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Best Online Colleges in Montana

Best Online Colleges in Montana

Earning your degree online from an accredited Montana college can help you take the next step in your education in a format that fits your life. Use this guide to find the best schools and the right type of program for you.

Montana’s rural geography makes it ideal for online learning. The Montana University System now has 11 colleges offering undergraduate or graduate degrees that can be earned either fully or partially online.

And while students from across the country can take advantage of Montana’s online degree options, residents get the biggest benefits. Staying in-state gives you access to state scholarships and cheaper resident tuition rates, plus the confidence that your program meets state standards for licensing and certification.

If you’re considering enrolling at a Montana college online, this guide can help you find a great degree or certificate program. Keep reading to learn about the best online colleges in Montana as well as useful information on how Montana’s online degree programs work, what they cost, and ways to fund your college education.

Montana’s Best Online Colleges for 2023

The best online colleges in Montana for 2023 put students first with distance learning programs that have affordable tuition rates and generous financial aid opportunities. They also offer quality academics, a variety of online program options, study convenience, low student-to-teacher ratios, and access to essential student support services. The online colleges listed below score high marks in these areas and lead the way in Montana for helping students achieve their academic and professional goals.

    or

    Base Methodology for OnlineColleges.me’s 2023 Online College Rankings

    1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

    To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

    • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
    • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

    2. Assign Weightings

    After creating the list of eligible schools, OnlineColleges.me data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

    Online Program Availability

    • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. Because exact numbers change often and can be difficult to verify, we use a range-based scoring system: 0-5 online programs = 1 star; 6-10 = 2 stars; 11-15 = 3 stars; 16-20 = 4 stars; 21+ = 5 stars. In our design, laptop icons = stars.

    Affordability

    • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
    • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

    Support Services

    • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
    • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

    About Our Data

    OnlineColleges.me’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2022

  • Miles City, Montana
    Public $

    If you want to earn an associate’s degree to prepare for a career in business, Miles Community College has online programs that focus on general business, entrepreneurship, accounting, small business management, and accounting technology. In addition, if you prefer to earn a more general degree online, such as an associate’s in general studies or human and social services, the school also offers general programs that can be completed virtually. When you enroll in an online degree program at Miles Community College, you will access classes through the Canvas learning management system, which is where you can watch lectures, hand in assignments, and participate in discussions with your professors and other students.

    Program Highlights:

    Associate of Arts in Human and Social Services

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $208/credit in state; $337/credit out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

    Associate of Science in Business

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $208/credit in state; $337/credit out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

    Associate of Arts in General Studies

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $208/credit in state; $337/credit out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Great Falls, Montana
    Public $

    Do you want a general online degree or to focus on a specific discipline to train for a job? No matter what you want to achieve, Great Falls College Montana State University offers virtual options for your chosen path. If you want a more general education, you can earn an online associate’s degree of arts or an associate’s degree of science, which can both lay the foundation to progress to higher-level degree programs. If you’re looking for a program to help you train for a specific career, you can enroll in the school’s medical scribe apprentice, healthcare informatics technician, and health information coding specialist programs to gain the exact knowledge and skills you need to be successful in these professions.

    Program Highlights:

    Associate of Applied Science in Accounting

    • Credits: 62
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $3,532/year in state; $7,172/year out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

    Associate of Applied Science in Substance Abuse and Addictions Counseling

    • Credits: 62
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $3,532/year in state; $7,172/year out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

    Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $3,532/year in state; $7,172/year out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Butte, Montana
    Public $

    Highlands College of Montana Tech provides online degree programs through its Center for Academic Innovation, which is the home of information and tools that help students navigate the virtual learning environment, as well as resources designed to teach professors how to deliver online courses effectively. Within Highlands College of Montana Tech’s Center for Academic Innovation is the Moodle learning management system, where professors add assignments and resources for students to access. In addition, students who need extra help with Moodle can watch tutorials to learn how to navigate the system, as well as receive technology support from knowledgeable staff members. If you don’t enroll in an entire online degree program, the school also offers individual virtual courses in several academic disciplines.

