Illinois boasts of 175 public and private colleges and universities — more colleges than almost any other state. And when it comes to online higher education, Illinois is way ahead, offering a diverse range of top-notch online degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels.
For instance, the Library Education Experimental Program (LEEP) first offered by Illinois Online in 1996 still ranks as one of the top online programs in the country. In 2016, Illinois positioned itself as a national leader in STEM talent which can be attributed to a significant rise in the production of online degree programs. Thanks to the state's ongoing dedication to higher education, students should have no problem finding online degrees in Illinois that meet their needs.
Whether you are fresh out of high school, work part-time, or are an adult learner seeking to complete college, earning a postsecondary credential in Illinois can give you a chance to meet your career goals and advance to higher-paying jobs. Online programs allow you to balance work and other life commitments while simultaneously, earning your degree.
Why Earn an Online Degree in Illinois?
Illinois is the fifth most populous state and has one of the highest median annual incomes per household in the country. Illinois' state government expects to add more jobs to the economy through its efforts to encourage business growth such as tax incentives. Many of these jobs would require a postsecondary credential. With expected growth in business and healthcare along with a mushrooming startup network, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has identified the following as the "fastest-growing occupations" up to 2024:
- Managerial and professional occupations
- Business and financial operations
- Information Technology specialists
- Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health (STEM-H) related occupations
- Education and Training Occupations
According to the Lumina Foundation, the demand for more college graduates is expected to rise over the years. Currently, 51 percent of adults in Illinois hold a college credential, but the state hopes to raise this level to 60 percent by 2025.
Another study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce highlights the gap between education and workforce needs in Illinois. By 2020, the study states 70 percent of all jobs would likely require postsecondary education. Of these:
- 31 percent of jobs would likely need some college education, an associate's degree, or a postsecondary vocational certificate
- 26 percent of jobs would likely need a bachelor's degree
- 13 percent of jobs would likely need a master's degree or higher
Apart from the need of Illinois' job market for more college graduates, the 2016 American Community Survey estimates higher wages based on educational attainment:
- High school graduates can earn an average of $29,619
- Those who have some college or an associate degree can earn an average of $35,496 (about a 20 percent increase from high school grads)
- A bachelor's degree may equip you to earn on average $52,862 (nearly a 40 percent increase from an associate degree)
- A graduate or professional degree may allow you to earn $70,220 (about a 34 percent more than those with a bachelor's degree)
Top Online Colleges in Illinois
Our methodology presents you with the best choices of online colleges in Illinois. The data uses information from the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) and includes factors important to high school grads, professionals and adult learners who are looking for an online college experience that can help them succeed as an online student. For a complete list of factors we used, check out our methodology at the bottom of the page.
Top Ten Online Degree Programs in Illinois
If you have not decided on the degree program of your choice, take a look at these popular online degree programs in Illinois. These are important to note as popularity may be indicative of the needs of Illinois' job market.
Quality of Online Education in Illinois
In 2015, Illinois joined the Midwestern State Reciprocity Agreement (M-SARA) taking a step forward in improving the quality and accessibility of distance education programs for Illinois residents.
Explaining the importance of SARA in distance education, James Applegate, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education said, "Illinois' adoption of the SARA process to approve quality distance learning opportunities for Illinois students who desire to use distance education to achieve their college degrees is an important step. SARA not only serves students by ensuring quality courses, but also helps Illinois colleges and universities to provide access to useful online programs to students around the nation. Expanding delivery of college degrees is a priority as Illinois strives to increase the number of Illinoisans with college credentials and degrees to 60 percent by 2025."
In addition, the Northern Illinois University and the Illinois State University participates in the Quality Matters program, a peer-reviewed program to promote excellence in online teaching and learning. The program provides assistance to faculty for designing, implementing and executing a curriculum for online students that meet high quality standards. Online programs that meet the standards can be QM Certified like the Nursing Systems Administration sequence offered by the Illinois State University Mennonite College of Nursing.
State Initiatives to Improve Higher Education Outcomes
Outlining its strategic goals for 2025, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) plans to remove barriers to education making it easier for Illinois residents to earn a college degree, online or on-campus.
IBHE's strategic plan Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success has four main goals:
- Increase educational attainment
- Make college education more affordable
- Reinforce workforce development
- Connect research and innovation to economic growth
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in Illinois
While flexibility and convenience are the hallmark of online degree programs, students who want to study online in one of Illinois' prestigious colleges can maximize their experience by looking at these factors:
Student support and career services can be crucial aspects to look at when looking for online degree programs. These services can range from career advice to internships and job options.
Academic excellence of the degree program — make sure the curriculum and rigor of an online program is equivalent to the on-campus program.
Quality of faculty — be sure to take a look at the credentials of professors and their accessibility to online students.
