Massachusetts Online Colleges & Universities – Top Schools for 2016

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A Guide to Online Colleges in Massachusetts

Many educational institutions in Massachusetts are esteemed, both for being among the oldest universities and colleges in the nation and for leading the charge in cutting-edge learning initiatives. In 2013, 201 colleges, universities and career schools in the Commonwealth served more than 660,000 students. Massachusetts has a higher-than-average ratio of college students per capita, ranking 10th nationwide for number of colleges, and 13th for student enrollment. Boston is the state’s largest city and provides an excellent case study for understanding the breadth of institutions and programs available. The following sections take a closer look at Beantown and provide insight on the higher education landscape.

Innovation and Heritage: Colleges and Universities in Boston

The Boston metropolitan area serves more than 250,000 post-secondary students at 60 institutions, including five junior colleges, 18 four-year colleges, and nine research universities. More than 25 additional schools and colleges are dedicated to faith-based learning, private technological and vocational programs, and other specialized fields of study.

Boston University, the city’s largest college, holds a top rating for institutional research from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Programs in biomedical engineering, public health, social work, law, and medical research draw students from around the globe. The Department of English has attracted two U.S. Poet Laureates, three Nobel Prize in literature recipients, and 30 winners of the Pulitzer Prize.

Bunker Hill Community College has a range of associate degrees and certificates available. The school also participates in Mass Transfer, a program facilitating credit transfers to four-year schools. Other institutions in the city include The University of Massachusetts-Boston, Northeastern University, Berklee College of Music, Boston Conservatory, Emerson College, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Saint John’s Seminary. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are located in nearby Cambridge.

Boston Online Schools and Colleges

Boston area students pursuing degrees and professional certificates online have an excellent array of options, ranging from associate degrees to doctoral programs. The Massachusetts Colleges Online consortium is comprised of 15 community colleges and nine state colleges, offering 176 degrees and certificates fully online. Boston University has gained prominence for its online graduate programs in business and technology. The programs are also recognized for their flexibility: more than 95 percent of graduate technology students are employed when they enroll. Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, and Harvard University Extension also offer online certificate and degree programs.

Tuition & Cost of Living in Massachusetts

Prospective students should research the varied cost of tuition at potential schools, keeping in mind that different rates may apply for residents and non-residents. Massachusetts ranks third in terms of highest in-state tuition, with residents paying an average annual tuition of $21,020 in 2012.

Many colleges also have fees to cover additional services, including registration, parking, computer labs, and recreational facilities. Students should familiarize themselves with fees at prospective colleges, including potential charges for swapping classes after the drop/add deadline.

A well-planned college budget takes into account both living expenses and general expenditures such as books and supplies. Expenses differ depending on living situations, but calculations should cover items like food, transportation, and a reliable Internet connection. While living costs in Massachusetts are an estimated 20 percent higher than the U.S. average, student budgets will vary depending on if they are in a small college town or large urban center. The following table provides the cost of living (COL) for several Massachusetts metropolitan areas, based on a scale where 100% represents the national average:

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Fitchburg-Leominster 3.3% -2.9% -0.7% 40.6% -0.1% 12.3% -1.4%
Pittsfield 10.6% -3.8% 15.0% 61.9% -1.1% 5.0% 10.0%
Boston 32.5% 52.7% 16.7% 38.6% 4.5% 23.5% 28.6%
Framingham-Natick 34.5% 77.2% 9.4% 31.9% 5.0% 16.1% 18.8%

Accreditation Standards in Massachusetts

In addition to their research on degrees and budgetary factors, prospective students also need to be aware of the accreditation status of prospective schools. Many financial aid programs require institutional accreditation to ensure programs uphold academic quality. The most prestigious form of accreditation is regional; Massachusetts institutions seeking this distinction apply to the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the country’s oldest regional accrediting association.

Best Online Colleges in Massachusetts for 2015-2016

Online learning is growing across the country and many postsecondary education providers in Massachusetts are taking part in this expansion. Opportunities in the Commonwealth include online schools, community colleges, four-year institutions, and technical and career colleges offering a wide range of degree programs at all levels. The guide below ensures students find the perfect degree or certificate program by highlighting the Best Online Colleges in Massachusetts for 2015-2016.

RANK COLLEGE ScoreStudent-Teacher RatioFinancial AidCost MORE INFO
1 Westfield State University 98.6317:188%

Referred to as simply PLATO, Westfield State University's online learning system offers a deeply diverse array of courses for students to take as part of their undergraduate degree work. The bachelor's degree options available through this online college option in Massachusetts range from business and criminal justice to sociology and liberal arts. A number of online minor options are also offered.

2 Lesley University 93.5911:197%

Lesley University offers online bachelor's degree options in business management and psychology, as well as an extensive array of master's degree choices for graduate coursework. Lesley University's online information system allows prospective online learners to navigate through available course offerings which are set on an eight-week course schedule as opposed to a full spring/fall semester based schedule.

3 Northeastern University 93.2013:177%

With over 60 programs available to students, Northeastern University is an online college in Massachusetts that offers a large array of degree and course options to distance learners. The university not only offers degree work on the associate and bachelor's levels, but also provides options for completing master's and doctorate program courses.

4 Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences 92.6210:197%

The Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences gives distance learners access to higher education programs that focus on graduate and post-graduate coursework. Online course offerings are coupled with online support services and access to the college's advisory staff and bookstore - all combining to help students seeking online degrees in these health- and medical-related topic areas.

