A Guide to Online Colleges in Massachusetts

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Since the Pilgrims arrival in 1620, Massachusetts has forever been associated with the colonial experience and the early European settlers of North America. Its capital city, Boston, where eighty-percent of the population lives, is all but synonymous with this image: puritans, patriots, political dissenters, advocates of religious freedom, Founding Fathers. (When we think of the American Revolution, we tend to think of Boston — not, strangely enough, Philadelphia — largely thanks to the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s famous ride.) But Massachusetts is more than a mere historical relic, trapped in time — far from it. It’s the third most densely populated state in the union, and boasts the country’s third-highest per capita income at $53,221. It’s among the best states for business: venture capital investment, information technology, healthcare, finance, tourism. Thirteen Fortune 500 companies are located in Massachusetts. And, with Boston being a major hub of the Northeast corridor, Massachusetts has one of the most robust, cutting-edge transportation systems in the country. But if there’s one Massachusetts asset that’s been there from the start — and that remains the United State’s very, very best — it’s higher education: the state boasts some of America’s and the world’s top universities. And now, thanks to increased investment and development of online education, those universities are more accessible and affordable than ever.

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.

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Eight Massachusetts public schools offer online degrees: Fitchburg State University, Middlesex Community College, North Shore Community College, Northern Essex Community College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Westfield State University. Among these, UMass Amherst and Lowell offer the largest selection of degrees, 31 and 24, respectively. Amherst’s 13 bachelor degrees range from Arts Management, to Business Administration, to Criminal and Social Justice programs. (An RN to BSN is available, as well.) Master’s tracks are primarily MBA and MEd concentrations. The majority of Lowell’s online degrees are graduate-level — MBA and MEd concentrations — plus some bachelor tracks in IT, English, Psychology, and Business, among others. For students primarily interested in pre-professional studies, Middlesex Community College offers 11 online associate degrees, by far the most in the state. Areas of study include Business, Accounting, Hospitality Management, Criminal Justice, Fire Protection & Safety Technology, and Psychology. Behind Lowell, Westfield State offers the third-most online bachelor degrees.

Eighteen private schools in Massachusetts offer online degrees, including Boston University, Brandeis University, Nichols College, Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wheelock College, Endicott College, and Lasell College. (For those interested in medicine and health, note also Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.) Northeastern is the largest private school provider, and second-largest in the state, with 30 degrees offered online. Most of these are master’s studies in Project Management, Nonprofit Management, Engineering Management, Homeland Security, Applied Behavior Analysis, Public Administration, and a unique MS in Regulatory Affairs for Drugs, Biologics, and Medical Devices, among others. (Northeastern also offers 8 bachelor’s degrees — the most offered among private schools — and 2 doctorates in Education and Physical Therapy.) Boston University ranks second with 24 available degrees (including 19 masters), followed by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (12), Lasell College (12), and Bay Path College (10). Associate tracks are harder to come by among private schools, but Boston offers one online AAS in Criminal Justice.

Potential Resident?

For a variety of reasons, a student may look to move to the state of their online college program whether specifically required by the program or not – be it for a job, location desirability, school benefits, etc. Different states have different policies, however, and some of them can be rather demanding. Massachusetts, fortunately, is straightforward. Student (or students’ parents, if they are dependents) must have lived in the state for 12 consecutive months prior to your enrollment at a Massachusetts public university; or 6 months if the student is planning to attend a community college. Among the documentation that might be required to prove residency are: valid driver’s license, pay stub, utility bills, voter registration, signed lease or recent receipt, etc. For further instructions/scenarios, UMass Amherst has a fairly comprehensive page dedicated to in-state tuition requirements.

Massachusetts public school tuition is slightly higher than the national average: $11,588 compared to $9,142, per four-year university in 2015-16. That’s a 5% increase over the year before (the national average is 3%) and a 12% increase over the past five years (the national average is 13%). There are several factors that we should take into account. First is quality: UMass, the state’s flagship public university, is among the top public research systems in the country, according to US News, the Princeton Review, and other leading publications. As so, Lowell, Amherst, and Dartmouth all represent excellent values. Further, and perhaps most important, the state has a relatively high cost-of-living (Boston in particular drives up expenses), which of course carries into education costs. (Yes, unfortunately this may affect online education, too; though it’s still cheaper on the whole.) Still, the $11,588 is still almost $4,000 cheaper than the highest public tuitions in the U.S, and Massachusetts’ 5-year percent change is less than the national average.

