Colleges in North Dakota

Why go to College in North Dakota?

North Dakota

While searching for colleges, it’s easy to overlook schools in North Dakota. As one of the least populated states, North Dakota is well known for its majestic panoramas and the natural beauty of its open spaces. Additionally, the state's economy has grown significantly over the last decade, and this windfall has directly benefited the state’s two- and four-year institutions, making them attractive and affordable options.

North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area, but is sparsely populated with only 757,952 residents in 2016. The state has experienced unprecedented growth since 2010, growing at a 2% rate, second highest in the nation.
North Dakota’s seasons offer something for everyone -- cold winters, warm to hot summers -- with each of the four distinctly demarcated. The region east of the Missouri River gets colder winters while the western part has less precipitation and lower humidity due to higher elevation.
Number of Higher Learning Institutions
The boom in oil and gas production has benefitted North Dakota’s 30 public and private colleges and universities. As a state with increased spending for higher education, North Dakota is committed to developing an educated workforce and supporting institutional sponsored research.
Sporting Events
While North Dakotans love outdoor sports no matter the season, they also strongly support their sports teams at all levels -- especially college teams. North Dakota State University is building its reputation as a powerhouse in the Football Championship Subdivision and the University of North Dakota’s hockey team is nationally ranked.
North Dakota’s nightlife is as varied as its geography, with entertainment options for everyone, including wineries, breweries, fine dining, theatre, concerts, and casinos. The two largest cities -- Fargo and Bismarck -- boast healthy club scenes and the college towns are noted for their lively cafes and pubs.

What Options are Available for Colleges in North Dakota?


The decision to pursue an on-campus experience isn’t only about tuition or fields of study. Perhaps you’re looking for a supportive environment and sense of community. On-campus schools bring together students from different backgrounds. You can get to know your professors and advisors, seeking them out for help when needed. You might find on-campus employment, a service learning placement, or an internship. You will have the chance to become engaged in campus life by joining clubs, running for student government, or just supporting the school teams. North Dakota’s largest schools, UND and NDSU, offer many of these advantages, as do most campuses scattered throughout the state.

Online Programs

Online colleges in North Dakota provide an increasingly popular educational option. Online programs provide a good fit for self-paced learners who need more flexibility and a faster track to degree completion. Online schools in North Dakota may be particularly well-suited for nontraditional students, returning students, working professionals, parents, or anyone looking for ways to fit college into their busy schedule.

Both public and private institutions offer online degrees using varied models of instruction and learning platforms for course delivery. Some programs are offered asynchronously, where students can download and access course materials at any time, allowing them to progress through the course material independently at their own pace. Other programs are synchronously structured, delivering content to students at a fixed time, enabling feedback and collaborative work.

Hybrid Programs

Hybrid courses combine online learning with in-person instruction. Unlike online programs, this model requires students to attend a specific number of face-to-face meetings at times determined by the instructor. The online component does not require students to meet on campus, and the instructor determines what relevant content may be accessed online. For faculty, this model works well for activities involving monitoring and sequenced instruction, including science labs, group projects, and writing workshops where feedback, collaborative learning, and teamwork are important. Students in hybrid courses benefit from the direct contact with their professors and the opportunity to receive feedback from faculty and students, but still retain the flexibility of individually paced learning.

Popular Degree Programs in North Dakota

Agriculture and tourism are mainstays of North Dakota's economy. But in recent years, oil and gas exploration, extracting, and refining have driven tremendous growth in the state. This has energized the state’s economy and boosted the need for specialized educational and occupational training. Coal mining and gasification, renewable energy, and manufacturing have also increased. Employment opportunities in these industries have increased demand for degrees in engineering and physics.

  • Engineering Mechanics

    Engineering mechanics is one of the most popular majors in North Dakota. Its appeal is directly related to the need for a highly-skilled workforce in the growing oil and gas industry. Engineering mechanics programs teach students how to design, build, and test structures and machines through a curriculum including mathematics, computing, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, quantum mechanics, and chemistry.