    Program Highlights:

    Master of Science in Industrial Hygiene

    • Credits: 37
    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $7,280/year in state; $24,370/year out of state
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission

    or

    Base Methodology for OnlineColleges.me’s 2023 Online College Rankings

    1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

    To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

    • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
    • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

    2. Assign Weightings

    After creating the list of eligible schools, OnlineColleges.me data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

    Online Program Availability

    • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. Because exact numbers change often and can be difficult to verify, we use a range-based scoring system: 0-5 online programs = 1 star; 6-10 = 2 stars; 11-15 = 3 stars; 16-20 = 4 stars; 21+ = 5 stars. In our design, laptop icons = stars.

    Affordability

    • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
    • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

    Support Services

    • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
    • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

    About Our Data

    OnlineColleges.me’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2022

  • Bozeman, Montana
    Public $$

    Montana State University’s online bachelor’s degree completion program and master’s degree programs were designed to help students take the next steps in their education, no matter where they live. An online degree from Montana’s largest university can provide convenience and flexibility, paving the way for you to study on your own schedule. If you’ve already earned some undergraduate credits but never had the time to finish your degree, MSU’s Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies degree completion program can help you do just that. If you’re ready to elevate your career options and open doors with a master’s degree, you’ll find plenty of graduate-level options available in a variety of fields. Online courses at MSU run on the same semester system as on-campus programs, with start dates in the fall, spring, and summer.

    Program Highlights:

    Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies Degree Completion Program

    • Credits: 120
    • Length: 2-3 years
    • Cost: $286.58-$529.23/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Master of Science in Agricultural Education

    • Credits: 30
    • Length: 1.5 years
    • Cost: $335.11-$437.02/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Master of Science in Health and Human Development, Family Financial Planning Emphasis

    • Credits: 36
    • Length: 2 years
    • Cost: $335.11-$437.02/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Dillon, Montana
    Public $

    The University of Montana Western’s online programs place a degree within reach, no matter where or when you have time to study. Even though these courses take place online, students receive a tailor-made, comprehensive educational experience that encourages practical learning and real-world application. These bachelor’s degrees can help you realize your dreams of working in education without having to worry about carving out the time for on-campus coursework. Online courses at Montana Western are offered on a full semester basis, meaning they’ll move at a similar pace to traditional degree programs. Most classes are not self-paced, so you can count on a distinct and specific path of coursework as you pursue your studies.

    Program Highlights:

    Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

    • Credits: 120
    • Length: 4 years
    • Cost: $590.46/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education, Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 3

    • Credits: 129
    • Length: 4 years
    • Cost: $590.46/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Billings, Montana
    Public $

    Whether you want to earn a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, you can find a flexible online or blended degree program at Montana State University Billings. Not every student is able to find the time to attend classes as part of a traditional campus-based program, so MSU Billings offers more than 25 online degree programs to serve those students’ needs. These online degrees were designed with busy people in mind, allowing for plenty of flexibility as students balance the demands of work, family, and life. MSU Billings is Montana’s leader in online higher education options, and students will receive robust staff support and teacher-student interaction as they work toward their personal, professional, and academic goals.

    Program Highlights:

    Bachelor of Arts in English

    • Credits: 120
    • Length: 4 years
    • Cost: $6,680-$11,440/semester
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Master of Science in Public Relations

    • Credits: 30
    • Length: 1-2 years
    • Cost: $4,250-$7,040/semester
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Master of Science in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: 3 years
    • Cost: $4,250-$7,040/semester
    • Mode: Online, plus clinical work
    • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Missoula, Montana
    Public $$

    If you’re an adult student living far from a college campus, working full time, or balancing family life, the University of Montana-Missoula College’s online degrees can help you earn the credentials to take the next steps in your life and career. No matter where you study, Missoula’s mission is to bring education straight to your fingertips so you can earn a degree in just one to two years. With an associate degree from Missoula, you’ll not only gain valuable workplace skills that will advance your career, but you’ll also be ready for the possibility of continuing your education with a bachelor’s degree program. Since Missoula College is a part of the University of Montana, they offer easy pathways for students to transfer directly into the Mountain Campus undergraduate programs to pursue their next degree. While you’re a student at Missoula, you can count on mentorship and support from faculty members throughout your online education.

