The Best Online Colleges in Iowa

by TBS Staff
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Iowa has set an ambitious goal of ensuring that 70% of its workforce has some postsecondary education by 2025.

An online degree can help Iowans stand out in the job market. Iowa is home to prestigious public institutions like the University of Iowa, along with private schools such as Drake University, Grinnell College, and Cornell College. The extensive community and technical college system in Iowa includes 15 institutions, serving learners throughout the state.

Online colleges in Iowa offer opportunities to earn bachelor's degrees from anywhere in the state, often on an accelerated timeline. Many of the online programs offered through community and technical colleges in Iowa allow for direct transfer to four-year institutions. Community colleges in Iowa also participate in the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), which further expands online education opportunities.

Online students in Iowa can also enroll in graduate programs, including degrees aligning with some of the state's top industries. Iowa State's online master's degrees include programs in agriculture, engineering, and business.

The following ranked list of online colleges in Iowa offers insight into which colleges and universities might meet your educational and professional needs.

Top 10 Online Colleges in Iowa 2020
#1 Upper Iowa University Fayette, IA
#2 Iowa State University Ames, IA
#3 Buena Vista University Storm Lake, IA
#4 Graceland University Lamoni, IA
#5 University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls, IA
#6 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
#7 Briar Cliff University Sioux City, IA
#8 Iowa Wesleyan University Mount Pleasant, IA
#9 William Penn University Oskaloosa, IA
#10 Mount Mercy University Cedar Rapids, IA

Featured Online Schools

The Best Online Colleges in Iowa

Upper Iowa University View School Profile $$$ Fayette, IA 41% Upper Iowa University is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Upper Iowa University, founded in 1854 by pioneer Elizabeth Alexander, is a private university. The university has over 5,500 students in attendance, four academic colleges and over 40 degree programs. The university also has campuses across America, as well as in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.

Upper Iowa University offers a variety of associate, baccalaureate, master and certificate programs fully online, self–paced or via email correspondence. Associate degrees include liberal arts and criminal justice. Bachelor’s degree options include sociology and information technology. Master’s degree offerings include education and public administration. Certifications include marketing and organizational development.

Online student resources include disability services, online tutoring, writing assistance, access to helpful learning software and an online library with access to a plethora of online databases.

Iowa State University View School Profile $$ Ames, IA 71% Iowa State University is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Iowa State University is a land–grant and space–grant university founded in 1858. The university offers over 290 degree programs spanning eight academic colleges and teaches over 35,000 students. Some of the university’s notable distinctions include participation in the Manhattan Project and as the birthplace of the first electronic digital computer.

Iowa State University offers a variety of baccalaureate, master’s, doctoral and certificate programs completely online. Online bachelor’s degrees include liberal studies. Online master’s degree options include aerospace engineering and plant breeding. Doctoral degree offerings available online include hospitality management. Online certifications include food safety and occupational safety. Iowa State University is involved with the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (GPIDEA).

Resources for online students include technical support, veterans’ services, an online job board, online tutoring, an online writing center, disability resources, an online library and much more.

Buena Vista University View School Profile $$$ Storm Lake, IA 51% Buena Vista University is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Buena Vista University, a Presbyterian institution established in 1891, offers students over 40 degree programs across five academic colleges. The university hosts an annual lecture series on American freedoms which has included guest speakers such as Jehan Sadat, Walter Cronkite, Carl Sagan and a host of former world leaders.

Buena Vista University has several baccalaureate and master’s degrees available online. Online bachelor’s degree options include criminology and human services, while online master’s degree offerings include multiple topics in education.

Online student resources include career services, internship services, online tutoring, technical support and an online library with librarians available via live chat, text message or over the phone.

Graceland University View School Profile $$$ Lamoni, IA 50% Graceland is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The nursing programs offered by Graceland University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

One of Iowa’s Christian-based online colleges, Graceland University offers degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Based in Lamoni, Graceland was founded in 1895. It also has a campus in Independence, Mo., where the university operates its online programs in nursing, business, education, and religion. Graceland provides online education to more than 800 students, from 43 states and six different countries.

Undergraduates at Graceland can complete one of five online bachelor's degrees. Graduate students can enroll in one of the school’s five master of education programs, with options for emphasis in curriculum and instruction, differentiated instruction, literacy instruction, special education, or instructional leadership. Graceland also offers two master of nursing programs (nursing and RN to MSN), two master of religion degrees, and one online doctoral degree in nursing.

