Online Colleges in Illinois

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Updated November 10, 2021 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Illinois recognizes that its economic future depends on a highly skilled, well-educated workforce. The state addresses this challenge through its commitment to higher education, delivering a broad range of associate, undergraduate, and graduate degrees in traditional and online formats. Illinois offers college-bound students a variety of educational possibilities, including world-class research universities, top-quality public institutions, and prestigious private liberal arts colleges. The state also hosts a strong system of community colleges and several career-oriented proprietary schools.

This guide to online colleges in Illinois discusses several issues prospective students should consider before enrolling in any program. It addresses how a college education shapes employment opportunities highlighting career and salary prospects in the state. It provides information about college affordability, comparing Illinois schools against the national average, and the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition. The guide also provides financial aid information for Illinois students and other useful resources to ease the transition into college.

Job Outlook for Students with College Degrees in Illinois

Across the country, students with a college degree hold a distinct advantage over those with only a high school diploma. According to the College Board, the unemployment rate for individuals with at least a bachelor's degree ranks 50% lower than the rate for high school graduates. Although a third of Illinois's workforce has a bachelor's degree or higher, well above the national average, the need for an educated labor force continues to outrun demand. A recent report on national employment and education trends projects a 17% job growth rate for Illinois by 2020, with the largest anticipated increases in managerial and professional services, STEM careers, community services, education, and healthcare. Approximately 70% of all jobs in Illinois will require at least a bachelor's degree.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, while the unemployment rate for Illinois ranks slightly above the U.S. average, at 4.2% compared to 3.8%, the average annual salary of $52,410 is higher than the reported national mean.

Unemployment Rate, November 2018

Illinois 4.2%
United States 3.8%

Source: BLS

Annual Mean Wage, May 2017

Illinois $52,410
United States $50,620

Source: BLS

Cost of Online Colleges in Illinois

Many factors impact the overall cost of online college degrees in Illinois. Tuition costs vary by school and program but students typically find that an online degree in Illinois costs approximately the same as a traditional campus-based program, taking into account all other fees and expenses. While students sometimes pay less per credit for online courses, Illinois colleges with online degree programs often add a technology fee to their pricing. Some online schools provide a laptop and instructional materials in their tuition package.

Students should consider whether programs at public institutions offer better value than private schools. While the National Center for Education Statistics reports that tuition rates for both public and private nonprofit four year institutions have risen by as much as 15% since 2010-11, Illinois colleges and universities remain relatively affordable. Compared to the rest of the country, Illinois's two- and four-year institutions charge higher-than-average tuition.

Cost of living expenses typically run much lower for online students. Students in traditional campus-based programs usually incur higher expenses for food, transportation, and lodging. Attending a school in the Chicago metropolitan area will cost significantly more than a downstate school located in a small town.

Average Price for In-State Tuition and Fees by Institution Type, 2018-19

  Public Two-Year Public Four-Year
Illinois $4,140 $13,970
U.S. Average $3,660 $10,230

Source: The College Board

In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition in Illinois

Most colleges and universities in Illinois, like those in other states, give priority to students who live within the state, charging Illinois residents lower tuition than out-of-state students. Students living outside Illinois who want to attend one of the state's public schools pay an average annual tuition of $26,470, almost double the rate charged to Illinois residents. However, Illinois has expanded access to affordable online programs for its own residents and for out-of-state students through its participation in the Midwestern Higher Education Compact (MHEC), a reciprocity agreement that offers reduced tuition rates. Administered through MHEC's Midwest Student Exchange Program, this interstate compact permits students from eight participating midwestern states to pay in-state or discounted tuition rates at public institutions in Illinois. Illinois students may also attend select public schools in any of these states, paying no more than 150% of the in-state tuition rate. Private colleges participating in the program offer a 10% tuition reduction.

Average Tuition and Fees, 2018-19

  Public Two-Year In-State Public Four-Year Out-of-State
Illinois $13,970 $26,470
U.S. Average $10,230 $26,290

Source: The College Board

Financial Aid in Illinois

Students enrolled in online programs qualify for the same financial aid programs as campus-based students. As a first step, students planning to enroll in an online college in Illinois should apply for federal aid by completing the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA also establishes eligibility for other types of state or college-based aid, including grants, scholarships, and loans. To qualify for federal aid, students must attend one of the accredited online colleges in Illinois recognized by either the Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. Students should always contact their prospective schools directly to learn more about financial aid requirements and opportunities.

