doctoral, 93 master's, and 83 bachelor's degree programs to choose from, including several online, such as its bachelor of business administration and an RN to BSN degree completion program. When taking online courses at UIC, all staff and resources available to on-campus students are also available to learners studying online. Online ULC students who travel to the Chicago campus enjoy access to the school's Commuter Student Resource Center, a facility offering travel-weary students study rooms, computers, showers, and a kitchen.
|6||Olivet Nazarene University||Bourbonnais||$$$$$||One University Avenue|
Bourbonnais, IL 60914-2271
Affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene and situated in the heart of the historic Village of Bourbonnais, Olivet Nazarene University is one of the best online colleges in Illinois. To best accommodate its online student body, Olivet Nazarene University's online programs are administered on an accelerated schedule that allows students to finish in two years or less. Each of Olivet Nazarene University's programs—whether attended at the school's main campus, at one of its other campuses and locations, or online—are designed to deliver what the school calls "education with a Christian purpose." The school's campus is the site of a variety of lively traditions Olivet has developed over the years, including Ollies Follies, an annual class competition, the Orpheus Variety Show and, of course, homecoming.
|7||Loyola University Chicago||Chicago||$$$$$||1032 W. Sheridan Rd|
Chicago, IL 60660
Serving a total of 16,000 students across six locations in the Chicago area, its campus in Rome, Italy, and guest programs in Beijing, China, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Loyola University Chicago has developed a student-centered experience for each of its students. Founded in 1870, Loyola University Chicago is also one of the country's largest Jesuit universities and is one of the best online colleges in Illinois. In addition to the over 80 undergraduate programs to choose from, Loyola University Chicago also offers seven fully online bachelor degree programs. Although students can take blended or hybrid courses, which combine online and on-campus elements, Loyola's fully online courses have no on-campus requirements (though programs may require some real-time sessions that can be done remotely at specific times). At Loyola, online students enjoy a wealth of resources, including the school's online library, tutoring, student advising, and career development services.
|8||Eastern Illinois University||Charleston||$$$$$||600 Lincoln Avenue|
Charleston, IL 61920
Whether studying on-site at the school's beautiful 320-acre campus in small town Charleston or utilizing distance education opportunities from the school's digital campus, Eastern Illinois University has something for every student. One of the best online schools in Illinois, Eastern Illinois University's nearly 9,000 students are enrolled in 51 undergraduate degree programs, 32 graduate degrees, or 10 post-baccalaureate certificate programs. Online students at EIU choose from a number of degree options, including five fully online bachelor degree programs. While enrolled at EIU, all online students enjoy access to complete technical support, writing center resources, and an extensive e-library. Online and offline students alike are welcome to explore more than 170 student organizations, including 30 fraternities and sororities. EIU's environmentally friendly campus also hosts one of the largest biomass facilities in the nation as well as a student resource center that provides students with a range of sports and recreational activities.
|9||DePaul University||Chicago||$$$$$||1 E Jackson Blvd|
Chicago, IL 60604
The largest Catholic university in the United States, DePaul University offers its students more than 300 majors to choose from. The school serves more than 23,000 students enrolled in courses throughout the city of Chicago—and beyond. In fact, the school is so integrated into the metropolis DePaul muses that the entire city might as well be a part of its campus. Students with busy daytime schedules or who happen to be outside of the Chicago region benefit from the fact that DePaul also happens to be one of the top online colleges in Illinois. For students living in or visiting the Chicago area, life at DePaul offers countless opportunities to get to know the city better. From visiting the DePaul Art Museum to joining one of the school's many student organizations involved with community service, there may not be a better way to explore Chicago than as a DePaul University student.
|10||Greenville College||Greenville||$$$$$||315 E. College Ave|
Greenville, IL 62246
Founded in 1982 (with roots reaching as far back as 1855), Greenville College is today one of the best online schools in Illinois. Greenville is an evangelical Christian college affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and centrally located in the small town of Greenville, Illinois (an hour's drive east of St. Louis). As of 2017, the school offers four BS degrees, an MBA, an MS, three MAs, and a variety of endorsements either entirely online or, in a few cases, at least 90% online. For example, Greenville's English as a second language (ESL) MA program is conducted entirely online (although students with Illinois teaching licenses must also complete 100 hours of field experience to fulfill state ESL approval and endorsement requirements). Some of the school's online bachelor's programs can be completed in as little as 20 months.
