Overview of Higher Education in Montana
Montana has the highest percentage of students that are enrolled in some form of distance education at the college level. Both public and private schools across the state offer several online classes, and many provide the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree fully remotely.
Montata's public education system — known as the Montana University System (MUS) — includes 16 colleges and universities that collectively serve over 40,000 students annually. The MUS offers both graduate and undergraduate diplomas, as well as 2-year degrees through its three community colleges. Being home to one of the country's largest native populations by percentage, Montana has a number of tribal colleges that award master's, bachelor's, and associate degrees, along with certificates in certain fields. Students also have the option to enroll in one of five private colleges spread across the state.
Many of Montana's schools provide the opportunity to learn online. Indeed, over half of the state's postsecondary students engage in some form of distance learning, and the MUS offers 121 fully online programs in various STEM, social science, and humanities fields.
Online Schools in Montana
With colleges and universities spread across the state's massive landmass, moving to attend school in Montana can be challenging. Luckily, students can choose from many distance and hybrid learning options available to pursue their education remotely.
However, distance learning may come with unique challenges in The Treasure State, where internet connectivity is less reliable and accessible when compared to other parts of the country. Nevertheless, online programs can be a suitable option, especially for students who work full- or part-time, have family obligations, or are unable to relocate.
What to Look for in an Online Program
Applying to college can seem like a daunting task — especially for first-time students who are weighing their future options. However, with proper preparation, it's possible to select a school and program that aligns with your personal and professional interests. Below is a list of what to look for when considering an online program.
Accreditation signals that a college or university meets national standards for academic excellence and ensures that you will receive a quality education, whether you choose to learn online or in-person. While there are many types of accreditation, it's best to enroll in a Montana school that has been accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, an organization that assesses educational benchmarks in several states.
Selecting a program that's affordable based on your unique financial circumstances can help guarantee your ability to earn a degree. It may also increase your return on investment once you graduate and enter the workforce.
Degree levels and programs vary considerably across Montana's universities, community colleges, and tribal schools. Some provide a wide range of subject area options at different educational levels, while others are more limited in their offerings. It's therefore important to choose an institution where it's possible to pursue the degree that best suits your future career goals.
Selecting a program where the learning format fits your schedule is important, especially if you work, provide family care, or have other obligations. There are many options available in Montana's schools, including fully online, fully in-person, and hybrid programs. Depending on your unique situation, it's important to pick the learning format that best suits your needs.
Popular Online Degrees in Montana
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, popular 4-year degrees in Montana are awarded in a wide range of subjects. Given that farming is one of the state's largest industries, it's not surprising that these subjects include the agricultural sciences and agricultural management. Perhaps reflecting the fact that thousands of tourists visit Montana's national parks each year, degrees in natural resource conservation as well as parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness are also common choices.
At the master's level, students largely graduate with degrees in education and health services. This may be because occupations in these fields typically require a graduate education, and the two sectors are expected to add a significant number of jobs in the future. (Note, this data includes both online and in-person degree programs.)
Cost of Online Colleges in Montana
At $6,967, the average cost of tuition for in-state students is lower than the national average in Montana and among the cheapest in the country. By contrast, out-of-state students pay $25,239, which is slightly below the national average for similar learners. In most cases, attending school online may be more affordable because students can save on additional fees and costs such as relocation, on-campus housing, and transport. For example, while distance learners pay some fees at Montana State University, they usually avoid charges for using on-campus facilities such as buildings and sports fields.
Online students should remember that they may face other, out of pocket expenses that are not included in a school's fee structure. For instance, they may have to invest in a reliable laptop, secure reliable internet access, and purchase textbooks. In cases where the school doesn't provide extensive online support, they may also have to secure cloud and storage services.
Financial Aid for Online Students in Montana
Attending a college or university can be expensive, especially if you need to take out student loans. However, Montana residents can take advantage of state financial aid programs that are designed to increase access to higher education. These include:
MUS Honor Scholarship
This scholarship is awarded in the form of a tuition waiver program that can be renewed for a maximum of eight semesters. Students who have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.4 and are enrolled at an eligible Montana campus can receive tuition funding worth up to $20,000.
Montana STEM/Healthcare Scholarship Program
High school students in Montana who plan to enroll in a STEM or healthcare field at a state university can apply for this renewable scholarship, which provides $6,000 in funding over four years. To be eligible, students must have a minimum 3.25 GPA, have completed college coursework in math and science, and plan to study full time.
Gianforte Trade and Technology Scholarships
Full- and part-time students enrolled in a technical or trade focused program can help fund their education with this scholarship. To apply, students must demonstrate financial need and take a minimum of six credits. They can receive up to $4,000 in aid over the course of their enrollment.
Montana Online College Career Outlook
With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Montana's most GDP-rich industries include financial services, government, healthcare, and education. These sectors typically require a postsecondary education for employment, so workers with a bachelor's or higher degree are well-positioned to secure a job in Montana's most valuable industries after graduating. With strong manufacturing and construction sectors, associate degree holders also have a favorable job outlook. Given this, it makes sense that a large proportion of the state's college graduates — 69% — work in Montana soon after graduating.
Looking to the future, Montana's economy continues to grow with roughly 5,750 jobs projected to be created annually through 2030. A majority of these opportunities are expected in sectors that typically require a college degree, such as healthcare and education, or those where a postsecondary education can increase earning potential, like construction and food services. Overall, college graduates can expect a bright career outlook in Montana — especially if they have an associate or bachelor's degree.