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2023 Best Online Colleges in Iowa

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 7/3/2023


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Several public and private online colleges in Iowa confer bachelor's degrees in a variety of subjects. Students looking to start an online education can review their options in Iowa, which may grant lower tuition rates to in-state residents. People go to college online for many reasons, chief among them the added flexibility and convenience that can make it easier to balance school with work, family, and other responsibilities. This is important for applicants who need or prefer to work while in college for financial reasons. 

View our methodology for more details about our list, based on Salary Score data, or learn more about OnlineU

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2023 Best Online Colleges in Iowa

RankSchool Salary Score Online Enrollment
# 1 #1 Waldorf University 71 2,469
# 2 #2 Iowa State University 67 1,298
# 3 #3 University of Northern Iowa 63 559
# 4 #4 University of Iowa 60 3,003
# 5 #5 Morningside College 56 1,360
# 6 #6 Upper Iowa University 56 2,386
# 7 #7 Buena Vista University 47 893
# 8 #8 Northwestern College - IA 44 425
# 9 #9 Graceland University 42 689
# 10 #10 Briar Cliff University 29 322

#1 Waldorf University

  • Salary Score: 71
  • Online Enrollment: 2,469
  • Locations: Forest City
  • Accreditation: HLC

Waldorf University is a private, for-profit, Lutheran university featuring a wide choice of online bachelor's degree programs. The university's most well-attended programs include its Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Bachelor of Arts in Occupational Safety, and Bachelor of Science in Fire Science Administration degrees. Waldorf accepts 61% of bachelor's candidates, and 50% of them complete their degrees.

Waldorf hosts online courses on the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). More than one-third of students are enrolled on a part-time basis, and 69% of students are online-only learners. Most Waldorf undergraduates are required to take a capstone class called Life, Meaning, and Vocation that asks them to examine their own values.

#2 Iowa State University

  • Salary Score: 67
  • Online Enrollment: 1,298
  • Locations: Ames
  • Accreditation: HLC

Iowa State University, which is a public institution, offers three online bachelor's degrees, 27 online master's degrees, and four online doctorates. Master's degrees are available in a diverse range of subjects, including business administration, educational administration, gerontology, and systems engineering. The school has a 95% acceptance rate and a 90% graduation rate.

Distance learners complete their online courses and engage in class discussions with classmates and instructors through the Canvas learning platform. Of all Iowa State enrollees, 74% study full time.

#3 University of Northern Iowa

  • Salary Score: 63
  • Online Enrollment: 559
  • Locations: Cedar Falls
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Northern Iowa is a public institution that offers a range of online bachelor's and master's degrees. Among the school's most popular programs are the Bachelor's in Business Administration, the Master's in English Literature, and the Master's in Educational Administration. This university accepts 95% of applicants and graduates 64% of students.

Distance education students use the Blackboard learning platform to complete their coursework. More than 90% of enrollees study full time.

#4 University of Iowa

  • Salary Score: 60
  • Online Enrollment: 3,003
  • Locations: Iowa City
  • Accreditation: HLC

The University of Iowa (UI), the state's largest public university, offers a few online bachelor's degrees. Students can choose from degrees that include a Bachelor of Liberal Studies and a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Recreation Management. UI also has two online degree-completion programs: a Bachelor of Science in Nursing for current registered nurses and a Bachelor of Science in Radiation Sciences for current radiology technicians. The university accepts 84% of applicants to bachelor's programs, and 72% of them graduate with degrees.

Online students at UI sign into Canvas to watch lectures, talk to classmates in discussion forums, and complete assignments. UI's student body consists of 92% full-time students and only 4% online-only learners.

#5 Morningside College

  • Salary Score: 56
  • Online Enrollment: 1,360
  • Locations: Sioux City
  • Accreditation: HLC

A private, non-profit school, Morningside College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The school offers a small selection of online degrees, including bachelor's degree completion programs in nursing or elementary education. Students can also earn online master's degrees in teaching or nursing. Morningside accepts 71% of applicants, and 56% of students earn their degree.

Moodle is the school's learning management system, giving online learners access to course materials and group learning activities. Of all enrollees, 93% attend school full time.

#6 Upper Iowa University

  • Salary Score: 56
  • Online Enrollment: 2,386
  • Locations: Fayette
  • Accreditation: HLC

Upper Iowa University (UIU) is a private nonprofit school with a range of online bachelor's degrees on offer. Popular programs include bachelor's degrees in business administration, human services, psychology, and nursing (an RN-to-BSN track). Online courses last eight weeks as opposed to 13-15 for a semester elsewhere. UIU has a 65% bachelor's degree acceptance rate and a 50% bachelor's graduation rate.

The university uses the Brightspace LMS to deliver online courses. The student body is almost evenly split between full-time and part-time enrollees, but distance education is clearly more common at UIU: 60% of students take exclusively online classes, and only 27% take purely on-campus offerings.

