Best Online Colleges in Iowa

SEARCH COLLEGES
Sponsored Schools
Online or Campus

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.

See Methodology
Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Iowa State University RANKING SCORE 75.38 COST GRADUATION RATE 74% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
2 University of Iowa RANKING SCORE 74.81 COST GRADUATION RATE 65% LOCATION 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 12 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
3 Graceland University-Lamoni RANKING SCORE 74.23 COST GRADUATION RATE 72% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
4 University of Northern Iowa RANKING SCORE 67.31 COST GRADUATION RATE 53% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
5 Buena Vista University RANKING SCORE 64.42 COST GRADUATION RATE 43% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
6 Mount Mercy University RANKING SCORE 59.23 COST GRADUATION RATE 58% LOCATION Cedar Rapids, IA

Located in Cedar Rapids, Mount Mercy offers over 45 degrees to its community of 1,800 students. The university focuses on providing internship and research opportunities. The college recently began offering a doctor of nursing and a doctor of marriage and family therapy.

Mount Mercy strives to be one of the best online colleges in Iowa. The school offers online bachelor’s degrees in business, human resource management, management, healthcare administration, and nursing. The majority of online coursework is taught asynchronously. Many programs are offered in accelerated formats with five or ten-week classes. Depending on how many core education credits students have completed, some programs take just 18 to 24 months to complete. Online students pay 40% less in tuition than on-campus students. Applicants to online programs must have a GPA of at least 2.75.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
7 Northwestern College RANKING SCORE 56.92 COST GRADUATION RATE 64% LOCATION Orange City, IA

Northwestern is a Christian liberal arts college located in Orange City and serves around 1,200 students. The college maintains its reputation as one of the best colleges in Iowa for students who want to study abroad. This includes semester-long programs in Romania, Oman, and summer sessions in other countries. Northwestern is also known for its summer of service program, in which students travel abroad to engage in Christian mission work.

The university’s adult and distance learning programs includes an online bachelor’s degree in early childhood and an RN-to-BSN program. Northwestern also offers several online endorsement programs, including coaching and education. All coursework is taken completely online. There is no application fee to apply to online programs, and students enrolled in these programs pay nearly 50% less in tuition that students enrolled in on-campus programs. The college recently lowered the tuition rate for its online RN-to-BSN program, making it one of the most affordable online colleges in Iowa.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
8 Upper Iowa University RANKING SCORE 55.77 COST GRADUATION RATE 44% LOCATION Fayette, IA

UIU, founded in 1857, serves over 5,000 students through its main campus, online programs, and education centers throughout the United States. The university also maintains education centers in Hong Kong and Malaysia. With more than 30 fully-online associate and bachelor’s degrees, the university’s online distance learning program makes it one of the best online schools in Iowa.

Coursework is taught asynchronously, and the school offers five eight-week sessions and one six-week summer session per year. Online bachelor’s degrees include graphic design, sociology, accounting, business administration, emergency and disaster management, information technology, and nursing. Many online programs are also offered in self-paced formats, which allow students to take up to six months to complete each course. Online tuition is cheaper than on-campus tuition. Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward an online bachelor’s degree.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
9 Briar Cliff University RANKING SCORE 55.19 COST GRADUATION RATE 44% LOCATION Sioux City, IA

Briar Cliff, located in Sioux City, was founded in 1930 as a Catholic university for women. The school is home to more than 1,100 male and female students and is committed to promoting diversity, academic excellence, and innovation from a Christian liberal arts perspective.

Briar Cliff offers evening classes and online bachelor’s degree completion programs in accounting, business administration, health sciences, nursing, operations management, and social work. Coursework for most of these programs is either asynchronous or self-paced. The university accepts up to 90 credits from previous colleges and universities. Online students can receive credit from exam scores and work and volunteer experiences. Online students pay significantly less in tuition than on-campus students, making Briar Cliff one of the most affordable online schools in Iowa.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
10 William Penn University RANKING SCORE 55.00 COST GRADUATION RATE 33% LOCATION Oskaloosa, IA

WPU is located in Oskaloosa and was founded in 1873 by Quaker settlers. Reflecting the founders’ commitment to equality, the college’s first graduate in 1875 was a woman. The university’s Quaker heritage continues to influence its commitment to community, simplicity, equality, and peace. WPU’s Penn Leadership Core program requires undergraduate students to take core classes in the school’s Quaker values and heritage, leadership, and in liberal arts.

WPU offers online bachelor’s degrees in business management, human resource management, and psychology. Online courses each last eight weeks, and online students pay a discounted per-credit tuition rate. WPU also offers several distance learning programs with evening and weekend classes. First-time college applicants must submit transcripts and are required to have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and satisfactory SAT or ACT scores; transfer students with less than 24 credits should submit high school transcripts.

Tweet this Share this School Profile

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.