Boston has at least 7 universities offering online degrees. These include Boston University, Northeastern, Suffolk University, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and Wheelock College. Northeastern is the largest of these — and the second-largest in the state — with 30 degrees available online, including 8 bachelors, 20 masters, and two doctorates; these cover a range of discipline but especially excel in management, education, healthcare, and business. Boston University offers 24 online degrees, tied for third-most in the state (with UMass Lowell). For those interested in graduate business programs, Suffolk offers 3 unique tracks, especially for online delivery: an Executive MBA, a Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting, and an MBA. And, of course, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is an excellent opportunity for online healthcare students: 2 bachelors, 8 masters, and 2 doctorates, including an MHA, MSN, MPH, and Doctor of Health Sciences. Wentworth specializes in management tracks — Project, Construction, and Technology — and Wheelock offers an MEd in STEM. (Note that nearby Brandeis, in Waltham, also offers online degrees.)

Boston


Population: 667,137
Cost of Living: 144%
Top Industries: Finance, Technology
Local Online Degrees: 7

Worcester


Population: 101,328
Cost of Living: 129%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Retail
Local Online Degrees: 2

Springfield


Population: 153,060
Cost of Living: 121.7%
Top Industries: Trade and Transportation, Education and Health Services, Manufacturing
Local Online Degrees: 2

Lowell


Population: 109,945
Cost of Living: 136.8%
Top Industries: Healthcare, Education
Local Online Degrees: 1

Cambridge


Population: 123,867
Cost of Living: 147.8%
Top Industries: Education, Technology
Local Online Degrees: 1

New Bedford


Population: 95,072
Cost of Living: 134.8%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1

Brockton


Population: 93,810
Cost of Living: 134.3%
Top Industries: Healthcare, Manufacturing
Local Online Degrees: 0

Quincy


Population: 92,271
Cost of Living: 139.8%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Insurance, Healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 0

Lynn


Population: 90,329
Cost of Living: 137.5%
Top Industries: Education
Local Online Degrees: 0

The Best Online Colleges in Massachusetts

  • 1. Boston University

    Online Programs: 24
    Type: Private
    Website

    Founded in 1839, Boston University has an enrollment of about 32,500, split between undergraduate and graduate students. BU is ranked as one of the best private research universities in the country, according to the Times Higher Education, US News, Forbes, Newsweek, and other top publications. Of particular note are its programs in public health, social work, business, and law. Twenty-four programs are available online, with a particular emphasis on master’s tracks: Music Education, Banking & Financial Services, Health Informatics, Criminal Justice, and Project Management, among them. Also are available are two bachelors, two doctorates, and a wide range of certificates, from Applied Business Analytics, to Product Design, to Risk Management, to Web Application Development. To further demonstrate its commitment to online education, the school recently created the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI), which has launched a large selection of free MOOCs.

  • 2. Northeastern University

    Online Programs: 30
    Type: Private
    Website

    Established in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university in Boston, with a total enrollment of approximately 25,000, and is ranked among the best schools in the nation by the Princeton Review, Forbes, US News, and Bloomberg Businessweek. All programs are built for dynamic, interdisciplinary, and entrepreneurial learning, and the university offers numerous study abroad opportunities across the globe in Australia, Scotland, Greece, South Africa, France, New Zealand, England, Japan, and Antartica, among other countries. Thirty programs are available online, including 20 master tracks in areas as diverse as Project Management, Sports Leadership, Applied Nutrition, Public Administration, Finance, and Homeland Security. Bachelor’s degrees (8 total) are offered in Finance and Accounting, Management, IT, Leadership, and Political Science, and the school also has online doctoral tracks and certificates.

  • 3. University of Massachusetts Amherst

    Online Programs: 31
    Type: Public
    Website

    Established in 1863, The University of Massachusetts Amherst is a public research university with a total enrollment of approximately 30,000. Ranked among the top 30 public universities in the country by Forbes, US News, and BusinessWeek, UMass Amherst has well regarded programs in Education, Public Health, Sociology, Computer Science, Psychology, Business, and more. As a member of the Five Colleges consortium, students also have access to courses at Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges. Thirty-one degrees are offered online: 13 bachelors, 15 masters, 2 doctoral, and one associate. Bachelor tracks cover Business, Education, and Health Studies; master tracks are primarily MBA and MEd concentrations. Courses deliver through the Blackboard platform to support an intimate, collaborative learning environment, and include tools like live chat rooms, discussion boards, and asynchronous course work.