  • Physics

    The popularity of physics in North Dakota colleges reflects the strong demand for specialized personnel in mechanical engineering and technology. Physics is the scientific study of matter and energy, including courses in classical and modern physics, electricity, magnetism wave properties, quantum mechanics, and statistics.

What are the Best Online Colleges in North Dakota?

This concise and easy-to-navigate guide to the best online colleges in North Dakota will help you find the right fit. It will tell you what concentrations and majors are offered, the number of credit hours required, and the projected length of time needed to finish the degree. You can compare programs delivered entirely online in asynchronous formats with flexible accessibility to those structured for cohort-learning, where students are expected to be online at fixed times. It will also note what kind of support services are available for online students, including academic advising, technical assistance, and access to library resources.


University of North Dakota


As the state's oldest and largest institution of higher education, UND maintains its main campus in Grand Forks and boasts highly respected programs in the health sciences, aerospace, and entrepreneurship. Distance learners can select from a long list of online degree options at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels, including the following disciplines: electrical engineering, nursing, education, forensic psychology, social work, aerospace sciences, petroleum engineering, and public administration. With the exception of distance engineering and space studies, students in online courses pay in-state tuition regardless of residency, making UND one of the more affordable online colleges in North Dakota. Most classes are delivered asynchronously, and many programs can be completed entirely online.


Minot State University


With a commitment to community engagement, public service, and affordability, MSU has distinguished itself among online schools in North Dakota. The school's online program offerings at the bachelor's level include marketing, international business, human services, and nursing. Distance learners can choose from three master's programs: management, information systems, and special education. MSU also offers one associate program, seven minors, and six graduate certificates. With the exception of the bachelor's in human services program, which has regularly scheduled meeting times, all programs are delivered asynchronously and can be completed entirely online through the Blackboard learning platform. Nonresident special education students receive individualized assistance to meet professional licensing requirements for states outside of North Dakota.


University of Mary


Established in 1959 as a Catholic school welcoming students of all faiths, U-Mary prides itself on providing education for leadership and moral courage. As an early adopter of online education options and as one of the most affordable online schools in North Dakota, U-Mary is well positioned to serve distance learners. The school's online programs include degrees in accounting, criminal justice, healthcare administration, information technology management, bioethics, nursing, and respiratory therapy. Students can pursue several specializations for the master's program in education, including physical education, autism spectrum disorder, and elementary administration. With a rolling admissions policy, a generous transfer credit policy, small class sizes, and personalized attention, U-Mary offers accessible online learning opportunities in the spirit of service and leadership.


Valley City State University


Founded in 1890 as a regional teachers' college, VCSU's mission includes a commitment to ethical service, learner-centered education, and technological innovation. Distance learners can pursue online programs in the sciences, education, business, and the liberal arts. Concentrations available for the master's programs in teaching and education include library and information technology, English education, elementary education, and technology education. Undergraduate programs include degrees in business education, English education, history education, communication, and music. Distance learners can also select online minors, including marketing, library media, psychology, and enterprise applications. The school's 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio allows students to receive personalized attention from instructors. Laptop computers and software are provided by the school upon request; some distance learners may be entitled to VCSU laptops at no extra charge.


North Dakota State University-Main Campus


Located in Fargo, NDSU is a research-focused school with a reputation for strong programs in the sciences. The university offers more than 25 online and blended degrees and certificates through the Blackboard learning system. Distance learners can pursue a bachelor's degree in sociology, or choose one of three concentrations in human development and family science: adult development and aging; child and adolescent development; or family science. Blended learning options are available in nursing. Four minors and a certificate are also available at the undergraduate level. Master's program options include construction management, software engineering, and managerial logistics. NDSU also participates in an interactive distance education alliance among 20 public universities in the Great Plains region, permitting students to take courses from faculty at multiple affiliated institutions.


Bismarck State College


Launched in Bismarck in 1939 as a junior college, BSC provides both high-quality education and workforce training. The school's online offerings feature affordable two-year programs that seamlessly transition students into four-year schools. Distance learners can select among 18 disciplines to earn an associate in applied science: business administration, management, criminal justice, web development, geographic information systems, and nuclear power technology. Students can also select a bachelor's-level program in energy management, or choose between one of two certificate programs: electronics technology or water and wastewater technology. Some classes are delivered asynchronously; others have scheduled meeting times. BSC provides support services for military and veteran students and their spouses, including resident tuition.


