Cheapest Online Colleges with Quality Programs for 2014-15

Some people believe that cost and quality always go hand in hand. That attending a college with a higher price tag means receiving a higher quality education. While many expensive institutions do have top online programs and award-winning faculty, some of today’s most affordable online colleges have dedicated a tremendous amount of time, money and resources to make sure they do, as well. The following 46 not-for-profit colleges and universities offer low tuition, full collections of online programs at multiple levels, and years of demonstrated academic excellence and financial support. These online colleges put quality education and student success first.

For a detailed breakdown of why each college made the list, please visit our methodology page.

Online cost per credit: $129 6-year grad rate: 87% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 89% City: Gainesville State: Florida

UF Online offers nine bachelor’s degrees, four “two and two” bachelor’s degrees (students must earn their associate degree before earning the bachelor’s), and 69 master’s degrees in areas such as engineering, agricultural and life sciences, pharmacy, education and journalism, among others. Students can expand their education even further with 10 doctorate degrees. International programs are available in audiology, clinical pharmacy, forensic science and international construction management, and the college offers three specialist degrees in education.

UF Online also has numerous non-degree courses, certificates and continuing education available:

  • Flexible Learning Courses are offered to those who are seeking undergraduate credits, but are not enrolled as a student at the university. These self-paced courses must be completed within 16 weeks.
  • Distance Learning Courses do not require students to be enrolled at UF, but they do require a non-degree application. Most of these courses follow the traditional UF semester calendar.
  • Professional Development or CEU courses are designed for those who need certain certifications, advanced training or continuing education units. There is no degree credit earned for these courses.

Non-degree certificates are available in three undergraduate areas and 11 graduate areas, and may or may not offer degree or transfer credit. There are also many non-credit courses available to anyone who is interested.

University of Florida uses two platforms for online learning: Canvas and Sakai. Some courses are asynchronous, while others are a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning. The school also uses many virtual teaching and research tools, including VoiceThread discussion boards, Qualtrics survey software and Turnitin plagiarism checker. UF Online students have full access to all virtual teaching and research tools. Students admitted to UF Online also have access to all student support services, including webmail, online bookstores and libraries, online course management systems and more.

Online cost per credit: $133 6-year grad rate: 54% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 73% City: Laramie State: Wyoming

The University of Wyoming says it was the first university west of Missouri to offer distance education, though at the time that meant mail-based correspondence courses. Online learning through the Online UW program is today’s high-tech extension of that legacy. Online UW offers nine online bachelor’s degrees, 12 online master’s degrees and four online doctoral degrees in a broad range of disciplines, such as nursing, business, criminal justice and education. Some programs—such as the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN degree—are accelerated, meaning students can earn their degrees in as little as 15 months. Online UW also offers a number of online certificates and professional endorsements.

At Online UW, courses are available “anytime, anyplace,” even on-the-go via Outreach2Go mobile access. Students can collaborate with instructors and classmates using a number of online communication tools, including live chat sessions, message boards, email and various conferencing technologies. UW also offers a number of hybrid courses combining online and campus-based instruction, which can be particularly helpful in disciplines with clinical or laboratory components. Online students who do not live near a UW campus or outreach center can often consolidate all their hands-on work into short, “intensive” days or weekends on campus. Visiting students are responsible for their own travel and lodging costs, however.

UW Online students are often eligible for the same types of financial aid as campus-based students; for example, loans, grants and select scholarships. They can also access many of the same student support services online or by phone, including:

  • Academic support through eTutoring
  • Career planning
  • The Connect Online Community (open to students and alumni)
  • Library services
  • University Bookstore
  • The Learning Resource Network
  • Registrar services

Online UW students need not be Wyoming residents to enroll in programs, but the University warns that state authorization regulations from the U.S. Department of Education may prevent the school from admitting students from certain states. Prospective students can contact the school directly to learn more about Online UW and determine eligibility.

Online cost per credit: $145 6-year grad rate: 69% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 44% City: Boone State: North Carolina

Appalachian State University offers upper-division undergraduate distance education programs to undergrad students who have completed a minimum number of credit hours and wish to complete their degree online or through a variety of off-campus and hybrid options. Online degree completion programs include business education, health promotion, management, advertising and RN to BSN. App State also has six online master’s programs in curriculum specialist, instructional technology specialist, new media and global education, adult and developmental education, library science and school administration. Students can also earn a doctorate in educational administration.

In addition to online degree programs, ASU has non-degree programs for students seeking teacher licensure. Five certificate programs are also available for those looking to further their personal and professional development. Students can choose from web-based distance learning, gerontology, math elementary education (as a hybrid program), middle and secondary teaching, school leadership and sociology.

