In 2013, an estimated 1.5 million students enrolled in classes at one of the 315 accredited post-secondary institutions in Illinois. This placed the state 7th in the nation for total number of colleges and universities and 5th for the total number of students. In addition to quantity, the state offers a diverse set of educational opportunities, with 53 public colleges and more than 120 private schools (both denominational and non-denominational). This excellent combination of volume and diversity gives Illinois students -- or students who wish to study in the state -- a wide range of higher educational opportunities.
Top Cities in Illinois for College Education
The mid-size and larger cities in Illinois accommodate most of the colleges and universities, creating an urban or semi-urban environment for the bulk of the students. Look below for details on the layout of the colleges in Illinois:
Highest Student Populations (Total)
- Chicago (285,000)
- Champaign (57,615)
- Glen Ellyn (46,500)
- Joliet (34,200)
- Palos Hills (33,300)
Locations with Most Colleges (Total)
- Chicago (89)
- Rockford (8)
- Springfield (8)
- Skokie (8)
- Quincy (7)
City in Focus: College in Chicago
The Second City routinely appears on lists of the most educated cities in the United States. According to the Brookings Institute, 34 percent of Chicago residents had a college degree in 2010, a 21 percent increase from 1970. At least part of this growth can be attributed to the city's outstanding collection of world-class universities, city colleges and vocational schools. Regarding the former, U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Chicago the fifth best university in the nation (tied with Stanford), highlighting its 99 percent freshman retention rate. The institution also earned top honors in the social sciences, with 36 percent of its graduates earning a degree in that field. Chicago's collection of city colleges adds another dimension this hub of higher education. At seven locations domestically and various places abroad, the city colleges graduate close to 10,000 students each year. Individual institutions include Richard J. Daley College, Malcolm X College, Olive-Harvey College, Kennedy-King College, Harry S. Truman College, Harold Washington College and Wilbur Wright College.
Online Schools and Courses in Chicago
The city of Chicago also boasts a number of online schools for interested students. In addition to its campus-based solutions, City Colleges of Chicago has a Center for Distance Learning, which offers more than 85 online courses, an online tutoring service and numerous distance-learning seminars, all for the same tuition and fees as their traditional classes. Other institutions in the city offer remote options, as well. DePaul University, for example, continues to grow its collection of fully online programs, which now includes ten online master's degrees offered by its College of Computing and Digital Media. Like DePaul, other colleges in Chicago provide students with full degree programs via distance learning, including University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University - Chicago, Northwestern University and Saint Xavier University.
Academics aside, Chicago has culture: food, entertainment, sites, sounds and more. Students taking classes or living downtown have the chance to explore outstanding museums, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife found in very few places. And the city's El makes it easy to travel on the cheap.
Other Online Colleges in Illinois
Many traditional colleges are incorporating online learning into their existing programs. Once merely a new fad in education, online degrees have become a staple of the Illinois learning experience, opening the door to opportunities by allowing students to complete school from a distance and with fewer scheduling constraints. Colleges and universities throughout the state provide certificates and both undergraduate and graduate degrees through the online platform. In addition to the aforementioned City Colleges and distance learning, The University of Illinois continues to increase its presence in the online educational landscape. The university now offers students more than 100 online certificates, bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs, as well as dozens of free classes in partnership with Coursera. It also makes a concerted effort to help community college students transfer from two-year programs to their fully or partially online four-year programs.
Tuition, Fees and COL in Illinois
Dealing with the number and weight of college costs is something which every Illinois college applicant needs to consider, and tuition is more often than not the largest portion of those expenses, varying by school locale and residency. While the dollar numbers for tuition shift from school to school, the average resident student in Illinois paid $15,250 per year in tuition in 2012.
To envelope their students in the best possible college experience, many institutions go beyond the classroom and provide further social and learning opportunities. On top of tuition, they maintain parking, student activities, labs and technology facilities by charging students a small to medium amount for each. Student fees in Illinois averaged $950 in 2012, resulting in a bottom line for tuition plus fees of $16,200.