Dickinson State University


Established in 1916 to provide teacher training, DSU's mission and values emphasize Theodore Roosevelt's "strenuous life." The school focuses on affordable, accessible programs; support of scholarly and creative activities; and service to improve economic health and quality of life. DSU's first online courses were offered in 2003. Distance learners can now pursue their education through the school's various online programs delivered through the Moodle and Blackboard platforms. Program options include the following: a master's in teaching; bachelor's programs in nursing, applied science, accounting, and business administration; associate programs in equine agriculture sales and service; and a certificate in human resources management. Resources available to online students include a tutoring center and a technology resource center. Online programs are available in most states; students should check the school's authorization page for more information.


Mayville State University


With more than 125 years of history in educating teachers and leaders in Mayville, MSU boasts a dynamic, supportive, and individually focused learning environment. One of the school's distinguishing features among online colleges in North Dakota is its philosophy of personal service, which emphasizes integrity, excellence, openness, and diversity. MSU's online offerings include the following degree programs: a master's in teaching; bachelor's programs in early childhood education, special education, business administration, mathematics, and nursing; and associate degrees in early childhood education and business management. Licensed educators can expand their career options by pursuing endorsements in library and reading, or in kindergarten and middle school. All programs can be completed entirely online. Nonresidents, especially those interested in professional licensure, should check MSU's state authorization page and their state's licensure board for further information.

What are the Best Online Community Colleges in North Dakota?

A community college is a two-year school that offers a variety of introductory courses, at a much lower tuition rate than most four-year schools. Students who finish a two-year program earn an associate degree, and the classes they complete can be seamlessly transferred to a four-year baccalaureate-granting school. Community colleges also offer certificates, specialized career-oriented programs, and vocational training. The advantages to attending a community college are affordability, less stringent admission requirements, and transfer credit agreements with most state and some private universities. The career-oriented programs are appealing educational options for students who want specialized training without spending four years in school before entering the workforce.


Lake Region State College Devils Lake, ND


Located in Devils Lake, LRSC was founded in 1941 to serve students in northeast North Dakota. Classes are held at the main campus, online, or offsite at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The school, one of the top online community colleges in North Dakota, offers 18 degrees, six of which are online programs. Online offerings include early childhood education, law enforcement, an associate of arts, and a certification in speech language pathology. The asynchronous programs concentrate on communication skills, social sciences, arts and humanities, mathematics, science, and computer science. Some degrees, such as early childhood education, require unpaid internships. The business administration and fitness trainer technician programs prepare students to earn a four-year degree.

Classes start in the spring, summer, and fall. High school transcripts or a GED, immunization records, and ACT scores must be submitted with the application.


Williston State College Williston, ND


Founded in 1957, Williston State College is located where the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers meet in Williams County. With 21 programs, the college is distinguished as a top choice among other online community colleges in North Dakota.

Associate degree and certificate programs take about two years to complete, or less time if students have applicable transfer credits. The college has 12 degree and certificate programs available completely online. Synchronous interactive video network programs, which include bachelor's-level coursework, are also available.

Online programs are offered in medical coding, business management, and speech language pathology paraprofessional. Associate of arts and associate of science degrees are also available entirely online. Classes start in January and August. To apply for online programs, applicants must submit an application, vaccination records, placement scores, and transcripts.


Dakota College at Bottineau Bottineau, ND


Dakota College at Bottineau opened in 1906 as a forestry school to serve students in north central North Dakota. DCB's 35-acre campus is located 10 miles south of Canada.

DCB offers two types of programs, both of which are available online. Career technical education programs prepare students to graduate in two years or less and enter the workforce. Transfer programs are geared toward students who want to earn a four-year degree. Online programs include urban forest management, photography, accounting, caregiver services, and recreational management. Classes are offered in 16-week or eight-week terms and begin in August, June, and January. Programs can be blended to include online and on-campus classes.

Much like other online community colleges in North Dakota, students at DCB can study on campus or at satellite campuses. DCB is a sister school of Minot State University.

