According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa enjoys a low 2.5% unemployment rate as of September 2019. This rate is below what economists consider full employment, and signifies a time when the number of open positions outpace those looking for work. As a result, employers must offer higher salaries and competitive benefit packages to attract talented professionals. Additionally, employers open up more opportunities to recent college graduates.
Some of the largest employment sectors in the state -- such as education, healthcare, and management -- provide salaries between $52,360 and $100,560 per year. In addition to low unemployment, Iowa residents enjoy a low cost of living. Even in Iowa's largest city, Des Moines, residents pay 10% less for housing, food, and services than the national average. However, to obtain a well-paying career, you typically need some education beyond a high school diploma. Earning a certificate or degree at one of the best online colleges in Iowa can help you turn your career goals into reality.
Top 10 Online Colleges in Iowa
- University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA
- Iowa State University - Ames, IA
- University of Northern Iowa - Cedar Falls, IA
- St Luke's College - Sioux City, IA
- Buena Vista University - Storm Lake, IA
- Maharishi International University - Fairfield, IA
- Northwestern College - Orange City, IA
- Mount Mercy University - Cedar Rapids, IA
- Graceland University - Lamoni, IA
- Saint Ambrose University - Davenport, IA
Online colleges and universities feature many advantages, especially for busy individuals who cannot attend courses on campus. Programs often use an asynchronous curriculum with courses that do not have specific meeting times. Students can view pre-recorded lectures and study when convenient.
Online learners can also save significant money compared to their on-campus counterparts. For instance, they avoid paying for on-campus housing, parking, or childcare, and most online learners pay in-state tuition prices regardless of their state of residency.
This guide highlights the 20 best online colleges and universities in Iowa to help you make an informed decision. The following institutions boast multiple online programs, outstanding student support services, and other important benefits. Additionally, embedded links take you to each school's website, where you can learn more about each program and find contact information for academic and admissions counselors.
2020 Best Online Colleges in Iowa
University of Iowa
|Iowa City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 74%||
Iowa's premier public university, the University of Iowa offers 39 online degrees and certificates. Bachelor's programs that lead to in-demand careers include RN-to-BSN, social work, and enterprise leadership. The university also offers one online endorsement in education leadership -- an attractive option for in-state public school teachers. Additionally, many master's and certificate programs allow learners to study in a hybrid format.
UI offers extensive resources that help learners familiarize themselves with learning online. Prospective students can take a sample course to see if online learning at UI is right for them. The university provides 24/7 technical support services. Each semester, advisors work closely with students to select from more than 600 online courses.
UI admits new students in the fall and spring semesters. Application requirements for undergraduate programs include high school transcripts -- UI also accepts GED scores -- and SAT or ACT scores. Scholarship opportunities open to online learners award $1,000. UI typically sets scholarship application deadlines around July 1 and December 1.
Iowa State University
|Ames, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
Iowa State University offers an online bachelor's in liberal studies that allows learners to create a personalized, 36-credit concentration in areas such as English literature, mathematics, and military studies. This flexibility attracts degree-seekers undecided about a major and career path. Additionally, all courses use an asynchronous curriculum, and the school offers online courses in the spring, summer, and fall semesters.
With dozens of online courses to choose from, degree-seekers work one-one-one with an advisor to explore different topics and choose a concentration. Prospective students can also speak to an advisor to discuss academic and career goals.
Applicants should possess an associate degree or at least 60 undergraduate credits from an accredited school. Iowa State may admit applicants who do not meet this requirement. All learners pay the same per-credit tuition rate and fees regardless of residency. Additionally, prospective students submit only one scholarship application to apply to all Iowa State scholarship opportunities.
University of Northern Iowa
|Cedar Falls, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
The University of Northern Iowa offers continuing and distance education in the form of four bachelor's degrees and over two dozen master's degrees and certificates. Learners who already possess an associate degree can earn a bachelor's in elementary education in just two years. Master's programs at UNI lead to in-demand careers in instructional technology, principalship, and public policy. Additionally, some programs feature a hybrid learning option.
UNI provides valuable resources to both students and faculty. Learners can access IT support during office hours, as well as support guides that discuss online learning best practices and how to use the online student portal. Each program also boasts a highly trained and knowledgeable advisor who works with learners one-on-one.
New programs start in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. In-state and out-of-state students pay the same per-credit tuition rate plus a small technology fee for each course. Additionally, learners at this top online college in Iowa who take at least six credits per semester may qualify for a merit-based scholarship or need-based grant.
St Luke's College
|Sioux City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 100%||
St. Luke's College offers two online programs -- a bachelor's in nursing and a bachelor's in health science -- to prepare learners for in-demand healthcare careers. The nursing major builds on associate-level knowledge and emphasizes coursework in proactive nursing and course assessment. The health science program allows students to personalize their degree by taking electives such as pathophysiology or culture and diversity in healthcare.
