Best Online Colleges in Illinois

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Illinois is part of the Midwestern-State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, a program that allows students to access online and distance education courses across state lines. As part of the agreement, students can take online courses at public colleges in participating states while paying in-state tuition. The agreement also helps the Illinois Board of Higher Education in its effort to increase the percentage of adults in the state with a college degree.

Of the 200 colleges and universities in Illinois, 75% of schools offer online and distance education opportunities. These schools provide students with a variety of programs, from career development and certification options to undergraduate and graduate level degrees. Students interested in an online program should be aware that not all official-sounding accreditation agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The Illinois Board of Higher Education encourages students to vigilantly evaluate their target schools, and to ensure that they apply only to accredited colleges.

Despite recent funding cuts in higher education across the nation, Illinois managed to increase state appropriations by over 10% in 2011 and 2012. Still, tuition has climbed steadily in the state. In response, students are increasingly attracted to online programs, where costs are generally lower.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 3/584.16%Champaign, IL


The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers more than 75 online degree and certificate options. Through its partnership with Coursera, Illinois allows students access to hundreds of courses from other partner universities. Illinois created the innovative "iMBA," which allows students to earn a specialized MBA entirely online, with experiential learning courses.

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University of St. Francis-Joliet

 4/556.16%Joliet, IL


USF offers rare online PhD options, including a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, though they typically involve some residency periods for completion. USF offers advantageous tuition discounts for employees working at a number of companies and organizations based in the United States, most frequently in Illinois. USF also offers family tuition discounts for students enrolling at the same time as an immediate family members.

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Illinois Institute of Technology

 5/565.23%Chicago, IL


With more than 3,200 graduate students pursuing degrees online, IIT has one of the largest graduate degree programs online nationwide. IIT maintains a full-service audio/visual department dedicated to producing online videos for coursework, special events, and more. The online courses are all administered on a semester or quarter basis, so students must follow the same rigorous pace. The coursework is available during the allotted time 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students can use interactive resources like chat rooms. Local students may need to travel to campus for certain required laboratory sessions.

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Illinois State University

 3/571.92%Normal, IL


Some Illinois State University online degree programs, including the Masters in Nursing Systems Administration, are designed specifically for part-time students holding full-time employment and conclude with two semesters of capstone research projects. Courses operate either on a 16 week, 8 week, 6 week, or 4 week basis. Students generally begin their program with a student cohort they will study with for the duration. The undergraduate online programs are designed for students with associate’s degrees. Course work for the Health Information Management online program includes downloadable audio and video lectures, clinical field experience, management field experience, and more.

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University of Illinois at Springfield

 2/548.68%Springfield, IL


More than 300 UIS faculty members contribute to UIS online degree programs with lectures, classroom discussions, and interactive graphics that can be presented on an asynchronous or real-time basis, at the instructor’s discretion. UIS online courses are structured around a 16-week semester, and students are given weekly assignments. Students frequently participate in computer-based conferencing, or interact in small groups on case studies. UIS has many ongoing “2+2 agreements” with surrounding community colleges that allow students to transfer to UIS online and seamlessly complete a bachelor’s degree.

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Lewis University

 4/562.46%Romeoville, IL

Lewis University offers a number of 100% online degree programs on an 8-week basis. Every student is assigned a Student Services Coordinator, who acts as their advisor and liaison throughout their degree program. Students also have access to 24/7 online technical support. Lewis's online courses require students to participate in class discussions, and complete online assignments. Because courses are offered on an asynchronous basis, students can watch course lectures or read assigned articles at their convenience. The vast majority of Lewis's online courses are led by program directors and taught by full-time professors.

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Eastern Illinois University

 3/559.47%Charleston, IL

Eastern Illinois University offers a variety of online master’s degree programs, many of which have a minimal residency or studio requirements, and can be completed within five to eight semesters. These programs include the rare Aging Studies MA program -- one of only five nationally-accredited merit programs in its field -- and the MS in Family and Consumer Sciences program. All courses are offered on a semester basis, and many of the master's programs require students to complete a capstone project before receiving their degree.

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University of Illinois at Chicago

 3/559.68%Chicago, IL

Most online coursework at UIC can be completed asynchronously, though students are required to participate in scheduled classroom discussions. UIC students can access live support online at any time. Most UIC online students take between one and four courses at a time, and courses are usually eight weeks. Some culmination courses, like the bachelor’s degree in Business Administration capstone project course, operate on a 16-week basis.

