Many colleges in Montana include online and distance education programs as a part of their core offerings. Montana’s system of higher education has recently undergone changes designed to help rebuild the state’s workforce. Online education, in particular, has played a role in Montana’s push for producing more college graduates with career-oriented degrees. As of 2012, 20 percent of the state’s students were enrolled online, with a total of 90 online degrees available between all of Montana’s online schools.
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Taking into consideration the number and variety of degree programs, enrollment, graduation rates, and affordability, we have compiled a list of the best options for choosing an online college in the state of Montana.
On March 12, 1927, the Montana State Normal School was established to meet the demand for a higher education institution in eastern Montana. At its inception, the school offered only two-year certificate programs for elementary school teachers. As the school grew, it maintained its focus on cultivating future educators and in 1949 officially changed its name to Eastern Montana College of Education. However, as enrollment continued to rise, so did the breadth and number of degree programs offered. In order to reflect that change, in 1965 the school formally became known as Eastern Montana College, a name it would maintain for nearly three decades. Then in 1994, as part of Montana’s restructuring of their state university system, the school affiliated itself with Montana State University in Bozeman, officially becoming Montana State University – Billings.
Located on 98 acres in downtown Billings, Montana, MSU Billings boasts the second highest campus population in the Montana State University system, second only to MSU in Bozeman, and the third highest campus population in the Montana University system as a whole, which includes all Montana State and University of Montana institutions. It has a current enrollment of 4,781 students, with a graduation rate of 47%. The university also stands proud in the fact that 86% of its faculty hold the highest degrees in their field.
Aside from their many on-campus offerings and accolades, Montana State University – Billings also offers the most online degree programs of any accredited school in the state of Montana. Currently, MSU Billings offers a total of 31 online degrees, spread across five Associate’s degrees, 20 Bachelor’s degrees, and six Master’s programs. Prospective students can choose from a wide range of disciplines including degrees in Business Administration, Health Administration, Public Relations, Rehabilitation, Education, and Communications. Online classes can be accessed 24-hours a day, on the student’s schedule, and all are taught by the same expert faculty who teach on campus. Online students also enjoy the benefit of access to MSU Billings Academic Support Center which offers free online writing labs and tutoring.
Montana State University – Billings’ online offerings stand above so many others in the amount of different major options and specific concentrations within the degrees that are available for students to choose from.
Montana State University – Billings currently offers a BA in Communications completely online, with two separate major options. Students can choose to study either Organizational Communication or Mass Communication. Through a combination of communication and management classes, the Organizational Communication degree is designed to prepare students interested in a career in business or social service, such as future Managers, Trainers, or Human Resource Officers. The Mass Communications major is intended for students interested in the field of mass communications. With it, students can obtain jobs in Public Relations, Journalism, Broadcast, or Copywriting. Specific thematic concentration options can help to further tailor these degrees.
The BAS and BSLS Degrees at Montana State University – Billings offer students the ability to transfer in credits from many different sources in order to complete their graduate degree. These programs also offer the most variety in choosing specific thematic concentrations in order to tailor the student’s degree to their intended career path. With a Bachelor of Applied Science or Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree, students can choose from a wide range of concentrations, such as:
All tuition rates are based on a full 12-credit hour workload. Montana State University – Billings also charges an additional $20 per credit fee (up to a maximum of $240) for all online degree programs. This fee has been calculated into the tuition information below.
What was once viewed as a consolation prize is now the largest university in the state of Montana. Founded on February 16, 1893, the Agricultural College of the State of Montana was established as the state’s land-grant college in Bozeman, Montana in consolation for the city losing its bid to become the newly-established state’s capital. A decade later, in an attempt to turn the college into a school of technology, the curriculum was greatly expanded in the areas of biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, and physics. And in 1913, the name of the college was officially changed to Montana College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts to reflect the change in concentrations. As the curriculum and enrollment continued to grow, the school came to be commonly referred to as Montana State College. It wasn’t until July 1, 1965 that the state legislature approved MSC’s bid to be named a university, therefore changing the school name to the one it goes by today, Montana State University.