Online classes at ASU are a part of the Southern Regional Education Board’s electronic campus, an electronic marketplace of online courses and programs. Courses are delivered through ASULearn, the university’s learning management system. Some courses also utilize AET Zone, a program developed by ASU to facilitate and support social constructivist learning experiences. GradConnect keeps prospective students informed of upcoming classes and programs they may be interested in.

ASU’s distance education program holds classes at several satellite campus across the state of North Carolina. Cohorts provide consistency and allow students to develop relationships with both instructors and peers. A number of hybrid classes and programs are an option for students who wish to have the convenience of online learning paired with in-person meetings and class time.

Online cost per credit: $149 6-year grad rate: 71% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 51% City: Wilmington State: North Carolina

University of North Carolina – Wilmington offers 10 degree programs online. Bachelor’s programs include clinical research, elementary education and nursing. The university’s seven master’s program cover fields in liberal studies, education (elementary education; curriculum, instruction and supervision; instructional technology and middle grades), clinical research and chemistry.

Most online courses have no on-campus requirements, and are primarily taught asynchronously. These courses are not self-based and do have specific deadlines and due dates for assignments and tests; however, they may include a synchronous component, requiring students to meet online or at a satellite location at a specific time. Blended or hybrid courses have a face-to-face component, however a significant amount of the course requirements are online.

UNCW utilizes the Blackboard course management system to deliver courses. Students access course materials (including supplemental text and videos), communicate with instructors, participate in class discussions, take assessments and view grades with Blackboard. Students should plan to spend about nine hours per week reading and fulfilling other class requirements for every three-credit class they take.

Online students have access to the same resources as their on-campus counterparts. Because a vast amount of online coursework is completed in writing, an online writing consultation services is also available to all students. This service includes tutoring, information about writing in a variety of disciplines, an assignment calculator to help with time management, writing guides and links to helpful resources.

UNCW also offers distance education programs through nearby community colleges in Onslow, Brunswick, Duplin, Columbus and Sampson. These include a variety of undergraduate, graduate, teaching licensure and certificate programs in daytime and evening classes.

Online cost per credit: $156 6-year grad rate: 54% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 73% City: Rexburg State: Idaho

Brigham Young University Idaho has 11 bachelor’s degrees available online and a number of online associate degrees and certificate programs. Online bachelor’s degrees include marriage and family studies, software engineering, web design and development, computer information technology and healthcare administration. Associate degrees include administrative assistant, computer programming, general studies and family history and research. Certificate programs are also available to help students get the foot in the door of a prospective career, and credit hours will often transfer to an associate or bachelor’s degree.

BYU-Idaho’s online programs are flexible so students can take their time completing coursework for a degree or certificate (taking semesters off if necessary) or accelerating the classes to finish earlier. Courses follow a similar format to on-campus classes. They are based on the traditional school calendar, however students have the flexibility to access course materials at their convenience.

Students enrolled in online programs must have earned 15 on-campus credit hours from an eligible institution or enroll in the university’s Pathway program. The Pathway program provides students additional support through face-to-face meetings at locations convenient to them. Through Pathway, students earn college credit they can later transfer to BYU-Idaho and other universities. High school juniors and seniors may participate in BYU-Idaho’s concurrent enrollment program, earning college credit online while still in high school.

Online students participate in a discussion board, allowing them regular interaction with both their instructors and fellow classmates. Students complete and submit assignments online and use audiovisual material throughout the course. An online support center, online tutoring and technical support is available to students, in addition to the traditional resources available to all students at BYU-Idaho. Programs have the same requirements as on-campus programs and all instructors are professionals in their field.

Online cost per credit: $198 6-year grad rate: 59% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 51% City: Lubbock State: Texas

Online learning at Texas Tech University spans five undergraduate minors, four bachelor’s degrees, 15 master’s degrees and four doctorates. Online undergrad minors range from nuclear engineering to personal finance. The online minor in integrative studies allows students to customize an interdisciplinary curriculum. Baccalaureates encompass subjects such as general studies or plant and soil sciences. The flexibility of the online bachelor’s degree in university studies encourages personalized majors emphasizing three distinct areas of concentration.

Texas Tech University’s graduate programs include online master’s degrees in technical communication, engineering, horticulture and education, which offers different specializations — for example, instructional technology. Online doctoral programs focus on subjects ranging from agricultural education to systems and engineering management. Also available are 21 online graduate certificates and six graduate certification training programs in diverse areas including autism, gerontology, mathematics and wind energy. In addition to these fully-online options, the PhD program in curriculum and instruction uses a hybrid format for content delivery.

