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Minnesota Online Colleges & Universities: Top Schools for 2018

Updated on: 01/04/2018
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Minnesota is home to not just many lakes, but colleges and universities as well. With so many schools to choose from, finding the right one can be an intimidating task. And with the increase in number of colleges offering online courses and degree programs, prospective college students may be further confused as to how to choose the best school. That’s where this guide comes in. It explains the state of online post-secondary education in Minnesota, how to most effectively pay for an online college degree and tips on choosing the best one.

2018’s Most Affordable: The Best Online Colleges in Minnesota

Choosing among the best accredited online colleges in Minnesota can be made easier based on the following ranking. But because one student’s definition of what’s “best” may be different from another student, the list considers a variety of other academic metrics, such as cost, financial aid, student-teacher ratios and more. The primary focus of the list below is naming the best affordable online colleges in Minnesota.

  • 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

  • Student-teacher ratio

  • 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

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN 100.00 $20,200 28 92% 16:146%yes yes yes
2 University of Minnesota-Crookston Crookston, MN 99.43 $10,030 12 85% 17:144%yes yes yes
3 Crown College Saint Bonifacius, MN 98.46 $23,080 19 99% 18:151%yes no yes
4 Bemidji State University Bemidji, MN 96.66 $7,146 14 47% 21:146%yes yes yes
5 Winona State University Winona, MN 95.45 $6,860 5 45% 20:156%yes yes yes
6 Minnesota State University Moorhead Moorhead, MN 95.31 $6,898 8 38% 18:146%no yes yes
7 Saint Cloud State University Saint Cloud, MN 95.11 $6,584 4 36% 23:147%yes yes yes
8 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mankato, MN 94.13 $6,667 8 22% 23:149%no yes yes
9 Metropolitan State University Saint Paul, MN 90.49 $6,329 12 N/A 17:134%yes no yes
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2-Year Best College Rankings

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Minnesota State Community and Technical College Fergus Falls, MN 100.00 $4,824 35 5% 22:1N/Ayes yes yes
2 North Hennepin Community College Brooklyn Park, MN 99.58 $3,962 32 2% 25:1N/Ayes yes yes
3 Alexandria Technical & Community College Alexandria, MN 98.73 $4,817 16 27% 24:1N/Ayes yes yes
4 South Central College North Mankato, MN 97.29 $4,836 12 10% 16:1N/Ayes yes yes
5 Riverland Community College Austin, MN 96.97 $4,950 18 14% 21:1N/Ano yes yes
6 Hennepin Technical College Brooklyn Park, MN 96.30 $4,701 5 7% 21:1N/Ayes yes yes
7 Rochester Community and Technical College Rochester, MN 96.25 $4,924 13 5% 22:1N/Ayes yes yes
8 Inver Hills Community College Inver Grove Heights, MN 96.02 $4,770 9 2% 24:1N/Ayes yes yes
9 Central Lakes College-Brainerd Brainerd, MN 95.91 $4,773 6 14% 25:1N/Ayes yes yes
10 Hibbing Community College Hibbing, MN 95.86 $4,729 4 9% 19:1N/Ayes yes yes
11 St Cloud Technical and Community College Saint Cloud, MN 95.18 $4,767 7 5% 24:1N/Ayes yes yes
12 Anoka-Ramsey Community College Coon Rapids, MN 95.11 $4,348 7 6% 33:1N/Ayes yes yes
13 Lake Superior College Duluth, MN 94.48 $4,418 11 N/A 23:1N/Ayes yes yes
14 Ridgewater College Willmar, MN 94.40 $4,839 8 N/A 21:1N/Ayes yes yes
15 Minneapolis Community and Technical College Minneapolis, MN 93.82 $4,658 8 N/A 24:1N/Ayes yes yes
16 Normandale Community College Bloomington, MN 93.69 $4,845 11 5% 27:1N/Ayes no yes
17 Century College White Bear Lake, MN 93.47 $4,818 5 N/A 24:1N/Ayes yes yes
18 Saint Paul College Saint Paul, MN 93.23 $4,852 4 N/A 25:1N/Ayes yes yes
19 Northland Community and Technical College Thief River Falls, MN 91.96 $4,950 13 N/A 21:1N/Ayes no yes