MSU has fully realized its dream of becoming a school of technology. The university is proud of the fact that it is nationally recognized as being one of the leading schools in research. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifies MSU as one of only 108 colleges and universities in the nation that maintains a “very high research activity.” MSU holds more than 250 active technology licenses. And aside from being the leading research university, it is considered to be the largest research entity of any kind in Montana.
At a current enrollment of 15, 688 students, MSU is officially the largest university in the state and boasts a 49% graduation rate. Its student population is nearly perfectly balanced between in-state and out-of-state students. As of the Fall 2015 semester, 51% of its enrolled freshman hail from the home state of Montana, while 49% come from other states in the country, and from all around the world. And with a variety of online degree programs now being offered, the potential for more out-of-state students to virtually attend MSU grows higher.
While Montana State University offers a number of online graduate certificates, it only offers one online Undergraduate degree program, a BA in Liberal Studies. However, it does offer the largest selection of Master’s programs in the state, 9 degrees in areas such as Mathematics, Education, Science, Agriculture, and Nursing.
Fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Montana State University’s Masters of Nursing program prepares students for a variety of opportunities in health practice, as well as for taking certification examinations as a Clinical Nurse Leader. Classes are taught online through a combination of synchronous (scheduled web meetings) and asynchronous (at the student’s convenience) activities. It should also be noted that students enrolled in this program are required to meet on campus in Bozeman, Montana for two days of face-to-face meetings at the beginning of each fall semester.
MSU also offers an online Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
The Masters of Educational Leadership degree offered online through Montana State University is designed for students seeking a career in k-12 school leadership, and paves the path for obtaining principal and superintendent certification. The degree itself allows candidates to gain certification in Montana as a K-12 Principal, and once obtained, additional coursework can be taken to obtain superintendent licensure. And if the student does not wish to work in the state of Montana, the coursework and degree fully prepares them to obtain certification and licensure in their desired state.
All tuition rates are based on a full 12-credit hour workload. Montana State University also charges an additional $45 per credit fee for all online degree programs. This fee has been calculated into the tuition information below.
The state of Montana was officially admitted to the Union on November 8, 1889. Immediately, the Montana legislature began to plan where both the newly-formed state’s capital and university would be established. City leaders in Missoula agreed to stay out of the bidding war and back the interim capital, Helena, in exchange for a guarantee that the state’s university would then be established in Missoula. In February 1893, Missoula did, in fact, win the legislative vote, and the University of Montana officially opened their doors within their city limits in 1895. Its name and reputation have remained steadfast since its inception. And although it is no longer the only state university, the University of Montana is the largest institution in the four-campus University of Montana system, which now also includes the University of Montana – Western, Montana Tech, and Helena College.
With a total current enrollment of 13, 358 students, the University of Montana has the second highest campus population in the entire state, second only to Montana State University in Bozeman. The university boasts a 73% retention rate for first-time, full-time degree-seeking freshman and maintains a 47% graduation rate. But the university rates itself on more metrics than just enrollment and graduation figures. It has 100% job placement in a number of its degree programs, leads the way in many areas of research (having been awarded nearly $83 million dollars in research awards for 2015), has reached record numbers in philanthropy, and has had several professors named to an elite list of the world’s most influential scientific minds, among many other accomplishments.
That level of scholarship is also available to students at home and abroad through UM Online, a portal through which the University of Montana now offers certificate and undergraduate degree programs, as well as several graduate-level degrees, entirely online.
The University of Montana offers many certificates and an Associate’s degree online, but it only offers one online undergraduate degree program, a BA in Media Arts. It does, however, offer a varied selection of Master’s programs, among the highest number of online graduate program offerings in the state.
The Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Montana prepares both pre-career and mid-career students for administrative positions in public and nonprofit sectors. There are two separate tracks offered: General Public Administration (offered on campus and online) and Nonprofit Administration (offered only online). The MPA can be completed completely online, or through a combination of online and on-campus classes. However, class sizes are small, with approximately 15 on-campus students and 20 online students admitted each year.
