Iowa Online Colleges & Universities – Top Online Schools for 2015

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In 2013, one of every 51 college students in the U.S. chose to earn a degree from one of Iowa’s 95 colleges, universities, and career or technical institutions. This ranked Iowa 28th in the country for total number of colleges and 18th for total student population. Whether seeking an undergrad degree from a private four-year university, an associate degree from a junior college or a master’s degree from an online college, the blend of educational options offers prospective Iowa students a myriad of choices:

College Type Number in Iowa
Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation) 29
Private for-profit 22
Public 18
Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation) 8

Top Cities in Iowa for College Education

The majority of Iowa’s post-secondary schools flourish within the urban areas of the state. Check below to find data on the major cities and their student and college populations:

Highest Student Populations (Total)

  • Clinton (153,000)
  • Davenport (82,000)
  • Ankeny (39,000)
  • Ames (27,000)
  • Cedar Rapids (26,000)

Cities with the Most Colleges (Total)

  • Des Moines (9)
  • Cedar Rapids (8)
  • Davenport (8)
  • Sioux City (6)
  • Dubuque (6)

College Opportunities in Des Moines

The academic scene in Des Moines offers an array of options, from multiple community college campuses to private schools with religious affiliations. Grand View University, a not-for-profit liberal arts institution founded in 1896, is linked to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. About 2,300 Grand View students pursue bachelor's and master's degrees at two locations in the greater Des Moines area. Another private school, Mercy College of Health Sciences, is sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. Mercy College's associate and bachelor's degree programs center on building a liberal arts and science foundation for medical or nursing careers.

At Des Moines Area Community College, students can find more than 150 programs, including associate degrees and technical training for in-demand occupations. Individuals aiming for a four-year education can join DMACC's University-College Transfer Program, while those seeking a boost their current careers can look into short-term certificate programs.

Focus on Des Moines: Online Courses and Degrees

Flexible study options for adult learners abound in Des Moines. For instance, AIB College of Business is a nonprofit institution that provides blended learning opportunities, combining evening class schedules with online and independent studies. AIB's hybrid associate and bachelor's degree programs cover several business-focused subjects. Des Moines University, an independent health science and medical school, features three online graduate degree programs. Mercy College of Health Sciences describes many of its courses as 50-75 percent online, with certain others available fully online.

Des Moines Area Community College students can explore credit and noncredit courses delivered via the Iowa Communication Network and cable TV broadcasts. DMACC also has a growing list of its own Signature Series web-based classes. In addition to individual Internet-based courses, students can select online associate degree and certificate programs in various disciplines, including the arts, business, and management. The business administration program is offered in blended and fully online formats. Thanks to distance learning, student-centered schedules and numerous college campuses, higher education is never far away for residents of Des Moines.

Online Colleges in Iowa

The distance learning option in Iowa has risen in popularity to the point where many traditional institutions now offer coursework via an online platform. This has allowed students to complete degrees solely online and from the convenience of their own homes. Major universities offer courses and programs in line with their face-to-face classes, leveraging technology such as Blackboard and video lectures to deliver instruction, engage with students and more. One such Iowa college making distance learning strides is Iowa State University. ISU's Online & Distance Learning section provides nearly 30 fully online degree programs, 27 of which are at the master's level. The university also offers just short of 30 online certificates, 25 for graduate students. These degree and certificate opportunities exist within agriculture & life sciences, business, design, engineering, human sciences, liberal arts and veterinary medicine.

Paying for College in Iowa

The value of a college degree can be priceless when searching for a path to a profession, but the cost of a college degree must be taken into consideration, and tuition is by far the costliest part of the equation. In 2012, Iowa students paid $15,394 on average for tuition. This figure will vary depending on school of choice, residency and degree level.

In addition to tuition, most college charge minor fees to their attendees to help maintain the highest level of college experience possible. These fees can include things like laboratory materials, technology, recreation facilities and parking. Iowa students were charged an average of $990 in fees in 2012 to bring the total college cost to $16,384 per school year.

Beyond tuition and fees, prospective students need to consider the cost of living (COL) in the state of Iowa. On-campus students often take advantage of room and board charges to live in dorms and eat in dining halls, but online learners must consider costs like housing, food, utilities and transportation. Fortunately for those on a budget, Iowa’s COL index is about 6 percent lower than the U.S. average. Check below to see how the COL indexes for Iowa’s major cities stack up against the national average (100%).