  • 4. Worcester Polytechnic Institute

    Online Programs: 15
    Type: Private
    Website

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts was established in 1865. With about 6,000 enrolled, WPI has been recognized by US News, Businessweek, and the Princeton Review, which has listed it #22 on its “Most Connected Campus” ranking. Not coincidentally then, Worcester offers 15 master’s degrees, which are primarily in engineering: Power Systems, Computer, System Dynamics, Robotics, Bioscience, Environmental, Electrical, etc. Also of note: Forbes ranked WPI #9 in its “Top Colleges for Getting Rich”; in 2015, undergraduates’ average starting salary was nearly $67,000. Most online courses are asynchronous to allow for maximum flexibility, but classes remain highly collaborative through discussion boards, web conferencing, live chat rooms, and more. Upon admission, all students are matched with a support team member to assist with scheduling, curricular concerns, and registration. Career services are also available.

  • 5. University of Massachusetts-Lowell

    Online Programs: 24
    Type: Public
    Website

    The University of Massachusetts Lowell, at 17,500 students, is the second-largest university in the state after UMass Amherst. Lowell is particularly well known for its average student return-on-investment: Forbes and PayScale have both listed it 10th overall for value. Twenty-four degrees are available online, including one associate, seven bachelors, and sixteen masters. Bachelor’s are offered in Business, Criminal Justice, IT, English, Psychology, and Liberal Arts. Master’s degrees include several MEd concentrations, an MBA, and studies in Security Studies and IT. Courses are taught both by full-time faculty and adjunct faculty with a a wealth of real-world experience. All students receive personalized academic advising, schedule flexibility, and 24/7 tech support.

  • 6. Brandeis University

    Online Programs: 8
    Type: Private
    Website

    Just outside Boston, Brandeis University has a student enrollment of about 6,000 and was established in 1948 on the former site of Middlesex University. One of the top private schools in the country, Brandeis has been ranked highly by Times Higher Education, USA Today, Forbes, and US News. (The Princeton Review also ranked it 1st in the country for student engagement in community service.) It offers 8 online master’s degrees: Information Technology Management, Project And Program Management, Online Instructional Design & Technology, Bioinformatics, Health And Medical Informatics, Information Security, Software Engineering, and Strategic Analytics. (For those interested, a hybrid MBA is also available.) All online classes are capped at 16 students to encourage an intimate and engaging educational setting, and course work is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate students’ schedules. Additional resources include personal academic advising and 24/7 tech support.

  • 7. Lasell College

    Online Programs: 12
    Type: Private
    Website

    Lasell College, established in 1851, has a student body of 1,800. For a school of its size, Lasell’s online presence is large: 12 masters available in Human Resources Management, Integrated Marketing Communication, Non-Profit Management, Public Relations, Business Administration, Elder Care Management, Sport Management, and more. Courses deliver through the Moodle learning platform to encourage an interactive, collaborative environment, which includes discussion boards, live chat rooms, and conferencing. (For maximum flexibility, course work is asynchronous.) Additional resources include customized academic advising, a 24/7 help/tech support desk, live webinars, library services, and tools to determine individual students’ learning styles.

  • 8. Simmons College

    Online Programs: 4
    Type: Private
    Website

    Established in 1899, Simmons College in Boston has a student enrollment of approximately 6,000, and is divided into the undergraduate college, College of Arts and Sciences Graduate Studies, School of Library and Information Science , School of Nursing and Health Sciences, School of Management, and School of Social Work. (The undergraduate college is women-focused, but the graduate school is coeducational.) Online, it offers an RN to BSN track, plus a unique accelerated Master of Health Administration, MSN, and RN to MSN. With an average class of about 18 students and a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Simmons maintains a highly intimate, collaborative educational environment that promotes diversity, community, and “transformative learning that links passion with lifelong purpose.” Students also enjoy academic advising and support, counseling, career development, library services, tech support, and additional services.

  • 9. Western New England University

    Online Programs: 5
    Type: Private
    Website

    Originally the Springfield Division of Northeastern College, Western New England University began offering classes in 1919, and today has a student body of 4,000 spread across five schools in arts and sciences, business, engineering, law, and pharmacy. Its online offerings represent a heavy emphasis on business, including a BBA, MBA, MBA in Sports Management, and an MS in Accounting. (Business programs are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.) With a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1, WNEU fosters an intimate and collaborative learning environment that also supports diversity: students come from 40 states and 26 different countries. Online resources include a writing center, career services, academic advising, tutoring, tech support, and more.