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DePaul University

 5/571.21%Chicago, IL

DePaul offers online courses with instructors who are specially trained for the medium. Professor lectures are available online within two hours of the on-campus course, and students can watch videos in playback mode. Students can complete their classwork at their convenience, using online materials like audio presentations, discussion boards, and online tests. Classroom participation is mandatory. Many degree programs allow students to mix online and on-campus curriculum, customizing the most convenient degree path possible.

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Dominican University

 4/562.74%River Forest, IL

Dominican University's School of Professional and Continuing Studies is designed for working adults. Students will read approximately 100 pages per week, complete a weekly online quiz, turn in a weekly written assignment, and a have weekly online discussion with their classmates.

All online students are required to complete an initial introduction course, the Adult Learning Seminar, to familiarize themselves with the online resources they'll be using. The MA in Conflict Resolution offers a mostly-online experience, with only two, five-day long on-campus intensive credits.

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McKendree University

 4/556.49%Lebanon, IL

At McKendree, courses are offered on an 8-week basis, asynchronously, and many students complete an accelerated program by taking two courses at a time. The unique dual-degree master's program in nursing and business administration prepares working nurses to serve in executive hospital positions. Each online student is given an advisor, and McKendree maintains tutoring and writing online support services.

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Concordia University – Chicago

 4/557.83%River Forest, IL

Concordia offers a particularly robust curriculum online through its InterActive program, which offers 24/7 access to HD-video of lectures and case studies, as well as lecture notes, and online mentorship programs. Students also have access to Concordia's vast research library online. Online forums help students interact in a virtual classroom. InterActive's career centre helps students plan the next steps of their professional lives.

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Judson University

 4/549.72%Elgin, IL

Both the undergraduate and graduate degree programs online through Judson are meant for adult, working professionals and can be completed in under two years, depending on past course credits. Courses are offered one at a time, and the programs are designed as a "cohort experience," in which students remain with the same small group of students throughout the program. Judson estimates that most students spend around 15 hours a week on coursework, in addition to lectures and virtual classroom discussions.

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Trinity Christian College

 4/557.87%Palos Heights, IL

Trinity's two online graduate programs each require about two years of coursework, and involve hybrid participation -- with some on-campus classes and other online lectures, assignments, and discussions. The Criminal Justice bachelor's degree program is offered entirely online, and, like Trinity's on-campus programs, incorporates a Christian perspective into the academic work. All course materials are offered asynchronously, for maximum convenience. Every student receives one-on-one vocational advising to help them plot their career goals. All online programs require at least one field experience or internship credit, and an additional research-centered course.

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Benedictine University

 4/550.92%Lisle, IL

Benedictine University’s online experience emphasizes the importance of social collaboration in the virtual classroom. Benedictine fosters this environment with virtual webinars, virtual “coffee chats” and online chat rooms for students. Professors maintain weekly office hours, and participate in discussion boards. Each online program also requires some variety of in-field learning credits, like residencies, business simulations, or internships. Coursework is offered on an asynchronous schedule well-suited to working professionals.

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Greenville College

 4/547.54%Greenville, IL

Greenville’s online bachelor's degree programs can be completed in as little as 20 months, and students need only take one course at a time. The graduate programs typically require two years or less. Some of the School of Education's master’s degree programs require some fieldwork or face-to-face credits, while other master's degree programs require students to complete capstone projects in their respective fields. Greenville’s online interface lets students hold live classroom sessions.

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Loyola University Chicago

 5/573.35%Chicago, IL

Loyola has a large online school, including several rare online doctoral programs. Some of Loyola’s programs, such as the master’s degree in Pastoral Studies, require students to complete in-field projects in their home states. Others, like the doctoral program in Bioethics, lets students complete asynchronous online course credits coupled with short, intensive on-campus courses. All students can make use of Loyola’s Webinar program, ITSHelp Desk, and Sakai, which creates a virtual classroom through enhanced camera and audio features.

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North Park University

 4/553.38%Chicago, IL

North Park University is a medium-sized private liberal arts school with a broad online course catalogue. Online course materials are available asynchronously for students to complete at their convenience. Course materials include lectures, group projects, and exams. The only aspect of the course that requires students to participate at designated times are classroom discussions, which take place in a chat room. North Park estimates students should spend between 11 to 13 hours a week working per course.

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Olivet Nazarene University

 4/555.93%Bourbonnais, IL

Olivet online undergraduate programs are designed for working adults in vocational or technical fields. Both graduate and undergraduate degree programs can be completed within two years through six-week long courses. Course work includes video lectures, synchronous classroom discussions, and individual capstone projects that give students a chance to complete real-life application of the lessons they learned in their online classrooms.

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Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville

 2/550.5%Edwardsville, IL

SIUE online courses are administered on a semester schedule and typically include classroom discussions as well as video course lectures. Online students can seek support from the Office of Retention and Student Success, the Assigned Advisory in their field, and Support Services, which offers online tutoring sessions. Students have access to SIUE's Lovejoy Library’ online collection. SIUE is also currently experimenting with new, innovative forms of online exam-taking.

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National Louis University

 3/525%Chicago, IL

At National Louis University, several degree programs are offered entirely online, while others are available in a hybrid form, with core courses available online and advanced courses requiring some in-class attendance. The online courses involve web chats, course videos, and interactive communications. Many programs also enroll students on a “cohort model,” in which students learn along with the same group of students throughout their degree program. This approach fosters community.

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Western Illinois University


WIU's bachelor's degree program in General Studies is specially designed for busy adult learners. Only 30 of the 120 semester hour program must be completed at WIU, while another 40 must be completed at a 4-year institution. In addition to this institutional flexibility, the program can be completed without any time limitations. WIU also has an Online Tutoring program based out of the WIU Writing Center to assist students

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Trinity International University – Illinois

 4/546.27%Deerfield, IL

Trinity allows students who have already completed some college coursework to pursue bachelor's degrees online, or a graduate degree' through a partner institution. Those students can typically complete their Trinity degree in 2-3 years. In the Business major, students can pick a focus in Social Entrepreneurship, Ministry and Nonprofit management, or Management. The Christian Ministries program offers concentrations in Pre-Seminary, Family Ministries, or Broad field. The Psychology program offers the option to pursue Counseling Psychology, which can prepare students for community work, or more specialized counseling-related professional degrees.

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Governors State University

  N/AUniversity Park, IL

Governor's State offers individual online courses available in 130 subjects and 85 hybrid courses that require some on-campus participation. Online coursework is completed on a semester schedule. All online courses are video-based, offered on an asynchronous basis, on the Blackboard Learning Management System. Unique course topics include Entrepreneurship and Higher Education Administration. Many of the courses use online tools creatively: the Addiction Studies course "Group Techniques" studies group interventions through videos and participatory demonstrations.

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Lincoln Christian University

 3/557.47%Lincoln, IL

At Lincoln Christian University, students complete their degrees one course at a time, in a completely online format. The expected completion time for graduate degrees ranges from 21 months to two years, while bachelor’s degrees typically require four years. All students pursue a theological education, merged with professional-minded courses that prepare them to work in the ministry.

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More About Online Colleges in Illinois

Tuition in Illinois has increased in recent years. In-state tuition in public 4-year schools jumped by 22.7% between 2008 and 2014, while state funding for higher education decreased by nearly 15% in that time. In response, college students have increasingly turned to online programs, where tuition and auxiliary costs are much lower.

Browse our list of the best online colleges in Illinois for more insight into distance learning programs in this state.

NCES Report

According to a recent NCES report, over 10% of Illinois’ higher education students enroll in exclusively online programs, accounting for nearly 100,000 students. Among them:

  • 72.5% were undergraduates
  • 7.9% attended public, four-year schools
  • 57.9% attended private, not-for-profit colleges
  • 60.3% lived outside of Illinois

All 48 Illinois community colleges offer online classes, and additional online education opportunities are sprouting across Illinois’ accredited universities. The state’s acceptance into the Midwestern State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement will further enhance online opportunities in the state. The agreement is a national initiative that makes higher education more accessible to people across state lines through online programs. The initiative, funded by a $3 million dollar grant, affords Illinois students access to online courses and degrees available in partnered states, improving the quality and breadth of the state’s online education programs.

With rigorous, affordable online programs offering marketable degrees, more students will have access to higher education. This will allow students to complete degrees on their own timeline, helping them transition into the career they’ve always wanted. Standing at the forefront of the online education movement, Illinois’ colleges and universities are well-positioned to provide a range of educational opportunities to students for years to come.