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 North Dakota

In response to the growth in the economy and subsequent population bump in the last decade, North Dakota has placed more of its financial resources in higher education. Postsecondary spending outranks the national average and the demand for a skilled workforce has increased the percentage of students who hold an associate or bachelor’s diploma. The state still lags behind the rest of the U.S. in conferring graduate degrees.

  North Dakota United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $7,766 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 5.4% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 13.2% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor's degree 20.1% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 7.6% 11.2%

Paying for College in North Dakota

Cost is a primary factor when choosing a college. While public institutions are generally more affordable than private ones, financial aid opportunities might place private schools within your price point. Some students opt to attend a two-year community college before progressing to a four-year school. North Dakota offers a broad choice of relatively affordable degree programs. Online schools in North Dakota allow students to take classes in an accelerated format, offering flexible schedules and the chance to graduate quickly.

Tuition Prices

Tuition at North Dakota’s four-year institutions is significantly less expensive than the rest of the nation. When making a decision, consider out-of-state versus in-state tuition and fees, residence hall or lodging costs, meals and transportation, and other expenses needed for your field of study, like books or specialized equipment.

Financial Aid

Students can seek a variety of financial aid opportunities to help pay for college. Begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or you may miss out on potential sources of financial assistance. FAFSA determines eligibility for federal need-based aid, and is often required to apply for state and college funded awards, or privately endowed grants.

Become familiar with the categories of aid offered to you. Grants and scholarships are outright gifts. Federal and bank loans carry the expectation that you will repay the money after graduation. Work study funds require that you take a campus job. A good rule of thumb is to accept the free money via grants and scholarships first, then work study, followed by loans, if you need them.

Cost for Online Programs in North Dakota

The good news is that students in online programs qualify for the same financial assistance as those at on-campus schools. If you plan to attend an online college in North Dakota, complete the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal funding and other assistance. However, don’t assume that online education is less expensive than an on-campus degree. The costs of both degrees are roughly comparable. Tuition and fees depend on several factors, including program type, credits required, and where you live. You may save on downloadable texts, gas and parking, but you should also budget for technology fees, distance learning surcharges, and personal WiFi and internet access costs.

Scholarships for North Dakota College Students

Victor & Verna Johnson Scholarship
$4,500; must be a college junior or senior, graduate of Walsh County High School, and resident of the Park River/Hoople area of North Dakota

View Scholarship

Horatio Alger North Dakota Scholarship
$10,000; must be a resident of North Dakota with a 2.0 GPA or higher with evidence of critical financial need
View Scholarship
Percy G. Willson Scholarships
$1,500; must be a resident of North Dakota, preference for rural Barnes County, with competitive GPA and ACT scores
View Scholarship
Anna B. Spangler Memorial Scholarship
Amount determined by need; must be a North Dakota resident, pursuing a four-year degree in business

View Scholarship

John P. Windish Jr. Memorial Scholarship
$1,000; must be a North Dakota resident preferably from the Barnes County area, with a GPA of 3.0 or higher

View Scholarship

Can all Scholarships be Used for Online Programs?

Most scholarships can be used at on-campus and online schools in North Dakota. Check with the scholarship provider about any restrictions or limitations. It is generally a good idea to research all scholarships carefully; it is possible to find monetary awards for distance learners only, or for specialized majors, targeted demographic groups, returning students, single parents, and other categories matching your personal profile.

Employment Outlook in North Dakota

North Dakota boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and one of the highest rates of labor force participation. This is due largely to the oil and natural gas boom, accompanied by related growth in high-tech industries and manufacturing. Although the mean wage is beneath the national average, the cost of living is also lower. The job outlook is promising statewide in agriculture and tourism as well, alongside newer opportunities in energy -- from oil and gas production and extraction -- to positions in technology, engineering and all kinds of logistical support. The job outlook is also healthy in transportation, healthcare, education, and other service industries.

