Choosing which college to earn an online degree from is no simple task. But for budget-minded students, looking at Iowa’s colleges and universities with online programs may be a good place to start. At the University of Iowa, 45 percent of students are able to graduate debt-free, and many programs offer the same tuition rate for online students whether they are current residents or out-of-state students. This page will help you learn more about the best online education options at colleges in Iowa, and answer important questions on transfer credits, paying for your online degree and getting on the path to college.
This guide explores some of the best colleges and universities in Iowa, along with strategies for funding your education and information about the requirements to qualify for in-state tuition rates.
Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.
How Can I Find Which Online Colleges Offer the Degree I’m Looking for in Iowa?
Finding the best online program for your needs can take a lot of work. Prospective students can research programs through each school’s website. For example, Iowa State University maintains a page detailing all of its distance education programs and courses.
How Much More Do College Grads in Iowa Make?
Earning a postsecondary degree in Iowa can lead to more career opportunities and higher salary potential. In a 2015 report, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce projected that 68% of jobs in Iowa will require some postsecondary education and training by 2025.
The table below shows nationwide median annual earnings by education level. Higher levels of education tend to correlate with higher salaries. Whether you stay in Iowa or move to another state, advancing your education can help you secure higher-paying jobs.
Paying for Online College in Iowa: Tuition and Financial Aid
The rising tuition rates in Iowa are due in part to reduced state funding, according to a 2018 report by Iowa College Aid. However, in-state Iowa tuition rates are lower than the national averages for both public and private schools. Students attending online schools and colleges in Iowa often apply for financial aid opportunities to help fund their education.
The tables above do not include the cost of additional fees and expenses, such as room and board. Below are some additional costs that online learners in Iowa should consider.
Tuition Agreements for Out-of-State Students in Online Programs: Some schools maintain tuition agreements that lower the cost of tuition for eligible out-of-state learners.
Recurring Technology Costs: Many online programs charge distance learners a per-term or per-class technology fee.
Required Travel: Some programs require campus visits, which involve costs associated with travel and room and board.
Degree Cost: Some online programs cost more than others. For example, programs leading to a professional degree, such as nursing or engineering, often include additional fees and higher tuition rates.
Qualifying for In-State Tuition in Iowa
Prospective students can save money by applying to schools in their state of residency. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of in-state tuition is less than a third of the average price of out-of-state tuition. To qualify for in-state tuition rates, students must prove that they have lived in Iowa for at least one year for a reason other than school. Students can demonstrate residency through Iowa employment records, income tax returns, or a driver’s license.
Out-of-state online learners who reside in a state that participates in the Midwestern Higher Education Compact may be eligible for discounted tuition rates from Iowa institutions. Additionally, some schools charge all online students the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. Students should consult their prospective school for detailed information about residency requirements for online learners.
Paying for College in Iowa: Scholarships and Financial Aid
Various financial aid sources can help online students in Iowa fund their education. Learners can apply for scholarships and grants, and special loan repayment programs are available at the state, federal, and institutional levels. The following sections list some of the scholarships and grants available to students attending online schools and colleges in Iowa.
Scholarships for Iowa College Students
Future Ready Iowa Last-Dollar Scholarships
Who Can Apply: Applicants must be recent high school graduates attending college full time or adult learners enrolling part time. Students must have applied for all other available aid and must pursue a credential in a high-demand field.
Amount: Covers tuition not paid for by scholarships and federal and state grants
Who Can Apply: Iowa residents who demonstrate financial need, excellent academic ability, and strong moral character can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must submit an essay, reference letters, and their high school GPA.
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports sophomore college students who either graduated from an Iowa high school or have lived in the state for five years. Applicants must demonstrate financial need, have a minimum 2.8 GPA, and present evidence that they face barriers to attending college.
Who Can Apply: Applicants must be Iowa residents attending an eligible Iowa school and must have transitioned out of the Iowa foster care system or the State Training School. Former Iowa foster care children adopted after the age of 16 can also apply.