Accreditation, both institutional and programmatic, is another important aspect for prospective students to look for. Accreditation usually indicates that a college or program adheres to quality standards of education. Benefits of enrolling in an accredited college include transferability of credits and eligibility to federal and state scholarships. Accrediting bodies in Illinois include:
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Higher Learning Commission
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Top Occupations in Illinois
While Illinois specializes in construction, agriculture and manufacturing, it is also a leader in aviation and aerospace. The table below shows the fastest-growing occupations in the state from data pooled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||791,740||$41,890|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||611,700||$39,570|
|Sales and Related Occupations||560,360||$43,530|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||516,360||$25,420|
|Educational Instruction and Library Occupations||376,700||$55,900|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||354,470||$80,540|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||343,380||$77,420|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||217,110||$31,360|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||216,530||$52,030|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||187,210||$68,940|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||184,990||$90,110|
|Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand||181,540||$31,870|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||172,840||$31,920|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Illinois
Student federal aid can include programs like Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (FSEOGs), and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program.
Prospective students can also apply for grants or scholarships provided by state and private institutions such as:
Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program: scholarship for minority students in Illinois who plan to teach in an Illinois public school with at least 30 percent of minority students
Illinois Counties Association Scholarships: academic scholarships for Illinois residents enrolled in full-time programs at an accredited 4-year college or university
The Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois first and Second-year college students in certain universities in Illinois who desire to pursue a teaching career
The Greenhouse Scholars Scholarship: need-based scholarship program for high school graduates attending a 4-year accredited college or university
The John R. Cervantes Memorial Scholarship: need-based scholarship awarded to a graduating student from Moline High School in Illinois
The Elmhurst Garden Club Scholarship: provided to Illinois residents pursuing degrees in horticulture, environmental studies, botany, biology and/or related areas of study.
The Illinois CPA Society Accounting Scholarship Program: need-based scholarship program for students showing a strong academic performance and pursuing degrees in accounting and CPA
In addition to these grants and scholarships, many colleges and universities have their own scholarship listing. Please check with your prospective institution's financial aid office for more information.
Tests You May Need To Take
Most schools require prospective students to submit ACT or SAT scores. Some higher education institutions in Illinois require submission of Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) scores. TAP is a computer-based standardized test measuring reading comprehension, language arts, mathematics, and writing. Please contact the college admissions office for more details on the tests you may be required to take.
To be included in our ranking of the best colleges for online degree programs, all colleges had to meet the following five criteria:
- Be an accredited U.S. institution
- Offer either 2- or 4-year degree programs
- Have at least 1 percent of students taking at least some of their classes via distance education
- Be active in the 2015-16 school year
- Report data for all 15 specific ranking variables included in our methodology
We then ranked the remaining 2,169 colleges and universities and scored each on a 100-point scale on these specific. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average amount of federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Full-time Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Open admissions policy for all or most entering first-time undergraduate-level students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Offers credit for military training
- Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Applying the Quality Matters Rubric, Northern Illinois University,https://www.niu.edu/facdev/programs/2018-07-26-applying-the-quality-matters-rubric.shtml,accessed August 2018
- A Stronger Nation: Learning Beyond High School Builds American Talent, Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/2018/#state/IL, accessed September 2018,
- College Navigator, National Center for Educational Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=IL&l=92+93+94&ct=1+2+3, accessed September 2018
- Employment Project 2014-2024, Illinois Department of Employment Security, http://www.ides.illinois.gov/LMI/Pages/Employment_Projections.aspx, accessed September 2018
- Grants and Scholarships, Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/grants-scholarships, accessed September 2018
- How Illinois Universities Power The Chicago Startup Ecosystem, February 2018, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterandrewwilkins/2018/02/20/how-illinois-universities-power-the-chicago-startup-ecosystem/#233369d062a4
- Illinois Joins SARA, July 2015, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, http://nc-sara.org/content/illinois-joins-sara
- Illinois, Complete College America, https://completecollege.org/illinois/, accessed September 2018
- Illinois and the SAT, The College Board, https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/state-partnerships/illinois, accessed September 2018
- Keeping Illinois at the Top of Online Education, Illinois Online, http://online.illinois.edu/news/2018/05/23/keeping-illinois-at-the-top-in-online-education, accessed September 2018
- Led by the Rockford region, Illinois is a leader in aerospace and aviation technology, August 2018, Effingham Daily News, http://www.effinghamdailynews.com/news/local_news/led-by-the-rockford-region-illinois-is-a-leader-in/article_cea8de67-f7b8-5ece-93e2-e74697312f4b.html
- Median Earnings in the Past 12 Months (in 2016 Inflation-Adjusted Dollars) by Sex By Educational Attainment for the Population 25 Years and Over, 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, The United States Census Bureau, https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF, accessed September 2018
- Online nursing course recognized as high quality, Illinois State University, January 2017, https://news.illinoisstate.edu/2017/01/online-nursing-course-recognized-high-quality/
- Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020 State Report, June 2013, Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce, https://cew-7632.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/StateProjections_6.1.15_agc_v2.pdf
- STEM, Computer Science Degrees Reach Record High, Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, https://www.istcoalition.org/data/index/stem-computer-science-reach-record-highs/, accessed September 2018
- Test of Academic Proficiency, Illinois Licensure Testing System, http://www.il.nesinc.com/TestView.aspx?f=HTML_FRAG/IL400_TestPage.html, accessed September 2018