A Guide to Online Colleges in Iowa

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When our backwoodsmen first reached the open plains, wide meadows, filled with endless stretches of long grass, they didn’t know what to call them. So, borrowing from the French inhabitants, decided on prairie. These types of grasslands hold the soil in place and prevent run-off — creating some of the most fertile land in America. Maybe that’s why “Land of the Rolling Prairie” is perhaps the most apt title for this once French colony (in fact, Iowa was once French Louisiana) that currently grows one fifth of our nations corn. When thinking of Iowa it’s natural to conjure up images of agriculture. But did you know that manufacturing also drives the economy of Iowa? In fact, two of the four cities in the “quad cities” are in Iowa. The quad cities are a region in Iowa and Illinois where boat crews needed to rest upon traveling up and down the Mississippi River. Because of this, Iowa is more than rolling plains and corn crops, Iowa is industrial. But Iowa is more than just a place to grow crops and further industry, it is home to rolling hill, Crystal Lake Cave, ancient bluffs for canoeing and exploring, 7,000 year old civilization, steep and rolling hills, and ancient glacial deposits. Rural Iowa is valuable not only for it’s economy but for its raw, unspoiled natural beauty. Iowa is that state that beckons you to not only live on the land but to become part of it. In-state tuition is often applied to public schools offering online programs. Many online programs require some face-to-face time, or more numerous support services at their brick and mortar locations. Intensive study experiences–often on the weekends or in several week long bouts–enable many online students to accelerate their time until graduation. And students looking at online education can drastically expand their educational options if they also look to hybrid degrees (degrees where degrees can be taken partially, or mostly online). Finally, one of the most common stipulations in scholarships is that students be from a certain state or region, often more funds are available to students seeking degrees in-state. Many of the top public schools in Iowa offer online programs of study at the associates through master’s level. Iowa State University offers 23 programs completely online including an impressive 22 masters degrees in a huge range of areas! Univeristy of Iowa, offers 18 online programs in a broad range of fields from the associate to the master’s level including a bachelor’s in radiation sciences, M.A. in educational management, an MBA, and several others. University of Northern Iowa offers 3 bachelor’s and 17 master’s degrees with a focus on education. And for those looking to save money or transfer into a state university, there are a number of online community and state colleges that offer associate’s degrees at an affordable price such as Northeast Iowa Community College, Elmsworth Community College, Marshalltown Community College; that all offer a myriad of transferable associate degrees online. There are also a number of private schools offering degrees online. In fact, the school offering the most online degrees in the state of Iowa is Upper Iowa University offering an impressive 38 total degree programs that range from an associate in general business to a Master’s of Business Administration. There’s also Briar Cliff, the 30th best school in the region with its 6 online bachelor degree offerings in fields like accounting, business, and nursing. Graceland University offers 6 programs with a focus on nursing while CLark offers 3 master’s degrees online in the field of education.
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Advertisement BestCollegeReviews.