When applying to TTU distance learning programs, students should note that certain courses listed as online may involve limited in-person attendance.

Individuals who are not seeking degrees and are not currently enrolled can apply for online programs through the TTU Worldwide eLearning department. Online courses follow the university’s academic calendar based on a semester schedule.

Online students utilize a range of technical services, such as an eRaider account for class registration and TechMail for email. TTU uses Blackboard as a course management system and provides tutorials and troubleshooting tips for digital learners. Students enrolled in online classes can access the university library, technical resources, information about internet security and more. TTU also supports other technological tools that can play a role in online education, including Mediasite for lecture capture and SharePoint and wikis for collaboration and content management.

Online cost per credit: $216 6-year grad rate: 77% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 82% City: Tallahassee State: Florida

FSU Online offers seven bachelor’s degree programs that can be completed entirely online, including interdisciplinary social science, criminology, the BA or BS in computer science and three concentrations in public safety and security. These are advanced standing degree programs, meaning that a student must have completed at least 60 hours of transferable credit and meet junior-level transfer requirements. Students must have also completed liberal studies requirements and any specific program prerequisites before applying.

Certificate programs are available in multicultural marketing and emergency management. Entry into a certificate program begins with the non-degree-seeking student application. FSU Online also offers a set of specialized study courses for those interested in criminology.

FSU Online has 16 graduate degrees in seven major areas, including business, education, nursing, engineering, social work, criminal justice and communications. Post-master’s programs include specialist degrees in educational leadership/administration and library and information studies.

Sixteen graduate certificate programs are also available, as well as three post-master’s certificate programs. Specialized studies on the graduate level include business professional specialization and blended and online learning and teaching (also known as the BOLT program).

FSU Online uses the popular Blackboard platform. Course materials are available for purchase or rent through the FSU Bookstore or Bill’s Bookstore. Most courses are asynchronous and follow a regular semester schedule. Assessments are performed either online or at an external site via proctored exam. In addition to interacting with instructors and fellow students, academic coordinators are also on hand to help, and some programs make use of mentors who act as online teaching assistants. Online students at FSU have the access to the same support services as on-campus students, including libraries, banking services, the career center and more.

Online cost per credit: $241 6-year grad rate: 67% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 50% City: Lincoln State: Nebraska

The Office of Online & Distance Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln delivers five web-based undergraduate programs, ranging from a customizable bachelor’s degree in applied science to a minor in business. Distance learning opportunities from UNL mirror some of the economic and cultural traditions of the region, with subjects such as agronomy, horticulture, grasslands management, and textile history and quilt studies. Fully online graduate offerings are wide-ranging:

  • Five MBA concentrations, including business analytics and supply chain management
  • 24 different master’s degrees
  • 16 certificates
  • Six endorsements in areas like special education administration
  • The LLM legal degree, specializing in cyber and telecommunications law

Blended programs are also available for six graduate degrees, certificate programs and endorsements for educators. These programs weave together online course work with in-person participation. When registering for classes, it’s important to determine whether there are in-person requirements such as science labs or examinations, which could be on-campus or proctored. Typically, courses without on-site components are specified on the school’s website as “online distance classes”.

Online studies serve a diverse audience, including international students who demonstrate English proficiency. Currently enrolled students can take as many online courses as they wish. While candidates for online degree programs must be admitted to the university, certain courses welcome individuals who are seeking a non-credit alternative or continuing education hours rather than credits toward a degree. Participating high schools give juniors and seniors access to online college courses through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Advanced Scholars program for high-performing secondary students.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Office of Online & Distance Education makes use of an array of instructional tools, including the Blackboard learning management system. Some courses may implement video conferencing or streaming technologies. Students rely on the MyRed enrollment portal for services such as registration. Internet-based courses follow the regular UNL semester schedule, and a distance education fee may apply.

Online cost per credit: $250 6-year grad rate: 69% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 42% City: Bellingham State: Washington

Western Washington University offers three online degree programs. Students may choose from a teaching English as a second language certificate, a bachelor’s in human services and a business core degree prep program. Offered through WesternOnline, the online programs are available in both term-based and self-paced formats.

WesternOline utilizes the Canvas course management system. Students must log in to access course materials, retrieve supplemental reading material, view videos and class lectures, participate in discussion threads and submit assignments and take assessments. Some courses may have specialized technology requirements, such as vendor-produced learning/content systems or access to external services like Google Docs.

