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Iowa Online Colleges & Universities: Top Schools for 2018

Updated on: 01/04/2018

With dozens of Iowa post-secondary institutions offering hundreds of online classes and degree programs, students thinking about enrolling in online college have plenty of options to choose from in the state. you might face difficult decisions in choosing the right online college or program. This page will help students explore financial aid in Iowa and learn the requirements for qualifying for in-state residency. Iowa students returning to college as an adult will find what they need to know about getting college credit for prior work or life experience.

Best Online Colleges in Iowa: 2018

What’s the best college? The answer to that answer depends on several things, such as what your academic and professional goals and needs are, as well as your ability to pay for school. Where cost of attendance is important, you might look for the best affordable online colleges in Iowa. But if tuition isn’t as critical for you, but academic quality and recognition are, you might focus more on finding the best accredited online colleges in Iowa.

  • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution

  • At least 3 online associate degrees or certificate programs (2-year schools)

  • At least 3 online bachelor’s or master’s degrees (4-year schools)

  • Annual in-state tuition below $5,000 (2-year schools)

  • Annual in-state tuition below $25,000 (4-year schools)

Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:

  • Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates

  • Count and breadth of online programs available

  • Student-teacher ratio

  • 6-year graduation rate (4-year schools only)

  • % of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college

  • Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college

  • Availability of academic/career counseling services

  • Availability of job placement services for students and graduates

  • 3-year loan default rate

  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

  • *PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.

Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.

  • Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Graceland University-Lamoni Lamoni, IA 100.00 $24,570 8 100% 16:147%yes yes yes
2 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA 98.96 $6,678 5 65% 15:170%no yes yes
3 Iowa State University Ames, IA 98.70 $6,648 11 74% 19:168%no yes yes
4 William Penn University Oskaloosa, IA 98.45 $18,507 3 97% 16:134%no yes yes
5 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA 97.32 $6,648 15 61% 17:166%no yes yes
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2-Year Best College Rankings

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Iowa Lakes Community College Estherville, IA 100.00 $4,960 13 52% 15:1N/Ayes yes yes
2 Iowa Central Community College Fort Dodge, IA 99.20 $4,290 7 64% 19:1N/Ayes yes yes
3 Indian Hills Community College Ottumwa, IA 98.41 $3,720 6 33% 19:1N/Ayes yes yes
4 Northwest Iowa Community College Sheldon, IA 97.71 $4,410 13 30% 12:1N/Ayes yes yes
5 Southeastern Community College West Burlington, IA 97.70 $4,590 5 21% 16:1N/Ayes yes yes
6 Southwestern Community College Creston, IA 97.34 $4,800 4 42% 15:1N/Ayes yes yes
7 Western Iowa Tech Community College Sioux City, IA 96.55 $3,216 5 26% 15:1N/Ayes yes yes
8 Des Moines Area Community College Ankeny, IA 96.19 $4,170 7 6% 17:1N/Ayes yes yes
9 Eastern Iowa Community College District Davenport, IA 96.00 $4,384 9 19% 19:1N/Ayes yes yes
10 Iowa Western Community College Council Bluffs, IA 95.98 $4,140 13 34% 17:1N/Ayes no yes
11 Northeast Iowa Community College Calmar, IA 95.84 $4,200 13 22% 13:1N/Ayes yes yes
12 Kirkwood Community College Cedar Rapids, IA 94.11 $4,350 3 20% 20:1N/Ayes no yes

The Growth of Online College in Iowa

Despite Iowa’s historically agricultural heritage, its post-secondary education system offers broad and robust online education opportunities. At Iowa State University, students can choose from over four dozen online degree and certificate programs at both the graduate and undergraduate level. And at the University of Iowa, there are over 30 online programs to choose from, such as a bachelor’s degree in political science, Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and a master’s degree in strategic communication.

Online study isn’t limited to Iowa’s larger and more well-known public universities. Its private post-secondary institutions, such as Drake University, have several distance learning options, and its community colleges also offer courses in fully online and hybrid formats.