In addition to tuition and fees, potential Illinois students need to consider living expenses: food, housing, transportation, etc. In general, Illinois has a cost of living index 4 percent below the national average. Below you can find a breakdown of the major cities and their COL indexes as they relate to the national average (100%).
|Urban Area||Composite Index||Housing||Groceries||Utilities||Transportation||Health Care||Misc.|
Return on investment (ROI) is another cost-related element to think about when exploring colleges. ROI not only looks at the front-end of the college investment (tuition, fees, etc.), but also examines the back-end (salary potential after graduation). The following five schools boast the highest ROI in Illinois today:
- Illinois Institute of Technology
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Bradley University
- DePaul University
- University of Chicago
Finding College Funding Opportunities
Potential Illinois students have a few options when it comes to making college more manageable: federal aid and scholarships. Based on financial need, funding from the federal government provides an opportunity for many who would otherwise be unable to attend college, and it begins with filing the proper FAFSA forms. On average, 68 percent of the Illinois student population received governmental assistance while pursuing undergraduate degrees in 2012.
Scholarships offer another option for degree financing and often come from non-profit organizations or private companies. These scholarships may be merit or background based and can usually be used in conjunction with federal financial aid. Here are a few of the major college fund contributors in Illinois:
- Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation
- Illinois Counties Association
- Golden Apple Foundation
- TELACU Education Foundation
- Illinois National Guard
- Minority Teachers of Illinois
- Illinois Veteran Grant (IVG) Program
- Norwegian National League of Chicago
- Italian Catholic Federation
- The Parkersburg Area Community Foundation
- Chicago Scholars Program
- Illinois CPA Society
- Elmhurst Garden Club
- Palumbo Family Foundation
Accreditation Standards in Illinois
Every accredited college or university has a governing body that holds the school to certain standards. Accreditation also makes it possible for schools to accept federal aid and scholarships for their students. Organizations such as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (http://www.northcentralassociation.org/) ensure that Illinois colleges provide quality education and degrees. In addition to this regional accreditation (the most common among top institutions), Illinois colleges may ask various specialized accrediting bodies to vet their programs. For example, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education awarded Western Illinois University's School of Nursing a five-year accreditation in early 2014.
Affordability is important, but it's not the only factor to consider when choosing an online college. We asked the University of Illinois-Springfield to tell us a little more about what distance learning at their school is really about. Find out what they say:
University of Illinois at Springfield
How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?
The University of Illinois at Springfield has been the recipient of numerous national awards for online learning. Our approach to online learning is to provide faculty with encouragement, empowerment, and excellent support to allow each faculty member to engage and interact with students in a manner that allows students to learn the content and build relationships with each other and their faculty members. UIS prides itself on reaching out to others to build strong partnerships and to collaborate with other institutions globally while providing an excellent educational experience to students.
What makes your online programs so valuable to students?
Students find our online programs valuable through the relationships that are built with faculty. We have a number of individuals who have taken our programs while serving in the military, as well as working professionals, students finishing their first degrees, working parents, and others in a variety of life situations. Online learning can be very flexible and this is helpful to students in a variety of situations. The most important aspect of value for students is becoming connected to their university. We have chosen to provide Online Program Coordinators who assist students with making strong connections on campus. Students are able to visit with their faculty members, receive help from the Online Program Coordinators, request tutoring services, library services, and participate in student scholarship presentations at a distance. All of these connection points helps to create a valuable online learning experience for students and assists with breaking down any barriers or feelings of isolation that can occur when students are separated in distance from the campus.
Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?
Our online programs will continue to grow through planned strategic growth and measured assessment of our programs. I believe we will continue to add programs as faculty see the need and advocate for new programming and there is student demand. Additionally, I see a number of partnership opportunities that will allow for stronger collaborations between universities in the future. At the University of Illinois Springfield we look forward to continuing to do what we do best, serving students with excellence in education by providing intellectually rich learning experiences to students who live on campus, in near by communities, around the United States, and internationally.
Ranking: Most Affordable Online Colleges in Illinois
Illinois boasts some of the best four-year, fully online college degree programs in the country. Many of these programs utilize the same curriculum, professors, and degree expectations as courses on campus. With such similar demands, it comes as no surprise that online students can work toward the same certifications and degrees as their on-campus peers. Online schools in Illinois are fully accredited, and yet offer the most flexibility found in higher education. As you search for a quality online college in Illinois, check out our list of the most exceptional programs in the state. We’ve organized the colleges from lowest tuition to highest to ease value-based comparisons. Enjoy the array of Illinois online colleges.Click here to see our methodology.