Online classes are open to anyone and offer a flexible scheduling format for those with outside responsibilities. Self-paced classes are an option for those looking for truly independent learning. Students must complete self-paced classes in seven weeks to six months, depending on the class. Tuition for self-paced programs is typically lower than term-based classes.

While most online courses are delivered asynchronously, some instructors require synchronous activities and assignments. Students should plan to spend about three hours for every one credit hour class completing course requirements.

Online students have access to a distance education librarian, writing and tutoring center as well as additional student services and support. Students take assessments either at the campus’s testing center or through a proctor approved by WesternOnline. WesternOnline students also have access to the same resources as traditional on-campus WWU students.

Online cost per credit: $256 6-year grad rate: 51% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 53% City: Logan State: Utah

Utah State University has offered distance education in one form or another for nearly a century, but online learning has helped it double down in its mission to reach students near and far. USU Online offers several 100 percent online degree programs, including eight bachelor’s and five master’s degrees in fields such as psychology, economics, education, liberal arts and more. Students can also complete a number of Web-based associate degrees, certificates, minors and professional endorsements. Even students enrolled in campus-based programs can often complete at least some of their courses online.

Perhaps one of USU Online’s most unique features is its Quick Admission program. According to the school’s official website, Quick Admit students can complete up to 12 graduate-level credit hours online without being formally admitted to the university. The application process is quick and students can enroll in courses within a few days of applying. Students who reach the 12-unit cap can either apply for formal admission with USU, or transfer those units to another university. Quick admit and standard undergraduate and graduate admissions applications are available online, as is information about important deadlines.

USU online courses are available in a number of formats. Among them:

  • Semester based courses that follow the school’s the traditional schedule
  • Condensed courses that follow an accelerated timeline of four to seven weeks
  • Open entry courses that allow students to begin a course whenever they choose, and at their own pace, so long as they complete them by the end of the term

Students attending USU online can often qualify for many of the same types of financial aid as traditional students, including grants, scholarships and loans. USU’s official website notes that almost everyone can qualify for at least some financial aid, regardless of income. Students are encouraged to visit the USU Distance Education financial aid website to learn more.

Online cost per credit: $257 6-year grad rate: 57% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 60% City: Brookings State: South Dakota

South Dakota State University’s online continuing and extended degree programs offer students a selection of six undergraduate degrees, 12 master’s degrees, one doctorate degree in Nursing, and eight professional certificates.

The university’s Associate Degree (A.A.) in General Studies program is designed for students who want to complete the 60-credit program online as a terminal degree or for transfer into a bachelor degree program. All but one of the six bachelor degree programs can be completed entirely online—the college’s Range Science degree program requires two years of online studies coupled with a two-year completion program on the main campus.

Fully online bachelor degrees include:

  • General Studies
  • Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Medical Laboratory Science
  • Nursing
  • Sociology

South Dakota State University’s online master’s programs are offered in the following disciplines:

  • Chemistry (M.S.)
  • Curriculum and Instruction (M.Ed.)
  • Dietetics (M.S.)
  • Educational Administration (M.Ed.)
  • Human Sciences – Family and Consumer Sciences Education (M.S.)
  • Human Sciences – Family Financial Planning (M.S.)
  • Human Sciences – Merchandising (M.S.)
  • Mass Communication (M.M.C.)
  • Nursing (M.S.)
  • Sociology and Rural Studies – Community Development (M.S.)

The university’s campus-based degree programs also provide more than 325 classes per semester online for students who wish to take some classes remotely.

Non-degree seeking students can also pursue online graduate-level professional certificates to advance in their fields through programs in:

  • Animal Science
  • Bioenergy and Sustainable Technology
  • Financial and Housing Counseling
  • Grassland Management
  • Human Sciences – Family Financial Planning
  • Information Technology Consultant Academy Summer Institute
  • Merchandising
  • Swine Science

The South Dakota Board of Regents’ Desire2Learn system is the online portal for all distance learners. Professors can post class materials and requirements up to 30 days prior to the official start of their classes as an optional convenience for students who want to get a head start on their studies.

Online cost per credit: $257 6-year grad rate: 58% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 67% City: Oswego State: New York

SUNY Oswego was one of the first SUNY campuses to participate in Open SUNY—a system-wide program that offers online education opportunities to students. Online students at SUNY Oswego can take advantage of a number of degree and non-degree programs through Open SUNY. Fully online programs offered specifically through the Oswego campus include Masters of Business Administration, Masters of Business Administration in Health Services Administration, Bachelor’s in Broadcasting and Mass Communication, Health Information Technology post-baccalaureate Advanced Certificate, Integrated Health Systems post-baccalaureate Advanced Certificate, Bachelor’s in Public Justice, and Bachelor’s in Vocational Teacher Preparation. SUNY Oswego also offers about 100 individual online courses during the fall and spring semesters; 50 during WinterSession; and 180 during its summer sessions.

