Montana college students can explore a full traditional curriculum along with distinctive subjects such as tribal historic preservation, hydrology, and agribusiness. Just fewer than 69,000 students attended Montana's 31 institutions of higher learning in 2013, which put the state in 43rd place nationally, as far as the number of colleges, and in 47th place for student enrollment. Postsecondary educational opportunities include certificates as well as undergraduate and graduate degree programs from Montana's community colleges, private and public four-year colleges, religious institutions, technical schools, and online colleges:
|College Type||Number in Montana|
|Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation)||4|
|Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation)||2|
Top Cities in Montana for Higher Education
Montana has an average of 7 residents per square mile, compared to the national average of 87, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For those facing long drives, online coursework offers one alternative. Students reside in a variety of settings, from smaller towns to urban areas, as seen in the following overview of Montana colleges:
Most Popular Cities for College Students (Total)
- Missoula (15,500)
- Bozeman (13,800)
- Billings (7,000)
- Kalispell (4,100)
- Great Falls (4,100)
Montana Locations with the Most Colleges (Total)
- Great Falls (4)
- Bozeman (3)
- Billings (3)
- Missoula (2)
Distance Learning in Montana
Interest in distance learning continues to climb nationwide, and traditional brick-and-mortar colleges have joined private for-profit schools in delivering coursework for certificate and degree programs online. Additionally, Montana's rugged winters may influence a student's plans for online education: In February 2014, for example, one college tweeted that the campus was closed and classes were cancelled due to weather. In order to meet the demands of today's modern student as well as counteract the state's natural barriers, many schools in Montana now offer online courses and programs. All 11 campuses within the Montana University System, for example, offer online courses and programs. Across campuses, more than 8,000 students enroll in online courses each semester. Nearly 100 certificate and degree programs are offered through distance learning in a range of academic areas such as medical transcription, business administration, nursing, public health, and public administration.
Paying for College in Montana
Montana college students allocate cash for costs ranging from tuition to fees to books to living expenses. Tuition, typically the most significant expense, depends on the type of school and whether or not an applicant qualifies for state residency. The average in-state tuition for Montana ranked 3rd nationally in 2012 for affordability, priced at $5,735 for the school year. While tuition holds a central place in budget calculations, students also need to consider college fees for miscellaneous services such as parking and registration. Schools may also charge fees for the use of recreational amenities or technology labs.
Montana students' financial estimates cover living expenses and transportation, for example, a bus pass or fueling and maintenance for a reliable vehicle. Cash outlay probably differs for on-campus room and board compared to home-cooked meals that might come with off-campus living. Plans for online coursework should take into consideration any computing requirements, which could include a reliable wireless network, recent versions of word processing and office productivity software, and an up-to-date operating system.
Montana’s living costs are on par with the U.S. average, which could bolster student resources, depending on the locale. The following table compares the cost of living (COL) for Montana's population centers with the national average, which is shown as 100%:
|Urban Area||Composite Index||Housing||Groceries||Utilities||Transportation||Health Care||Misc.|
Tuition and fees remain the most important costs associated with college, but students should also consider the return on that financial investment (ROI). Some schools might have higher price tags, but yield higher-than-average career opportunities and salary potential after graduation, and vice versa. The cheaper colleges might lead to limited prospects and salaries. The list of colleges below represent those in Montana with the highest documented ROI, measured by subtracting the cost of attendance (four years) from the average graduate’s salary (lifetime):
- Montana Tech of the University of Montana
- Montana State University – Main Campus
- Carroll College
- MSU Billings – University Campus
- University of Montana
Paying for College through Financial Aid and Scholarships
Montana students can find public and private options to help them fund their education, including national and regional programs as well as scholarships awarded by individual schools or organizations. Some funding reflects the unique identity of the state, targeting students with majors such as conservation, horticulture or land management. Another scholarship serves members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in Montana.
Support from the U.S. government factors into the school budget for many Montana students -- federal assistance reached 67 percent of undergraduate students in 2012, meaning that the state ranked 26th in the country. Would-be Montana scholars seeking aid from national programs need to complete the form for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Among the different types of public aid, work-study programs may present opportunities either on campus or with external employers, allowing students to gain experience and earn money to offset college costs.
Montana's initiatives to support education include the Governor's Best and Brightest Scholarship Program, based on need or merit, with Merit AT-LARGE Scholarships designed for continuing, nontraditional and home schooled students. The Montana University System has an outreach team to help prospective students develop financial literacy and personalized plans for college.
Montana students can also look into possibilities for financial assistance such as the following:
- ASTA Pacific Northwest Chapter - William Hunt Professional Development Scholarship
- Drug & Alcohol Abuse Prevention Essay Contest Scholarship
- EMU National Scholars Program
- Fort Peck Tribes Scholarship Program
- Korean American Scholarship Foundation - Western Region
- Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Western Section Scholarships
- Minority Student Leadership Program (MSLP) Scholarships
- Montana Federation of Garden Clubs Life Members Scholarships
- Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation Regional Scholarships
- Pride Foundation Scholarships
- Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute Scholarships
- Stephen T. Marchello Scholarship Foundation
Accreditation: Why it's Important
For those seeking higher education in Montana, decisions should take into account a school's accreditation status. Financial aid programs typically require accreditation, which demonstrates that a college meets certain academic standards. Postsecondary institutions in Montana can apply to accrediting agencies such as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (http://www.nwccu.org). Additionally, specific colleges, departments, or programs within an institution can also seek specialized--or programmatic--accreditation. The University of Montana School of Business Administration's undergraduate and graduate business programs, for instance, are accredited by The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International). The university has maintained this accreditation since 1949, demonstrating that it continues to deliver quality business education to its many students.
Planning for college can expose Montana students to financial management skills and a long list of questions: To commute or not to commute? Full-time or part-time? Daytime, weekend or evening classes? And where is the money coming from? The information provided above may assist students facing choices like these, while the profiles below aim to add further details about the course offerings and programs at individual schools in Montana.
AC Online: Ranking the Most Affordable Online Colleges in Montana
Montana is known for its wide expanses of open land and also for its expansive list of fully online degree programs. Fully accredited four-year online schools in Montana pride themselves in offering the same opportunities to their distance learners as their on-campus students. This means that the quality and rigor of a degree or certification from an online college is often equivalent to the degrees granted on site. Furthermore, the same esteemed faculty and curriculum are a part of these online degree programs. We’ve collected the details on each of the Montana online colleges to help you in your search. Listed from lowest tuition to highest, this compilation will make it easy for you to find the best online degree program in Montana.Click here to see our methodology.