With more than 280,000 students enrolled in Wisconsin's public schools, and another 70,000+ pursuing degrees from private institutions, the state contains many individuals intent on advancing their education, despite declining enrollment trends since the Great Recession. A part of the state’s master education plan to enroll more students is to create more flexible education and transfer options for Wisconsin’s non-traditional students. One answer may be online education, which can offer the flexibility and affordability Wisconsin’s learners are looking for. We’ll cover which colleges are offering the best online education in Wisconsin and answer students’ frequently asked questions about paying for an online degree in Wisconsin below.
Every college in Wisconsin has unique selling points; the University of Wisconsin-Stout hosts a popular online writing lab and Marian University provides services for veterans. Students interested in pursuing a professional certificate can enroll in online programs through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, while those interested in a faith-based education can consider attending Lakeland University or Maranatha Baptist University. Ultimately, before narrowing down to these niche characteristics, it’s most helpful to know which colleges provide flexible, high-quality online learning options and demonstrate solid student support—our rankings list below highlights the best of the best for online students in Wisconsin.
Continue reading for more information on ways to find an online program at one of Wisconsin's many colleges and universities.
Different schools in Wisconsin offer different online curricula; to find out what's available, students should visit the specific websites of the Wisconsin colleges and universities that interest them. For example, the Madison and Stout campuses of the University of Wisconsin, as well as Viterbo University, host portals dedicated to online learning. These allows students to find degrees listed conveniently in one place. In addition, the University of Wisconsin System provides a site where students can search the entire university system for online programs.
To try and save money on tuition, students can see if they qualify for credit based on previous work and/or life experiences relevant to their degree. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay awards credit to those with military training. In addition, Lakeland University allows students to submit a portfolio outlining how their prior experiences relate to their area of study. Most schools also accept transfer credits earned at an accredited institution.
Individuals who work in Wisconsin can advance their education by earning a postsecondary degree, and typically earn significantly higher paychecks than workers who hold only a high school diploma. The table below shows how much careers requiring each of the following degree level minimums pays, on average, in Wisconsin.
Mean Annual Salary for All Occupations in Wisconsin, by Degree Level:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
According to the Lumina Foundation, about 43 percent of workers in Wisconsin hold at least an associate degree; however, this may be insufficient to meet employers' needs in the coming years. The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University projects that, by 2020, 62 percent of jobs in the state will require an associate degree or higher.
As employers in Wisconsin are projected to hire more workers who have received a quality education, distance learners need to be sure they’re enrolling online degree programs that adhere to high academic standards. The best way to do this is by enrolling in a school that holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC); this commission evaluates schools throughout the central U.S. based on strict educational and ethical standards. Some schools in Wisconsin that hold HLC accreditation include the University of Wisconsin, Lakeland University and Edgewood College.
Just as an entire university can receive accreditation, an individual school or program within a university can hold additional accreditation. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Architecture and Urban Planning holds accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board, and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay's School of Business holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Attending college in Wisconsin helps many individuals start successful careers; however, prospective students must first find a way to pay for their higher education. With the average personal income in Wisconsin equal to around $47,000 (according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis), affordability is a definite concern for many residents.
In addition, tuition continues to rise at both public and private colleges around the state. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that, for the 2014-2015 school year, the average annual tuition was $8,441 for public schools and $28,094 for private institutions. One academic year later, costs rose to $8,504 and $29,777 for public and private schools, respectively.
Depending on the school, students may find differing rate structures between online programs in Wisconsin. Here are some examples:
Resident and Non-Resident Rates: The University of Wisconsin's online tuition rate per credit (excluding fees) is $238 for state residents and $285 for those living outside of Wisconsin.
Same Rate for All Students: Distance learners at Lakeland University pay $505 for each credit, regardless of where their state of residency is.
Differing Rates per Program: At Concordia University Wisconsin, online students pay different amounts per credit depending on their major.
Out-of-state students who want to attend a public college in Wisconsin do not necessarily need to pay higher tuition rates. Through the Midwest Student Exchange, students can attend participating colleges for the same rate as in-state students. To qualify, students must hold residency in Minnesota, Illinois, North Dakota, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska or Indiana.
Continue reading below to learn more about tuition and financial aid at Wisconsin colleges.
By living in the state for one consecutive year, students can establish Wisconsin residency, which makes them eligible for in-state tuition. In addition, individuals serving in the military qualify for the in-state tuition rate while stationed in Wisconsin. Finally, as mentioned above, participants of the Midwest Student Exchange also receive a break on tuition at public colleges in Wisconsin.
Compared to some of its neighboring states, Wisconsin students pay less on undergraduate tuition at public colleges. While distance learners at the University of Wisconsin pay $238 per credit, students at Eastern Michigan University pay $414 per credit and learners at Ohio State University pay $723 per credit; these rates correspond to tuition for the 2018-2019 school year.
Students planning to attend public or private college in Wisconsin may qualify for financial aid reserved especially for state residents, including the awards listed below.
Wisconsin Talent Incentive Program Grant: First-time freshmen who come from economically disadvantaged households can apply for this grant.
Ben and Ada Hake Agriculture Scholarship: Provided by the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation, this scholarship targets students who want to earn a degree related to natural resources, environmental science, or agriculture. Top graduates from Fort Atkinson High School qualify for this award.
Wisconsin Women's Alliance Foundation Scholarship: This scholarship targets female Wisconsin residents ages 25 years and older. Judges select winners based on an applicant's career goals, financial need, and community involvement.
Wisconsin Bakers Association Scholarship: Students who plan to earn a degree in pastry and baking arts can apply for this scholarship.
Wisconsin Public Service Foundation Scholarships: This organization provides scholarships to students from Northeastern and Central Wisconsin.
Adult education programs in Wisconsin can also help individuals receive the training they need to kickstart their college education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, adult education programs helped more than 13,000 adults make skill gains in Wisconsin between 2016 and 2017, including people with disabilities, single parents and displaced homemakers.
There are several programs set up to help Wisconsin’s adult learners obtain the skills they need to go on to earn a college degree, including:
High school equivalency – The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides diploma and high school equivalency testing for adults who want to earn their GED as a first-step towards a college education.
English language and literacy – Individual and family literacy programs are designed to teach English as a Second Language to adults and their families.
Adult academic prep for college – Basic education classes in Wisconsin can help adults brush up on reading, writing and math skills before going on to earn a college degree.
College transitions as an adult – Think College Wisconsin provides a directory of college transition assistance programs for both traditional and non-traditional students.