St. Luke's offers both full-time and part-time graduation tracks, a boon for learners already employed in the healthcare field. All online learners complete an in-depth student orientation before registering for courses. This top online college in Iowa also employs tutors and resume coaches.
Both first-time and transfer students can apply. Freshmen applicants should submit a high school diploma or GED scores, and transfer credit should reflect a minimum 2.0 undergraduate GPA. Learners who maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA may qualify for one of many endowed scholarship opportunities.
Buena Vista University
|Storm Lake, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
With more than 30 online programs, Buena Vista University attracts students with a broad variety of academic interests. Notable undergraduate programs include sports business, health services leadership, and criminal justice. Additionally, BVU provides seven graduate endorsement programs for primary and secondary school educators in areas such as special education and significant support needs.
This top online Iowa university provides students with online learning software that features a grade portal, a payment portal, tutor access, and virtual office hours. The university's community college partners -- the Iowa Community College Online Consortium -- ensure that degree-seekers can also transfer credits seamlessly.
BVU offers a start date every eight weeks, making the university an excellent option for prospective students who want to start a program as soon as possible. Applicants without at least 24 transferable credits submit transcripts or GED scores. BVU prefers applicants with a minimum 3.0 high school or undergraduate GPA. Phi Theta Kappa members may qualify for an institutional scholarship.
Maharishi International University
|Fairfield, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 64%||
Formerly known as Maharishi University of Management, Maharishi International University offers two online bachelor's and six online master's programs in areas such as sustainable business and integrative medicine. The university's MFA in screenwriting program features multiple residencies -- both on campus and in Los Angeles -- and a unique mentorship program that pairs students with an industry leader. Learners in this program also receive an in-depth education in business and marketing.
To help learners succeed academically, MUM developed a block system where students complete one course per month. Although each course uses an accelerated format, learners receive a three-day holiday to rejuvenate before starting the next block. Student support services at this top online Iowa university include 24/7 IT help and a mental health wellness program.
Undergraduate applicants should possess a high school diploma. For learners with prior college-level education, MUM accepts more than 60 transfer credits. The university requires graduate school applicants to have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.
|Orange City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
The College of Graduate and Adult Studies at Northwestern College offers 18 online programs to help busy professionals earn a degree, certificate, or teaching license endorsement. Bachelor's programs boast generous transfer credit policies that save eligible learners thousands of dollars on a degree. All online programs use Blackboard virtual learning software.
This top online Iowa college offers monthly seminars on topics such as how to teach the Holocaust to secondary school students, as well as how to help children in the aftermath of traumatic events. Students can also access an informational blog that features articles detailing career trends and best practices applicable to learners' future careers.
NWC hosts virtual informational sessions each month. Application requirements vary, but typically include a GPA cutoff. Master's in education and nursing programs require applicants to possess a relevant license. Incoming graduate students who earned an undergraduate degree at NWC may qualify for the Education Alumni Grant.
Mount Mercy University
|Cedar Rapids, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 58%||
Mount Mercy University offers distance learners 10 online bachelor's degrees, including business, management, and an RN-to-BSN. All programs at this top online Iowa University allow degree-seekers to continue working full time. Courses feature both an asynchronous and accelerated format, while dedicated professors respond to student questions and concerns within one business day.
MMU has created an online campus culture to help learners succeed and provide a unique educational experience. The Mercy App connects learners to MMU 24/7, and students who live in and around Cedar Rapids can take advantage of on-campus resources. Services available to all online degree-seekers include scheduled conversations with academic and career advisors, as well as one-on-one tutoring.
Application requirements include a high school diploma and ACT or SAT scores. The RN-to-BSN program requires a valid nursing license and a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Although MMU does not award institutional or departmental scholarships, the university provides a 10% tuition discount to learners who work for one of 24 partner companies.
|Lamoni, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
With campuses in Iowa and Missouri, Graceland University - Lamoni offers online bachelor's and master's degrees for a broad range of learners. For instance, practicing teachers can earn a master's in instructional leadership, literacy instruction, or special education. Business learners have three bachelor's programs from which to choose, including a track in organizational leadership. Additionally, online nursing programs boast both RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN options.
GU understands that students have responsibilities outside the classroom, and as a result, all courses are delivered in an asynchronous format. In addition to career and academic counselors, this top Iowa university employs professional personal counselors who help learners with depression, marital issues, and other problems.
Admission requirements vary by program, but often include a GPA and standardized test score cutoff. Transfer applicants must have a minimum 2.0 undergraduate GPA. GU also considers each applicant's class rank.
