Living in the Big Sky state, Montana residents enjoy the open spaces without population pressures. Despite the very low population density, 22 degree-granting institutions serve the higher education interests of the state. This demonstrates Montana’s commitment to ensuring its residents can access quality higher education regardless of location. Consistent with this commitment, many of these institutions continue to expand their online degree and course offerings, providing even easier, more convenient access.
We will guide you through your options for online colleges in Montana by first sketching an overview of the higher-education landscape. Then we narrow the focus to current online schools in Montana. After introducing those options and describing the benefits of higher education in Montana, we wrap it up by listing scholarship options to help finance your pursuit of an online college degree.
But before we dive into our list of best online colleges in Montana for 2019, let’s start with the state of higher education and online education in the state today.
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A Brief Overview of Higher Education in Montana
In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics listed 17 of the 22 degree-granting colleges in Montana as public institutions, and the other five as nonprofit organizations. As of 2016, no for-profit degree-granting colleges operate out of Montana. Total fall enrollment in these colleges declined 5.8% in 2011 to 50,916 students in 2016, which parallels the national average. Montana colleges and universities awarded 6,011 bachelor’s degrees in 2015-16.
- 17 public
- 5 non-profit
To promote better access for residents to Montana colleges and universities, the Reach Higher Montana Initiative identified affordability as a key barrier to address. In response, two- and four-year colleges froze tuition rates throughout most of the period from 2008-17. According to the College Board, Montana students attending public two-year colleges paid $3,603 in tuition and fees for the 2017-18 school year while those attending public four-year colleges and universities paid $6,907. For example, the University of Montana charged its in-state students $7,063 for tuition and fees in 2017-18. Out-of-state students paid $24,943 for the same year.
According to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, Montana colleges awarded $2.6 million in state grants and aid, including $567,000 in need-based aid. Montana students made good use of federal Pell Grants, as nearly 17,000 students received over $65 million in 2015-16, while another 2,000 received about $3 million in work-study support, according to Reach Higher Montana.
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The State of Online Higher Education in Montana
According to Digital Learning Compass-Distance Education State Almanac 2017, as of 2015, 10,783 students — 21% of the total Montana college enrollment — took at least one distance course. Within that number, 2,694 undergraduates, 6%, and 770 graduate students, 16%, took all courses at a distance. Most of these exclusively online students, 75%, live in Montana, which far exceeds the national in-state average of 55%. This suggests that students in this sparsely-populated state choose to capitalize on the convenient access to higher education offered by online colleges in Montana.
Tuition Breaks for Out-of-State Students
Thanks to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), students residing in one of the 16 western states and territories can gain affordable access to online colleges in Montana or any other member state. Currently, over 34,000 students participate in this tuition reduction program at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels. In 2017-18, through WICHE’s Western Undergraduate Exchange, over 40,000 undergraduate students saved an average of $9,000 in out-of-state tuition at over 160 colleges. Graduate students, through the Western Regional Graduate Program saved nearly $16,000 in out-of-state tuition at the 60 participating colleges and universities.
WICHE’s College Savings Finder tool enables non-resident students to search each institution to determine the applicable reduced tuition. Participating states include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Institutions in the U.S. Pacific Territories also participate.
Best Online Colleges in Montana
Below, you will find our rankings of the best online four-year programs in Montana. 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 Montana, explore our state resources, like a database of every college and university in Montana 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 Montana||Missoula||$$$$$||Missoula, Montana|
Missoula, MT 59812
The University of Montana occupies 56 acres at the foothills of Mount Sentinel in Missoula and offers a diverse catalog of academic programs. Additionally, through UMOnline, distance learners can earn undergraduate degrees in several fields.
Students interested in pursuing a career in sustainable energy can pursue an AAS in energy technology. Faculty deliver coursework mostly online, although participants must also complete an on-campus lab and practicum. The curriculum focuses on energy systems and technologies, immersing students in the study of site identification and assessment, design installation, and socioeconomic impacts. The program also features 235 hours of hands-on experience.
Students interested in pursuing a four-year degree can choose from a BA in art or media arts. The media arts program offers a track in digital media that prepares students for careers in emerging digital technologies; participants study gaming, interactive media, and digital design applications. The school also offers graduate degrees in education, public health, and public administration.
UMOnline's extensive suite of support services for online learners helps make the institution one of the best online colleges in Montana. Learners in need of academic assistance can access free online tutoring in various subjects. Additionally, the school's Peer Connection Network -- a student-run production group -- creates tutorial videos to help other learners overcome challenges at college. As students prepare for life after graduation, the university's career services department offers job search advice, networking opportunities with employers, and help with resumes and interviewing skills.