Given the number of degree-granting institutions and the high enrollments, Illinois administers several need-based and non-need grant programs, with an average grant award of approximately $745 per student, which is consistent with the national mean. For academic year 2016-17, the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs reports that Illinois distributed over $347 million in need-based and merit grants to both undergraduate and graduate students. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission administers several scholarship, grant, and loan forgiveness programs for online and campus-based students. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services oversees a postsecondary financial aid program for students who have aged out of state guardianship.

State Grant Aid per Full-Time Equivalent Undergraduate Student, 2016-17

Illinois $750
U.S. Average $820

Source: The College Board

Scholarships and Grants for Illinois College Students

Many postsecondary institutions, foundations, and private organizations offer need-based and merit-based scholarships specifically for Illinois residents. Undergraduate or graduate students demonstrating high academic achievement, those entering specialized fields, or members of underrepresented groups may find themselves eligible for these awards, even if they do not qualify for need-based federal assistance programs.

Best Majors for Online Students in Illinois

Employment prospects in Illinois, especially in high-demand careers, will continue to expand throughout the next decade. Fields that require postsecondary training in science, technology and engineering, healthcare, and education provide the greatest opportunities. Many Illinois schools offer online programs in these areas to meet the emerging need for a college-educated workforce.

Students interested in specialized careers in rapidly growing jobs like operations research, web development, or computer systems analysis may enroll in online undergraduate programs in computer science or a related major and often move into online graduate studies. While the demand for healthcare professionals at all levels remains high, the shortage of nurse practitioners in Illinois continues to rise. This profession requires students to complete a bachelor's of science in nursing followed by an RN license and a master's degree. A growing number of online colleges in Illinois offer RN-to-BSN and MSN programs. The teacher shortage affects the entire state, especially in special education. Several Illinois schools offer online bachelor's in special education that lead to state teacher certification.

Computer Science

A computer science major prepares students for some of Illinois's fastest growing careers in web design, software development, and network analysis. Required coursework includes algorithms, data structures, programming, systems, and theory. Students take elective classes such as artificial intelligence, computer graphics, computer vision, cryptography, databases, and networks.


A bachelor's of science in nursing prepares its graduates for RN licensing in Illinois. A nursing major includes instruction on the administration of medication and treatments, assisting a physician during examinations, and referring patients to physicians and other healthcare specialists. Nursing students may choose specializations in fields such as critical care, geriatric nursing, and neonatal nursing.

Special Education

Graduates of special education programs find positions in elementary and high schools throughout the state of Illinois, teaching students with exceptionalities. The special education curriculum generally covers instruction in diagnosing learning disabilities, developing education plans, and teaching and supervising special education students. Graduates with a bachelor's in special education in Illinois may apply for the Learning and Behavior Specialist license, provided they successfully complete other state regulations.

Resources for Online College Students in Illinois

IllinoisCollege2Career: This website helps families and students explore educational priorities and career goals. Users of the site plug in the type of school and field of study that interests them to retrieve data from over 100 Illinois schools, including tuition costs, graduation rates, potential earnings for careers in a chosen field, and information about financial aid and student debt.

Learn More Earn More: This publication from the Illinois Department of Employment Security presents a comprehensive listing of the in-demand, high-wage jobs in Illinois projected through 2024. Designed for general use by anyone interested in career planning, students entering college find the Learn More Earn More resource particularly useful for its comparison of occupational salary levels by educational attainment and for its inclusion of desired skills associated with each occupation.

Illinois Student Assistance Commission: ISAC provides a wealth of information for families, counselors, and others to help students make the transition from high school to college. It provides particularly useful information on paying for college, including links to federal financial aid programs and to the various funding opportunities awarded by ISAC to students residing in Illinois.

College Illinois! Prepaid Tuition Program: This program administered by Northern Trust in partnership with the state of Illinois offers families the opportunity to invest in 529 prepaid tuition plans, locking in the cost of college. Families make payments toward the cost of future college tuition for their children, and receive deductions on their Illinois state income tax for their contributions.

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights: ICIRR's education initiative assists immigrant, refugee, and undocumented students access higher education opportunities within the state and across the country. It publishes downloadable guides for undocumented students living in Illinois, providing information about the college application process, selecting the right school, navigating financial aid requirements, and eligibility for scholarships and grants.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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