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Mason City -10.9% -26.9% -10.6% 5.6% -0.5% -5.2% -5.8%
Des Moines -9.1% -10.4% -9.1% -9.8% -4.1% -9.2% -9.1%
Waterloo-Cedar Falls -8.3% -10.4% -10.5% -11.8% -0.6% -4.1% -7.2%
Cedar Rapids -8.0% -20.9% -5.2% 1.6% -2.9% -5.6% -2.5%
Dubuque -4.1% -13.5% -1.9% 5.2% -0.5% -3.5% -0.5%
Iowa City -3.8% -2.7% -5.1% -19.9% 2.8% -4.6% -1.0%
Ames -3.2% 4.8% -6.3% -17.7% 1.8% -1.6% -6.3%
Burlington -3.0% -5.4% -6.2% 8.6% -1.4% -10.1% -2.9%

It’s great to have low tuition and fees, but it’s equally important to make sure the college education you receive leads to solid career prospects after graduation. One way to measure the post-graduation benefits is to look at a school’s historic return on investment (ROI). By looking at the average lifetime salary for a college’s graduates, minus the total cost of attending that college, you can gauge its estimated ROI. The following schools represent the cream-of-the-crop for ROI in Iowa:

  • Drake University
  • Iowa State University
  • University of Iowa
  • Loras College
  • Morningside College

Funding the College Experience: Aid and Scholarships

Students in Iowa are faced with the same dilemma as those in the rest of the country: how to pay for college. This problem is often remedied by the use of federal aid and scholarships, both school-based and private. In Iowa, 73 percent of students in 2012 filled out the proper FAFSA forms and received financial aid from the federal government. This ranked Iowa 10th in the nation for total students receiving federal assistance.

Along with federal funding, students often employ the help of scholarships from schools, private organizations and companies. These are often merit-based awards that can be used alone or in tandem with federal funding. Below are a few companies and organizations that award scholarships to Iowa students:

  • Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation
  • Southeastern Community College Foundation: Iowa
  • Iowa Arts Council
  • Foundation of the Better Business Bureau
  • Iowa Funeral Directors Association
  • Iowa United Methodist Foundation
  • Legal Support Professionals of Iowa
  • PMI Eastern Iowa Chapter
  • Iowa Centennial Memorial Foundation
  • Iowa Lamb & Wool Promotion Board
  • Jacobson Companies
  • Four-H (4-H)
  • Future Farmers of America (FFA)

Iowa College Accreditation

When planning to attend a college or university in Iowa, potential students should consider its accreditation status. Receipt of federal financial aid depends on it. Organizations such as the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools ( (NCACS) make sure that the colleges in Iowa comply with quality standards for degree offerings, professor pedigree and on-site facilities. In addition to this regional accreditation, universities in Iowa seek accreditation for their individual colleges, schools or programs. The University of Iowa's College of Public Health, for example, has been accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), a national organization with a mission to ensure quality education in the public health sector.


The decision to attend college or start a degree is one that begins a multi-year path and warrants time and planning. Students must consider learning modes (online or campus), where to attend and how to finance the degree. The general information within this guide offers a strong start, and the following Iowa school profiles provide the specific information necessary to continue toward this big decision.

Accessible education is a mainstay in Iowa, and so it’s no surprise that so many exceptional, fully online four-year colleges are found in this state. Higher education from online and accredited colleges has never had more flexibility. Students of Iowa's online schools earn equivalent certifications and degrees as earned by on-campus students. Though most of these programs utilize the same curriculum as on-campus coursework, online colleges in Iowa boast unsurpassed convenience. To aid in your search of online colleges in Iowa, we’ve ranked them from lowest tuition to highest. Just as earning your degree online has simplified higher education, our list should simplify your search for online programs in Iowa.

Click here to see our methodology.
University of Northern Iowa
Tuition and fees: $7,635 Enrollment: 12,935 Accredited: YES Website: University of Northern Iowa

University of Northern Iowa offers a wide variety of online undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs through its Continuing Education and Special Programs instructional development teach, which earned the Iowa Distance Learning Association (IDLA) Innovators Award in 2013. The school is military-friendly, and some degree programs can be completed entirely online.