Tuition and fees for an online course at SUNY Oswego are the same as any credit-bearing course; the institution notes that the only difference in fees is based on whether the course is at the undergraduate or graduate level. Similarly, like all other courses, prospective students will need to register through the university’s Registrar’s Office. The process and deadlines are the same as campus-based courses. Once enrolled, distance learning students will be able to access the university’s asynchronous courses through ANGEL, SUNY Oswego’s learning management system. This will allow students to log in anytime, from anywhere. Certain courses, however, may require that students log in a certain number of times per week for class participation.

Open SUNY was developed from the university’s first asynchronous online education program, established in 1994, and offers 328 degree programs at the associate and bachelor levels, and 90 masters, doctoral degrees and certificates at the graduate level. Majors at both degree levels are available online, including 80 degrees in business, 32 in computer information systems, 50 in education, 82 in health and human services, and 16 degrees in the arts and humanities. Online students have 24/7 access to a personal assistant, tutoring support and a technology help desk. In addition to 100-percent-online programs, students have options of enrolling in hybrid courses which are completed half online and half on campus.

Open SUNY has a 15-minute web-based readiness program that allows prospective students to assess their technological and learning skills for online degree or certificate work. In addition, there are demo courses that illustrate the online interface, teaching methodology, and curriculum.

Online cost per credit: $260 6-year grad rate: 59% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 49% City: Westfield State: Massachusetts

Among Westfield State University’s online offerings are six bachelor’s degree completion programs in areas such as business management, criminal justice, history and psychology. Another online degree completion program in liberal studies emphasizes a flexible, interdisciplinary approach, and students meet with academic advisors to structure a customized major. Also available are a variety of online courses; for example, African American art, accounting, children’s literature or aviation management.

Online bachelor’s degree completion programs at Westfield State University target transfer students, although other individuals may be eligible for admission. Applicants who have graduated from a Massachusetts community college or satisfied the requirements for the state’s transfer compact can typically take all classes online for the degree completion programs. Students from other colleges can also apply and work with advisors to build their own individualized study plans, which may include many courses delivered online.

The Westfield State University website allows students to log in to the Plato learning management system, which offers a user orientation course and features such as discussion forums. Online learners have access to a help desk for technical trouble-shooting and free online tutoring. The myWestfield portal serves as a single sign-on website for campus announcements, email, library access, news updates, online registration and more.

Beyond its online undergraduate programs, Westfield State University has additional for-credit and non-credit opportunities. For example, online reading courses for teachers explore the integration of essential reading skills with the Common Core State Standards. Participants can earn either graduate credits or Professional Development Points through the Center for Teacher Education and Research. The Community Education department provides a variety of not-for-credit online classes that address personal enrichment and career development. Among the possible topics of study are child care, design, health care, business, construction, math and technical certification training.

Online cost per credit: $265 6-year grad rate: 51% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 58% City: Ellensburg State: Washington

Central Washington University (CWU) is a four-year public institution with eight campuses statewide, with its main campus located in Ellensburg. CWU is also home to one of the largest and most extensive distance education programs in the Northwest. CWU online students can choose from among a wide range of undergraduate and graduate major and minor programs, certificate and endorsement programs, and dozens of individual courses.

CWU currently offers 13 bachelor’s degrees in eight subjects including professional and creative writing, information technology, law and justice, psychology and sociology. All bachelor’s degrees can be completed fully online with the exception of the B.S. in Paramedicine, which is available in hybrid format only. Master’s degrees are offered in eight fields including literacy, special education, school administration, instructional leadership and more. Certificate and endorsement programs are available in global literacy development, library media, non-profit organization management and reading.

CWU online courses and programs generally follow the university’s regular academic calendar. While most coursework can be completed asynchronously, some class activities may require participation at a scheduled time. Additionally, most online classes have deadlines and due dates for assignments and tests. Diplomas and transcripts for online degrees and courses are identical to their on-campus counterparts with no indication of a student’s distance learning status. Online programs at CWU are of identical quality and accredited by the same regional accrediting agency as traditional programs.