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Becoming a Resident for School Purposes Establishing residency is essential for securing that in-state tuition price. In many cases, paying out-of-state tuition can triple the costs of your education. For the state of Iowa a “resident” is defined as someone who meets the requirement established through the Board of Regents to obtaind the admission, tuitions and fee prices promised to those who live in-state. Simply showing a driver’s license or proof of domicile is not enough. You must have done the following: abandoned other domiciles in other states, have been living and working in the state of Iowa either as an independent or dependent for no shorter than 12 complete months, and be in the state of Iowa for reasons solely involving your enrollment in higher education. In 2015-16 the average published tuition prices for Iowan four-year universities was $6,600 for in-state tuition that’s about $2,800 below the national average for public schools. The highest value schools are also our top three picks for online option. The University of Iowa is one of the top schools in the nation and the tuition rates are just over $8,000 for in-state tuition. Out-of-Staters will pay nearly 30,000 a year for this public-ivy university. Iowa State University’s annual tuition is $7,969 and another top ranked national university. Again, those out of state pay over $21,000 for tuition. The pattern repeats for all other top public schools. Not to mention,saving on room and board means adding another $40,000 to your pocket. There’s something to be said of staying in-state. Des Moines is the capital city and most populous city in Iowa. Founded on Des Moines River (River of the Monks), this bustling major city is actually sitting on top of a prehistoric civilization. This 7,000 year old site is still the home to house deposits and thousands of artifacts. So it would seem that Des Moines has been an important point of interest for thousands of years. To this day Des Moines is filled with economic opportunity especially for insurance and business according to Business Wire and Forbes magazine. If it’s not a job at Facebook, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft or Blue Cross Blue Shield that has you intrigued about Des Moines it may be the ancient burial grounds, rich Native American history, or almost futuristic looking architecture (think geodesic domes). Talk about a mash up for old meets new, Des Moines is a microcosm of American life. For recreation, Des Moines is between the Des Moines River and Raccoon River so there is a plethora of recreational trails and parks to explore. This family-friendly town has a number of things to do for the younger crowds like a visit to the zoo or botanical garden. Adults can enjoy the racetrack and casino’s, lounges, and several restaurants ranging from low key to high end. Historically, Cedar Rapids was an industrial city and has recently seen a revival with its growing economy and expanding employment options. This eastern Iowa city is located on both banks of the Cedar River and is filled with natural beauty and Midwestern charm. The Indian Creek Nature center is 210 acre wildlife refuge that provides miles of trails winding around prairies, wetlands, and plenty of fishing holes. When it comes to athletics, Cedar Rapids has it all, with local offerings in hockey, football, baseball, and soccer. The culinary scene features a great mixture of cultures with a focus on Irish foods and beverages. This ever-expanding city features a unique cultural blend in neighborhoods like the Czech Village and the New Bohemia district — a bustling ethnic arts cultural neighborhood rooted in its Slovak and Moravian past. Not what you would expect from a typical midwest town? This winding city on the Cedar River is filled with cultural gems like the Carl & Mary Koehler History Center offering archives and open to the public. Even more curious is perhaps the multilingual Skala Bartizal Library hosted inside the National Czech and Slovak Museum with its focus on Czech and Slovak culture. Whether hiking, strolling, shopping, rock climbing, or site seeing, Cedar Rapids has something for everyone. Davenport is one of the quad cites — skirting the Mississippi River in both Iowa and Illinois and located on the border of Iowa and Illinois. Davenport is an economic hub as it is situated half way between Chicago and Des Moines. The quad cities metropolitan area as well as Davenport was ranked according to QcTimes as on of the fastest-growing areas in America for high-tech jobs. Davenport is also full of surprises. Due to its location on the Mississippi River, Davenport is the home of the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, and the Beiderbeck Memorial Jazz Festival (named for Bix Beiderbecke). There are over 50 parks in Davenport like Duck Creek Parkway, and Sunderbruch Park Mountain Bike Trail; so walking and biking are central to the culture. St. Ambrose University, Iowa Wesleyan, and Shiloh University are all located in or around Davenport.