University of Northern Iowa View School Profile $$ Cedar Falls, IA 66% University of Northern Iowa is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

The University of Northern Iowa, founded in 1876 as a teacher training institution, offers more than 90 programs of study to its 11,000 students, across seven academic colleges. The university provides studying abroad opportunities at the graduate level, with over 80 countries and 1,000 programs available.

The University of Northern Iowa offers several baccalaureate, master’s and certificate programs entirely online. Bachelor’s degree options include liberal studies and technology management. Master’s degree offerings include several topics in education, including TESOL and early childhood education. Certifications include instructional coaching and educational leadership.

There are many online student resources available, including technical support, program advising, disability services, career services and an online library with access to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s online edition.

University of Iowa View School Profile $$ Iowa City, IA 70% University of Iowa is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Established less than two months after Iowa joined the United States as a state in 1847, the University of Iowa is the state’s oldest university. The university established the first law school west of the Mississippi River. The space–grant university has over 20,000 students in attendance and over 200 degree programs spanning 11 academic colleges.

The University of Iowa offers several online baccalaureate, master’s and certificate programs entirely online. Bachelor’s degree options include social work and nursing. Master’s degree offerings include educational leadership and the arts. Certifications include public health and online teaching.

Online student resources include technical support, veterans’ services, career services, disability services, counseling, tutoring in math and writing and access to three online libraries: a general library, a health sciences library and a business library, all which include live chat services.

Briar Cliff University View School Profile $$$ Sioux City, IA 43% Briar Cliff University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and its bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing are accredited by the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education. The bachelor's in social work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Founded as Briar Cliff College in 1930, Briar Cliff University is among the leading online colleges in Iowa. Located just outside Sioux City, Iowa, the private Franciscan institution provides online degree completion and graduate programs to students across the globe. Online programs in accounting, operations management, business administration, health sciences, social work, and nursing provide students with an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree. Graduate programs in management, health administration, and nursing are also available online, with the required hours for credit completion ranging from 33 to 44. Briar Cliff also offers an online program for a doctorate in nursing.

Iowa Wesleyan University View School Profile $$$ Mount Pleasant, IA 30% Iowa Wesleyan University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's nursing programs, including online degrees, are accredited by Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. The nursing program is also approved by the Iowa Board of Nursing.

Iowa Wesleyan University, founded in 1842 and located in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, provides online programs for undergraduate and graduate students studying nursing, business administration, criminal justice, human services, and management leadership. Iowa Wesleyan continues to add degree programs to offer more options for students.

Iowa Wesleyan has four bachelor’s programs available completely online, including an RN to BSN for practicing nurses. The online bachelor’s in human services is an interdisciplinary program that incorporates criminal justice, psychology, and sociology coursework. The online master of arts in management leadership can be completed in under two years and has six start dates during the year for convenience.

William Penn University View School Profile $$$ Oskaloosa, IA 31% William Penn University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's education programs are accredited by the Iowa Department of Public Instruction.

As a Quaker institution, William Penn University is one of the leading online colleges in Iowa’s southeastern region. Situated in Oskaloosa, IA, William Penn is an hour from Des Moines, offering a small town feel with easy accessibility to urban settings. William Penn also has a metropolitan campus in Johnston, IA, a suburb of West Des Moines.

William Penn’s online bachelor’s and master’s programs are designed to meet the needs of students through eight-week classes that can accelerate degree completion. The school offers online undergraduate degrees in business management, human resource management, and psychology, as well as a graduate degree in business leadership. They also offer a degree completion program online for a bachelor of arts in elementary education.

Mount Mercy University View School Profile $$$ Cedar Rapids, IA 54% Mount Mercy University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and its nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The nursing program, including its online offerings, is also approved by the Iowa Board of Nursing.

Mount Mercy University’s main campus, graduate center, and sports complex are located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with the main campus sitting on 40 acres of wooded land in the center of the city. Mount Mercy is a Catholic institution, and a leader among online schools in Iowa, providing accelerated undergraduate and graduate programs designed to help learners maintain their current careers while completing their degree.

Mount Mercy offers bachelor’s degrees online in business administration (with concentrations available in business, human resource management, and management), along with healthcare administration and nursing (RN to BSN). Mount Mercy also has two online master’s degrees, one in criminal justice and one in business administration.