The Masters of Education in Curriculum Studies online program prepares current, working educators around the country for roles as master teachers or obtaining education positions requiring an advanced degree. Prospective students have the choice between two different concentrations for this program: M.Ed. Early Childhood Education, or M.Ed. Advanced Early Childhood Education. The Early Childhood Education program is designed for working professionals who do not necessarily have a background in early childhood education and prepares them to meet all national and state standards in becoming early childhood educators. The Advanced Early Childhood Education degree takes the Early Childhood curriculum and aligns them with a social justice focus, preparing students to work with diverse populations and at-risk youth and their families. Both of these programs are offered fully online and can be accessed anywhere at any time.
All tuition rates are based on a full 12-credit hour workload. The University of Montana also charges an additional $48 per credit fee for all online degree programs. This fee has been calculated into the tuition information below.
Undergraduate – Lower Division (0-59 credits completed)
Undergraduate – Upper Division (60+ credits completed)
On March 18, 1913, the Montana state legislature passed a bill to establish the Northern Montana Agricultural and Manual Training School, to be located at Fort Assiniboine. However, while the bill itself was passed, the legislature failed to actually appropriate any funds with which to open the school. Over a decade later in 1927, the legislature amended the original bill, allowing certain classes to be taught in the city of Havre, where Montana State University – Northern is located today. This time, the funds were allocated two years later, and on September 24, 1929, Northern Montana College opened its doors to students. On June 1, 1994, NMC was officially renamed Montana State University – Northern as a part of the restructuring of the Montana University System.
What started as a few classes being taught Havre High School has grown into a sprawling 115-acre residential campus in the Northern Montana city. Montana State University – Northern now serves a large geographical area that serves both Montana’s smallest and largest cities, as well as four Native American reservations. Compared to the other MSU campuses, MSUN has relatively small campus population at a current enrollment of 1,273 students. However, the smaller enrollment numbers mean that students benefit from a student-to-faculty ratio of 14 to 1, allowing for more personal instruction and better understanding of the many varying degree programs offered by the school. Montana State University – Northern strives to emphasize both technology and liberal-arts educations, having over 40 Arts and Science from which to choose.
Of those 40 degree program, Montana State University – Northern’s Extended University offers six of those degrees entirely online through its Desire2Learn (D2L) Virtual Classroom. Classes can be accessed both synchronously in real-time and asynchronously on the student’s schedule.
While Montana State University – Northern doesn’t offer a large selection of online degree programs, it does offer a sampling of some of the more popular, in-demand degrees.
Fully accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program from Montana State University is designed to assist current Registered Nurses in advancing their knowledge and careers by translating their work experience into BSN degrees. The course is offered exclusively online in order to accommodate the working RNs schedule. Lectures are accessed via the internet asynchronously on the student’s time, with physical, clinical components attended in the student’s geographical area.
Montana State University – Northern’s online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program prepares students for a variety of careers in law enforcement ranging from police services, to adult and juvenile corrections, homeland security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Professors with decades worth of real-life law enforcement teach on a topics in crime prevention and enforcement, the legal system, corrections, conflict management, and psychology. Nationwide growth estimates in these fields range from 5-21% according to recent government research. All components can be taken entirely online.
Founded in 1932 by the Catholic Bishop of Great Falls, in conjunction with the Sisters of Charity of Providence and the Ursuline Sisters, the Great Falls Junior College for Women was a two-year college serving Montana’s female Catholic community. A year later, the Great Falls Normal School was established by Sister Lucia Sullivan, S.P. to educate teachers. At that time, there were two separate schools serving the same geographical area, each existing and operating under a different Catholic religious community. By 1935, a total of 105 women were enrolled between the two schools. And in 1937, the Great Falls Junior College for Women became coeducational when the first male student enrolled. By 1938, there were 19 men enrolled in the school. However, overall enrollment at the Junior College declined, despite the continued need for prospective teachers in Montana. Therefore, in a marriage of legality and convenience, the Normal School combined with the Junior College. In 1942, the Great Falls Normal College for Women was discontinued and the new, joint college was renamed the Great Falls College of Education. By the 1950s it became known as the College of Great Falls, and in September of 1995, the College was officially renamed the University of Great Falls.