Paying for College in Iowa: Tuition & Financial Aid

When it comes to determining what an Iowa student will pay for online tuition, every school will have its own policy. At the community college level, the state of residency makes little difference. Online courses at the seven colleges of the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC) are offered at the same tuition rate for all students, whether they’re an Iowa resident or from out-of-state.

At the university level, there is no general rule. At Iowa State University, for instance, students taking both online and on-campus courses will pay a tuition rate that coincides with their residency status. However, students who take only online courses will pay the in-state tuition rate, plus any applicable distance education fees. At the University of Iowa, students pay the tuition rate based not just on their state of residency, but the number of classes they are enrolled in as well their specific program of study.

To obtain Iowa residency status for tuition purposes, students must provide sufficient evidence that they intend to make Iowa their permanent home and they are not moving to Iowa for education purposes only. The exact amount and type of evidence to show this may vary among institutions, but it can generally be proven if the student lives in Iowa for at least one year and during that time, they can show any of the following: they work in Iowa for at least 30 hours per week, file Iowa income taxes, have an Iowa driver’s license and are registered to vote in the state. Iowa tuition averages are as follows:

In-state tuition (public, four-year institution): $7,879

Out-of-state tuition (public, four-year institution): $24,136

In-state tuition (public, two-year institution): $4,478

Out-of-state tuition (public, two-year institution): $5,832

Private tuition: $25,308

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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Is in-state or out-of-state tuition paid by Iowa online college students?

Online Iowa college students can pay one of three tuition rates when enrolled in an Iowa post-secondary institution. If they are Iowa residents, they can pay the in-state rate. However, for some schools, in-state and out-of-state students enrolled in an online course will pay the same special online tuition rate. Finally, students who are not Iowa residents could pay either an out-of-state tuition rate or an in-state tuition rate, depending on the specific school’s online tuition policies.

While Iowa is a member state of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, none of its schools participate in the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Iowa has no reciprocity agreements with any other states. Therefore, students who are not Iowa residents will pay the out-of-state tuition rate.

Quick tuition summary:
  • 1. The exact tuition rate a student pays will depend not just on their state of residency, but the specific school’s policy. Students can expect to pay a special online tuition rate, an in-state rate or the out-of-state rate.

  • 2. Iowa colleges are not currently participating members of the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Therefore, non-resident students will have to pay the out-of-state tuition rate unless their specific school has a special tuition rate for online students.

Explore Online Degree Programs in Iowa

How do students apply for Iowa financial aid?

Iowa students have three ways to apply for financial aid. The first step is to fill out the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is needed to obtain federal financial aid. It’s also a major component of most school’s financial aid application processes, even when requesting grants and scholarships.

The Iowa deadline for completing the FAFSA is July 1, the summer before Iowa students intend to enroll in class. While this is a very generous deadline, the FAFSA can be submitted as early as October 1, about 9-11 months before the student plans to begin college. It’s highly advisable to submit the FAFSA sooner rather than later due to the limited funding for financial aid. A lot of financial aid awards are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

After receiving a financial aid award, Iowa college students must do their part to continue receiving financial assistance. The level of academic performance required is called Satisfactory Academic Progress, or SAP. Most Iowa schools follow the below standards, which largely mirror the federal requirements. However, these guidelines do not apply to every financial aid program, especially scholarships and grants, which may have their own SAP or eligibility requirements.

  • GPA

    Students at the undergraduate level must maintain a 2.0 cumulative GPA. At the graduate level, students must meet the minimum GPA requirements of their respective graduate programs.

  • Pace

    Students must complete at least 67% of their coursework with a passing grade.

  • Time frame

    Students shall complete their degree within 150% of the total number of credits normally required. If a student needs 120 credits to get their bachelor’s degree, they may not enroll in more than 180 credits.