Online College in Minnesota on the Rise

Minnesota is a leader in post-secondary education, with hundreds of colleges and universities scattered across the state. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Minnesota also has a tremendous number of online course offerings. For example, two major online post-secondary education providers in the United States, Walden University and Capella University, are based in Minnesota. The online college landscape has become so large and popular that the Minnesota Online Quality Initiative was formed to help ensure online courses and programs maintain a consistent high level of quality.

At the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities students can choose from over 45 certificates, graduate and undergraduate online degree programs. This is to be expected from such a large public university, but small, private schools such as Concordia University, St. Paul, also offer dozens of online programs for those seeking an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Even community colleges, like Minnesota State Community and Technical College, offer over 20 online programs ranging from Paralegal to Web Design to Accounting. A complete listing of Minnesota colleges offering online courses can be found at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education website.

Paying Tuition and the Financial Aid Options in Minnesota

In many situations, students enrolled in an online program can expect to pay in-state tuition regardless of their state of residency. Alternatively, the tuition online students pay will be a flat rate. But this general rule will vary based not just on schools, but programs at the same school, with each department establishing its own tuition policy.

Minnesota residency for tuition purposes can be obtained in three primary ways. First, the student can reside in Minnesota for at least one year prior to applying to a school. Second, if the student is a dependent, they can apply as a Minnesota resident as long as their parent or guardian is a Minnesota resident at the time of applying. Third, the student can move to Minnesota and accept full-time employment before applying for admission to a Minnesota school. Regardless of which method is used, students may not move to Minnesota solely for the purposes of obtaining in-state residency status.

In-state tuition: $10,701 – public, four-year institution

$5,332 – public, two-year institution

Out-of-state tuition: $18,295 – public, four-year institution

$5,975 – public, two-year institution

Private tuition: $29,377

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

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In-state tuition or out-of-state tuition, which do I pay if I attend as an online college student in Minnesota?

Students attending an online Minnesota college will usually pay either the in-state tuition rate or an “online rate” that all students must pay, whether they’re a Minnesota resident or not. However, for the situation where a student is not a Minnesota resident and would normally be required to pay the out-of-state tuition, there two ways in which the student could obtain a reduced tuition rate.

The first method is Minnesota’s Reciprocity system. Minnesota has reciprocity agreements with schools in Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. Under these agreements, residents in these states can pay a lower out-of-state tuition rate if they attend a participating school in any of reciprocity program’s states.

The second method is the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Under this program, students from Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri or Nebraska will pay a reduced out-of-state tuition rate if they attend a public Minnesota college or university.

Quick summary on tuition:
  • 1. In most cases, students enrolled in an online program will pay either the in-state tuition rate or a rate that is the same for all students, regardless of residency.

  • 2. Students from reciprocity states or Midwest Student Exchange Program member states will pay reduced out-of-state tuition rates if they attend a public colleges or university in Minnesota.

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Where can I find financial aid in Minnesota, and how do I apply?

Financial aid in Minnesota is plentiful and can be found at the federal, state school and private level. The vast majority of financial aid will require completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. This is a federal financial aid application, but Minnesota state aid (including grants) utilizes the FAFSA as its application form. Many schools and private organizations who offer financial aid awards will typically require the FAFSA as well.

The exact financial aid deadlines will depend on the particular school or state government. Regardless of the posted deadline, students may begin submitting their FAFSA starting October 1, approximately one year before they intend to enroll in college. This early submission is important because a lot of financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Even after a financial aid award has been granted, students must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress, or SAP to continue receiving the financial aid. These SAP standards are typically applied to students receiving federal financial aid, but students receiving Minnesota state-based aid must also be in compliance with these federal standards. The federal SAP standards are explained in the following section. Keep in mind some schools may impose different SAP standards if they so choose.

