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Montana Online Colleges & Universities: Top Schools for 2018

Updated on: 01/04/2018
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Montana is home to over two dozen schools, many of which offer online certificate and degree programs in a wide range of disciplines. Residents of Montana and students from other states can both find a variety of financial aid opportunities in Montana, from tuition-reducing exchange programs to ample scholarships. Learn more about the best and most affordable accredited online colleges in Montana as well as the variety of ways to fund that education. Explore options and find the online program that fits best.

Montana’s Best Online Colleges, Affordable Schools 2018

By analyzing important factors such as student-to-teacher ratio, tuition costs, program variety, graduation rates and more, we have found and rated the best accredited online schools in Montana. This list of the best affordable online colleges in Montana can be used to find the online college that best fits you and your budget.

  • 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 University of Great Falls Great Falls, MT 100.00 $20,456 7 99% 18:129%yes yes yes
2 Montana State University Bozeman, MT 98.47 $5,330 10 66% 19:149%no yes 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 Dawson Community College Glendive, MT 100.00 $3,226 4 77% 11:1N/Ayes no yes
2 Flathead Valley Community College Kalispell, MT 97.93 $4,133 7 34% 12:1N/Ano yes yes
3 Great Falls College Montana State University Great Falls, MT 97.44 $2,496 11 10% 14:1N/Ayes yes yes

Montana’s Online College Landscape

In Montana alone, there are thousands of students taking courses and earning degrees online. In fact, 60 percent of the colleges and universities in the Montana University System offer online programs. In addition to on-campus options, dozens of distance-learning certificate and degree programs are listed in Montana’s Academic Program Degree Inventory. These program offerings are further bolstered by agreements such as the Western Undergraduate Exchange and Western Regional Graduate Program which allow some students to attend certain programs at participating schools in other states at a reduced tuition.

Online College Tuition and Financial Aid Guidelines in Montana

Across the nation, tuition generally comes in two forms: in-state and out-of-state. In-state tuition is the rate offered to students who live in the same state as the school, while out-of-state tuition is what students who do not live there pay. In-state tuition is generally cheaper than out-of-state tuition, and Montana is no exception. Below are the average public college tuitions for 2015-2016 in Montana:

In-state tuition: $6,443

Out-of-state tuition: $22,145

Source: U.S. Department of Education, 2017

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Do online college students pay in-state or out-of-state tuition in Montana?

Which tuition type online students pay depends on whether or not they are Montana residents. Most programs in Montana require an individual be a resident for at least one year to quality for in-state tuition, while others require two years. The clock on residency starts when an individual takes a residency-related action, such as buying a house or filing taxes in the state; residency cannot be satisfied by simply moving to Montana.

Students who aren’t residents of Montana pay out-of-state tuition. However, students may be eligible for a reduced out-of-state tuition in Montana if they are residents of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming or a Pacific territory like Guam. These states are members of the Western Undergraduate Exchange and offer the residents of participating states discounted tuitions at some schools. The Western Regional Graduate Program has similar opportunities for graduate students.

Quick summary on tuition:
  • 1. In-state tuition in Montana is significantly lower than out-of-state.

  • 2. Students from specific states can use programs like the Western Undergraduate Exchange to pay significantly less than the standard out-of-state tuition rates.

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Where can I get financial aid information for Montana, and how do I apply for help?

The first step to receiving financial aid is to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid. In Montana, the FAFSA is due at the end of June. Reach Higher Montana has a step-by-step guide for completing and submitting the FAFSA. Beyond the FAFSA, a significant portion of financial aid in Montana is done through the schools’ individual financial aid offices, of which the Montana University System has a directory. The Montana University System also has a guide detailing different types of financial aid available to Montana residents and students.

The state of Montana’s primary financial aid awards are tuition waivers. These waivers, though uncommonly given, generally focus on financial need and are frequently intended to bridge the gap left by other forms of financial aid. The majority of these waivers are given at the discretion of the school or the state government after review of FAFSAs and admission applications.

