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.
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.
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||$$$$$||Missoula, Montana|
Missoula, MT 59812
Montana, located in Missoula, provides a world-class education in liberal arts and the trades through its undergraduate and graduate programs. Fully online degrees include five master’s, two undergraduate degrees, and seven certificate programs, which include forensic studies, energy technologies, and wilderness management. Other online offerings include minors programs, a library media endorsement, and RevUp programs. Revup programs are designed to quickly train students for employment. Student resources include online tutoring and instructional workshops, academic advising, and special assistance for veterans. As one of the most outdoor-oriented online schools in Montana, UM takes full advantage of its rugged, Rocky Mountain setting. Campus recreation includes aquatics, fitness, golf, intramurals, outdoor sports, sports clubs, and youth camp programs. With hundreds of campus groups and over a dozen art galleries, theaters, and concert venues, students can enrich their education with diverse cultural and entertainment activities.
|2||Montana State University - Billings||Billings||$$$$$||1500 University Drive|
Billings, MT 59101-0298
Montana State - BIllings, founded in 1927, is dedicated to teaching excellence and civic engagement. Undergraduate and graduate programs provide a well-rounded education through its five colleges in arts and sciences, business, allied health professions, education, and City College. Montana State offers 24 online degree programs, which is more than any other school in the state. There are over 240 online classes leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees, like the master’s in public relations and certificates in medical coding and insurance billing.
MSU is among online schools in Montana that have a regional jobs hub; the school’s three campuses open up numerous networking and career opportunities throughout Billings. Online students enjoy access to university resources. Library books can be mailed to your home, and you can access thousands of ebooks online. Tutoring is available in a range of subjects, including math, writing, chemistry, and foreign languages. Career Services helps students obtain internship opportunities, part-time work, and post-graduation careers.
|3||Montana State University||Bozeman||$$$$$||Montana State University|
Bozeman, MT 59717
Montana State, established in 1893, is the state’s largest university, with more than 16,000 students. The school is located in Bozeman. MSU ranks among the top 3% of colleges and universities for research spending and is nationally recognized for its leadership in research. The school devotes over $100 million annually to research expenditures, with funds going to top research departments like immunology, chemistry and biochemistry, physics, and environmental sciences. There are many opportunities for students to participate in hands-on research.
Online offerings include an undergraduate degree in liberal studies, five graduate certificates, seven master’s degrees, the principal and superintendent endorsement, and professional development courses. MSU is among online colleges in Montana to offer success advising, career coaching, financial coaching, and tutoring. These services provide personalized learning strategies and tips on studying, note taking, and developing relationships with faculty.
|4||Montana Tech of the University of Montana||Butte||$$$$$||1300 W Park St|
Butte, MT 59701-8997
Montana Tech builds on the region’s rich mining history with an emphasis on engineering, science, and technology programs. Its degrees at the associate, bachelor, master, and certificate levels combine theory with real-world practice in responsible development of natural resources. Montana Tech offers more than 60 programs, and it’s one of two schools in the nation that offers a BS in geophysical engineering. The school is also one of only 10 that offers a BS degree in metallurgical engineering. The online undergraduate program in health care informatics is the first such degree in the nation.
Montana Tech’s online programs include three graduate level programs and two undergraduate certificate programs. Its graduate programs rely on high-tech facilities. The statewide Center for Environmental Remediation and Assessment, an EPA program, is located on campus. Montana Tech is located in Butte. The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology is a department of Montana Tech that serves the public and local, state, and federal government.
|5||University of Great Falls||Great Falls||$$$$$||1301 Twentieth St S|
Great Falls, MT 59405-4996
Great Falls, founded in 1932, is a private, Roman Catholic, liberal arts university that embraces its missionary roots through numerous opportunities for volunteerism in the community. The school serves more than 1,000 students. Great Falls offers undergraduate and graduate degrees for full-time and part-time students. Small class sizes with a 12:1 student-teacher ratio ensure meaningful dialogue that facilitates learning. The school offers six online bachelor’s programs, two associate programs, the Army Paralegal Program, and an online master in science of organizational management. Students searching for online colleges in Montana should note there are more degree programs available for students who can attend weekend courses or finish their last semester on campus. More than 100 individual courses can be found online. Distance learners participate in courses by attending scheduled, live and interactive discussion sessions through Microsoft Lync® or through the Moodle learning platform. Every online student is assigned an academic advisor who provides guidance on class scheduling and programs.
|6||Montana State University - Northern||Havre||$$$$$||300 W 11th St|
Havre, MT 59501
Montana State – Northern, located in Havre, offers programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels at educational centers in Great Falls and Lewistown. Degree programs focus on technology and liberal arts education. A student body of more than 1,200 pursue degrees in business, nursing, engineering and mechanical technology, teacher education, natural sciences, and the humanities. The school has more than 40 majors and more than 30 minors. The most popular majors include elementary education, nursing, business, diesel technology, and counselor education.
Distance learners seeking online colleges in Montana will find nine completely online degrees at MSU - Northern. Degrees include business, business technology, business administration, community leadership, nursing, and criminal justice. The Sweetgrass Society, one of more than a dozen clubs on campus, promotes Native American pride and sponsors one of the largest powwows in the region. Other clubs appeal to those with an interest in rodeos, healthy living, and agriculture.
Most Affordable Online Colleges in Montana
Below, you’ll find all of the online schools in Montana sorted by their tuition rates.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||School Link||Cost|
|1||Montana State University - Northern||Havre||School profile||$$$$$|
|2||Montana State University - Billings||Billings||School profile||$$$$$|
|3||Montana State University||Bozeman||School profile||$$$$$|
|4||University of Great Falls||Great Falls||School profile||$$$$$|
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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