The Online Student Resource Center (OSRC) is CWU’s clearinghouse for information and tools to help students prepare for distance learning courses and programs. Through the OSRC, students have access to faculty and staff advisors, can find information regarding technical requirements for online courses and get technical help, connect with tutoring services and research librarians and get answers to frequently asked questions. Online students may also visit a CWU campus for in-person assistance.

Online cost per credit: $268 6-year grad rate: 82% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 82% City: Athens State: Georgia

Founded in 1875, the University of Georgia has been offering online classes and programs for over a decade. Today’s online undergraduate, graduate and certification programs are conducted more than 90 percent online. Courses that require face-to-face instruction, proctored tests, and laboratory hours are scheduled at predetermined hours.

UGA Online offers two undergraduate degree programs:

  • Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Special Education (B.S.Ed.)

At the graduate degree level, UGA offers an online Master’s in Education (M.Ed). The College of Education also offers a Specialist of Education (Ed.S.) in Educational Psychology, Gifted and Creative Education.

Other graduate degree programs offered online include:

  • Master of Food Technology (MFT)
  • Master of Science in Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics (M.S.)
  • Master of Internet Technology (MIT)
  • Master of Avian Health and Medicine (MAHM)
  • Master of Science in Pharmacy, BioPharma Regulatory Affairs (M.S.)

For professionals seeking master’s level certificates, UGA Online offers programs including a:

  • Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
  • Graduate Certificate Interdisciplinary Qualitative Studies
  • Endorsement in Reading Education
  • Graduate Certificate BioPharma Regulatory Affairs
  • Graduate Certificate eLearning Design

Online programs are offered in both synchronous and asynchronous class sessions, with professors determining the best delivery system for their class curriculum. With synchronous courses, students must log on to their UGA eLearning Commons account at a specific date and time for instruction and other online class activities. Asynchronous courses are offered in a 24/7 format, allowing students to log into class at their convenience.

eLearning Commons is the University of Georgia online instructional interface, powered by Desire2Learn 10.2 software. Athena is the enterprise-wide system through which students search for courses in the class schedule or catalog. Class registration is completed through the university’s Oasis system.

Online cost per credit: $275 6-year grad rate: 60% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 47% City: Salt Lake City State: Utah

The University of Utah offers hundreds of online classes in a variety of disciplines, many of which students can apply toward a professional certificate. Those seeking personal and professional fulfillment may also take one of 16 academic noncredit courses including cyber pedagogy, medical, Spanish, research design, clinical information extraction, introduction to coaching and applications of business statistics. Professionals looking for additional training to boost their careers can choose from the university’s 17 online professional education classes. Courses include introduction to exercise science, applied project management, public nutrition and wellness education and weight management and nutrition in the life cycle.

University of Utah has academic, personal and career programs for students in a variety of formats available:

  • Off-site high school and test prep classes
  • Online non-credit classes
  • Off-campus classes in Bountiful, Murray and Sandy

Online classes are delivered through a course management system where students can access course resources such as reading materials, lectures and handouts. Students also submit assignments and communicate with instructors and peers through online discussion boards. Students typically take online courses in conjunction with traditional on-campus classes so they have access to all student resources, including student web mail and support services.

Most classes are delivered asynchronously, allowing students the flexibility to access course materials and complete assignments online, per their own schedule. However, some instructors require class participation at a specific time and proctored exams at the Uonline Center.

Online cost per credit: $275 6-year grad rate: 53% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 54% City: Springfield State: Missouri

Missouri State University – Springfield has more than 30 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs available completely online and more than 300 individual online courses each semester.

Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and criminal justice (both of which also are available as minors), nursing, general business, professional writing and more. Minors in psychology, screenwriting and technical writing are available as combined online/evening on-campuses classes. Master’s degree programs include project management, literacy education, elementary education, nurse educator, business administration and computer information systems. Students wishing to pursue health care as a career can earn a doctor of nursing practice.

In addition to traditional degree programs, Missouri State also has graduate and undergraduate certificate programs—either 100 percent online or 50 percent and more online. These programs are designed for students who already have post-secondary education or experience in their field of study. They help prepare graduates by providing professional growth and advancement in their industry.

Missouri State offers additional options for students seeking a non-traditional post-secondary education:

  • Degree programs available at 10 different satellite campuses, some of which utilize interactive video networking to enable live classroom-to-classroom connections. Locations include two in Oklahoma and one in Nevada.
  • An evening program combined with online courses for working adults
  • More than 800 hours of iCourses available, including required general education classes
  • Massive open online courses that are free and open to the public

To access course materials, students use the Blackboard course management system. Instructors upload course materials and videos, and students use Blackboard to participate in course discussions as well as submit homework assignments. Students communicate with instructors and fellow students through Blackboard and email.