Cedar Rapids


Population: 129,195 Cost of Living: 88.4% Top Industries: Manufacturing, Health Care, retail, construction Local Online Degrees: 4

Des Moines


Population: 207,510 Cost of Living: 91.4% Top Industries: manufacturing, healthcare, construction, retail Local Online Degrees: 3

Davenport


Population: 102,157 Cost of Living: 87.1% Top Industries: manufacturing, healthcare and social assistance, retail, education Local Online Degrees: 1

Sioux City


Population: 82,517 Cost of Living: 87.3% Top Industries: manufacturing, healthcare, construction, retail Local Online Degrees: 2

Waterloo


Population: 68,366 Cost of Living: 86.4% Top Industries: healthcare and social assistance, manufacturing, retail, construction Local Online Degrees: 3

Iowa City


Population: 73,415 Cost of Living: 93.5% Top Industries: Educational services, healthcare and social services, accomodation and food service, Local Online Degrees: 3

Council Bluffs


Population: 62,245 Cost of Living: 90.5% Top Industries: Healthcare, Manufacturing, Retail, Education Local Online Degrees: 5

Ames


Population: 61,792 Cost of Living: 92.4% Top Industries: Education, Healthcare, manufacuting, retail Local Online Degrees: 4

The Best Online Colleges in Iowa

  • 1. Iowa State University

    Online Programs: 23 Type: Public Iowa State University is a public flagship university with a land and space grant located in Ames. Ames is located about 30 miles outside of the state’s capitol and is known for it innovative bio-economic systems, parks, bike trails, cultural centers, and festivals. Iowa State University was among the first universities to receive a land-grant that aims do the following: open higher education to all, teach practical classes, and share knowledge beyond the campus borders. There are over 36,660 student enrolled with a student-to-faculty ratio of 19:1. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Iowa State University which offers 108 bachelor’s, 112 master’s degrees, and 81 Ph.D. programs including a veterinary medicine professional degree. U.S. News ranks ISU highly for undergraduate engineering programming and number 1 in the nation for its biological/ agricultural engineering programs. There are a total of 23 degree program offered online.

  • 2. University of Iowa

    Online Programs: 18 Type: Public The University of Iowa is a flagship public research university located in Iowa City — a “city of literature” according to UNSECO and one of the best small towns for business according to Forbes. Founded as what we would call a liberal arts school, today the University of Iowa is one of the most involved research schools in the nation. In fact, according to U.S. News it ranks as the 82nd best school in America. It’s not difficult to see what as over 25 of its graduate programs are listed as some of the best in the country! Some of the top program include speech and language pathology, social psychology physical therapy, pediatric nurse practitioner, family medicine, and many other. The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools as accredited the University of Iowa since 1913 and offers hundreds of degree programs for undergraduate as well as graduates. Online they offer 9 bachelor’s and 9 master’s degrees in fields like liberal studies, sports recreation, learning sciences, an MBA and others.

  • 3. University of Northern Iowa

    Online Programs: 20 Type: Public The University of Northern Iowa is a highly ranked regional university located in Cedar Falls — known for its walkable downtown, cultural centers, outdoor recreation, and proximity to the Cedar River. The university student body is 12,000 and offers large campus amenities with a small-college atmosphere. Over 80% of all classes are taught by faculty not student teachers. The U.S. News ranks UNI as the 20th best college in the region and the 2nd best public school in the nation. Merge those facts with the low cost of tuition (below the national average) and that adds up to tremendous bang for you buck value. The majority of students are undergraduates. That being said, there are 3 undergraduate and 17 master’s degree programs available online so UNI is serving a number of graduate students away from their brick and mortar location. Online, you can earn a degree in music education, physical education, elementary education and several others.

  • 4. Upper Iowa University

    Online Programs: 38 Type: Private Upper Iowa University is a small private school located in Fayette a rural town surrounded with natural beauty. This small private school enrolls just over 4,000 students and maintains a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Upper Iowa University to offer nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields like counseling, education, environmental science, human resources management, art, and others. According to U.S. News UIU ranks among the best colleges for online bachelor’s degrees and based off of the following metrics: “student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, and peer reputation.” Military Times denotes it is as one of its “Best For Vets” colleges. Upper Iowa University offers the highest number of online programs including 2 associate degrees, 20 bachelor’s, and 16 master’s programs.

  • 5. Briar Cliff University

    Online Programs: 6 Type: Private Briar Cliff University is a Catholic Franciscan private university located in Sioux City — known for it’s family-friendly events, nature center, historical downtown, and proximity to the Missouri River. There are just 1,149 students enrolled at Briar Cliff and the student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1. According to U.S. News Briar Cliff University is ranked 30th among regional colleges in the Midwest and is the 6th Best College for Veterans in the nation! Briar Cliff University’s stated values include an innovative response to change, a culture of service as well a focus on the student. That focus includes academia as well as extra-curricular and real-life job preparation. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Briar Cliff University to offer over 30 degree programs from the bachelor’s to doctoral level. Briar Cliff offers 6 bachelor’s degrees online.

  • 6. Graceland University-Lamoni

    Online Programs: 8 Type: Private Graceland University is a small liberal arts private university located in Lamoni located about one hour from Des Moines with a total enrollment of 2,301 students. The student-to-faculty ratio is 15:1 and the facilities feature an Olympics quality outdoor track, soccer complex, the Helene Center for the Visual Arts and the Resch Science and Technology Hall. There are over 50 academic programs and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accredits programs ranging from the undergraduate to PhD level. According to U.S. News Graceland University Lamoni is a tier-1 regional school ranking 113th in the Midwestern region, and has also been recognized as the “Best in the Midwest” according to the Princeton Review. The online offerings range from bachelor’s degrees to a doctorate in nursing practice!