5 Fitchburg State University 91.8515:190%

An option for online colleges in Massachusetts, Fitchburg State University conducts online courses that lead to select bachelor's or master's degrees, in addition to a number of certifications. An online student resource center is available to those taking courses which allows for access to Blackboard for coursework and even to academic advisors via instant messaging.

6 Wentworth Institute of Technology 90.0617:199%

Wentworth Institute of Technology offers students the option of pursing a college degree online in the following areas: project management at the bachelor's level and construction management at the master's level. Coursework includes both theory based topic matter as well as applied knowledge within its curriculum.

7 University of Massachusetts-Lowell 89.1218:190%

The University of Massachusetts ?Lowell connects students to over 100 degree and certificate programs that are available via the UMassOnline distance learning program. Students can use this flexible college learning option to enroll in and take courses toward an accredited online bachelor's or master's degree that is offered by the university.

8 University of Massachusetts-Amherst 89.0718:188%

The University of Massachusetts Amherst offers online courses through the UMassOnline platform. Students who are interested in pursuing a degree online can choose from both undergraduate and graduate level degree programs, such as the master's in business administration or bachelor's in political science. All online degree programs are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

9 Western New England University 88.1613:197%

Western New England University gives potential students access to online college courses. Courses work towards a bachelor's degree in business administration and can be completed by those individuals already maintaining an associate's degree or coursework towards a bachelor's degree that totals up to 60 hours. Students in the university's online program also gain access to the school's D'Amour Library as an added resource.

10 MCPHS University 87.5125:189%

This online college in Massachusetts offers potential distance learners access to coursework related to a degree and career in the healthcare industry. Referred to as MCPHS Online, the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences features available online courses in programs like dental hygiene, nursing, healthcare administration and healthcare policy.

11 University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth 87.4918:190%

The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth is part of the UMass network of colleges that offer online coursework opportunities. The university offers individuals direct access to a myriad of online college degree programs that are available through UMassOnline, creating a path toward one of their offered bachelor's or master's online degrees.

Search Accredited Massachusetts Online Colleges

With so many options provided, students may be overwhelmed when it comes to finding a program matched to their needs and future goals. The robust search tool below alleviates this by filtering available online programs at Massachusetts schools, based on factors such as cost of tuition, accreditation, and types of degrees and certificates available.

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Deans Talk: Inside Massachusetts’s Online Colleges

To get a better sense of the online learning landscape in Massachusetts, we asked each of the colleges on our list to answer a few questions about what makes their programs unique. We heard back from a few of the state’s best institutions. See what they had to say below:

Online Departments in Massachusetts

Anna Maria College

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

We stay true to our mission regarding the addition of new academic programs and our attention to students. Class sizes remain small so that students can receive the support they need to be successful. In addition, faculty are prepared to work in on online setting so that the students' experiences are positive and they benefit from the virtual learning environment.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

Our programs are designed to help students advance in or change their careers. The courses include current trends in the respective disciplines, as well as content that will be valuable to students in their careers. Faculty are also experts in their fields of study bringing real world experiences to the virtual classroom.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

Anna Maria will remain on the cutting edge of online education by continuing to pursue opportunities to provide quality academic programs that meet the needs of current and prospective students. Emerging technologies and educational practices within the field of virtual education will continually be explored and new programs that will prepare students to meet the challenges of the future marketplace will be added as needed.

Fisher College

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

Fisher College approaches online learning as a student-centered environment that makes it convenient to obtain a degree. The College strives to provide distance education students with the same individualized attention and superior support services as their counterparts on campus.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

Students at Fisher College are able to complete degree programs and reach their professional goals without compromising a quality education, and while simultaneously fitting coursework into their busy lives. Our courses are taught by highly educated faculty members who are experts in their given field, have a true desire to help students succeed, and are dedicated to the ongoing success of online learning.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

Our online programs will continue to provide students with relevant, quality degree options in both the undergraduate and graduate level. We will continue to see technology aid in the development of student learning, and the College will adapt with the changes in technology to ensure our students are well prepared upon graduation.

Simmons College

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

  • Online is the same rigor as on-the-ground - as it is the same curriculum and taught by the same faculty
  • We lead with pedagogy and use technology to enable the desired student outcomes
  • We have tremendous student and faculty support and require all to have taken training before teaching online
  • Our Nursing Faculty have been teaching and innovating online for years

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

  • Our Nursing Faculty have been teaching and innovating online for years
  • Student to faculty ratios are 1 to 14 on average
  • We design with both synchronous and asynchronous sessions - enabling both faculty to student interaction and peer to peer interaction

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

  • Growing
  • Having impact and reach nationally and internationally
  • Changing the dynamics of the shortage of nurses
  • Bringing change and opportunity through education to people and communities that might otherwise not have had access
University of Massachusetts Amherst

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

Through Continuing & Professional Education, the University envisions online degree programs as another effective avenue to better meet students’ needs and expectations.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

The courses in these online degree programs mirror the ones presented to the campus’ residential students with many of the same faculty. Quality is high.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

Online degree programs are expected to grow in order to meet a broader range of students and their educational needs – both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. More online certificate programs (five courses of complementing topics) will be more prevalent and focused to address specific career needs.

Great Resources for Online Students in Massachusetts

The following Massachusetts resources provide a wealth of information on common questions regarding financial aid, education and career counseling, accreditation and school assistance for veterans. Offered as a free service, students can use these guides to alleviate concerns and feel informed while selecting their perfect program.