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Montana is one of the largest states in the U.S. but holds one of the smallest populations. To accommodate its scattered and rural population, the state has developed several invaluable distance learning programs. This short guide will take you through them, explaining everything from where to search for online degrees to how to save money on individual courses. Keep reading to take your first steps to an online degree in Big Sky Country.
The Montana University System (MUS) comprises the University of Montana schools, Montana State University campuses, community colleges and tribal colleges. It’s easy to find an online program at most of them, thanks to the MUS Academic Degree Program Inventory. The tool divides programs by delivery method and academic level, so choose carefully under “degree type.” If you wish, select a college and/or major as well. The search results aren’t perfect, so you may find some programs have been discontinued or modified. Nonetheless, the site is an excellent starting point for your degree search.
One of the cheapest ways to earn college credits in Montana is by not waiting until you’ve finished high school. The Montana University System’s dual enrollment program gives secondary schoolers 50 percent off tuition on classes that count toward both a high school and college degree. (And the majority of classes come without fees or textbook costs.) To get started, look through the online courses and fill out a short enrollment interest form.
What if we told you that you could earn credits for even less? That’s the promise of Montana Digital Academy (MTDA), which offers more than a dozen Advanced Placement (AP) courses for free to high schoolers. Register and take online AP classes in either fall or spring, and then take the exam to potentially score college credits.
Once you’ve actually graduated from high school, college credits go up in price. But you can still save money on an online degree in Montana. Each of the state’s three non-tribal community colleges — Dawson, Flathead Valley and Miles — offers distance learning options. And according to data from College Scorecard, costs are lower for students at such schools, meaning you’ll save a few thousand for studying there during your first two years.
But how do you know your courses will be worth anything when you’re ready to get a baccalaureate? Because all MUS schools use common-course numbering. Each equivalent course has the same title and number and is accepted across schools. Plus, schools such as Montana State University offer online degree completion programs specifically for people who have completed their first two years. Check out the MUS Transfer website for details.
Montana is one of 15 states with membership in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WICHE sponsors two tuition reciprocity programs: the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), which reduces tuition for WICHE state residents attending participating colleges, and the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which equalizes nonresident and resident tuition (although WGRP’s qualifying programs tend to be on-campus).
Montana’s membership in WICHE is good news for Montanans and nonresidents alike. On the one side, nonresidents from other member states can go to any one of 12 participating Montana public colleges and pay no more than 150 percent of resident tuition. On the other side, Montanans can go to college in other WICHE states and get the same deal.
Two Montana schools meet our criteria for quality, flexibility, price and use of financial aid money. To see how they compare with other MUS schools and private colleges on metrics like graduation rates and student debt loads, visit College Scorecard.
Montana State Online profiles the school’s distance education degrees and certificates as well as tuition and financial aid. MSU extends a lower rate to freshman enrollees from WICHE states. And graduate students in its online master’s in Mathematics Education can qualify for the WGRP rate. To get out of school quickly, all students should capitalize on summer sessions, which feature plenty of online courses for full-time distance learners and traditional students alike.
MSUB Online links to the school’s distance education certificates and programs, as well as the tuition and fees they’ll be charged. Three of its graduate programs levy WICHE state inhabitants the lower Montana resident rate: Health Administration, Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, and the Special Education Advanced Studies Option. Meanwhile, everyone can potentially benefit from financial aid and scholarships. Speaking of saving money, accelerated summer courses provide a path to early graduation, which could get you into a career faster. Search the online course schedule for summer, fall and spring options.
Ready to apply? There’s one last step to take: Make sure your chosen online school is accredited and respectable. Take these steps:
If your school isn’t in the CHEA database, you’ll be out of luck on the financial aid front as well. We found one school in Montana operating without accreditation:
Mountain States is an unaccredited institution. It’s not in the CHEA database or on College Scorecard. Students who attend are not eligible for financial aid and have extremely limited transfer options.
Montana State University in Billings offers online programs that lead to an associate, bachelor's or master's degree. Online associate degrees are available in accounting technology, business administration, general studies, and human resource management. Online bachelor's degrees are offered in business, communications, health administration, and public relations. Bachelor's degrees in applied science and liberal studies can be earned in 10 different areas of concentration. MSUB awards online master's degrees in educational technology, health administration, public relations, rehabilitation and mental health counseling, and special education. Most classes allow students flexibility in when they log in to do the work, although some professors require weekly chats. Online students are eligible for financial aid, and the university provides online tutoring and career services as well as online access to library resources. The university accepts transfer credits from accredited schools and might accept some life experience credit for online students. It also provides credit for some CLEP tests. The cost of online classes is more for non-residents than it is for Montana residents, but tuition for online classes is less than the cost of in-person classes at MSUB for both residents and non-residents.
Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
CAG Score 93.9
Montana State University offers a bachelor's completion program and an array of graduate degrees and graduate certificates through its online division. The degree completion program is for students who have already completed at least two years of college work, such as by earning an associate degree at a community college. Students who complete the program earn a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies. Graduate degrees offered through Montana State Online include: Master of Science in Education; Master of Science in Family Financial Planning, Master of Science in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Master of Science in Mathematics Education, Master of Science and Engineering Management, Master of Science in Science Education, Master's in Nursing, and Doctor of Nursing Practice. Some online programs, such as nursing, may require students to take part in videoconferencing sessions. Graduate certificates include addiction counseling, architecture, Native American studies, nursing education, school library media, science and engineering management, and science teaching. Educators can also earn the principal and superintendent endorsement online. Applicants to the online graduate programs should have an undergrad GPA of at least 3.0 and are required to submit a personal statement and three references. Some departments may require GRE scores
Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
CAG Score 92.6