    Program Highlights:

    Associate of Science, Public Health

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: 2 years
    • Cost: $341.80-$848/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Associate of Applied Science in Medical Information Technology: Medical Administrative Assisting

    • Credits: 60
    • Length: 2 years
    • Cost: $341.80-$848/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

    Associate of Applied Science in Medical Information Technology: Health Information Coding Specialty

    • Credits: 65
    • Length: 2 years
    • Cost: $341.80-$848/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Butte, Montana
    Public $$

    Montana Technological University offers two online master’s degree programs that provide students with the tools they’ll need to take their careers to the next level. The industrial hygiene distance learning/professional track graduate program is for those who want to pursue advanced study in the field of occupational health. As part of this program, working professionals deepen their understanding of industrial hygiene and gain the overall technical skills to identify, evaluate, and anticipate occupational health hazards. The master’s of project engineering and management is geared toward working professionals who aim to increase their technical and managerial skills. Both master’s program participants can count on free online tutoring and academic advisement in support of their studies.

    Program Highlights:

    Master of Science in Industrial Hygiene

    • Credits: 31
    • Length: 1-2 years
    • Cost: $330.09-$602.72/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: ASNAC

    Master of Project Engineering and Management

    • Credits: 30
    • Length: 1-2 years
    • Cost: $330.09-$602.72/credit
    • Mode: Fully online
    • Accreditation: NWCCU

Understanding how distance education works with its various formats and methods is crucial to finding the program that matches when, where, and how you learn best. Below are descriptions of the most common formats and methods followed by examples of Montana degree programs that use them.

Partially Online vs. Fully Online

Online programs are either a fully online or hybrid/blended format. Fully online programs deliver all course content (e.g., lectures, assignments, readings, communication with instructors and fellow students) 100% online. Some still require on-campus components like exams, labs, or short-term introductory seminars. Hybrid and blended are often used interchangeably in program descriptions, but there is a subtle difference between the two. Hybrid programs either entirely or partly replace in-person instruction with online instruction, while blended programs use online components to supplement in-person instruction. Both fully online and hybrid/blended programs have in-person clinical practice hours for programs like nursing programs and classroom observation experiences for teaching programs. 

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree Completion (RN-BSN) at the University of Providence (Blended/Hybrid)

The University of Providence offers current RNs without BSN degrees a convenient and time-saving way to obtain their nursing bachelor’s through its Nursing RN to BSN degree completion program. The curriculum consists of 36 credits of upper-level nursing coursework that prepares students for leadership roles and to earn their MSNs. Students progress through the three-semester, 12-month, cohort-based, hybrid program on a part-time basis with online classes attended once every other week. 

The general tuition rate for this RN to BSN program is $865/credit, but Providence Health/Partnership Organization students pay only $522/credit. Pre-program core and prerequisite courses are $283/credit. All nursing baccalaureate and master’s programs at the University of Providence, including this RN to BSN program, are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). New cohorts begin twice annually in January and August. 

Bachelor of Arts in Communication at Montana State University Billings (Fully Online)

The Bachelor of Arts in Communication program at MSU Billings teaches the knowledge and skills needed to successfully launch careers in a range of professional fields and helps prepare students for graduate studies in communications and law. Students interested in business and social service choose Organizational Communication while those seeking professional roles in fields like journalism, advertising, public relations, fundraising, and corporate communications choose Media Studies. Both options require 120 credits of general education, major-specific core, and option coursework, all of which can be completed entirely online.

Tuition, not including additional fees, for this BA in Communication is $192.50/credit for Montana residents. Online students at MSU Billings have access to a wide variety of student support services and resources that include financial aid, library resources, disability accommodations, online tutoring, career and employment services, and more.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Online degree programs are also either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous components require students to attend at specific times. Asynchronous components, conversely, can be accessed anytime. Asynchronous components are helpful for working students whose job schedules prohibit participation in program activities at strictly-set times. Students in synchronous class sessions, however, often discover that real-time interaction with teachers and peers positively enhances their academic experience.

