Colleges in Montana

Why go to College in Montana?


The Montana University System (MUS) features 16 public colleges and universities, where all the major schools offer online programs. With a reputation as a renowned research institution, the University of Montana (UM) offers fully-online associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As the largest school in the state, Montana State University (MSU) is known for its high-quality education, and offers students who have completed at least two years of college the opportunity to earn an online bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.

Montana’s population is 1,042,520. 6.6 % of that population consists of individuals of American Indian and Alaska Native heritage. 90,000 veterans reside in Montana and 29.5 % of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. The MUS enrolls more than 44,0000 students per semester into its 16 schools throughout the state.
Due to Montana’s northern climate, the state typically enjoys four distinct seasons. Temperatures range from scorching hot summers to bitterly cold winters. The western half of the state enjoys milder weather due to the influence of the Pacific, while the eastern half, reaching over the Continental Divide, tends to be harsher because of its continental climate.
Number of Higher Learning Institutions
Montana offers 54 private and public colleges and universities within its borders, including junior colleges and trade schools. Also included in this number are tribal schools, which incorporate American Indian culture into their curriculum to preserve and promote cultural identity. Online schools in Montana are available at most universities and colleges across the state.
Sporting Events
The Grizzlies, UM’s sports teams, rank high in football for men and basketball for both men and women. Every year, the Grizzlies compete in the NCAA’s Big Sky Conference and famously face off at the Brawl of the Wild, a rivalry game played against MSU’s Bobcats.
Whether you're looking for a mellow night at a coffee house or a lively evening at a bar, the state's larger cities offer learners a thriving nightlife. The state features numerous local breweries, such as Big Sky Brewing in Missoula or Montana Brewing Company in Billings.

What Options are Available for Colleges in Montana?


Attending an on-campus college in Montana allows students to take advantage of the state’s vast natural resources in degrees like forestry and geosciences. UM boasts numerous, world-class research facilities including the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, known for journalism and media programs that focus on producing stories and trends about the region. On-campus learning allows students to take advantage of resources like MSU’s Burns Technology Center, a state-of-the-art building home to the school's Department of Continuing Education. On-campus students benefit from technological resources they may not have access to at home, and also from face-to-face instruction within the center. To make on-campus classes a priority, students require a flexible schedule.

Online Programs

Students enrolled in online schools in Montana either complete courses solely or mostly online. In comparison to an on-campus program, these courses offer more flexibility in completing a program. The school does not require students to come to campus unless it is for an orientation or a brief classroom meeting that occurs once or twice a year.

Students who benefit most from online learning are those who have other major responsibilities, such as childcare or a full-time job. Online colleges in Montana allow students to set their own schedule and pace when going through a particular program. This type of education allows students learn from the comfort of their own home, and not have to worry about commuting to campus. Online students earn the same degree as their on-campus counterparts.

Hybrid Programs

While schools conduct fully online degree programs entirely on the internet, hybrid programs include a mixture of both online programs and classroom learning. Students who tend to benefit most from hybrid learning are those who have been away from school for a while and would like to ease back into a classroom learning environment. A major benefit to hybrid programs that fully online programs cannot offer is the networking opportunities that come with face-to-face learning.

Popular Degree Programs in Montana

Montana is known for its vast, rugged landscapes. In turn, it's not a huge surprise that the most popular college degree reflects one of the state’s biggest industries, such as forestry.

  • Forestry

    This degree focuses on conservation and management of forests and their resources. The school provides a solid foundation of the biological, physical, management, and social sciences of forests. This degree allows students to pursue employment as forest rangers, fire supervisors, timber managers, and conservation managers.

  • Fish and Wildlife Biology

    Focused on wild animals, their habitats, and their conservation, this program provides students with an extensive background in general ecology, and prepares them for a career in wildlife biology and/or management. Upon completion, students often pursue careers as fish biologists, wildlife biologists, hatchery technicians, and habitat restoration biologists.

What are the Best Online Colleges in Montana?