#7 Buena Vista University

  • Salary Score: 47
  • Online Enrollment: 893
  • Locations: Storm Lake
  • Accreditation: HLC

Buena Vista University (BVU) is a private school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church that offers more than a dozen online bachelor's degrees. Programs with the highest enrollment include bachelor's degrees in general distributive studies, psychology, business, and accounting. The university accepts 56% of candidates for bachelor's degrees, and it eventually grants degrees to 59% of undergraduates.

BVU uses the Canvas learning platform to deliver online courses. Forty-four percent of undergraduates at BVU take online courses exclusively, and another 5% take a mix of online and on-campus learning. About 14% of enrollees are part-time learners.

#8 Northwestern College - IA

  • Salary Score: 44
  • Online Enrollment: 425
  • Locations: Orange City
  • Accreditation: HLC

Northwestern College is a private, non-profit college affiliated with the Reformed Church in America. The school offers a limited number of online degrees, including a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, an RN-to-BSN bridge program, and master's degrees in education, school counseling, and clinical mental health counseling. The school has an 87% acceptance rate, and 63% of students earn their degree.

At Northwestern College, online students access course materials, complete assignments, and interact with peers and instructors through the Canvas system. More than 90% of Northwestern College students attend school full time.

#9 Graceland University

  • Salary Score: 42
  • Online Enrollment: 689
  • Locations: Lamoni
  • Accreditation: HLC

Graceland University is a private, non-profit institution affiliated with the Community of Christ. The school offers 14 online bachelor's, master's, and certificate programs, and is especially noted for its online nursing programs. The school has a 74% acceptance rate and a 48% graduation rate.

At Graceland, online learners access course materials, complete homework assignments, and engage in class discussions through the Brightspace platform. Most Graceland students — 92% — attend school full time.

#10 Briar Cliff University

  • Salary Score: 29
  • Online Enrollment: 322
  • Locations: Sioux City
  • Accreditation: HLC

Briar Cliff University is a private, non-profit college affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. Students can opt to earn one of 10 undergraduate degrees or six graduate degrees entirely online. The school has an open enrollment policy, meaning it accepts all applicants, and 43% of students earn their degree.

At Briar Cliff, online students access course materials, complete assignments, and interact with peers and instructors through the Brightspace system. Three-quarters of Briar Cliff students attend school full time.

#11 Maharishi International University

  • Salary Score: N/A
  • Online Enrollment: 967
  • Locations: Fairfield
  • Accreditation: HLC

Maharishi International University (MIU) is a small, private, and nonprofit establishment. There are under 600 undergraduate students currently enrolled at the school. Offering a total of 14 online bachelor's programs, 13 online master's programs, and 2 online PhDs, MIU is an institution deeply rooted in the wellness domain. They brand their unique approach as "consciousness-based education," enabling students to undertake a journey of self-exploration while earning a degree in their chosen field. The university also fosters transcendental meditation, pioneering sustainability measures, and encourages a wholesome lifestyle, all in an effort to shape versatile and well-rounded graduates.

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Higher Education in Iowa

Iowa has 55 degree-granting colleges within its borders to serve its 3.2 million residents and students from other states. Twenty of these schools are Iowa's community colleges. The rest include everything from small, private liberal arts colleges to huge public universities.

Iowa is a major agricultural state but less than half of its colleges are in rural or small town areas. The state government is also trying to diversify the economy beyond agriculture. Investments in financial services, biosciences, and advanced manufacturing will require a steady stream of college graduates. Therefore, policy makers are worried about a projected decrease in Iowa college enrollments after the 2023-2024 year. 

Many Iowa institutions offer fully online degree programs for students who want the flexibility of studying from home. Most of these programs feature asynchronous coursework, which means that students sign in to a learning management system at convenient times to view lecture recordings, send messages to classmates and faculty, and download readings. 

You can check out our Online MSW Programs in Iowa and Online Nursing Programs in Iowa pages if you're interested in a social work or healthcare career in the Hawkeye State.

FAQs About Online Colleges in Iowa

How Many Colleges Are in Iowa?

Iowa contains 55 institutions of higher learning. Iowa State University in Ames is the largest of these with an enrollment of over 30,000. Nearly 20 of the state's colleges are affiliated with a Christian denomination

Do Any States Have Tuition Reciprocity With Iowa?

Iowa doesn't have tuition reciprocity agreements with any other states. This means that you must be an Iowa resident to qualify for in-state tuition rates at any public Iowa institution. The reverse is also true: Iowa residents don't qualify for in-state tuition anywhere else.

How Many Public Colleges Are in Iowa?

Iowa has 19 public post-secondary schools. Nearly all of these are community colleges, but three are four-year universities: Iowa State, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.

How Much Is College in Iowa?

Your costs will always differ by school, but the National Center for Education Statistics provides helpful numbers for average tuition and fee rates for the 2020-2021 school. Below are the costs for different types of Iowa colleges.

  • Public four-year college, in-state resident: $9,373
  • Public four-year college, out-of-state resident: $27,684
  • Private four-year college: $35,224
  • Public two-year college, in-state resident: $5,411
  • Public two-year college, out-of-state resident: $6,844

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