Online students have access to the same Missouri State resources as traditional on-campus students, including the career center, tutoring and the university’s library.

Online cost per credit: $278 6-year grad rate: 66% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 54% City: Cedar Falls State: Iowa

The University of Northern Iowa expands student access to education through Continuing and Distance Education offerings such as online courses, degrees and certificate programs. Three fully online baccalaureates include a “two plus two” degree in elementary education that builds on an associate degree. While some online undergrads can choose to focus on a technology management degree, others can pursue a degree in liberal studies, which encourages a more individualized curriculum. Students can also opt for two different online formats—one follows the regular semester schedule, and the other, called Guided Independent Study (GIS), allows self-paced completion of class requirements within a nine-month period. For example, an online course on contemporary art is semester-based, while a course on environment, technology and society is given on an ongoing basis in GIS format.

Graduate distance learning programs include 11 entirely online degrees and nine blended options, all within the area of education. Online programs for professional development include eight education-related endorsements and certificates. Fully online programs include education for the gifted, English as a Second Language, and reading skills for the K-8 levels. Hybrid courses target subjects such as educational leadership, driver education, health education, and career or technical education.

Distance learners depend on UNI eLearning, a centrally supported platform for online instruction. The UNI learning management system incorporates didactic materials and features such as a course calendar, email, chat, discussion forums, grading and assessment records, announcements and submission of assignments. The university offers user guidance and updates on related technologies such as the building blocks or system extensions that connect UNI eLearning with the Bb mobile application and the Panopto lecture capture tool. Certain distance learning programs implement Adobe Connect for videoconferencing. UNI also offers technical support and videos for e-learners, and students can refer to the Lynda.com library of online training tutorials.

Online cost per credit: $283 6-year grad rate: 60% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 57% City: Charleston State: Illinois

Eastern Illinois University, located in Charleston, is a comprehensive four-year public state university. EIU offers an abundance of distance learning options through its School of Continuing Education and EIU Online divisions. EIU currently offers four bachelor’s degrees and six master’s degrees that can be earned either fully or partially through online study. Bachelor degrees are available in organizational and professional development, general studies with an option in child care education, as well as an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Online master’s degrees are offered in arts education, community arts, music education, family and consumer sciences, speech-language pathology, and technology. With the exception of the degree in technology, all master’s degree programs are offered in a hybrid format that blends online courses with some level of on-site or on-campus participation. In addition to degree programs, EIU students can choose from among nearly one hundred individual online courses. All distance learning degree programs and courses are regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of College and Schools.

EIU has partnered with three distance education providers to offer a variety of non-credit online courses and certificate programs. Through its partnership with Ed2Go, EIU offers several career programs and dozens of courses in a wide range of subjects. In partnership with The Center for Legal Studies, students can choose to complete certificate courses in ten law-related subjects. Finally, EIU has partnered with UGotClass to offer online certificates and courses in a number of career-related fields such as business, health, human services, management, new media marketing and several others. Costs and academic prerequisites vary by program.

EIU employs a number of resources and tools to deliver online course access and other services to its distance learning students, including the Desire2Learn learning management system and PAWS (Panther Access to Web Services).

Online cost per credit: $284 6-year grad rate: 77% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 54% City: Bloomington State: Indiana

Illinois University Bloomington (IU) is a comprehensive public research university whose main campus is located in the central Indiana community of Bloomington. IU is the flagship campus of the Indiana University system. Through its distance education division, IU Online, Indiana University offers an extensive variety of academic options with over one hundred undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of individual classes.

Undergraduate Degrees and Certificates

IU currently offers 17 bachelor’s degrees through distance learning, nine of which are degree completion programs, meaning that students enter the program with some level of completed coursework. Degree subjects of note include criminal justice, health sciences, labor studies, mathematics and nursing (R.N. to B.S.N.). Additionally IU Online offers one associate’s degree program in labor studies. Undergraduate certificates are available in 25 subjects, including applied computer science, dental assisting, hospitality management, human resource management, information technology, sustainable technologies and many others.

Graduate Degrees and Certificates

IU offers 25 master’s and three doctoral degrees online. Master’s programs cover a wide range of fields, including business administration, finance, library science, music technology, nursing, public affairs, social work, special education and a host of others. Doctoral programs are available in instructional systems technology, nursing practice and nursing science. Programs for 29 graduate level certificates are offered in subjects such as business analytics, data science, education law, homeland security and emergency management, non-profit management, and public health.