|11||National Louis University||Chicago||$$$$$||122 S Michigan Ave|
Chicago, IL 60603
National Louis University has operated as a pioneering institution since its inception. The school was founded in 1886 as a female-only college for early childhood development educators and, early in its history, NLU played a vital role in popularizing the concept of kindergarten throughout the United States. In 1906, at the time called Chicago Kindergarten College, the school began offering branch classes in multiple cities in addition to correspondence courses, launching a tradition of innovative educational delivery that the school still honors today. NLU serves students at five locations in Illinois, and maintains a location in Tampa, Florida and abroad in Nowy Sącz, Poland. Over the years, NLU has also developed into one of the best online colleges in Illinois. Some of the school's online programs pair students with an industry-related mentor. Degree completion length varies within NLU's online programs but many programs, such as the school's bachelor of science in business management, may be completed in as little as 18 months.
|12||Benedictine University||Lisle||$$$$$||5700 College Rd|
Lisle, IL 60532-0900
Founded by the monks of St. Procopius Abbey in the late 19th century, Benedictine University remains affiliated with the Catholic Church with—as its name implies—a particular focus on Benedictine tradition. In addition to its two campuses and two learning centers in Illinois, an Arizona campus, and international programs in China and Vietnam, Benedictine University is also one of the top online schools in Illinois. Benedictine offers its students bachelor's degree programs in Management and Organizational Leadership and allows online students to choose between an education in either the strategic and financial aspects of business or the human side. For students who are looking to transfer credits into an online program, these bachelor degrees allow for transference of up to 90 credits, making for faster degree completion. For all online students, an online simulation course is required before beginning to ensure that the students are familiar with Benedictine's advanced online system. On campus, Benedictine provides a number of opportunities for students to pursue career and spiritual growth outside of their day-to-day classes as well, such as places of worship and student organizations.
|13||Quincy University||Quincy||$$$$$||1800 College Ave|
Quincy, IL 62301-2699
In 1860, a small band of German Franciscan Friars founded Quincy University. At the time, Illinois was a frontier state, and the population of Quincy, the institution's namesake town, primarily spoke German. A lot has changed since then: English is now the dominant language of the region and no one would mistake the town for a frontier settlement. QU has always kept up with developments in technology—the school is now one of the leading online colleges in Illinois, offering full bachelor degree programs in business administration and human services, as well as a variety of master's degree programs. Online students at QU enjoy access to all the support services that an on-campus student has, including an extensive online library database and in-depth e-research resources. All of QU's career development, tutoring, and academic advising services are accessible online as well, ensuring that students are never far from help.
|14||McKendree University||Lebanon||$$$$$||701 College Rd|
Lebanon, IL 62254-1291
Beginning with only 72 students in 1828, McKendree University was founded in 1828 with a total of 72 students, making it the oldest college in Illinois. While in some senses the school hasn't changed—it retains its affiliation with the United Methodist Church to this day, for example—the school has transformed: today McKendree oversees a student body of 3,000 students a year. The school has also become one of the best online schools in Illinois, offering its students bachelor degree programs in nursing, psychology, and business administration. In addition to access to all academic, career and financial aid services, online students at McKendree University are assigned an adviser. Advisers assist students from the initial application process all the way up to graduation. Through the school's Lyn Huxford Center for Community Service, students are actively encouraged to join up with a service site and give back to the community of their choice.