Iowa State University
Tuition and fees: $7,726 Enrollment: 26,523 Accredited: YES Website: Iowa State University

Online students at Iowa State University can choose from a bachelor's degree program in liberal studies, 25 master’s degree programs, two undergraduate certificate programs and 21 graduate certificate programs through seven different colleges. Additionally, the university offers more than 900 online courses each year. The online courses and programs utilize Blackboard Learning, CyMail and Access Plus.

Mercy College of Health Sciences
Tuition and fees: $14,460 Enrollment: 1,097 Accredited: YES Website: Mercy College of Health Sciences

Mercy College is an option for aspiring health care students looking for online colleges in Iowa. The school offers a Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration program that can be completed entirely online. Students may decide to participate in an optional practicum that allows them to gain real world experience.

Allen College
Tuition and fees: $18,103 Enrollment: 530 Accredited: YES Website: Allen College

Allen College is one of the online colleges in Iowa that is offering online programs for nursing students. The school's RN to MSN program is designed for working registered nurses to complete a Master of Science in Nursing degree. All required coursework is available online. Clinical requirements can be completed locally.

Graceland University-Lamoni
Tuition and fees: $22,680 Enrollment: 1,889 Accredited: YES Website: Graceland University-Lamoni

Graceland University offers a variety of online graduate and undergraduate degree programs in fields such as nursing, religion and healthcare management. Some online programs may require students to complete field work or residency programs. The university's Master of Arts in Religion program can be completed mostly online but requires students to complete two week-long focus sessions.

William Penn University
Tuition and fees: $23,210 Enrollment: 2,360 Accredited: YES Website: William Penn University

William Penn University is one of the online colleges in Iowa offering distance learning programs for nontraditional students. Students can choose from three different distance learning programs: an Associate of Arts in Leadership Studies degree program, A Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education degree program or an English as a Second Language Endorsement Program.

Iowa Wesleyan College
Tuition and fees: $24,300 Enrollment: 880 Accredited: YES Website: Iowa Wesleyan College

Iowa Wesleyan College offers an RN to BSN program that can be completed entirely online as well as a variety of online courses from other departments. The online RN to BSN program is designed for practicing registered nurses to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Coursework can be completed on a part-time schedule.

Upper Iowa University
Tuition and fees: $24,400 Enrollment: 9,227 Accredited: YES Website: Upper Iowa University

Upper Iowa University (UIU) is one of the online colleges in Iowa that is offering self-paced online degree programs. The school offers 17 post-secondary degree programs, five certificate programs and three master's degree programs. Online classes are taught through a web-based format. All of UIU's flexible online programs are military-friendly.

Mount Mercy University
Tuition and fees: $25,400 Enrollment: 1,787 Accredited: YES Website: Mount Mercy University

Mount Mercer University offers two different online bachelor's degree programs in business and human resource management. Both programs are designed to be be flexible and affordable. Online courses that are not part of a complete online degree program are also available to Mount Mercer University students.

Briar Cliff University
Tuition and fees: $25,642 Enrollment: 1,169 Accredited: YES Website: Briar Cliff University

Students considering online colleges in Iowa may want to research the online programs available through Briar Cliff University. The university specializes in affordable online completion programs that quickly prepare students for the job market. Students can choose from programs in accounting, business administration, human resource management, operations management and professional studies.

Northwestern College
Tuition and fees: $25,740 Enrollment: 1,290 Accredited: YES Website: Northwestern College

Northwestern College offers a variety of online courses and programs designed to help students enter the work force. The school's online programs include an analytics certificate program, three education endorsement programs and an RN to BSN nursing program. All online courses are web-based and utilize the Blackboard Learning system. Some programs can be completed entirely online.

Maharishi University of Management
Tuition and fees: $26,430 Enrollment: 435 Accredited: YES Website: Maharishi University of Management

Maharishi University of Management (MUM) Online offers a range of online degree programs and credit and non-credit courses. Online students can choose from three degree programs: Master of Science in Computer Science, Master of Business Administration and Master of Arts in Maharishi Vedic Science programs.

Buena Vista University
Tuition and fees: $28,314 Enrollment: 3,659 Accredited: YES Website: Buena Vista University

Buena Vista University offers a variety of online degree completion programs. All programs are fully accredited and can be completed entirely online. Beuna Vista University has a cooperative agreement with the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), so that Iowa community college students may complete their bachelor's degree programs entirely online.