While it is a private, Catholic institution, the University of Great Falls serves students of all beliefs in its quest to fulfill its mission of a liberal education “for living and for making a living.” With a current enrollment of 1,300 students, Great Falls University maintains a 30% graduation rate. The University currently offers 40 undergraduate and eight graduate degrees across a wide variety of disciplines through its College of Arts and Sciences and its College of Professional Studies. It now also offers six online degrees through its Distance Learning program.
The University of Great Falls doesn’t offer a large selection of online degree programs, but it does have the fifth-highest number of available accredited programs in the state of Montana. And being a private institution, it doesn’t have separate in-state versus out-of-state tuition rates. So while the higher tuition cost of a private university may be off-putting to some local residents looking to pay lower in-state rates, the per-credit cost at GFU is either at or below the regular average out-of-state cost at Montana’s other universities, making it an attractive option for long-distance students already looking for a degree in one of the few programs they offer.
The Great Falls University Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program applies a scientific approach to the understanding of the human mental process. The coursework is designed to give students learning opportunities and experiences to prepare them for careers in a wide range disciplines, be it clinical or forensic psychology professions. Students graduating from this program can expect success in the fields of mental health, welfare, legal, or correctional fields. It will also prepare them for entrance into graduate level psychology programs. All components of this program can be taken online through GFU’s Distance Learning portal.
Great Falls University’s Distance Learning Bachelor of Science – Criminal Justice program seeks to provide students with a strong understanding of local, state, and national law enforcement and criminal justice systems. However, in keeping with the universities mission of courage, respect, and servitude, the coursework places a strong emphasis on the sociological foundations and helping nature of criminal justice and law enforcement professions. All components can be taken entirely online.
All tuition rates are based on a full 12-credit hour workload.
Montana has experienced growth in employment numbers in the last decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 445,000 people employed in nonfarm occupations in Montana in 2012, the highest figure recorded in more than 5 previous years. The three biggest industries in the state are:
The average wage of Montana employees is less than the average wage for employees across the country. In the US, workers earn about $42,871 annually. However, in Montana, workers earn about $36,060 annually. The median income for employees is $29,030 per year. But, the top 10 percent of the state’s employees earn over $62,710 per year, while the bottom 10 percent earn under $16,870.
Tuition for online college courses varies based on factors including the type and location of the institution as well as the program. Public four-year colleges and universities in Montana charged students an average of $3,926 per year. Tuition at public community and technical colleges was $2,791 per year on average. Private accredited online college tuition ranged from $4,932 to $17,856 per year.
College students in Montana received an estimated $2,147,921,881 worth of financial aid each year to help offset tuition. Approximately 32.01% of this aid was in the form of scholarships and grants. The remainder was in the form of loans that had to be paid back. Institutional grants account for a reported 89.5 percent of the scholarships and grants.
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is the main accrediting agency for colleges and universities in the Montana University System. The NWCCU is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a legitimate accrediting agency for the Northwest region of the United States, which includes school accreditation in Montana. The accredited degrees offered online at Montana schools have received accreditation from either the NWCCU or through a smaller institutional accrediting agency.
Named from the Spanish word “montana” meaning “mountain”, Montana is located in the Northern Rockies and Plains region of the United States. The 4th largest state in the nation, it has an area of 147,040 square miles. Approximately 47°F is Montana’s average annual temperature.
Montana has the 8th smallest population in the nation. The state has 57 counties and 989,415 residents residing in these counties. Approximately 39 percent of Montana’s population is under the age of 30. Also, it has one of the least diverse populations in the country. An estimated 12 percent of the state’s population identifies itself as belonging to a racial or ethnic minority group.
Although Montana’s capital city is Helena, the largest city in the state is Billings, with a population of 104,170 residents. An estimated 9.5 percent of the state’s residents live in the Billings metropolitan area. Other large cities in the state include Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman, and Butte.
As compared to residents in other states around the country, Montana residents typically have a higher than average level of education. According to the 2010 Census, an estimated 20.3 percent of the state’s residents over the age of 25 have finished high school, 3.5 percent have at least an associates degree, 2.8 percent have degrees at the bachelor’s level or higher, and 1 percent hold a graduate level degree.