Amount: Up to $4,644 per year, for up to eight full-time semesters
Who Can Apply: To qualify for this grant, Iowa residents must have applied for all other available financial aid, have attended school for at least two years, and hold half of the credits required for a bachelor’s degree. Applicants must be pursuing a degree in a high-demand field.
Amount: $1,000 to $3,500 per year, for up to four full-time semesters
The Importance of Accreditation for Online Colleges and Universities in Iowa
Choosing an accredited school is crucial to ensuring that your degree holds value. Accreditation indicates that a school meets minimum standards related to faculty, curricula, and academic support. The sections below describe several types of institutional and programmatic accreditation for online schools and colleges in Iowa.
Regional and National Accreditation
Schools can hold regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation is more common and respected than national accreditation. Learners who attend schools without regional accreditation may not be eligible to receive federal financial aid and typically cannot transfer credits to regionally accredited institutions. The Higher Learning Commission awards regional accreditation to universities and colleges in Iowa.
How to Know if Your School or Program is Accredited
You can determine a school’s accreditation status by searching the Council for Higher Education Accreditation directories. Most schools also include accreditation information on their website. Schools that do not provide this information online often do not hold proper accreditation.
Online College and Adult Education in Iowa
Many students with commitments related to family and work do not enroll in college immediately after graduating high school. Online learning can help returning students complete their studies. This section includes information about online adult education programs in Iowa.
By the Numbers: Adult Education in Iowa
In 2016, 1,334,613 Americans participated in adult education.
A higher percentage of adult learners (aged 30 or older) participate in distance education than younger students.
Adult learners with access to online learning can more readily complete a degree program.
Adult Education & Literacy Program: Iowa Lakes Community College runs this program to help adult learners prepare for the citizenship exam, complete their high school equivalency diploma, and improve their academic skills to prepare for postsecondary studies or a career.
GAP Tuition Assistance Program: This program provides need-based funding for Iowa residents who are pursuing continuing education certificate training programs. The applicant’s program must be relevant to an occupation that is in high demand in the state. Students may receive partial or full tuition assistance.
Best Online Colleges in Iowa 2020
Distance learners can choose from many affordable, accredited online schools and colleges in Iowa. In-state tuition rates at both public and private colleges in Iowa are less expensive than the national average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Iowa State University's Online and Distance Learning program offers over 50 degrees and certificates that, with the exception of 3 degrees, can be completed 100% online. Fields of study include agriculture and life sciences, human services and engineering (with 11 master's-level engineering degrees available). In addition, a number of master's degrees and certificates in the subjects of community development, family financial planning, gerontology, dietetics and youth development can be earned online through ISU's partnership with the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance. Out-of-state students taking only online courses at Iowa State pay the same tuition rates as Iowa residents.
Mount Mercy University is a private, 4-year, Catholic, liberal arts institution with its campus located in the central eastern Iowa city of Cedar Rapids. Mount Mercy offers 10 degrees that can be earned fully online, including bachelor's degrees in the fields of applied management, business, health care administration, human resource management, management, marketing, nursing (RN to BSN) and religious studies. Master's degrees in criminal justice and business administration are also available. Mount Mercy's online degrees feature an accelerated course format, and classes may be accessed asynchronously, meaning students may complete their coursework at any time.
The University of Iowa is the second-largest university in the state and one of the top public research universities in the nation. Through its Distance and Online Education portal, UI offers a substantial number of undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs that can be completed fully or partially online, in a wide range of subjects. Fields of study include business, education, nursing and healthcare, political science, social work and many others. Coursework can be accessed at any time, but students are required to meet certain deadlines for their coursework and attend an online virtual classroom meeting at a specified time and date.
Graceland University is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Church of Christ, with campuses in Lamoni, Iowa, and Independence, Missouri. Graceland offers a range of online undergraduate and graduate degree and graduate certificate programs with an emphasis on the fields of education, nursing and business administration. Programs of note include: a Doctor of Nursing Practice with organizational leadership concentration, which combines online coursework with field experiences and supervised practice hours; and a Master of Arts in religion, with classes that can be completed either fully online or with one face-to-face session conducted in Independence, Missouri, during the fourth week of studies.
