Illinois recognizes that its rapidly changing economy requires a highly skilled and well-educated workforce. By 2020, 70% of all jobs in Illinois will require a postsecondary degree. A recent study of national trends by Georgetown University projects a 17% employment growth rate for the state, with the highest increases in managerial and professional services, STEM, community services, education, and healthcare industries.
The Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success presents the state's response to the challenge of matching educational attainment to workplace needs. This strategic plan removes obstacles Illinois residents face in earning college degrees, encouraging in-state students to enroll in online programs and attracting out-of-state distance learners. This guide provides a ranking of the state's most affordable online colleges and useful resources for choosing online programs.
Students considering online schools possess different needs; while some look for a specific degree or accelerated path to graduation, others place priority on affordability. Our rankings evaluate a number of metrics, including pricing, types of online programs, graduation rates, and availability of financial aid, to help students find a quality program that fits their academic and financial needs. You should use this list to compare how each school ranks on the criteria most important to you.
Because students have different priorities when it comes to what makes for the perfect college experience, lists that claim to highlight the best accredited online colleges in Illinois may sometimes not feel attuned to student needs. One student may prioritize academic rigor, while another may only be interested in learning about the best affordable online colleges in Illinois. The following list of schools allows student to dig into a range of specific data points and explore factors used to rate schools, thereby giving them the tools needed to decide for themselves which school is truly the best for their future goals. Take a look at the list below and see how it stacks up against your needs.
Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
At least 3 online associate degrees or certificate programs (2-year schools)
At least 3 online bachelor’s or master’s degrees (4-year schools)
Annual in-state tuition below $5,000 (2-year schools)
Annual in-state tuition below $25,000 (4-year schools)
Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:
Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates
Count and breadth of online programs available
6-year graduation rate (4-year schools only)
% of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college
Availability of academic/career counseling services
Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
3-year loan default rate
AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*
*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or 'bang for your buck' – of an online degree.
Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.
Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017
|number||University||Score||Location||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1.||Southeastern Illinois College||100.00||Harrisburg, IL||$4,380||11||60%||19:1||N/A||yes||no||yes|
|2.||Lincoln Land Community College||99.51||Springfield, IL||$4,968||14||13%||19:1||N/A||no||yes||yes|
Illinois' colleges and universities increased their efforts to deliver online programs to a diverse group of undergraduate, graduate, and international students. Schools across the state began to address the needs of the demographic groups most interested in studying exclusively online. These potential degree seekers include working professionals or parents whose responsibilities keep them from attending on-campus programs, workers in declining industries or facing layoffs, and students from underrepresented groups attracted to the accessibility of online programs.
Number of programs offered completely online in Illinois 192
Undergraduate students enrolled exclusively online in Illinois 8,596
Graduate students enrolled exclusively online in Illinois 20,159
Total international students enrolled exclusively online in Illinois 663
Most Illinois schools charge higher tuition to out-of-state students. Students living outside the state sometimes establish residency in Illinois to qualify for less expensive in-state rates. Illinois grants residency status to students living in the state for 12 consecutive months prior to the start of the academic year.
Each school determines it own online pricing policy. Some schools charge in-state residents less than out-of-state students, while others offer all students the same tuition. Illinois participates in reciprocity agreements that offer discounted online tuition to students applying from nearby Midwestern states.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that Illinois charges higher tuition rates than most other states, including for both public and private four-year institutions and two-year community colleges.
Tuition costs vary by school, but students generally pay less per credit for online courses. Some schools offer a tiered tuition option, giving students a tuition reduction for enrolling in more credits per term. Online schools may also include a laptop and instructional materials in their tuition package.
Online programs in Illinois attract increasing numbers of undergraduate and graduate students from other states. Many non-resident students take advantage of reciprocity agreements or "friendly neighbor" discounts that reduce tuition or offer in-state rates. Illinois participates in an interstate compact that allows students residing in several Midwestern states to pay in-state tuition rates at participating schools. Additionally, some schools established their own "good neighbor" programs offering tuition reductions for students in neighboring states.
Out-of-State undergraduate students studying exclusively online in Illinois 1,458
Out-of-State graduate students studying exclusively online in Illinois 7,927
Illinois broadened access to affordable online programs through its participation in the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC). This regional interstate compact includes over 100 schools in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Administered through MHEC's Midwest Student Exchange Program (MSEP), this tuition reciprocity agreement enables non-resident students to enroll in online programs in Illinois schools at reduced rates. Illinois students taking online courses outside the state also benefit from tuition discounts. Public institutions agree to charge eligible students no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate. Private colleges provide a 10% tuition reduction. Students participating in this program typically save between $500 and $5,000 each year in tuition costs.