Quickly becoming a popular option for students, online colleges in Montana offer facilities such as MSU’s Burns Technology Center and schools like Montana Tech continue to embrace distant learning. Another benefit of online colleges in Montana is that they allow students who do not live near a college to take advantage of higher learning opportunities from programs around the state. Below you'll find a list of the best online colleges in Montana worth checking out if you are considering your distance learning options in the state.


University of Great Falls Great Falls, MT


Established during the Great Depression, the University of Providence is a Catholic institution that emphasizes the liberal arts and is one of many online colleges in Montana. The school's catalog of online programs includes bachelor's degrees in fields such as addiction counseling, sociology, psychology, theology, and education. The university also offers master's programs in organizational leadership with concentration options in criminal justice or management. Aside from its core program options, the School of Health Professions offers an RN to BSN degree along with master's degrees in healthcare administration and epidemiology. The RN-BSN degree is a part-time program that can be completed in four semesters. Programs are delivered live through Blackboard or asynchronously through Moodle. Faculty can also adapt course formats to suit the needs of individual students. UP boasts a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and up to 30 credits can be transferred to the university.


Montana State University Bozeman, MT


Students at Montana State University benefit from the school's personalized classes and hands-on learning. Online programs are flexible, allowing students to design degree programs that match their career ambitions. A 60-credit bachelor's degree in liberal arts is offered online for students who have completed at least two years of college. Coursework is drawn from four areas of study: the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Students at MSU, one of the best online colleges in Montana, are taught in collaborative environments with a low student-to-faculty ratio. To be admitted into an online program, students must possess an associate degree or have 60 credits left to complete a baccalaureate degree. A bachelor's degree at MSU can normally be completed in 3.5 years.


The University of Montana Missoula, MT


More than 13,000 students attend the University of Montana at its Missoula campus and through its eLearning platform, UMOnline. One of the top online schools in Montana, the university offers online bachelor's degrees in arts and media arts, and also several online master's degrees in curriculum studies, educational leadership, music education, public administration, and public health. All classes at the university are delivered fully online or in hybrid formats. The school's arts programs blend visual and applied arts in areas such as design, film, data visualization, and illustration. Students can transfer credits into the school’s undergraduate programs. Support services available to online learners include online tutoring, peer networks, career services, and remote library access.


Montana Tech of the University of Montana Butte, MT


Montana Tech was established in the 1900s as a school of mining, but today it is one of the most highly regarded online colleges in Montana. Located in Butte, the school offers a BSN completion program for licensed nurses. Students in the program take courses such as nursing theory, biostatistics, pathophysiology, community health nursing, and family health. The school also offers two master's degrees in industrial hygiene and project engineering, along with a certificate in healthcare informatics technology. Depending on the course and program, classes are taught in either fully online or hybrid formats. Montana Tech has a transfer-friendly policy, and online courses are delivered through Moodle. Services for online learners include virtual mentors and online tutors.


Montana State University-Northern Havre, MT


For students who are unable to attend classes on a regular schedule, Montana State University-Northern offers several online programs that emphasize the liberal arts and technology. The school is one of many online colleges in Montana to award both baccalaureate and master's degrees fully online. Degree programs are delivered through the Desire2Learn learning platform, and are offered asynchronously for optimal flexibility. Undergraduate degrees are available in nursing, business administration, community leadership, criminal justice, business technology, and trades management. The community leadership program is designed to develop a cadre of community leaders ready to work in government service or at nonprofit organizations. MSUN also offers a master's degree in education with a concentration in instruction and learning. Among the services offered to online learners are counseling and peer tutoring.


Montana State University-Billings Billings, MT


A leader in online education in Montana, Montana State University-Billings provides a comprehensive catalog of degrees for working professionals and distance learners. The school's bachelor's-level programs include disciplines such as business administration, communication, health administration, public relations, applied science, and liberal studies. Within the liberal studies and applied science program, the school offers concentrations in management and mass communication, mass communication and public relations, and health administration and public relations. In addition, there are several master's degree options available in areas such as health administration, public relations, mental health counseling, and special education. One of the top online schools in Montana, MSU-billings also provides various services for online learners including advising and career services.