See Methodology
Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 University of Iowa RANKING SCORE 93.13 COST GRADUATION RATE 70% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
2 University of Northern Iowa RANKING SCORE 82.50 COST GRADUATION RATE 65% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
3 Iowa State University RANKING SCORE 77.50 COST GRADUATION RATE 69% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
4 Mount Mercy University RANKING SCORE 55.63 COST GRADUATION RATE 72% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
5 Briar Cliff University RANKING SCORE 40.00 COST GRADUATION RATE 46% LOCATION 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.

Tweet this Share this School Profile

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.
According to data from the 2016 IPEDS report (published in November 2017), most online bachelor’s degrees offered in 2016 in Iowa were in registered nursing:

Registered Nursing

Employment growth in this profession is strong in Iowa. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, long term projections show an increase of 17% in the total number of jobs between 2014 and 2024. Wages increased by 5% from 2011-2016.

Top Careers in Registered Nursing

In 2016, what were the top careers in Iowa for people who had a degree in registered nursing?

Career Name Number of Jobs Average Annual Wage
Registered Nurses 32,370 $56,290
Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary 520 $75,050
Career Outlook for Registered Nurses in Iowa

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Wages - Registered Nurses (2011 - 2016)

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Best Schools for Nursing

In Iowa, the best online registered nursing bachelor’s degrees are offered by:


Business Administration and Management

Employment growth in this profession is poor in Iowa. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, long term projections show a decrease of 48% in the total number of jobs between 2014 and 2024. Wages decreased by 5% from 2011-2016.

Top Careers in Business Administration

In 2016, what were the top careers in Iowa for people who had a degree in business administration and management?

Career Name Number of Jobs Average Annual Wage
General and Operations Managers 25,900 $93,600
Management Analysts 4,200 $76,800
Managers, All Other 3,360 $86,430
Sales Managers 3,350 $110,170
Construction Managers 3,250 $78,930
Industrial Production Managers 3,220 $91,400
Social and Community Service Managers 2,350 $56,050
Administrative Services Managers 2,240 $84,090
Cost Estimators 2,100 $60,370
Chief Executives 2,050 $176,920
Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers 1,330 $81,330
Business Teachers, Postsecondary 1,040 $103,360
Career Outlook for General and Operations Managers in Iowa

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Wages - General and Operations Managers (2011 - 2016)

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Best Schools for Business Administration

In Iowa, the best online business administration and management bachelor’s degrees are offered by:


Liberal Arts and Sciences/Liberal Studies

Employment growth in this profession is poor in Iowa. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, long term projections show a decrease of 3% in the total number of jobs between 2014 and 2024. Wages increased by 42% from 2011-2016.

Top Careers in Liberal Arts

In 2016, what were the top careers in Iowa for people who had a degree in liberal arts and sciences/liberal studies?

Career Name Number of Jobs Average Annual Wage
Postsecondary Teachers, All Other 3,520 $77,170
Career Outlook for Postsecondary Teachers in Iowa

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Wages - Postsecondary Teachers, All Other (2011 - 2016)

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Best Schools for Liberal Arts

In Iowa, the best online liberal arts and sciences/liberal studies bachelor’s degrees are offered by:


Psychology

Employment growth in this profession is strong in Iowa. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, long term projections show an increase of 270% in the total number of jobs between 2014 and 2024. Wages increased by 1% from 2011-2016.

Top Careers in Psychology

In 2016, what were the top careers in Iowa for people who had a degree in psychology?

Career Name Number of Jobs Average Annual Wage
Managers, All Other 3,360 $86,430
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists 650 $75,070
Psychology Teachers, Postsecondary 410 $84,880
Psychologists, All Other 70 $91,850
Career Outlook for Management in Iowa

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Wages - Managers, All Other (2011 - 2016)

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Best Schools for Psychology

In Iowa, the best online psychology bachelor’s degrees are offered by:


Human Services

Employment growth in this profession is strong in Iowa. According to the Iowa Workforce Development, long term projections show an increase of 21% in the total number of jobs between 2014 and 2024. Wages increased by 21% from 2011-2016.

Top Careers in Human Services

In 2016, what were the top careers in Iowa for people who had a degree in human services?

Career Name Number of Jobs Average Annual Wage
Social and Human Service Assistants 4,580 $33,070
Social and Community Service Managers 2,350 $56,050
Community and Social Service Specialists, All Other 980 $39,580
Career Outlook for Social and Human Service Assistants in Iowa

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Wages - Social and Human Service Assistants (2011 - 2016)

Data source: Iowa Workforce Development, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data may not be available for every year.

Best Schools for Human Services

In Iowa, the best online human services bachelor’s degrees are offered by:


Rankings Archive

Best Online Colleges in Iowa of 2017
Rank School Location
1 Iowa State University Ames, IA
2 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
3 Graceland University-Lamoni Lamoni, IA
4 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
5 Buena Vista University Storm Lake, IA

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