  • 7. Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar

    Online Programs: 15 Type: Public Northeast Iowa Community College or NICC is a public institution that enrolls over 5,000 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1. NICC has two main campuses; this one is in Calmar — a small town with a population of about 1,000 people. There are over 85 programs available and a few of the popular associate degrees offered are in fields like marketing, health, and liberal arts. One of the perks for NICC is their flexible transfer and college credit policies in that credit for military and life experiences are allowed as well as proficiency examination and even some high school coursework. Their formal partnerships include Kirkwood Community College, Hawkeye Community College as well as the University of Iowa — which allows for dual enrollment. There are 15 associate degrees offered completely online. NICC is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission.

  • 8. Ellsworth Community College

    Online Programs: 13 Type: Public Ellsworth Community College is located in Iowa Falls — a riverside small town within reach of other large cities. The student body is small with about 1,000 enrolled and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio. Perhaps one of the most unique accolades of ECC is its wide variety of academic offerings in fields like agriculture and animal sciences, business and computers, health, liberal arts and social sciences including graphic arts, mathematics and sciences, or work for those looking to transfer an or are undecided. The National Association of Agricultural Educators awarded ECC the “Agricultural Educators Outstanding Postsecondary/ Adult Agricultural Education Program” award. The online presence mirrors campus with a great selection of online associate degrees in areas like accounting, history, and social work.

  • 9. Marshalltown Community College

    Online Programs: 13 Type: Public Marshalltown Community College is located in Marshalltown, and is part of the Iowa Valley Community College District. The student-to-faculty ratio is just 13:1 and most classroom contain an average of 17 students. There are over 55 programs available in areas like veterinary medicine, medical assisting, journalism education as well as skilled trade programs like automotive technology, culinary arts, or welding. Marshalltown offers a dual credit option allowing high school students to earn college credits. All students seeking this route must gain approval from their local high school. According to Military Advanced Education and Transition, Marshalltown Community College is ranked as one of their top schools for their practices in military and veteran education. Online, students have 13 associate level degree programs to follow in areas like accounting, psychology, and journalism.

  • 10. Clarke University

    Online Programs: 1 Type: Private Clarke University is a selective private institution that enrolls 1,075 students where the student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1. It is located in Dubuque a hilly historic town with Irish-Catholic heritage located off the Mississippi River. The U.S. News regional ranking for Clarke University is 15th with the additional ranking of the 8th best value school. Classroom size is small where the overwhelming majority contain fewer than 17 students! Clarke has several accolades including its recognition as one of America’s Best Colleges in Forbes , and “Best Midwestern College” according to The Princeton Review. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Clarke to offer degrees that range from bachelor’s to doctorate. Student enjoy programs like biology, drama, Spanish, Pre-Law, and business among others. There is one program available online and that is their Master of Arts in Education.

  • 11. Western Iowa Tech Community College

    Online Programs: 10 Type: Public Western Iowa Tech Community College is a public institution located in Sioux CIity Iowa — a city ranked by Forbes as one of the top 15 for businesses and careers. Known as a “comprehensive” community college, Western Iowa Tech literally has something for everyone. With a huge list of degrees in areas like robotics, game design, wind energy, police science, photography, personal training, medical, education, dental and others it’s no wonder this program is considered to be comprehensive. The annual tuition is $3,538; nearly a third of the annual public tuition nationwide and houses a total student enrollment of 6,331. With as many student enrolled in that many programs its no wonder some of their core values include lifelong learning, dedication, academic freedom, and quality. Online, there are 10 equally diverse associate degrees available.

