- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 2, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed March 2, 2016, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed June 15, 2016: MSUB Online, Montana State University Billings, http://www.msubillings.edu/msubonline/DegreesandPrograms.htm; About, Montana Tech of the University of Montana, https://www.mtech.edu/about/; Fully-Online Programs, University of Montana, http://umonline.umt.edu/programs.php#undergraduate; Mission, Vision and More, Salish Kootenai College, https://www.skc.edu/mission/; Degrees offered through Distance Learning, University of Great Falls, About RMC, Rocky Mountain College, http://www.rocky.edu/about-rocky/; About Carroll, Carroll College, https://www.carroll.edu/about; http://ugf.edu/Academics/DistanceLearning/tabid/81/Default.aspx#degrees;
- Scholarships, Montana University System, accessed June 12, 2017, https://mus.edu/Prepare/Pay/Scholarships/
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
When choosing the right Montana college for your bachelor's degree - whether it's a campus-based school or an online school — it's important to have as much information as possible about the institutions you're considering. State-based financial aid programs can help ease the burden of paying for school, for example, and knowing how the job market might look when you graduate can help you prepare for the post-graduation job search.
If you're currently enrolled in one of Montana's community colleges, take note: the Montana University System has several measures in place to help you make a smooth transfer into a university program. You can ask your advisor for details, and there's a link to more information at the end of the page.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Montana
We gathered a broad set of National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data on Montana's four-year schools, ran it through our purpose-built analysis system and listed the results below.
The average raw cost of tuition and fees at our No. 1 school was the lowest in the state by a fair margin, and its standing in the national affordability picture was impressive as well. Just four percent of schools we surveyed nationwide offered an education at a lower price point than the Billings campus of Montana State University.
MSUB was also one of the top options for students seeking an online bachelor's degree in Montana, according to NCES numbers. No other institution in the state offered a larger catalog of degrees via distance education in 2015-16, and the nearly 55 percent of MSUB students taking at least some courses in the virtual classroom gave it the statewide No. 2 spot in the online enrollment category. Campus-based flexibility initiatives like optional credit for life experiences and degrees that can be earned through weekend and evening courses are available here as well.
Originally founded as an academy to educate engineers and other mining industry personnel, Montana Tech has grown into a robust academic and technical destination. Given that history, it's not surprising that most bachelor's degrees were awarded in petroleum engineering in 2015.
Montana Tech came in at No. 3 in the state for the median college debt carried by its graduates, and just two other schools reported a lower average yearly cost of books and supplies. Average net price — the total average expense of tuition, fees, housing, books, supplies and other necessary expenses minus the expected amount of grant and scholarship aid — was a bright spot for students at Montana Tech. The Butte school came in at No. 2 and No. 3 respectively for the average net price it charged low- and middle-income students and landed at No. 2 statewide for its percentage of tuition offset by institutional grant aid.
The largest school in the state takes the No. 3 spot overall, thanks to a diverse selection of degree programs and some top-ranked finishes on conventional measures of student success. Montana State University offered a catalog of 144 degree programs to students in 2015-16, good for the No. 2 spot on that metric, and had the No. 2 graduation rate and No. 4 first-year student retention rate in the state.
Students hoping for financial aid at the institution level can find what they're looking for here — MSU landed at No. 1 statewide for its average proportion of tuition that was offset by institutional grants. The flagship Bozeman campus also featured the state's third-largest percentage of graduates who reported being able to pay off their student loans within three years of leaving school.
The University of Montana was an affordable large-campus option for Montana residents, finishing at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, for the average net price figures paid by low- and middle-income students. It also boasted the No. 3 most affordable raw cost of tuition and fees and the No. 4 proportion of institutional grant aid among all Montana schools.
UM gives students the state's largest catalog of on-campus degrees to choose from — 188 in 2015-16 — and boasts a graduation rate that was topped by just two other schools in the state. What's more, if you're a creative student looking for an online arts degree, UM may have what you're after. Two separate Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees in the arts are available fully online through the Missoula school's virtual campus.