Using the school's transfer equivalency self-service tool, prospective students can receive an unofficial evaluation of their previously earned credits. Transfer students must hold at least 12 credits earned with a minimum 2.0 GPA.
|2||Montana State University - Billings||Billings||$$$$$||1500 University Drive|
Billings, MT 59101-0298
Founded in 1927, Montana State University Billings offers a slate of comprehensive degrees administered through five colleges. MSUB enrolls 4,400 students in classrooms with a 19-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school serves as the state's leader in online postsecondary education, offering 240 courses and several undergraduate degrees at a distance. Learners interested in pursuing a two-year program can choose from associate degrees in accounting technology, business administration, general studies, and human resource management.
The school's BS in business administration represents another popular degree and features a general business core that focuses on subjects such as accounting, business law, and operations management. This degree track also provides learners with several specialization options, including accounting, marketing, management, and general business. Business students -- including distance learners -- benefit from the school's many internship opportunities at partnering business and marketing firms in the region. Furthermore, recent graduates of this program -- the state's only fully online marketing degree -- enjoy outstanding job placement rates after graduation.
Students who already hold an AAS can enter the school's bachelor of applied science program, which allows learners to take upper-level courses that complement previously earned credits. Learners in the BAS track choose from a variety of concentrations, including management and organizational communication, management and public relations, and health administration and public administration. Additionally, the school's fully online BS in liberal studies allows learners to apply up to two years of prior college coursework; this degree track offers the same concentrations as the BAS program.
Through the university's academic support center, distance learners can access online tutoring in math, writing, and reading. MSUB -- one of the best online colleges in Montana -- offers affordable tuition in addition to grants, scholarships, student loans, and tuition waivers.
|3||Montana State University||Bozeman||$$$$$||Montana State University|
Bozeman, MT 59717
Established in 1893, Montana State University's main campus in Bozeman serves as the largest research school in the state. The university enrolls approximately 16,000 students in programs delivered in classrooms with a low student-to-faculty ratio. A pioneer in distance learning, Montana State Online hosts several programs, including a bachelor's degree completion option in liberal studies. The program enrolls learners who hold at least two years of college education or a minimum of 40 credits.
MSU -- one of the top online colleges in Montana -- also offers online graduate programs, including master's degrees in nursing and agricultural education. Individuals interested in a career assisting clients with their personal finance can enroll in the MS in health and human development program and choose an option in family financial planning. This degree -- offered through a consortium of universities -- prepares learners for the certified financial planner certification examination. Additionally, students interested in pursuing short-term credentials online can earn certificates in addictions counseling, school library media, and Native American studies.
The school's writing center delivers online tutoring sessions to distance learners, while its Return-to-Learn program helps students returning to school overcome hurdles during the course of their studies. Learners can evaluate which of their previously earned credits will successfully transfer to MSU by using the school's transfer equivalencies website. Applicants may earn credits for AP, IB, CLEP, and military experience. Online students pay affordable tuition rates and can access financial aid and tuition payment plans. Learners can also apply for institutional scholarships.
|4||Montana Tech of the University of Montana||Butte||$$$$$||1300 W Park St|
Butte, MT 59701-8997
Montana Tech provides learners with a comprehensive portfolio of undergraduate and graduate degrees administered through four schools and colleges. The school specializes in
Licensed RNs who hold an associate degree can pursue the school's 48-credit bachelor of science in nursing online. RNs study topics such as family nursing, nursing informatics, healthcare ethics and regulations, and health promotion and education. Students complete two clinicals at their place of work or a similar facility that focuses on nursing in the community and leadership and management for RNs. Additionally, seasoned healthcare professionals, information technologists, and computer scientists can earn a healthcare informatics certificate online to more effectively manage information systems within healthcare facilities.
Graduate students at Montana Tech can choose from two degree options: an MS in industrial hygiene and an MS in project engineering and management. Students can pursue additional professional experiences by carrying out internships organized by the career services department.
The school offers several ways for distance learners to get the academic help they need, including tutoring at Tutor.com and the Khan academy. At these sites, learners can access instructional videos and practice exercises in subjects such as math, science, and computing. Montana Tech stands as one of the best online colleges in Montana and accepts transfer students with a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA. Approximately 90% of first-time students receive some form of financial aid, making the school an affordable online option.
|5||University of Great Falls||Great Falls||$$$$$||1301 Twentieth St S|
Great Falls, MT 59405-4996
Established in 1932, the University of Providence graduates career-ready individuals equipped to serve as ethical leaders. The university offers several online undergraduate and graduate programs for busy professionals in areas that include nursing, psychology, and sociology.
The school hosts both an associate degree and a BS in legal and paralegal studies, preparing learners for careers in law, banking, and corporate compliance. Students learn how to interview clients, interact with legal and non-legal professionals, and develop memoranda and appellate briefs. The bachelor's degree in theology and ministry offers an asynchronous format where students delve into theological issues, learning how to apply these ideas in practical situations.
The University of Providence -- one of the best online colleges in Montana -- also oversees a suite of graduate programs, awarding master's degrees in nursing, counseling, and accounting. Learners interested in a shorter plan of study can enroll in a nine-month applied health informatics certificate program, which focuses on using information technology to transform healthcare delivery and produce healthier communities.