College Scholarships & Grants in Iowa

In addition to the thousands of private scholarships available to all students or the school-specific scholarships available to students attending a particular school, the state of Iowa offers several grants and scholarships to students attending its schools.

What Iowa grants and scholarships are available to apply for?

Students seeking Iowa state-based grants and scholarships are in luck; there are nine scholarships and grant programs available to them. These are awarded based on a variety of factors, including financial need, academic performance and enlistment in the Iowa National Guard. A few of the more popular scholarships and grants include:

  • Robert D. Blue Scholarship: This scholarship award varies from $500 to $1,000 and goes to students who attend an Iowa college or university. They must demonstrate exceptional scholastic and literary ability, as well as show qualities of good moral character.

  • All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship: The All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship is prioritized for students who show strong financial need and participated in the federal TRIO or GEAR UP programs, graduated from an alternative high school or grew up in Iowa’s foster care system. Students will need to complete the FAFSA to apply for this scholarship and attend an eligible Iowa college or university.

  • Iowa Tuition Grant: Students wishing to attend a private college or university in Iowa and have financial need are eligible for this grant. This grant will pay for the full cost of tuition, up to the average Regent tuition and fee rate. Students may apply for this grant by completing the FAFSA.

Addition Iowa scholarships and grants can be found at Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

How do I apply for Iowa scholarships and grants?

Like most other states, completion of the FAFSA is needed for most state-based scholarships and grants. However, unlike most other states, Iowa has its own application for students seeking state-based aid. Known as the Iowa Financial Aid Application, it is available online. Most Iowa state-based scholarships require both the FAFSA and the Iowa Financial Aid Application.

For private or school specific scholarships and grants, students should follow the respective instructions and requirements. However, many of these outside or school-based scholarships will often require completion of the FAFSA.

Explore Online Degree Programs in Iowa

Finding Your Iowa Online College

Many factors go into finding the best Iowa online college. You will want to know whether work and life experience matter, where you must live to attend a particular school, and many other factors that play into the final decision and bottom line. These common questions can help.

Do Iowa colleges accept work/life experience and transfer credits?

Most Iowa colleges and universities will accept transfer credits for work experience. The types of experience usually acceptable across the board are limited to military service.

However, a few schools do provide college credit for work or life experience. One example is Upper Iowa University. Through its Experiential Learning Portfolio, students may be eligible for college credit for work experience, independent studies and participation in formal courses provided by unions, businesses and government agencies. College credits will be provided in accordance with the guidelines from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. To receive experiential learning credit, Upper Iowa University students must first be admitted and enroll in at least one course.

Another example is University of Iowa. They do not have an official transfer policy with respect to non-collegiate sponsored instruction, although receiving college credit for work or life experience is possible. The University of Iowa will make its transfer credit determinations on a case-by-case basis and reserves the right to refuse to provide any transfer credits for experiences from external agencies or programs.

Since I live in Iowa, do I need to pick an Iowa online college?

If you live in Iowa, you can attend any online college you’re accepted to. The only difference Iowa residency makes is that it provides in-state tuition rates. And at some schools, in-state students who take online courses will pay a special online tuition rate. Just understand you may have to pay an out-of-state tuition rate if you pick an online college outside of Iowa.

How should I choose an Iowa online college?

How you pick an online college in Iowa will depend on why you’re choosing to attend college. For example, if you’re fresh out of high school, with no idea what you want to study and have limited financial resources, you may want to want to pick a school with the most generous financial aid options and lowest tuition. On the other hand, if you’re an adult returning to school to get a graduate degree that your current employer will pay for, you’ll probably care more about a school’s ability to advance your professional career and quality of courses. You’ll also probably want a degree or program that’s fully online, giving you the most flexibility to balance your family, work and school responsibilities.

No matter your reasons for going to college, one thing is a must-have: accreditation. Accreditation means that the school has been evaluated by an independent body and found to meet the high standards of a rigorous education. Accreditation is necessary to receive most forms of financial aid, as well as to use the credits for transfer at a later date if you so choose.