|15||Western Illinois University||Macomb||$$$$$||1 University Circle|
Macomb, IL 61455
From a total of 229 students in 1902 to more than 10,000 today, Western Illinois University has seen its share of changes, and the dedication it holds toward its students has resulted in its current status as one of the top online colleges in Illinois. WIU has two campuses in Illinois, one residential and one non-residential, and 86% of its students come from the state. Through its School of Distance Learning, International Studies, and Outreach, WIU offers courses and full degrees online as well as face-to-face classes on evenings and weekends, providing working adults with the opportunity to better themselves and further their education. And WIU approaches online learning differently than most institutions. Take the school's bachelor of arts in general studies, for example, a program from which 8,000 students have graduated since its inception. Students who take this program at WIU have no time limit to complete the degree, meaning they can take as long as they need to graduate, a perfect option for students with busy schedules.
|16||Governors State University||University Park||$$$$$||1 University Pky|
University Park, IL 60484
Surrounded by 750-acres of prairie just south of Chicago, Governors State University is an institution built to sponsor innovation, openness, and flexibility. Each of the 64 degree and 24 certificate programs offered by GSU embodies these qualities, and it's that focus on innovation, openness, and flexibility that has led GSU to become one of the best online schools in Illinois. Today the school offers 120 online classes each semester and several fully online degrees. As part of the school's distance learning initiative, GSU students receive credit for completing the school's introduction to online learning course, incentive for those who feel unsure about their ability to succeed in distance learning. GSU encourages all students—online and on-campus students alike—to engage with the division of student affairs and enrollment management, a team that works with students, assisting them throughout their studies.
|17||Aurora University||Aurora||$$$$$||347 S Gladstone Ave|
Aurora, IL 60506-4892
Servicing 5,500 students at two campuses—Aurora, Illinois and Williams Bay, Wisconsin—Aurora University is a small school that boasts an outsized support system and plenty of degree options for its students. In fact, the school has become one of the top online colleges in Illinois, but Aurora reaches out to students across the country—and the world—by offering several of its degree programs online.
Aurora's bachelor degree programs require prior college or university credit. Work experience may also be required for admission. The school provides a number of online services for eLearning students, including online sessions for tutoring, writing support, and test preparation. Distance learners close to campus are also part of the community: Aurora houses 21 NCAA Division III athletic teams to support and all students are encouraged to get involved with Aurora's 60 students organizations.
|18||Northern Illinois University||DeKalb||$$$$$||1425 W. Lincoln Hwy.|
DeKalb, IL 60115-2828
Northern Illinois University was first chartered in 1895. Today, this research-focused public institution in DeKalb, Illinois has several satellite centers throughout the state and more than 225,000 alumni across the world. In addition to the 100 courses and 220 organizations on campus, NIU is also one of the top online schools in Illinois. Each of its online courses and fully online bachelor's and master's degree programs are designed with input from instructors and NIU's instructional design specialists from its eLearning Services. Online students enjoy access to Writing Center resources through Skype, as well as tutoring and career services. Furthermore, NIU's Information Technology Services Help Desk is open 24/7 to assist online students in the event that they encounter a technical issue. For students who live on campus, NIU has established Living-Learning Communities, housing for students with overlapping interests, such as foreign language or health profession majors.
|19||Judson University||Elgin||$$$$$||1151 N State St|
Elgin, IL 60123-1498
Nestled beside the Fox River and located within the city of Elgin, Illinois, Judson University is an evangelical Christian university serving nearly 1,250 students hailing from 30 states and 20 countries, and attending more than 50 programs. Since the school first moved to the city in 1963—Judson developed out of what was Northern Baptist Theological Seminary's liberal arts component—it has continued to grow in repute. Today, despite its small student body size, Judson University is one of the leading online colleges in Illinois. The school offers several online degrees to its students, including five bachelor's degrees and Judson assists its online students through its Online Career Center and IT Help Desk. The school takes its name from Adoniram Judson, one of the first American missionaries to travel beyond the continent.
|20||Roosevelt University||Chicago||$$$$$||430 S Michigan Ave|
Chicago, IL 60605-1394
In 1945, approximately 1,200 students sat down for Roosevelt University's first class. Founded on the cause of social justice, the school initially had no campus, no library, and was called Thomas Jefferson College. That same year, the school was rededicated to both president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor, then his widow.