Saint Ambrose University
|Davenport, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
Students at St. Ambrose University can choose from three online bachelor's completion programs and three online master's programs. Two bachelor's degrees -- applied management and business administration -- offer both fully online and hybrid options. RN-to-BSN students, however, take courses entirely online and must earn a minimum C grade to remain in good academic standing.
Graduate students can choose from three online options. The master's in criminal justice program offers a 4+1 pathway where online degree-seekers can earn a bachelor's and master's in just five years.
This top online Iowa university offers valuable academic resources such as supplemental instruction from upperclassmen. Online learners can also meet with advisors to learn study and time management skills. Students can submit papers online to receive writing feedback and assistance.
Undergraduate transfer applicants can submit up to 90 outside credits and may qualify for $13,000 per year in merit-based scholarships. SAU also accepts transfer credit from incoming graduate students. Graduate learners may also receive financial aid. Each department sponsors unique scholarship opportunities, all of which require a separate application.
William Penn University
|Oskaloosa, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
A private school located in Oskaloosa, William Penn University offers two online degrees: a bachelor's in elementary education and a bachelor's in physical education. The latter program allows learners to specialize in a specific grade range. Additionally, students can personalize a degree by selecting one of five endorsement areas, including reading (K-8) and strategist (5-12). These endorsements enhance an Iowa teaching license, but may not satisfy other states' endorsement requirements.
WPU's Student Success Center provides peer tutoring in general education topics, and online degree-seekers can receive help either over the phone or through video conferencing. Career services at this top online Iowa university include career mentoring, as well as cover letter and resume assistance.
Prospective degree-seekers can apply through the mail. Applicants self-report standardized test scores, and WPU may request an official report. Online learners who already work in the education field may qualify for a tuition reduction that caps tuition at $5,000 per year.
Upper Iowa University
|Fayette, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 41%||
Upper Iowa University offers dozens of online associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees, as well as professional certificates. The college also boasts satellite campuses in five states. Undergraduates can customize a degree at this top online university in Iowa by completing minors such as journalism, marketing, or psychology.
Academic, career, and IT support at UIU are easy to access. The university provides multiple student tutorials that teach learners how to succeed in online learning. Additionally, the Academic Success and Career Development Departments boast multiple resources, including job search boards and anti-plagiarism guides.
UIU accepts high school transcripts or GED scores from freshman applicants. Graduate programs require a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA. UIU posts new scholarship opportunities for distance education students throughout the year. Each scholarship requires a separate application.
|Indianola, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
With an emphasis on online and evening programs, Simpson College tailors its programs for nontraditional students. Learners at this top online college in Iowa can pursue fully online degrees in management, management information systems, and marketing communication. Students can also complete one of nine minors -- such as computer information systems, data analytics -- or earn a teaching endorsement entirely online.
Degree-seekers can complete courses in either an eight- or 15-week format. Unlike other institutions on this ranking, Simpson allows learners to pause a program for a semester or more. The college also pairs each learner with an academic advisor, a highly trained professor who helps degree-seekers create a roadmap to graduation and find additional academic and career resources.
Simpson does not charge an application fee, and undergraduate applicants do not need to submit standardized test scores. All prospective students speak with an admissions counselor, and transfer applicants should submit high school transcripts if they possess fewer than 36 transferable credits. Online learners may qualify for institutional financial aid, and the university awards some in-state degree-seekers a full-tuition scholarship.
Grand View University
|Des Moines, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Grand View University offers online bachelor's degree in 11 fields, including liberal arts, paralegal studies, and psychology. Unlike other top online Iowa universities on this ranking, GV also offers an undecided track that allows degree-seekers to create a custom major while fulfilling all general education requirements. Additionally, GV's generous transfer credit policy means that incoming students who already possess an associate degree can earn a bachelor's in just two years.
GV's student success network pairs learners with completion coaches, professionals who meet with degree-seekers each semester to plan course loads. Online learners can also access peer tutors. Nearly 100% of graduates find employment or attend graduate school within six months of earning a GV degree.
GV does not charge an application fee. Freshman applicants submit standardized test scores. Incoming students may qualify for up to $19,000 per year in merit-based scholarships.
|Sioux City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 56%||
Located in Sioux City, Morningside College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The college's online bachelor's completion program is designed for students who already possess an associate degree or significant college credit. This program, a bachelor of science in organizational management, focuses on leadership in various organizational settings. Some degree-seekers with transfer credit can graduate in just one year.
The school also offers several online and hybrid master's degrees in teaching and nursing.
Learners at this top online Iowa college who need academic and career support turn to the experts at the Krone Advising Center. These highly trained advisors direct students to valuable resources, such as the writing center and career services. Both students and alumni can use Handshake software to explore job opportunities throughout Iowa.