  • 10. Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

    Online Programs: 12
    Type: Private
    Website

    Established in 1823, MCPHS University (a.k.a., the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences) has a student body of 7,000 and campuses in Boston, Worcester, and New Hampshire. Its online offerings, launched in 2011, represent perhaps the best range of medical degrees in the state: two bachelors in Dental Hygiene and Health Sciences; eight masters in Health Administration, Nursing (several concentrations), Dental Hygiene, Health Sciences, and Public Health; and a Doctor of Health Sciences and Post-baccalaureate Doctor of Pharmacy Pathway. Most important for online and on-campus students alike, MCPHS students rank as the #1 earners in New England a decade after enrolling (with a a median annual income of $116,400), according to the U.S. Department of Education; and Forbes ranked MCPHS the #1 College Offering Value for Money. Ninety-percent of students receive some form of financial aid. Admissions are rolling.

  • 11. Wentworth Institute of Technology

    Online Programs: 3
    Type: Private
    Website

    Wentworth Institute of Technology, established in 1904, is a technical design and engineering college in Boston, with a student enrollment of approximately 3,500. Its online presence is small but highly specialized: a BS in Project Management, MS in Construction Management, and MS in Technology Management. The average class size for undergrads is only 15 to maximize student-to-teacher interaction and support a collaborative educational setting, with a focus on experiential learning. All students are required to a minimum of two co-op semesters, and fifty-percent are offered jobs by their co-op employer upon graduation (there are 100 such co-op employers associated with the school). Wentworth’s emphasis on experiential learning is particularly helpful for management students in need of real-world, on-the-job training, and the school offers numerous interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial-focused activities in addition to the co-op requirement. Eighty-percent of students received some form of financial aid.

  • 12. Middlesex Community College

    Online Programs: 11
    Type: Public
    Website

    Established in 1970, Middlesex Community College has campuses online and in Bedford and Lowell. Its online offerings represent the largest selection of preprofessional associates degrees in Massachusetts (11), including in Business, Accounting, Hospitality Management, Law Enforcement, Criminal Justice Administration, Liberal Studies, Fire Protection & Safety Technology, and Psychology, among others. The average class is under 22 students to support an intimate and engaging learning environment, and over half of students receive some form of financial aid. Service-Learning is a particularly strong focus: the school was selected by Campus Compact as one of just 13 colleges to be named a model for exemplary civic engagement. All online course work is designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate students’ schedules, and generous transfer credit opportunities may accelerate degree completion time. For those interested in on-campus course work, hybrid options are also available.

  • 13. Suffolk University

    Online Programs: 4
    Type: Private
    Website

    Suffolk University, established in 1906, is a private research school in downtown Boston with a student enrollment of 10,000. Ranked highly by both the Social Science Research Network and US News, Suffolk offers programs in business, law, management, politics, and criminal justice, among other disciplines. Its online offerings include a Graduate Diploma in Professional Accounting, traditional MBA, and Executive MBA, which is unique for online delivery (each accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). With a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1, class sizes are kept small enough to fulfill Suffolk’s mission to foster “engaged learning, rigorous scholarship, innovative thinking, and community collaboration across disciplines.” Its core values consist of opportunity, scholarly and professional excellence, community engagement, social responsibility, diversity, integrity, and a student-focused pedagogical approach.

  • 14. University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

    Online Programs: 5
    Type: Public
    Website

    The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth has a student enrollment of about 9,000 and has been ranked highly by a number of major publications, including US News, Washington Monthly, Princeton Review and Times Higher Education; it has also been recognized by PayScale for its graduates average salary (in the top 17% of colleges and universities) and by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, in which it was a finalist for its community service engagement in economic development and interfaith initiatives. UMass Dartmouth offers 2 online bachelors in Business Administration and RN to BSN, plus three masters tracks, including an MBA, Master of Public Policy, and MS in Computer Science. (Note that Scrubs Magazine, a leading lifestyle magazine for nurses, has ranked the school’s nursing program in the top 50 nationwide.) All online course work is designed for maximum flexibility, and students have access to online tutoring, career development services, enrollment assistance, tech support, and more.

  • 15. Lesley University

    Online Programs: 6
    Type: Private
    Website

    Lesley University is a private school in Cambridge with a student enrollment of 9,700. Divided into schools of Art and Design, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Education, Arts and Social Sciences, and Adult Learning, Lesley offers 6 total online degrees: bachelors in Business Management and Psychology, and four MEd concentration tracks in Individually Designed Program For Educators, Educational Technology, Mathematics in Education, and Science in Education. Among graduate program alumni, 96% are employed, 85% said that their work is related to their career goals, and 76% are working full time. An 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio ensures a productive and engaging learning environment, following the school’s mission to provide “transformative education through active learning, scholarly research, diverse forms of artistic expression, and the integration of rigorous academics.” For those interested, the school offers a wide range of online certificates, as well.

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 Massachusetts is the New England Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

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 Massachusetts Higher Education Resources

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