What are the Best Online Community Colleges in Montana?

When researching online schools in Montana, prospective students need to decide whether a community college or a university fits their educational needs best. A university is a four year program that offers bachelor’s degrees, whereas a community college administers two year programs through which students earn associate degrees. Community colleges offer significantly lower tuition than four year colleges. Students always have the option of starting out in a two year college and then transferring to a four year educational institution. Listed below are the best online community colleges in Montana that are worth checking out if you are in the market.


Dawson Community College Glendive, MT


DCC is located in Glendive on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Established in 1940, DCC is one of the oldest online community colleges in Montana. The school serves around 450 students and has an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

DCC offers five fully online associate degree programs, including business management, early childhood education, and criminal justice. Associate of arts and associate of science degrees in general studies are also offered fully online; these programs are provided without majors and prepare students to transfer to four-year universities. The school’s ed2go continuing education program allows students to take six-week, self-paced online classes. Online students pay less in tuition than on-campus, out-of-state students and only slightly more than in-state students. DCC also maintains articulation agreements with the Montana university system.


Great Falls College Montana State University Great Falls, MT


GFC MSU is a two-year technical college that is a member of Montana’s public university system. The school offers several online programs, including an accounting degree, general associate of arts and associate of science degrees, and a healthcare information technology associate. The school also offers a health information coding specialist certificate. All of these programs are offered completely online.

As one of the best online community colleges in Montana, GFC MSU focuses on helping students transfer to four-year colleges in this state. The school offers a fully online Montana university system core program, which allows student complete general education core requirements for the Montana university system. Students in this program also complete some classes required for their major. Resident and nonresident online students pay discounted tuition rates. Online courses are taught synchronously and asynchronously.


Miles Community College Miles City, MT


As one of the best online community colleges in Montana, Miles Community College allows students to pursue associate degrees or certificates entirely online. Students need to meet weekly deadlines but can otherwise work at their own pace. For certain programs, distance learners can take advantage of interactive television, which allows for live conversations with professors. Additionally, MCC lets distance learning students receive two hours of tutoring for each class per week if needed.

Students interested in pursuing an associate of arts degree or an associate of science degree in general studies can transfer those general education credits to a four-year school. Alternatively, distance learners may pursue associate degrees in business, small business management, or entrepreneurship and go straight into the workforce after graduating. To apply, prospective students must submit high school transcripts or GED equivalency scores, in addition to either ACT or SAT scores.


Helena College Helena, MT


Based in Montana's capital city, Helena College enrolls over 1,200 students in its two-year associate programs. The school grants online degrees in several fields, including education, nursing, and information technology. Students can also take non-credit continuing education courses meant to equip them with personal growth or career-advancing skills, like marketing using social media and advanced teaching online.

This online community college in Montana runs two types of distance learning degrees: entirely online coursework and hybrid options, which includes both online and face-to-face components. Distance learners must take exams in person, either on campus or at one of the college's proctored testing centers. To find out exactly which courses offer online options, check the course catalogue.

To apply, first-time college students should submit high school transcripts or GED scores and ACT or SAT scores. Prospective transfer students must apply with the same materials and previous accredited college transcripts if they wish to transfer credits.


Flathead Valley Community College Kalispell, MT


Flathead Valley Community College operates both on its Kalispell campus and through its online community college in Montana. Fully web-based courses at Flathead Valley do not follow a self-paced format. In other words, students access courses at designated times and must meet specific deadlines.

Learners can participate in discussions with professors through interactive television, or they can enroll in hybrid courses, taught both online and on campus. Online learning availability differs for each course, so prospective students should research which courses they can take online before applying.