The mission of Salish Kootenai College is to bring an array of higher education opportunities to members of Native American tribal cultures, and its affordability numbers show that it goes the extra mile to provide financial access to college. Average net price figures for both low- and middle-income students were No. 1 in the state, and the median college debt of graduates was under $10,000 in 2015 — No. 1 in Montana and No. 16 nationwide, out of all 1,649 schools in our analysis.
Advising programs designed to guide students through their academic journey were in force at SKC as well. The Pablo institution offers academic and career counseling, placement services for degree completers and remedial services for students who could benefit from some brushing up.
The University of Great Falls tied for Montana's lowest cost of books and supplies in 2015-16 and posted a first-year student retention rate that ranked No. 3 in the state. It was also one of the best online colleges for Montana students, reporting the state's No. 1 distance education enrollment rate and offering six major subjects for students seeking an online bachelor's degree program in Montana.
Tuition and fees affordability at UGF ranked No. 6 statewide, and the proportion of tuition offset by institutional grants landed it in the No. 6 position in that category. Graduates of the Great Falls school finished their degree programs with the fifth-lowest amount of student debt in the state.
Average net price figures for Rocky Mountain College students placed it at No. 6 in the state, regardless of where those students fell on the income spectrum. This multidenominational Christian school in Billings provided the state's third-largest proportion of institutional grant aid in 2015. That aid is likely to have played a role in reducing the amount of debt students accrued — only one other Montana school reported a higher percentage of alumni who were able to eliminate their student debt within three years of graduation.
Student success measures were another bright spot at RMC. Its students graduated at the fourth-highest rate of any school in Montana, and it placed No. 2 statewide for the percentage of first-year students that returned to continue their education at the sophomore level.
Carroll College, a private, Catholic liberal arts academy founded in 1909, focuses on fostering educational experience through community and curiosity. It featured Montana's No. 1 graduation rate in 2015-16, as well as the state's highest percentage of first-year students returning as sophomores.
Carroll reported the highest three-year loan repayment rate of any school in Montana, despite finishing No. 8 in the state on raw tuition cost and average net price measures,. More than 92 percent of graduates from the Helena institution reported being able to eliminate their student debt in 36 months or less after finishing their degree programs — a figure that placed it just out of the top 50 schools we surveyed nationwide.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Montana
Knowing what degree programs are the favorites among Montana students can help you better understand the academic climate in the state. Check out this list of the top bachelor's degrees in Montana.
In-Demand Careers in Montana
Getting that first job out of school can be a difficult task for some recent grads, but knowing which industries are likely to have the highest demand for new talent can help you focus your search. Here's a rundown of some of the hottest careers for Montana residents.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||37.3%||250||$31,330|
|Helpers--Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||34.5%||260||$35,240|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||31.3%||160||$46,430|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||27.4%||1,090||$59,310|
|First-Line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers||26.1%||3,090||$65,370|
|Physical Therapist Aides||24.4%||80||$29,160|
|Crane and Tower Operators||24.2%||180||$62,550|
|Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics||23.9%||700||$33,220|
|Healthcare Social Workers||23.7%||550||$48,620|
|Personal Care Aides||23.2%||5,050||$23,290|
|Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||23%||1,890||$63,860|
|Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals||22.9%||600||$27,310|
|Home Health Aides||22%||1,420||$25,050|
|Bus and Truck Mechanics and Diesel Engine Specialists||21.9%||1,060||$48,490|
|Accountants and Auditors||21.5%||3,340||$65,600|
|Amusement and Recreation Attendants||20.7%||680||$21,790|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Montana
State-based and federal student aid programs can help Montana students offset some of the cost of college. Montana's STEM Scholarship Program provides up to $3,000 for eligible students who declare majors in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and health care. Also, The Governor's MERIT Scholarship is a $2,000 annual award given to one high-achieving student from each Montana high school.
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- Montana University System (MUS)
- Montana GEAR UP Program
- MUS Transfer
- Reach Higher Montana
- Montana Guaranteed Student Loan Program (MGSLP)
- Achieve Montana 529 College Savings Plan
- Montana Higher Education Student Assistance Corporation
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,649 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the most recent data available from government sources. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The estimated cost of books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average net price for students receiving Title IV grant and scholarship aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014-15
- The average net price for low-income students receiving Title IV grant and scholarship aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014-15
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014-15
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Average retention rate for full-time and part-time students, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, 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
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan