Best Online Colleges in Iowa

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According to an NCES report, of the total 363,359 students enrolled in Title IV institutions in Iowa in 2012, 39.7% were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses, making it the third highest percentage of participation in any state. Despite higher education funding being cut 23.8% from ’08-’14 and a 12.2% increase in tuition rates during that same period, Iowa maintains a high graduation rate overall, and one of the lowest student loan default rates of any state in the nation. In 2013, 114,809 students were enrolled in some form of online or distance learning program, reflecting the demand for affordable and flexible alternatives to traditional on-campus education.

Online education in Iowa has been bolstered in recent years by the creation of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium — a 7-college partnership of state schools. Noted as one of the best online colleges in Iowa, the Iowa State University system offers over 30 online programs ranging from degree completion programs to professional and graduate degrees. The Iowa Distance Learning Association (IDLA) offers grants and awards for programs in professional development and holds a bi-yearly Symposium presented by innovators and leaders in the field of distance education. The Iowa Communications Network (ICN) provides access to the Iowa Distance Learning Database, a video conferencing hub.

With these distance learning initiatives in play, it is clear that Iowa has embraced online education as a powerful resource in developing a stable workforce and growing economy. A comprehensive report by the Iowa College Student Aid Commission outlines emerging trends in Iowa’s population, economy and educational system. Recent graduates shoulder some of the highest student loan debt in the country, making affordable online and distance education an appealing alternative to traditional and costly degree programs.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Iowa State University 73.61 71% Ames, IA

Iowa State is an international university with approximately 36,000 students with access to 100 majors, world-class scholars, and more than 800 student organizations. Among the school's many notables are the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner, Dan Shechtman, who teaches at the school; the world's highest-res immersive virtual reality lab; and the nation's first demonstration farm.

One of the best Iowa online colleges, Iowa State offers hundreds of courses and several degree programs that can be completed 100% online. Among them are two online bachelor's degree programs for transfers from a community college: bachelor of liberal studies, a program in which students choose courses based on their professional goals; and the bachelor of applied studies for graduates of community college technical programs with at least three years of work experience. Iowa State and two other institutions form a cooperative offering more distance education degree options in areas such as nursing, education, computer science, and social work.

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2 University of Iowa 67.78 70% Iowa City, IA

A top public research university, the University of Iowa (UI) offers its approximately 33,000 students a curriculum of the arts, sciences, and humanities administered by 11 colleges. The institution's programming is affordable and accessible; among UI's notables are a large academic medical center and the world-renowned Writers' Workshop, which has produced 13 Pulitzer Prize winners.

One of the best online colleges in Iowa, UI offers a number of bachelor's degree programs that can be taken 100% online in areas such as business administration, liberal studies, political science, and RN-to-BSN. Of note is the BA in enterprise leadership, designed for students seeking to develop their skills in entrepreneurship leadership and building organizations. Also noteworthy is the RT to BS in radiation sciences online program for registered radiologic technologists wanting to earn a baccalaureate degree and advance their careers. Students at UI have access to faculty and technical support to ensure successful e-learning outcomes.

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3 Graceland University-Lamoni 63.61 50% Lamoni, IA

Graceland University (GU), sponsored by the Community of Christ, is a liberal arts institution with two campuses and online learning serving just under 2,000 students. GU has more than 50 academic programs, including 36 undergraduate majors and three master's degrees with eight majors.

GU is one of Iowa's online colleges and offers undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programming to its more than 800 online learners. Bachelor's degrees can be earned 100% online in nursing, business administration, healthcare management, and organizational leadership. Of note is the dual business administration and organizational leadership program, an online BA completion option that is unique because of the dual major. Courses are taught by faculty with real-world experience, and the program is also open to students without an associate degree.

GU highlights the school's affordability and online program flexibility. Notable GU alumni include Bruce Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist, and Teresa Carpenter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

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4 University of Northern Iowa 63.06 66% Cedar Falls, IA

The University of Northern Iowa (UNI), located in Cedar Falls and home to about 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students, offers more than 90 majors through its four colleges and graduate school. Among the school's notables is Iowa's #1 education program--graduating hundreds of teachers each year--and a nationally recognized business program known for specializations and hands-on learning options.

UNI is also one of the best online colleges in Iowa with approximately 2,000 students participating in online learning. Five bachelor's degree programs are offered online in the fields of education, liberal arts, criminal justice, emergency services, and technology management. The bachelor of applied science in tactical emergency services with vulnerable populations is a unique online bachelor's designed for tactical emergency services practitioners serving diverse and vulnerable populations in the field. UNI's specific services for distance learners include tutorials and guides, technical support, and summer workshops.

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5 Buena Vista University 58.33 51% Storm Lake, IA

Buena Vista University (BVU) provides its approximately 1,400 students with a strong liberal arts education that incorporates career and life preparation. BVU's comprehensive catalog of offerings is administered via five schools to students on its main campus, at remote learning locations across Iowa, and through distance learning. As one of the online colleges in Iowa, BVU offers online degree and degree completion programs in areas such as accounting, criminal justice, health services leadership, and marketing.

The BASc applied management major is designed for adult learners with an AAS degree who want to advance their careers by earning a baccalaureate degree focusing on critical areas such as communication, business, and management. BVU notes that with 60 or more credit hours or an associate degree, students can transfer into BVU and earn a bachelor's degree online in just two years. Advisors work with students to "facilitate a smooth transfer of credits from community colleges" in the state.

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If you want to qualify for a range of high-paying job opportunities, earning a college degree is key. When deciding where and what you want to study, you may end up weighing both in-state and out-of-state schools. If you are from Iowa, there are many advantages to attending college in your home state. Sticking close to home can qualify you for in-state tuition and help you build a network of regional professional contacts. You may also benefit from your school’s name recognition on the local job market, and you’ll be relatively close by if you need to occasionally visit campus.

When researching programs, be sure to consider our list of the most affordable online colleges in Iowa. All of the schools in this list are accredited, and our rankings highlight the colleges that offer the best blend of affordable tuition and return on investment.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 University of Iowa 93.13 70% Iowa City, IA

The University of Iowa is not only the state’s flagship university, but also one of the most affordable online colleges in Iowa. The university offers 40 online undergraduate and graduate programs, including a bachelor of science in sport management and a master of arts in educational leadership. Coursework may be asynchronous or synchronous, depending on the program. The school’s most popular programs are its bachelor of applied studies and bachelor of liberal studies, which are broad liberal arts degrees designed for working professionals who already have an associate degree. Students who wish to transfer to UI may transfer up to half of the credits required for a bachelor’s degree.

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2 University of Northern Iowa 82.50 65% Cedar Falls, IA

The University of Northern Iowa offers more than 40 online undergraduate, graduate, and endorsement programs to distance learners across the country. UNI strives to be one of the most affordable online colleges in Iowa; distance learners pay a discounted per-credit online student tuition rate. UNI’s programs vary in their delivery methods, as coursework utilizes synchronous, asynchronous, and blended learning depending on the department. Like other online colleges in Iowa, UNI accepts associate degrees and transfer credits from other accredited schools.

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3 Iowa State University 77.50 69% Ames, IA

Iowa State University’s online program offerings include undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, certificates, professional programs, and degree completion programs. The school’s 21-month master of business analytics program is particularly popular. Programs vary in delivery method; coursework may be synchronous, cohort based, or self paced and asynchronous. Iowa State is one of the largest, best known, and most affordable online colleges in Iowa. All of the school’s online students are able to pay in-state tuition. All transfer applicants who have earned a minimum of 24 college credits with a GPA of 2.0 are automatically approved for admission.

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4 Mount Mercy University 55.63 72% Cedar Rapids, IA

Offering asynchronous courses that begin every five weeks, Mount Mercy University is one of the most flexible and affordable online colleges in Iowa. Online students at Mount Mercy receive a huge discount, paying 40% less tuition than on-campus students. This online college in Iowa offers seven online programs, including undergraduate degrees in nursing and health care administration and graduate degrees in business and criminal justice. In order to gain admission, undergraduate students should have a minimum high school GPA of 2.75 and at least a 20 on the ACT or a 940 on the SAT. Graduate students should have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0.

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5 Briar Cliff University 40.00 46% Sioux City, IA

Known as the state’s main Franciscan university, Briar Cliff University offers six online degree completion programs. All students who apply to one of these six programs -- offered in accounting, business, health sciences, nursing, operations management, and social work -- should have already earned an associate degree in a relevant field. Briar Cliff has designed its online coursework for working professionals; classes are delivered asynchronously with no scheduled class meetings. As one of the most affordable online colleges in Iowa, Briar Cliff allows its online students to pay a discounted per credit tuition rate. Briar Cliff is unique among colleges in Iowa for its Catholic perspective.

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More About Online Colleges in Iowa

Iowa has recently taken measures to lower costs in distance learning by joining an interstate registration reciprocity agreement with other states. Iowa’s public universities, all of which offer some form of online learning, don’t currently participate in tuition reciprocity programs. For both time and money constraints, as well as residency issues, online postsecondary education can open a lot of doors for students.

The most notable online initiative present in the state today, excluding those limited to individual universities promoting their own programs, would be the Iowa Community College Online Consortium, which serves as a partnership between the seven major, regional community colleges in the state. The consortium allows students enrolled at any of the seven universities to take online courses offered by any other school in the network. In addition, the ICCOC has a collection of professors available to support online students in their distance learning endeavors, as well as a digital repository of the textbooks used online in a given semester.

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

NCES Report

A recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics made the following conclusions about the state of online education in Iowa as of 2012:

  • 144,223 students were enrolled exclusively in online programs at Iowa’s Title IV institutions, making up nearly 40% of total enrollment at such institutions.
  • Less than 15% of those students were living in Iowa; the remaining 85% resided elsewhere in the U.S. while taking classes.
  • Of the 144,223 students, 83% were in undergraduate programs and just over 85% were in private for-profit institutions.
Best Online Colleges in Iowa of 2016
Rank School Location
1 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
2 Iowa State University Ames, IA
3 Graceland University - Lamoni Lamoni, IA
4 Mount Mercy University Cedar Rapids, IA
5 Buena Vista University Storm Lake, IA
6 Northwestern College Orange City, IA
7 William Penn University Oskaloosa, IA
8 Briar Cliff University Sioux City, IA