  • 12. Morningside College

    Online Programs: 3 Type: Private Morningside College is a private liberal arts college located in Sioux City — recognized by Money Magazine as one of the best places to live in the nation. There are 2,797 students enrolled at Morningside with a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Morningside to offer over 65 majors and pre-professional programs. The job and grad school placement rate is 99%! Students have access to a classic liberal arts education and each year have an opportunity to present research at the Palmer Research Symposium. According to U.S. News Morningside is ranked as the 56th best college in the region and the 34th best college for veterans. Online, Morningside College offers three M.A. in teaching including professional education and special education.

  • 13. Saint Ambrose University

    Online Programs: 1 Type: Private Saint Ambrose is a private catholic university located in Davenport — the largest of the quad cities located between Chicago and Des Moines. There are 3,311 students enrolled at St. Ambrose where the student to faculty ratio is 10:1 and the average class size is 30. According to U.S. News St. Ambrose is the 35th best regional school in the Midwest and ranked highly for veterans as well as value. Nearly 80 of freshmen remain at St. Ambrose — an indicator of high satisfaction. The Higher Learning Commission accredits St. Ambrose University that offers over 60 undergraduate, 13 master’s, and 3 doctoral programs in a wide variety of areas. Students engage in community programs in inner-city Chicago, Appalachia, New Orleans as well as India, Ecuador, and Ireland, and their faculty and staff assist over 114 different organizations. The ethos of the student body is connectivity. Including in that is its online Master of Education in Teaching.

  • 14. Iowa Central Community College

    Online Programs: 6 Type: Public Iowa Central Community College is located in Fort Dodge — a major economic center for North Central and Northwest Iowa. Programming reflects the needs of the community, is extraordinarily vast and varied, and has several unique offerings like apprenticeships, robotics, photography, and several others. Their mission statement makes clear their desire to create educational opportunities for students insdie and outside of the classroom. Programming addresses diverse needs through their academics as well as their college transfer programs, and community service. Iowa Central is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. There are over 5,600 students enrolled and the cost for in-state tuition is $4,520. Their distance learning programs are extremely flexible and include 15 week or 8 week online courses. There are 6 associate degree programs available online.

  • 15. Northwest Iowa Community College

    Online Programs: 5 Type: Public

Accreditation

Monitoring the accreditation of a university you are interested in attending is incredibly important. Accreditation ensures your credits can transfer that you can receive Federal financial aid, and most importantly that certain standards of educational quality are during your schooling. The highest accreditation standard for most programs in the United States is provided by regional accreditation agencies. The regional accrediting agency for Iowa is the Higher Learning Commission, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Making sure that a University you’re hoping to attend is regionally accredited — or accredited by a real and respected accrediting agency — is one of the most important choices you can make in ensuring the quality of your education.

Three Steps for Securing Financial Aid

  • Submit your FAFSA.
  • Check to see if additional forms are needed at your university of choice.
  • Search and apply for private scholarships.
Through the previous three steps most students find themselves offered some sort of federal grant, work study, private grant, scholarship, or stipend.

Great Iowa Higher Education Resources

Iowa Department of Education
The IDE includes resources for students, teachers, and parents with up-to-date education standards, insight community colleges, career planning, career and technical education and more.
Reaching Higher Iowa
Reaching Higher Iowa is a non-profit dedicated to improving K-12 education across the state.
Iowa Community College Online Consortium
The ICCOC collects and collaborates data across the consortium of community colleges with an aim to provide improved services to learners seeking the path to an online community college education in Iowa.
Iowa Board of Regents
The Board of Regents mandates diverse, quality, and affordable education for those seeking post-secondary education in the state of Iowa.
Iowa College Aid
The Iowa College Aid advocates for Iowans pursuing higher education through financial aid, college readiness programming, a FAFSA Completion Initiative and more.
Hawkeye Scholarships
Here you’ll find a complete list of Hawkeye Scholarships and endowments.
Iowa State University Scholarships
Check out these scholarships from our number one ranked school in the state.
Iowa State Automatic Scholarship Calculator
Use this calculator to see if you automatically qualify for additional scholarships to Iowa State.
The University of Iowa Scholarships Portal
A hub for scholarships available for students attending the University of Iowa.
River Valley Lodge and Campground
To experience one of the most beautiful natural treasure in the state of Iowa visit here.
City View
For all of the goings ons in Des Moines: from politics, to rehabilitation, theater, and food, head here.

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