  • Enrollment status: full-time or part-time; depends on award type

  • Award amount: varies; no more than full tuition

  • Renewable: yes, as long as base requirements are met

  • GPA: varies; must maintain passing grades

Montana’s College Scholarships & Grants

If need-based financial aid doesn’t completely cover the cost of tuition, students can also finance their education using awards and grants. Montana has a variety of scholarships available, the majority of which are offered by community organizations such as the Montana Community Foundation and from schools themselves. The majority of these scholarships are merit-based, but some are also need-based or available to students in special situations.

Where do I go to find the grants and scholarships I am eligible for?

In addition to reputable scholarship search engines, some Montana-based organizations have award listings and databases too. Reach Higher Montana, a partnership between Montana-based student assistance organizations, gives college-bound Montanans free access to the scholarship search engine Scholly in addition to offering its own scholarships. The Montana Campus Compact — an alliance of Montana colleges — also has a directory of scholarships it offers. Another excellent place to find scholarships is at the colleges and universities themselves; the Montana State University system has over a dozen scholarships available, including some department-specific opportunities, and the University of Montana system has a wide variety of awards available as well.

How can I find scholarships and grants reserved specifically for Montana students?

Scholarship search engines frequently allow users to make profiles and use filters to create results lists that are specific to them and their qualifications, including residency; USA Today has a useful list of trusted scholarship databases and search engines assembled specifically for students looking to fund their educations. For scholarships sponsored by Montana’s state government, the two main awards are the 2 Plus 2 Honor Scholarship — which is for students with 2-year degrees looking to continue their education in 4-year programs — and the merit-based Montana University System Honor Scholarship. The Montana Community Foundation funds a variety of scholarships for students of varying qualifications, including some earmarked for applicants in specific regions of Montana. Other organizations, like the Montana University System, Big Sky Pathways, Reach Higher Montana and Montana Gear Up also have information and resources for filing financial aid forms, financial literacy and scholarships.

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How to Find the Right Online College in Montana

Choosing the right online program is, of course, a significant choice. For that reason, we have answered our users’ top questions about online colleges and universities in Montana. Combined with the information on tuition, scholarships, financial aid and more, these answers and search tools should help anyone interested in Montana’s online programs make the best college decision.

Where can I see the Montana schools that will count my transfer credits or work / life experience towards credit?

The Montana University System offers multiple programs to help students transfer between Montana schools and some may also help out-of-state students with their transfers. The two best tools for transfer students are the MUS Transfer Core and the Common Course Numbering (CCN) systems. The Transfer Core is a series of general education courses that are intentionally similar across all Montana University System member schools in order to allow for easy transfers without losing credit. CCN is a similar system in which Montana University System schools use similar course codes for similar courses so transfer advisors can easily give equivalent credits between programs and schools. However, transfer policies vary from school to school; MUS has a list of transfer policies and contact information for the various member colleges and universities.

Some schools in Montana will also consider work and life experience for credit. In order to encourage the enrollment of adult students, the Montana University System’s Prior Learning Assessment uses standardized testing and faculty evaluation to help determine if an incoming student may be eligible for additional credits. Ultimately, this is done on a case-by-case basis and up to the determination of the accepting program.

Can I choose to get an online degree from a school in another state, even if I live in Montana?

Montanans can enroll in online programs at colleges based in other states as long as the school is allowed to operate in Montana. That is information that generally only the Montana University System or the school in question will know. Students looking to enroll in online programs based outside of Montana will most likely pay the out-of-state tuition cost, which is usually significantly more than the in-state tuition cost. However, if the school is based in the western United States and is part of either the Western Undergraduate Exchange or the Western Regional Graduate Program, students may be able to receive a significantly reduced out-of-state tuition.

How can I find which of Montana’s online programs would be right for me?

There is no one-size-fit-all online program; every student has unique needs and goals. However, Montana schools have resources to help students decide if online programs are right for them. Montana State University offers a guide for distance-learning students with self-evaluations and tips for success. The University of Montana has robust digital resources to help support online students, including a writing center that offers one-on-one online tutoring and writing help over the internet. The Montana University System has an extensive directory that allows sorting by campus, degree level and subject for both physical and online programs while the Open Education Database lists all of the online schools in Montana.