  North Dakota United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, May 2017 2.3% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $47,130 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in North Dakota

Top Industries in North Dakota

  • Agriculture: Agricultural production provides a quarter of all jobs in North Dakota. The state is the known for its livestock production, and the cultivation of wheat, oats, barley, lentils, flaxseed, canola, and dry edible beans and peas.
  • Oil: North Dakota ranks as a national leader in oil and natural gas production due to recent discoveries in shale gas reserves and the application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in extracting deposits.
  • Tourism: The tourism industry accounts for over 42,000 jobs in the state, representing 7.5% of all employment. It brings over $3 billion annually into the state’s economy, with most visitors coming from neighboring states and Canada.

Top Employers in North Dakota

  • North Dakota University System: 17,500 employees
  • Sanford Health/Altru Health Systems: 18,000 employees
  • Grand Forks Air Base: 3,000 employees

Source: NewsMax

State Exchange Programs for North Dakota College Students

Out-of-state tuition can be prohibitively expensive. State-to-state exchange programs make college more affordable for those from small states or regions with limited higher education options. Students in these kinds of exchanges pay in-state tuition or reduced tuition when attending schools outside their home state. This may be of interest to students who live out of state but are interested in North Dakota institutions, or in-state residents who would like to enroll at an out-of-state institution.

Western Undergraduate Exchange

This is a regional program allowing students from participating states to apply to a two- or four-year institution outside their home state at a reduced tuition rate of 150% of the resident tuition rate.

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

Minnesota-North Dakota Tuition Reciprocity Program

This reciprocity agreement is designed for North Dakota residents to attend public colleges and universities in Minnesota at a reduced tuition rate. Similarly, Minnesota resident may attend North Dakota public institutions at the reduced rate.

Eligible States: Minnesota, North Dakota

Midwest Student Exchange Program

This regional exchange assists residents of participating states to attend public institutions in these states for no more than 150% of the in-state resident tuition rate. Private schools in the exchange offer a 10% reduction of the out-of-state rate.

Eligible States: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin

Cost of Living by Region

When comparing schools, remember that tuition and books are not the only expenses you'll encounter. Lodging and living expenses factor prominently in college costs and as the following table suggests, housing and rental costs vary greatly, as do rates for electricity, heat, cable, internet, phone, and food.

Accreditation for Colleges in North Dakota

Whether deciding to attend an on-campus school, one of the online colleges in North Dakota, or out of state, find out if your institution is accredited and by what agencies. Regional accreditation is the most popular designation, and it applies to the majority of online programs. A regionally accredited school has been evaluated by an agency with jurisdiction over its geographical area. Nationally accredited institutions offer non-degree granting vocational programs. They accept transfer credit from most other schools, but regionally accredited schools may not accept credit from those that are nationally accredited. When comparing online colleges in North Dakota, seek ones with accreditation from the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The Department of Education establishes national education policies and provides federal assistance to schools. CHEA recognizes 60 accrediting agencies and promotes self regulation of schools through these agencies, maintaining quality in degree requirements, faculty, admissions, finances, and other areas.

Accreditation of online schools in North Dakota employs the same procedures and standards used for the institutional accreditation of on-campus programs. Some specialized programs, majors, and departments might also have programmatic accreditation. For example, if you are looking at a program in mechanical engineering, accreditation from Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology indicates a quality program.

Resources for Students in North Dakota

  • The North Dakota University System: provides a comprehensive listing of all institutions of higher learning in the state, including community colleges, regional, and research universities with links to each of their websites.
  • Official Handbook: Achieve More: a publication developed by the Bank of North Dakota and the state, provides a thorough checklist for the college bound high school student from selecting a major to applying for federal and state-based financial aid.
  • North Dakota Tribal Colleges: promotes educational opportunities for Native American students and provides information on the five tribal colleges located within the state, with links to each school’s webpage and admissions information
  • is a resource offered through the official portal of the state of North Dakota guiding students as they begin planning for college, from school selection and financial aid options to the application process.
  • Student Loans of North Dakota: assists students who are experiencing financial difficulties in repaying student loans. It also provides useful financial resources about loans and money management.
  • TutorND: is a site managed by the North Dakota State Library and the Department of Public Instruction to provide online tutoring in English, writing, social studies, math, and science for students of all levels, including those in college.