Saint Ambrose University View School Profile $$$$ Davenport, IA 63% Saint Ambrose University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The school’s online business degrees are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs and its nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Saint Ambrose University, a private Catholic institution founded in 1882, is located in Davenport, Iowa, one of the Quad Cities straddling the Iowa-Illinois border. As one of the online schools in Iowa committed to outcomes-based education, Saint Ambrose emphasizes a liberal arts core curriculum at the heart of all of its programs.

Saint Ambrose offers online degrees to undergraduates and graduate students, including bachelor's programs in applied management studies and business management. Students in business management can pursue a concentration in accounting as part of the curriculum. Saint Ambrose also offers an online nursing degree (RN to BSN). Master’s programs include degrees in public health, criminal justice, and business administration.

Best Online Colleges

Online Colleges in Iowa Ranking Guidelines

We selected the online schools in Iowa based on the quality of their programs, types of courses and degrees offered, and faculty strengths, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation, including a strong reputation for online degree programs.

Employment in Iowa

Manufacturing, trade, and healthcare topped the list of Iowa's top industries in 2018. Because Iowa exports so many vehicles, tractors, and parts; agricultural products; and electrical machinery, it also employs large numbers of machine operators and farmworkers. The state is also seeing projected growth in employment for healthcare workers, indicating a need for physical therapists and nurses.

The unemployment rate in Iowa as of December 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was 3.1%. This is a significant drop from 6.8% in July of the same year. Iowa also had a much lower unemployment rate than the 6.5% national average in December.

Iowa also has a significantly lower cost of living than the average nationwide. With a cost of living index of just under 84%, Iowa offers more affordable housing and transportation expenses than other states. The median cost of a home in Iowa is nearly $100,000 lower than the national figure.

The data below covers some of the highest-paying roles employing more than 2,000 individuals in Iowa that do not require a first-professional degree, like a doctor of medicine or juris doctor. Salary information applies specifically to Iowa, while job growth data reflects the United States as a whole.

Highest-Paying Careers in Iowa
Career Annual Mean Salary (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) Education Required
Chief Executives $155,180 5% Bachelor's
Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary $130,830 21% Master's
Architectural and Engineering Managers $123,750 3% Bachelor's
Computer and Information Systems Managers $123,570 10% Bachelor's
Sales Managers $119,390 4% Bachelor's
Financial Managers $116,590 15% Bachelor's
Marketing Managers $115,960 7% Bachelor's
Source: BLS

The following data reflects some of the highest-paying roles employing more than 5,000 professionals in Iowa. Salary figures apply specifically to Iowa, while job growth data reflects the United States as a whole.

Common Careers in Iowa
Career Annual Mean Salary (2019) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) Education Required
General and Operations Managers $99,740 6% Bachelor's
Software Developers, Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers $95,370 22% Bachelor's
Medical and Health Services Managers $87,940 32% Bachelor's
Computer Systems Analysts $85,040 7% Bachelor's
Management Analysts $81,440 11% Bachelor's

Online Associate and Graduate Degrees

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many colleges and universities to expand their online offerings. This benefits students who may not have local options for earning degrees, but can now enroll remotely. Unlike their on-campus counterparts, online degrees may allow learners to study asynchronously and earn degrees on a more flexible schedule.

Online colleges in Iowa, many of which participate in the ICCOC, offer associate degrees in high-demand fields like agriculture. Community and technical colleges in Iowa also offer online associate degrees for students looking to transfer to four-year programs.

For instance, Western Iowa Technical Community College features online associate degrees in agriculture agronomy, business, and management. Schools outside of the ICCOC also provide online associate degrees, such as Iowa Central Community College, which offers criminal justice, computer networking, and healthcare administration degrees.

Iowa students can also earn graduate degrees online. At Iowa State, online students can earn master of science degrees in agricultural education, plant breeding, or seed technology and business. Drake University offers online graduate degrees, too, including a master of science in health informatics and analytics — ideal for students with previous degrees in healthcare.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Online College Cheaper in Iowa?

Tuition at online colleges in Iowa varies by institution. Online learners may find tuition cheaper as a result of avoiding fees, lodging expenses, and other costs incurred by their on-campus colleagues, though not in all cases.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Degree in Iowa?

The length of time it takes to get an online degree in Iowa depends on type of degree, field of study, and student schedule. Learners can often earn associate degrees in fewer than two years online, while part-time graduate students may take three years or more to complete an online program.

What Is the Most Popular Degree in Iowa?

The most popular degrees in Iowa coincide with the state's top industries. According to 2018 data, engineering, health and kinesiology, and animal science all ranked among the top majors for undergraduates at Iowa State.

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