Distance learners may also take advantage of several resources, such as consulting with academic advisors, signing up for tutoring, and career services. Prospective students can apply by submitting entrance exam scores and high school transcripts or GRE scores. Applicants should also look into institutional scholarships, including the FVCC academic scholarship, which waives tuition for two semesters for students with a 3.5 GPA or higher.

How We Ranked the Schools

To determine the best programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the best online master's in management information systems programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.

Education Trends in Montana

For the most part, educational trends in Montana line up with national trends, with two notable two exceptions: postsecondary education spending per full-time student (which is lower than the national spending average) and the percentage of adults over 25 who hold a graduate degree (which is lower than the national percentage). The below table shows where Montana stands when it comes to state spending on higher education, and the percentage of adults over 25 who hold an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or graduate degree.

  Montana United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $5,248 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 5.6% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 8.4% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor's degree 20.0% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 9.5% 11.2%

Paying for College in Montana

When researching online colleges in Montana, learners are wise to research costs differences between two year and four year schools. While doing so, they should also keep in mind degree affordability. For example, the fact that Montana's in-state tuition for a public four year college is significantly lower than the U.S. average can yield some surprisingly low totals.

Tuition Prices

The following table show Montana’s in-state tuition for public two year and four year colleges in comparison to the U.S. average. Keep in mind additional cost that are not included in these figures, such as transportation costs, textbooks, room, and board on campus (which can be an extra $9,000 per academic year for a four year college for both in-state and out-of-state students).

Financial Aid

Financial aid provides students in every state a crucial means to fund their education. To begin this process, fill out the Department of Education's Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). FAFSA is the largest provider of financial aid in the nation and provides federal grants/scholarships, loans, and work-study to U.S. college students. You may be eligible to receive financial aid from the federal government, state government where you reside, your college, or a private or a non-profit organization.

Because they do not need to be paid back, the best type of financial aid grants and scholarships are based on merit. Federal student loans must be paid back with interest after graduation. When and where available, work-study programs are another great option: you may be able to make money by working part-time in a field related to your degree.

Cost of Living by Region

Cost of living is an important financial factor for you to consider when considering where to attend college. If you move to a city with a high cost of living, your education is suddenly a lot more expensive. You should also consider how cost of living will influence your life after you've graduated. For example, consider how cost of living will influence your day-to-day life while you pursue a career. The following table compares housing costs in two major university cities in Montana to three major university cities in Idaho, Washington state, and California.

Cost for Online Programs in Montana

Students who attend online schools in Montana can apply for the FAFSA the same way an on-campus student applies for federal financial aid. Be sure to check in with the specific online program in which you're interested to see if it qualifies for federal financial aid or any private financial aid.

Online colleges in Montana often cost the same as their on-campus counterparts, but students who pursue their degrees entirely online frequently save on other expenses including child care, transportation, and traditional textbooks. Similar to on-campus students, financial aid amounts are influenced by factors such as whether online students enroll for a full-time or part-time course load.

Scholarships for Montana College Students

Mary Ellen Russell Memorial Scholarship
$1,000; applicants must be a woman who has 50% of her credits in engineering when applying, and enrolled in an ABET accredited engineer school in Montana. Applicants must be in their junior year or higher.

View Scholarship

KASF Scholarship-Western Regional Chapter
$500 to $5,000; must be a Korean-American student with at least a 3.0 GPA to apply. Korean nationals studying in the United States can also apply.

View Scholarship

MetLife Foundation Scholarship
$2,000; must be a resident of Montana and pursuing a four year degree in agriculture, agribusiness management, public service and administration in agriculture, communications, education, journalism, extension, public relations, finance, economics, sales, marketing, mechanization, engineering, technology, plant/animal breeding and genetics, plant pathology, or range/soil science.

View Scholarship

Treacy Foundation Scholarship
$2,000 per year (can be renewed for four years); must be a resident of Montana, and a college freshman or sophomore.

View Scholarship

Can all Scholarships be Used for Online Programs?