The core of the school's approach is still founded in social justice, which is why it has become one of the leading online schools in Illinois, making higher education available to students from all over the country and the world who need to work and/or are unable to make it into one of the two Chicago campuses. For over 15 years, RUOnline has offered online programs, including several flexible bachelor's degree programs.
The delivery methods for online programs vary. Some require face-to-face instruction over the Internet, whereas others are asynchronous, allowing students to study at the times of their choosing as long as the deadlines are met. In addition to all the usual technical and financial and career support, RUOnline's Academic Technology Solutions provide online webinars and training sessions for distance learners. These sessions cover anything from basic tutoring to advanced technical support to even test preparation.
Most Affordable Online Colleges in Illinois
Below, we’ve produced another list of the top online schools in Illinois, sorted by their tuition rate.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||School Link||Cost|
|1||Governors State University||University Park||School profile||$$$$$|
|2||University of Illinois at Springfield||Springfield||School profile||$$$$$|
|3||Eastern Illinois University||Charleston||School profile||$$$$$|
|4||Western Illinois University||Macomb||School profile||$$$$$|
|5||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago||School profile||$$$$$|
|6||Elmhurst College||Elmhurst||School profile||$$$$$|
|7||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Champaign||School profile||$$$$$|
|8||National Louis University||Chicago||School profile||$$$$$|
|9||Lincoln Christian University||Lincoln||School profile||$$$$$|
|10||Greenville College||Greenville||School profile||$$$$$|
|11||Benedictine University||Lisle||School profile||$$$$$|
|12||Quincy University||Quincy||School profile||$$$$$|
|13||McKendree University||Lebanon||School profile||$$$$$|
|14||Judson University||Elgin||School profile||$$$$$|
|15||Concordia University - Chicago||River Forest||School profile||$$$$$|
|16||University of St. Francis||Joliet||School profile||$$$$$|
|17||Olivet Nazarene University||Bourbonnais||School profile||$$$$$|
|18||MacMurray College||Jacksonville||School profile||$$$$$|
|19||North Park University||Chicago||School profile||$$$$$|
|20||Roosevelt University||Chicago||School profile||$$$$$|
|21||Loyola University Chicago||Chicago||School profile||$$$$$|
|22||DePaul University||Chicago||School profile||$$$$$|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Illinois
Community College Transfer Scholarship
This award is granted to community college graduates transferring to Illinois State U. Application is by invitation only. A GPA of 3.5+ is required, and selection is based on academic merit. The award amount is $2,000 per year for two years.
International Student Scholarship
The International Student Scholarship is for students from other countries attending Eastern Illinois U. The award is granted based on financial need and academic excellence, and it covers partial tuition expenses. A minimum GPA of 2.75 is required.
Lulu Craig Collier Scholarship
Eastern Illinois University grants this award annually to one graduating high school senior from Coles County, Illinois. Applicants must be in the top 25% of their graduating class. Award amount varies; it is renewable for a maximum of two semesters.
Parents Club Scholarship
Administered by Eastern Illinois University Parents Club, this scholarship is awarded to students in need of financial assistance. Recipient is selected by the Parents Club Scholarship Committee based on financial need, academic performance, and community service involvement.
Presidential Scholars Award
For exceptional freshman students entering Eastern Illinois University. To be eligible, applicants must have an ACT score of 30+ (or SAT of 1980+) and a GPA of 3.5+, or be ranked in the top 95th percentile of their class.
The Presidential Scholarship is the most prestigious award available to freshmen entering Illinois State University. A GPA of 3.5+ and an ACT of 30+ is required. The award amount is $44,000, distributed over 4 years ($11,000 per year).
Redbird Academic Scholarship
Illinois State University’s Redbird Scholarship ranges from $1,000 to $4,000 per year for four years. An ACT score of 25+ and a GPA of 3.4+ is required. Selection and award amount is determined by academic competitiveness of the applicants each year.
The University Scholarship is for academically talented freshmen entering Illinois State U. A minimum GPA of 3.4+ and ACT score of 25+ is required. Preference given to minority students or first-generation college students. Award amount is $24,000 ($6,000 per year for 4 years).
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