The University of Northern Iowa's UNI at a Distance program offers nearly 40 bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and certificates that can be earned either fully or partially online. An extensive number of degrees and certificates are available in the education field. Other areas of study include criminal justice, public policy, social work, technology and more. UNI at a Distance incorporates a number of course delivery methods, including asynchronous, guided independent study; interactive video conferencing; on-site visits; as well as blended formats that incorporate two or more of these methods. Additionally, many courses can be completed fully online via eLearning.
St. Ambrose University is a private, liberal arts institution affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport located in the city of Davenport, Iowa. St. Ambrose offers 4 undergraduate degrees (Associate of Applied Science, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Business Administration-Accounting, and RN to BSN) and 3 graduate degrees (Master of Criminal Justice, Master of Business Administration, and Master of Public Health), all of which can be completed fully online. A maximum of 90 credit hours (earned at other colleges and universities or through credit by exam, military credit or experiential learning) may be transferred and applied to an online bachelor's degree program at St. Ambrose.
Northwestern College is a private, Christian liberal arts college affiliated with the Reformed Church in America located in the community of Orange City, Iowa. Through its Graduate and Adult Learning Programs, Northwestern Iowa offers three degrees that can be earned online: a Bachelor of Arts in early childhood education; an RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing); and a Master of Education. The Master of Education program is designed to be completed in 2 years or less and provides 7 endorsement track options. Additionally, Northwestern Iowa offers 4 education endorsements and a coaching authorization that can be earned 100% online
Buena Vista University is a private, four-year school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and located in the northwest Iowa city of Storm Lake. BVU's online program offers 18 undergraduate and graduate degrees that can completed through distance learning. Fields of study include accounting, business, criminology and criminal justice, education, health services, psychology and many others. In addition, BVU and the Iowa Community College Online Consortium have formed a partnership that allows a student to earn an associate degree at any of the 7 affiliated community colleges and then complete their bachelor's degrees 100% online through BVU.
Upper Iowa University is a private institution with its residential campus located in the northeast Iowa community of Fayette. UIU's Distance Education program currently offers almost 40 undergraduate and graduate degrees (associate through master's), as well as several undergraduate and graduate certificates, all in an asynchronous online format that allows students to access and complete their coursework at any time. Fields of study include business administration and finance, criminal justice, public administration, psychology, and many others. UIU's Online Program offers 5, 8-week classes and an accelerated 6-week summer session, which means that a student need not wait longer than two months to begin his/her studies.
Briar Cliff University is private, Catholic Franciscan, liberal arts institution located in Sioux City. Briar Cliff offers online degree-completion programs in accounting, business administration, health sciences, RN-to-BSN, operations management and social work. Students enrolling in these programs must possess at least an associate degree or a specific number of college credits. Briar Cliff allows degree-completion students to save time and money by applying up to 90 credits of previous college coursework toward their degrees or to earn credit for prior learning through an exam. Courses are fully online, and most programs can be completed with 39 credits, though the RN-to-BSN is 30-34 credits and the Bachelor of Social Work is 47 credits.
Many resources can help online college students succeed. Below are some tools for learners attending online schools and colleges in Iowa. These resources include information about financial aid opportunities, academic support, and online courses and programs in the state.
Future Ready Iowa
This website offers job training and education information. Site visitors can learn about high-demand jobs in the state, Iowa's apprenticeship program, and scholarship and grant programs.
Iowa Community College Online Consortium
The ICCOC provides information about how to become an online student at a participating community college. The consortium provides lists of online classes available at ICCOC schools.
Iowa College Access Network
This network provides information about education and career training in Iowa. Students can locate financial aid opportunities and college and career planning resources.
Iowa Campus Connect
This coalition of 21 colleges and universities in Iowa helps students understand their educational options and find resources.
Iowa College Aid
This state government offers some of the best financial aid opportunities for college students in Iowa, including scholarships, grants, and loan repayment programs. The website provides information about applying for aid.
Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.
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