  • GPA

    Students must maintain a 2.00 GPA at the undergraduate level (2.80 at the graduate level).

  • Maximum time frame:

    A student must complete his or her degree within 150% of the standard length of time needed for that degree. To illustrate, if a student is working toward an associate degree that requires 60 credits, the student must obtain the associate degree before enrolling in 90 credits.

  • Completion percentage:

    Students must pass at least 67% of the courses they attempt.

College Scholarship & Grant Options for Minnesota Students

Minnesota offers an array of state-based grants and scholarships. But in addition to state-based financial aid that doesn’t have to be paid back, many Minnesota colleges and universities have scholarship and grants that are available to only their students. Don’t forget the thousands of scholarships that any students, regardless of school or residency, may apply for, which are commonly offered by private parties, charitable organizations and corporations.

What is the best way to find which grants and scholarships are available to me?

The single best way for Minnesota students to find scholarships and grants tailored to them is to go directly to their school’s financial aid website. There, each school’s exclusive scholarship and grant offerings will be listed and explained. The school will also provide information about federal grant aid and will likely also list some private or outside sources of scholarships and grants, such as those offered by local businesses and non-profit organizations.

Finally, search the internet for general scholarships for more scholarships and grants sponsored by private, non-school or government-related entities. Many of these are awarded based on a unique characteristic of the student, such as chosen field of study, heritage or adversities overcome by the student.

Are there any scholarships and grants reserved specifically for Minnesota students?

A great place to start is checking out the Minnesota Office of Higher Education’s webpage, Financial Aid You Don’t Repay. It gives a detailed list of grants and scholarships tailored to Minnesota students and offered by the state. A few grants and scholarships specifically for Minnesota students include:

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Finding the Right College: Compare Minnesota’s Online Options

College is a wonderful experience, but many who choose the online college route look to complete college as quickly and affordably as possible. As a result, they want to choose a program that has the lowest cost of attendance and will accommodate their prior school and work experiences.

Which schools will take my transfer credits or apply my work experience for credit in Minnesota?

Many schools will give college credit for work experience if it’s from the military. For instance, students attending any college or university that is part of the Minnesota State system can use VETS, or the Veterans Education Transfer System. This system allows former, current and future service members to calculate what military training can count as college credit.

Work experience can also be converted in college credit at some schools. At Walden University, certain professional certifications, such as Certified Public Accountant, National Board Certified Teacher and several IT certifications can be translated into course credit.

As for transfer credits, the best bet for prospective students is to contact the admissions office at their school of choice for rules, regulations and requirements. Minnesota also allows younger students to earn college credits while still in high school through the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program.

If I live in Minnesota, do I have to choose an online college based in Minnesota?

If you live in Minnesota, a major advantage of choosing an online college based in Minnesota is paying an in-state tuition rate. However, Minnesota students can choose to attend any online school they want, no matter where it’s located in the country, however out-of-state tuition rates may apply unless the state participates in a reciprocity agreement for non-residents.

What is the best way to find out which of Minnesota’s college options are right for me?

There is no set formula or process for choosing the right online college. This is because what constitutes the best or right college will be different for each student, based on their needs. However, as an overarching principle, students can take the following steps to make the best decision for them.

First, the student must determine what they’re looking for in a school. Do they want personalized attention? If so, a small student-to-faculty ratio is probably desired. If post-graduate job placement is important, then the prospective student probably wants to find a school with a great career service office and diverse alumni network.

Second, make sure the school is accredited. Accreditation is a type of “certification” by an independent organization that proclaims a school’s academic program meets rigorous curriculum and learning guidelines. In other words, it means the degree a student gets after graduating means something. If a student receives a degree from a school that’s not accredited, that degree might mean practically nothing to future employers, and their credits might not transfer to other schools if they choose to move their educational experience elsewhere.