Morningside accepts new students at five points throughout the year. Undergraduate applicants should possess at least 50 transferable credits and at two years of work experience in any field.
|Dubuque, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
The online RN-to-BSN program at Clark University is the perfect choice for practicing Iowa RNs who want to increase career and salary potential. The fully online curriculum features coursework in care across the lifespan, health policy leadership, and community healthcare. This top online Iowa university accepts up to 95 transfer credits, meaning some learners can graduate in just 12 months.
Nursing students at Clarke benefit from an online learning network that integrates the university's many student support services. Learners can receive academic coaching through video conferencing or by visiting the Margaret Mann Academic Resource Center. The nursing program also boasts an in-depth career website that provides information on honor societies, networking, and job hunting.
Prospective degree-seekers can apply for one of five annual start dates. Applicants should possess an active Iowa nursing license and adequate transfer credit. Incoming learners may qualify for one or more scholarship opportunities exclusive to nursing students.
Mercy College of Health Sciences
|Des Moines, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
Another excellent choice for aspiring healthcare leaders, Mercy College of Health Sciences boasts two online undergraduate programs: a healthcare administration degree and an RN-to-BSN degree. The RN-to-BSN program accepts up to 39 transfer credits, and accelerated learners can graduate in just three semesters. Students can customize a degree by selecting seminars in specialized topics. Additionally, all professors who teach healthcare administration courses possess a terminal degree and provide learners with individualized attention.
Student support services at this top online Iowa college prepare degree-seekers for a fulfilling career in the healthcare field. At the Student Engagement Office, counselors lead mock interviews and review each degree-seeker's resume. Each fall, the college hosts a week-long employer showcase to connect seniors and alumni with career opportunities. Also, all online learners can participate in a student organization or honor society to enhance their resume.
RN-to-BSN applicants should possess an active nursing license, and healthcare leadership applicants should have a high school diploma or transfer credit. Incoming learners interested in scholarships should apply in March or October.
Briar Cliff University
|Sioux City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 42%||
Briar Cliff University offers online degree completion programs across six majors, including accounting, nursing, and social work. Unlike many similar programs at top online Iowa colleges and universities, BCU also accepts freshmen degree-seekers. All programs accept up to 90 transfer credits, and some students can earn a degree in just one year.
Prospective degree-seekers can speak with an advisor before enrolling, and all students meet with an academic advisor at least once per semester. Additionally, the Career Development Office helps learners and alumni explore internship and career opportunities through the College Central Network.
BCU accepts new degree-seekers in the spring and fall semesters. Incoming learners who possess an associate degree receive 62 transfer credits automatically, and students can earn additional credit by taking a challenge exam. Nursing degree-seekers who work at one of five local healthcare facilities qualify for a reduced tuition rate. Other financial aid opportunities require a separate application.
Iowa Wesleyan University
|Mount Pleasant, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 27%||
Students at Iowa Wesleyan University can choose from numerous fully online undergraduate and graduate degrees. Each undergraduate program boasts 1-5 concentration areas, and graduate degrees prepare students leadership positions in the education and business fields. Unique bachelor's degrees at this top online Iowa university include criminal justice with a focus on homeland security and business with a focus on supply chain management.
IW provides online learners with the same academic success tools that on-campus students receive. Through messaging or video conferencing, learners can consult with tutors, academic advisors, and career coaches. Technical support specialists can also help degree-seekers during university business hours. Additionally, IW provides learners with multiple guides on how to successfully learn online.
IW admits new students at six points throughout the year and accepts up to 90 transfer credits. The university also awards transfer credit for work experience and independent study, among other forms of education. Partner organization employees receive a tuition discount, and service members may qualify for an institutional scholarship.
University of Dubuque
|Dubuque, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 43%||
The University of Dubuque's Learning Institute for Fulfillment and Engagement gives adult learners ages 23 and over the opportunity to complete an accelerated online bachelor's program in one of three areas: business administration, healthcare leadership, or criminal justice. Courses use synchronous, evening meeting times to allow students to work full time or maintain other obligations. Degree-seekers who live in and around Dubuque can study in a hybrid format. Additionally, UD boasts an entirely online seminary program.
To help nontraditional students succeed academically, UD created its Academic Support and Success Center. All learners can receive one-on-one tutoring services. First-generation college students can participate in the federal TRIO program, which provides degree-seekers extra services at no additional cost.
Prospective students can apply for one of nine annual start dates. In addition to the age requirement, UD asks that all applicants possess a minimum of three years of work experience in any field. Incoming degree-seekers at this top online Iowa university may qualify for a federally backed grant or loan.