Before firing off any applications, you should always double-check your potential picks to make sure that their online program qualifies for specific scholarships. It's also important to check what type of academic requirements you'll need to meet for a specific scholarship, whether you intend to be a full-time student or take a certain amount of credits per semester or year.

Employment Outlook in Montana

Montana’s employment outlook is optimistic with an unemployment rate below national average, and it has been falling steadily. Major cities like Billings boasts a 3.3% unemployment rate and Missoula a 3.2% unemployment rate, making Montana a highly desirable state to start a career. Montana’s mean annual salary is a little under the annual average, but the state's low cost of living provides a significant financial cushion. An average one-bedroom studio in metro Billings rents for $579 a month compared to the national average monthly rent of $825. Montana's affordable cost of living and low unemployment make the state an appealing option for employment opportunities.

  Montana United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, May 2017 3.9% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $41,440 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in Montana

Top Industries in Montana

  • Trade, Transportation, and Utilities: Includes 96,300 positions that fall under wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing; and any utilities services including electric power, natural gas, water supply, steam supply and sewage removal.
  • Government: Includes 92,600 positions that fall under state government positions, government run organizations from Labor and Industry to Fish, Wildlife & Parks; and independent state agencies such as the Montana Historical Society.
  • Education & Health Services: Includes 76,500 positions that fall under teaching (including eLearning instructors) in any form, health care providers in any position, and social workers in any capacity.

Source: BLS

Top Employers in Montana

  • Northwestern Energy: 1,000+ employees
  • Albertsons: 1,000+ employees
  • Billings Clinic: 1,000+ employees

Source: Montana Department of Labor

State Exchange Programs for Montana College Students

For states like Montana that have fewer higher education options, a state-to-state exchange program can be highly beneficial. Not to be confused with an international student exchange, this program allows non-residential students to qualify for in-state tuition for colleges located outside their home state that are part of an exchange program. These programs are usually divided by regions, for example focusing on the Western U.S.

Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE)

Eligible applicants enjoy reduced tuition at a college in another state, and as a result have access to a wider network of affordable schools.

Eligible States: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the U.S. Pacific Territories, and Freely Associated States

View Program

National Student Exchange

A program that allows students to study in the U.S. or a U.S. territory for a semester or a year. The program allows students to access learning opportunities they may not have back at their home university.

Eligible States: United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands

View Program

Accreditation for Colleges in Montana

Accredited schools meet a strict set of guidelines set out by the Department of Education and the Counsel for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Regionally accredited schools are generally held in higher regard and are also more common than their nationally accredited counterparts -- around 85% of U.S. colleges fall under this category. When looking for an online program in Montana, consider starting with regionally accredited schools that provide online programs. Schools focused solely on online learning are often nationally accredited and do not hold as much weight as their regionally accredited counterparts. For schools in Montana, look for accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Resources for Students in Montana

  • Montana University System (MUS): The MUS's website makes it easy to explore Montana’s sixteen public universities and colleges. This includes UM schools, MSU schools, community colleges, and tribal colleges. MUS's website offers information on specific academic programs, campus locations, and tuition comparisons between MUS schools.
  • University of Montana (UM): The official website for the network of UM schools including the school's main campus in Missoula, Missoula College UM, Bitterroot College, Montana Tech, Highlands College of MT Tech, Western, and Helena College UM. UM's website allows you to search by certain schools within the UM system and compare degree programs.
  • Montana State University (MSU): The official resource for all MSU schools, including school's the main campus in Bozeman, Gallatin College MSU, Billings, City College at MSU Billings, Northern, and Great Falls College MSU. MSU's website provides information on topics such as online student admission, veteran services, and financial aid.
  • Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC): The official website for both FVCC campuses in Kalispell and Libby, this website provides information on the school's academic programs, transfer students requirements, online education programs, veteran resources, and financial aid options.
  • Miles Community College (MCC): A small junior college in Miles City, MCC's website offers information on degree programs, general transfer degrees, and assistance for learners who have been away from college for three or more years.