Montana Online Colleges & Universities – Top Online Schools for 2015

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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
Public 16
Private for-profit 8
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.
Kalispell -1.2% -4.5% 16.3% -18.0% 3.6% 4.8% -2.2%
Missoula -0.6% -7.8% 10.2% -1.7% 2.2% 7.2% 0.1%
Bozeman 2.0% 1.8% 7.3% -10.9% 1.6% 2.4% 4.0%

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 ( 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.

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.
Montana State University-Northern
Tuition and fees: $5,480 Enrollment: 1,618 Accredited: YES Website: Montana State University-Northern

Montana State University at Northern Extended Learning provides online degrees to students who want to advance their knowledge and education at one of the online colleges in Montana. A variety of degrees are available completely online and include, but are not limited to, an Associate of Science in Business, a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing, and a Master's of Education in Instruction and Learning. Students can also pursue minors and individual courses online.

Montana State University-Billings
Tuition and fees: $5,711 Enrollment: 5,736 Accredited: YES Website: Montana State University-Billings

Montana State University at Billings is one of the online colleges in Montana providing distance learning opportunities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students can complete associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees as well as pursue certificates and concentrations through distance learning. The university is accredited through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

The University of Montana
Tuition and fees: $5,985 Enrollment: 15,487 Accredited: YES Website: The University of Montana

The University of Montana provides distance-learning opportunities to students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. As one of the online colleges in Montana, it offers associate, minors, and master's degrees, as well as certificates and endorsements, available through e-learning. Course are administered through the Moodle learning platform and may be found in subjects such as customer relations, forensic studies, and public administration.

Montana State University
Tuition and fees: $6,705 Enrollment: 15,421 Accredited: YES Website: Montana State University

Montana State University offers online degrees and certificates to students who prefer distance learning. As one of the online colleges in Montana, the university gives students the opportunity to pursue degrees such as the Bachelor's of Arts in Liberal Studies and the Master's of Science in Agricultural Education. Students can also find graduate certificates and professional development courses available online through the university.

University of Great Falls
Tuition and fees: $20,288 Enrollment: 1,183 Accredited: YES Website: University of Great Falls

The University of Great Falls is one of the online colleges in Montana providing students with distance learning opportunities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students may be able to pursue degrees that use blended or online learning in areas such as addictions counseling, criminal justice, organizational management, psychology and several others.

Carroll College
Tuition and fees: $26,554 Enrollment: 1,511 Accredited: YES Website: Carroll College

Carroll College is one of the online colleges in Montana providing undergraduate and graduate level coursework though distance learning. Most classes are eight weeks in length and accelerated in terms of pace and schedule. Students may be able to pursue online courses in subjects such as accounting, business, education, leadership, philosophy, sociology, and others depending upon availability.