The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) works with MHEC and other interstate regional compacts to administer reciprocity agreements and oversee distance learning programs for member states. The Illinois Board of Higher Education, the authorizing agency for higher education in the state, serves as the portal agency for Illinois colleges and universities seeking SARA approval for online degrees. The Illinois Community College Board approves SARA applications for two-year schools.
Tuition rates are ultimately program- and institution-based. Ask someone from a prospective program about what rates apply to you specifically as a potential member of a specific program.
With so many online degrees in Illinois, choosing the best one for you can be daunting. Below, we provide answers to some frequently asked questions and offer a few helpful resources to make your search easier.
Online tuition rates and residency rules differ by school and programs across the state, but online schools generally cost the same as or less than traditional on-campus programs. Some schools charge less for in-state students, while others charge a flat rate no matter where students reside. Our rankings help you compare cost per credit to determine the most affordable online schools. As you do your research, pay attention to in-state and out-of state tuition rates and other fees. For example, Southern Illinois University, a publicly funded, comprehensive four-year institution, charges the same rate for students across the United States.
Southeastern Illinois College, like most public community colleges in Illinois, holds relatively inexpensive online tuition rates and offers a discount to students living in neighboring counties. Additionally, a private institution like Aurora University may charge one flat rate for all students. A list of all Illinois colleges and universities that participate in the MHEC tuition reduction program can be found on the SARA website.
Each online school determines its own regulations about transfer credits. Most courses completed at a regionally accredited online school will transfer, with a minimum grade of "C", if the receiving institution offers a similar course. The Higher Learning Commission serves as the regional accreditation body for Illinois and other schools in the north central U.S. Most on-campus and online programs accept up to 60 credits from a two-year school or 60-90 credits from four-year institutions.
Many states possess transfer articulation agreements, usually between public community colleges and four-year universities, to facilitate the transfer process and help students select the appropriate courses leading to degree completion. The Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI) allows students to transfer between 37-41 credits of general education courses to any of its 100 participating schools. Students can visit the IAI website for a complete list of participating public and private colleges and universities in Illinois.
Students should also research the transfer policies of their prospective schools. You should not assume that all courses will transfer, as some schools hold stricter requirements than others. College Transfer provides an online tool to check on transfer credit rules for over 1,200 schools in the U.S., including Illinois.
The GED, a popular high school equivalency exam, demonstrates high school-level proficiencies in mathematics, science, social science, reading, and writing. According to the GED Testing Service, 97% of U.S. colleges and universities, including online schools, accept the test in place of a high school diploma as a prerequisite for admission. However, each school establishes its own acceptable passing score, so make sure to check the guidelines of your prospective program.
Community colleges in Illinois accept students with the minimum passing GED score of 145, regardless of their GPA. Some Illinois schools require applicants to score higher than 145 points. If applicants score between 165 and 174 (the College-Ready score), they usually gain admittance to the college of their choice without a placement test requirement, such as the ACT or SAT. A College-Ready score of 165 or higher also establishes eligibility for scholarships and other forms of financial aid. Students scoring above 200 receive ten college credits.
The growing number of online programs in Illinois at the associate, bachelor's and graduate levels provide students with the option of choosing among many schedules and formats. Most online degree programs feature semester or quarter-based formats, with students enrolling either at the beginning of the academic year or at the start of each term.
The majority of online undergraduate programs require four years to complete, and most master's degrees take about two years to finish. However, several online schools in Illinois offer accelerated programs with flexible start dates throughout the academic year. While a traditional college course usually lasts 16 weeks, an accelerated online program consists of shorter four-, five-, eight-, or 10-week sessions.
The fully online for-profit schools, like Walden University and Capella University, offer multiple start dates throughout the year, delivering courses in flexible, asynchronous formats. Several of these fully online schools offer accelerated competency-based programs that allow students to move quickly through courses where they can demonstrate proficiency. Additionally, many of the state's four-year institutions developed accelerated online options to accommodate the needs of working professionals, busy parents, and others trying to earn a degree within a limited time frame.