Bachelor of Science in Information Technology at Apollos University (Asynchronous)

Apollos University offers several fully and blended online undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. Students in this program learn IT theories and concepts to prepare for careers and graduate studies in information technology, management information systems, and related fields. The 120-credit program is fully online with asynchronous coursework. The curriculum is self-paced with most students earning their degrees in three and a half to four years. Students can take up to eight years to complete the program. 

Tuition, including all fees, for this BS in Information Technology program is an affordable $250/credit with Education Partner Program participants paying $225/credit. Apollos University is institutionally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and authorized to operate in the state by the Montana State Board of Regents

Distance Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Montana (Synchronous)

The University of Montana offers on-campus and online versions of its Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, which provides eligibility for SLP licensure in Montana and many other states. The Distance MS in Speech-Language Pathology program features a hybrid format that combines online classes with 576 hours of in-person clinical practica/externship experiences. Students also attend an in-person residence on UMT’s Missoula campus during the program’s first summer session. All academic classes are attended with on-campus program students via live stream. Most class sessions are scheduled during the day. This two-year program provides options for emphasis in developmental disorders or acquired disorders, both with thesis (71 credits) and non-thesis (65 to 68 credits) options.

Tuition with online fees is $287/credit for Montana residents and $613 for out-of-state residents. In addition to these tuition and other fees, SLP master’s students pay a program-specific tuition of approximately $7,004 for each year of enrollment.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time

Online programs usually also allow for either part-time or full-time attendance. Some programs, particularly those that are entirely asynchronous, even offer self-paced study. Part-time and self-paced programs are especially popular with online students who work full-time or have exceptionally busy schedules. Full-time students, however, enjoy the benefit of completing their programs in less time and moving on more quickly in their careers. 

Master of Social Work at Carroll College (Part-Time)

The Master of Social Work at Carroll College has both full-time and part-time study options. Full-time students can earn their MSWs in as few as 21 months (nine months for students with a BSW or BSSW). Part-time students can customize their course schedules to complete the degree in three to four years. This MSW’s curriculum offers clinically focused, individualized training in evidence-based practice, professional leadership, integrated behavioral healthcare, and trauma-informed/resilience-focused care. The program also provides the knowledge and skills needed to pursue an advanced clinical social work license.

Didactic coursework is online in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous components. Students also complete in-person field experiences with healthcare providers and non-profits both within and outside of the state. Tuition is $873/credit. 

Master of Arts in Teaching at Montana State University (Full-Time)

The MA in Teaching degree from Montana State University features an intensive full-time program that allows students to earn their degrees and obtain a recommendation for Montana Class-2 Teaching licensure in as little as 12 months with the Secondary Education option or 16 months with the Elementary Education option. The 36-credit program, plus six prerequisite course credits for Elementary Education students, helps meet the need for licensed teachers in Montana’s rural communities. Program requirements are entirely online except for one, seven-day summer residency on MSU’s main campus in Bozeman. During the residency, students engage directly with school-age children in the program’s summer camp. Students gain additional hands-on experience with school-age children in an initial classroom experience in the fall semester and in full-time teaching in the spring semester. 

Tuition with fees for this CAEP-accredited program is $335.11/credit for Montana residents and $437.02 for out-of-state residents. The cohort-based program begins once a year in the summer.

Online Colleges in Montana: Accreditation Info

Accreditation is how colleges and universities and the programs they offer are determined to have met certain minimum standards of academic integrity. Institutional accreditation concerns the overall academic quality of a college or university and is administered by a number of independent regional and national accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The regional accrediting agency for online colleges in Montana is the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

Programmatic accreditation focuses on the academic quality of individual degree programs and is overseen by more than six dozen accrediting organizations, each of which is concerned with programs in a specific professional field or academic discipline. Not all degree programs are programmatically accredited, but it’s of notable importance to programs in professional fields that are highly regulated or whose graduates enter occupations that require state licensure or certification, such as nursing, engineering, and teaching. 

To find out more about postsecondary accreditation and its importance to you, check out our complete guide to accreditation.