Online learners interested in on-campus events can join several organizations and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, and horseback riding. Students can also take advantage of the Argos Loan Repayment Assistance Program, where qualifying graduates receive help repaying federal and parent PLUS loans. The school also offers a four-year graduation guarantee that ensures students will either graduate in eight semesters or enroll in any outstanding courses free of charge.
Furthermore, through Providence IMPACT, graduates who do not find employment within six months receive free career counseling and support. The University of Providence reviews the transcripts of transfer students on a case-by-case basis to determine the transferability of college credits earned from Montana community colleges online or other institutions. The university also accepts AP, CLEP, and Dantes credits. Additionally, online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of their state of residency.
|6||Montana State University - Northern||Havre||$$$$$||300 W 11th St|
Havre, MT 59501
A small college based in Havre, Montana State University Northern also provides programs at educational centers in Lewiston and Great Falls and through a growing virtual classroom. The school enrolls about 1,200 students in classrooms with a 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. MSUN oversees a catalog of 40 majors, including popular programs in business, nursing, and elementary education. Online learners can complete nine programs entirely online.
Distance students can pursue an AS in business, delving into topics such as contemporary issues and ethics to gain foundational business knowledge. The school's AA in general education allows students to complete lower-level coursework and determine their major before going on to pursue a four-year degree. Online learners seeking to earn a bachelor's degree can major in fields like nursing and criminal justice.
Students can also earn a BAS in trades management, which gives technicians a formal education in subjects such as business, management, accounting, and entrepreneurship. Ideal candidates for the BAS program already hold an AAS in majors such as electronics, construction trades, welding, or culinary arts. Learners interested in exploring more online options can take classes at other MSU locations, easily transferring from one school to another through the Seamless OneMSU initiative.
MSUN operates as one of the best online colleges in Montana, offering affordable tuition and a comprehensive suite of financial aid options. Learners who live in a state that participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange can access additional tuition savings. Students seeking to transfer credits from Montana community colleges online or other institutions must hold a GPA of 2.0 or better. High school students in Montana can receive tuition scholarships if they hold a minimum 3.5 GPA and score 20 or higher on the ACT.
Most Affordable Online Colleges in Montana
Below, you’ll find all of the online schools in Montana sorted by their tuition rates.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||School Link||Cost|
|1||Montana State University - Northern||Havre||School profile||$$$$$|
|2||Montana State University - Billings||Billings||School profile||$$$$$|
|3||Montana State University||Bozeman||School profile||$$$$$|
|4||University of Great Falls||Great Falls||School profile||$$$$$|
Job Outlook for College Graduates in Montana
Consistent with national figures, Montana’s population maintained a strong employment trend in 2018 with unemployment rates ranging from 3.7% in July to 4.1% in March. In 2017, Montana residents earned a mean annual wage of $42,400, approximately 16% lower than the national average of $50,620. These figures represent the average income data for all reported occupations and can vary considerably based on specific locations.
According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Montana’s job growth should peak at about 1.5% in 2017, slowing to about 1% through 2025. Job growth is predict to slow due to a reduced labor supply. Beyond these average figures, job growth trends vary considerably by industry and location, with the highest growth in the northwest and southwest regions. In fact, the Bozeman and Kalispell micropolitan areas rank first and third among the fastest growing micropolitan areas in the United States. For example, Bozeman’s population grew by 4.3% from 2015 to 2016.
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Montana
Horatio Alger Montana Undergraduate Scholarship
Graduates of Montana high schools attending a public Montana college or university must demonstrate integrity, perseverance, and financial need.
Tribal Homelands Scholarship
Non-resident Native Americans attending Montana State University may apply for this tuition-reduction scholarship.
RMCMI Engineering/Geology Scholarship
College students interested in the coal industry may apply for this scholarship for their junior and senior years.
Montana Federation of Garden Clubs Scholarship
Applicants must have completed their freshman year of college and be majoring in a field related to horticulture, wildlife, or environmental science.
Cedric and Elfriede Maurer Memorial Scholarship
Montana residents who were involved in 4H for at least three years and demonstrated continued community involvement may apply.
Montana State University Nursing Scholarships
Nursing program students may apply for any one of the 44 nursing-specific scholarships at Montana State University.
Jane Buttrey Memorial Scholarship
University of Montana-Missoula juniors majoring in the humanities or social sciences and who demonstrate academic excellence with a minimum 3.4 GPA and financial need may apply.
Montana University System Honor Scholarship
Montana high school seniors with at least a 3.4 GPA after seven high school semesters who plan to enroll in one of the 16 colleges in the Montana University System may apply for this renewable tuition-waiver scholarship.
Students must demonstrate leadership potential, have earned a 3.75 GPA and scored a 30 on the ACT. The scholarship waives all tuition, provides a generous stipend and automatically admits students to the Honors College within the university system.
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