Concordia University-Chicago features several accelerated bachelor's and master's degrees offered in five- or eight-week sessions with flexible start dates. Benedictine University offers two accelerated MBA options and online bachelor's degrees that can be completed in two years or less.
Students enrolled in online programs typically receive the same loans, scholarships, and grants as students attending on-campus classes. Every online college and university in Illinois offers students various forms of financial aid, including aid administered through federal assistance programs. As a first step, students planning to enroll in any of the state's online programs should apply for federal aid by completing the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA determines eligibility for other types of state or college-based aid, including grants, scholarships, and loans.
Online students must meet certain requirements to receive federal aid, such as attending an accredited online program recognized by either the Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, and their online school must hold authorization to operate in Illinois. Students must also meet application requirements related to their legal status, age, and educational attainment. Students should visit the Federal Student Aid website to submit their FAFSA and review requirements. They should also contact prospective schools directly to learn more about their financial aid options.
Students starting to explore distance learning opportunities may not know about the availability of free online college-level courses. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have partnered with colleges and universities across the U.S. through providers like the nonprofit, open-access edX, or the Coursera online learning platform. Over 800 schools deliver more than 8,000 of these MOOCs in subjects like business, computer science, legal studies, engineering, and art and design. MOOCs typically require 4-6 weeks of study. Although most schools offer MOOCs at no cost, some universities may charge fees for students intending to apply these courses to programs.
In Illinois, the University of Chicago offers several online humanities-related MOOCs in partnership with edX. Courses in modern art and design make up the MOOC offerings at the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Additionally, Northwestern University offers a MOOC course series through Coursera in its organizational leadership program. Students should check with programs directly for updated information.
Illinois's strong commitment to educational access embraces the expansion of quality online learning opportunities. The Illinois Online Network, an initiative of the University of Illinois Springfield, offers several resources for educators and students to promote best practices in online learning.
Illinois State Board of Higher Education manages enrollment and accessibility for public and private institutions in the state, including online programs. It provides a comprehensive database for students and families with information on college options and tuition costs. It also sponsors the iTransfer website to help students transfer courses between Illinois schools.
Illinois Community College Online, a consortium of 31 two-year schools, provides another example of the support for online learning in the state. It hosts a centralized hub for online students to manage registration and financial aid services, access course offerings, and facilitate transcript retrieval. The community college members share resources to improve and expand their online programs and take advantage of professional development opportunities for their faculty and technology staff.
Students enrolled in online programs generally qualify for the same financial aid programs as campus-based students. Undergraduate students should begin by investigating their eligibility for federal assistance, especially Pell Grants. Unlike loans, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid. The amount of these grants depends on financial need and cost of attendance. Graduate students or students who may not qualify for need-based federal aid should not overlook scholarships, including those reserved specifically for Illinois residents.
The Golden Apple Scholars program awards annual scholarships to high school seniors and first- and second-year undergraduates planning to teach in a high-need Illinois school. Recipients must commit to teaching for five years within seven years of completing their degree. The award requires attendance at a summer residency to gain teaching experience.
Scholarship Amount: $2,500, renewableView Details
The Anhelo project supports the educational aspirations of undergraduate or graduate students with undocumented immigration statuses. Recipients must attend an accredited Illinois college or university, hold a minimum 2.5 GPA, and provide documentation of financial need. The award requires a 20-hour volunteer commitment.
Scholarship Amount: VariableView Details
Full-time students pursuing careers in healthcare may apply for this annual award. Applicants must reside in one of 21 participating Illinois counties and enroll in a curriculum that leads to healthcare employment in fields such as nursing, radiology, and medical technology. Students must also provide evidence of financial need, academic achievement, and life and work experience.
Scholarship Amount: $1,000View Details
The Illinois CPA Society administers several scholarships funded by the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a career in accounting. Applicants must be Illinois residents who demonstrate high academic achievement, leadership qualities, and financial need. The society restricts some awards to underrepresented groups and women. Applicants meeting the criteria may apply for multiple scholarships.
Scholarship Amount: $4,000View Details
These scholarships provide support for students planning to pursue teacher certification in Illinois. Program recipients must agree to teach at a nonprofit Illinois public, private, or parochial preschool, elementary school, or secondary school that holds a minimum enrollment of 30% African-American, Hispanic American, Asian-American, or Native American students. Additionally, applicants must identify as African-American, Hispanic American, Asian-American, or Native American.
Scholarship Amount: $5,000, renewableView Details