What’s the Cost of an Online Degree in Montana?

College degrees are expensive, but the price tags for degrees offered by online colleges in Montana can vary substantially. Cost variations are based on factors like total credits, if a school is public or private, and whether you’re a Montana resident or non-resident. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, in-state residents attending a public school in Montana pay about $6,993 while out-of-state residents pay $26,368 a year for a four-year degree. Those attending private schools pay $32,064.

The table below gives a more detailed look at tuition rates for Montana’s online schools. Note that your program’s total cost will be higher once you add in additional program fees, the cost of books and supplies, etc. However, online programs will likely save you money in travel costs.

School NameOn-Campus
In-State
On-Campus
Out-of-State
Online
In-State
Online
Out-of-State
Montana State University Northern$257.50/credit (Havre campus)$802.84/credit (Havre campus)$271.36/credit$816.69/credit
University of Montana$321.63/credit$1,234.75/credit$290.47/credit$806.67/credit
University of Montana Western$244.81/credit$736.81/credit$216.71/credit$532.74/credit
University of Providence$888/credit$888/credit$888/credit$888/credit

* Costs are tuition and fees based on 12 credits taken per semester.

Financial Aid for Online College Students in Montana

Securing financial aid to pay for college is essential for most college students. Fortunately, students enrolled in degree programs at accredited online colleges in Montana are eligible for the same financial aid opportunities as on-campus students. Those include scholarships, grants, student loans like those from Federal Student Aid, loan repayment programs, employer tuition reimbursement programs, and VA education benefits for active-duty military and veterans. 

A good place to start your college funding search is with the Montana University System at sites like this Guide to Financial Aid in Montana and the Award Montana program. You’ll also want to visit the financial aid websites of the online colleges in Montana you’re considering. Examples include:

To learn more about funding opportunities for online degrees, visit these financial aid and scholarship guides.

Best Careers in Montana for Growth

If you plan to go to college but are undecided on a career, you’re certainly not alone. To help you start exploring your options, the chart below provides the most recent estimated job growth and wage figures for ten of the fastest-growing Montana occupations.

CareerJob Growth (2020-2030)Annual Mean Wage (2021)
Nurse Practitioner53.7%$115,710
Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers48.6%$71,610 
Health and Safety Engineers (except Mining Safety Engineers and Inspectors)40.0%$83,780
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians38.8%$32,980
Physical Therapist Assistant37.9%$56,150
Economists37.5%$80,990
Industrial Engineers36.4%$102,120
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists35.7%$61,360
Medical Scientists (except Epidemiologists)35.7%$82,250
Medical and Health Services Managers34.5%$95,670

Sources: Bureau of Labor StatisticsProjections Central

Resources for Online College Students in Montana

Guide for Distance Students

Created by Montana State University, this guide contains useful information for online learning regardless of where you attend school. Topics include deciding if online learning is right for you, what it takes to take an online class, and tips for online student success. 

Montana Career Guide

Presented by the Montana Department of Labor & Industry, this guide contains a wealth of excellent information on finding and succeeding in your career in the Montana workforce. It includes sections on choosing the right college, college entrance requirements, and financial aid options.

Montana Post-Secondary Workforce Report

This report provides comprehensive data on workforce outcomes for Montana college graduates as well as postsecondary supply and demand analysis by college program type, occupation, and geographic region to help you find out about the economic impact of earning a college degree in Montana.

Montana University System (MUS)

The MUS provides this resource that includes information on the 11 campuses offering online degrees, a search engine for all degree programs available from MUS schools, and a guide to higher education. 

Open Educational Resources (OER)

This Montana Tech webpage features links to OER learning materials available for free to anyone. Accessible resources include open textbooks, reference materials and repositories, fully online college courses, and much more. 

6 Tips for Balancing Full-Time Work and Study

This brief but useful webpage offered by Charter College gives advice to help college students in both online and on-campus programs succeed in their studies while maintaining full-time employment.

UMOnline Student Support

This University of Montana resource gives tons of great information and advice to help you succeed in your distance education studies no matter which online college in Montana you attend.