IU employs a myriad of technology resources in the delivery of its online coursework and support services. Resources include: Oncourse Collaboration and Learning, a platform that allows students to access class materials, check their grades and interact with instructors and other students; IUanyWare, a service that allows students to use a web browser to run IU-licensed software applications without having to install them on their computers or mobile devices; and Box, a system for storing and sharing files and folders online.

Online cost per credit: $290 6-year grad rate: 57% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 63% City: Morgantown State: West Virginia

West Virginia University has five bachelor’s degrees and 20 master’s degrees and certificates delivered 100 percent online, mostly in a self-paced format. Students may earn bachelor’s degrees in fields like RN to BSN, certificates in early childhood development and master’s degrees in elementary education, business administration, integrated marketing communications and legal studies. Health care professionals who wish to take their education a step further can earn a doctor of philosophy in nursing in a blended format or an online doctorate of nursing practice.

WVU has unique degree and course options available online:

  • Students can earn a bachelor of multidisciplinary studies, choosing three minors rather than one major.
  • Adults with extensive work, life or military experience can earn credit for their prior skills and knowledge.
  • Students may apply certificate programs to a degree in the same field.
  • Through WVU’s ACCESS program, high school students can earn college credits at satellite campuses, online and on campus.

Through a partnership with the Southern Regional Education Board, WVU also offers courses, programs and services, delivered through an electronic campus. All students pay in-state tuition for these classes regardless of where they live. Hundreds of accredited colleges and universities participate in this Electronic Campus.

Online students at WVU utilize the Mountaineer Information Xpress platform. This is the centralized location where students access email, stay connected to campus events, view grade reports and communicate with peers and instructors. Students have access to a dedicated eCampus, the web-based course management system. This is where they access course materials and submit assignments.

Online cost per credit: $292 6-year grad rate: 56% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 43% City: Chico State: California

California State University, Chico has been offering online education options for decades, with its first online course dating back to 1993. Today, the university has the following programs for distance learners:

  • Bachelor’s degree programs in liberal studies; sociology; social science; and nursing for RNs
  • Master’s degree programs in agricultural education and nursing
  • Certificate program in career and life planning

The university uses several formats to deliver instruction for its online classes, including both synchronous courses (in which students participate in live, online discussions at a set day and time), and asynchronous courses (in which students can complete coursework, view lectures, and contribute to discussions on their own time, with no set schedule). Some classes have both synchronous and asynchronous elements. Very few of the courses require students to meet in person with an instructor at all. Neither synchronous classes nor asynchronous classes are self-paced; they have set assignments and requirements to be met on a weekly basis. Many classes stream lectures with audio or video, and discourse with instructors and classmates occurs through a discussion window during a live class session, email, telephone, and threaded discussion groups.

Students can complete online degree programs at Chico on a part- or full-time schedule, with no time limit to complete undergraduate programs. The certificate program can take two years or less to complete, while degree programs may take four or more years. Online classes follow the university schedule, starting and ending with on-campus semesters, and the university calendar, with the same enrollment periods as on-campus classes.

Prospective students interested in distance education at Chico are expected to meet the same admission requirements as on-campus students. However, with faculty permission and space permitting, learners who are not Chico students can enroll for the university’s online classes through its Open University program.

Online cost per credit: $302 6-year grad rate: 62% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 46% City: Bloomsburg State: Pennsylvania

Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania (BU) is a comprehensive public institution that provides distance education opportunities through two major channels: its Distance Education portal, and its Corporate and Continuing Education division.

BU’s Distance Education portal is the school’s gateway to degree programs and for-credit courses. BU Distance Education is currently home to one undergraduate degree, three graduate degrees and one certification, all of which can be earned fully or partially online. Offered through BU’s Department of Instructional Technology, the Bachelor of Applied Science in Technical Leadership degree is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed for leadership roles in workgroups and project teams. This degree program is presented in an online/on-site blended format, with on-site courses taught on the campus of the program’s partner, Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Online master’s degrees are available in the fields of instructional technology, speech language pathology and nursing. In addition, students can earn an eLearning Developer Certificate fully online. This certificate program is designed to teach professionals the skills necessary for integrating online technologies into both educational and professional training environments.

BU’s Corporate and Continuing Education division has teamed with online education provider Ed2Go to offer hundreds of low cost non-credit courses in a wide range of topics, including account and finance, business, college readiness, computer applications, health care, law, personal development, teaching and education, technology, writing and publishing, and more. Most courses are offered in a six-week format requiring two to four hours per week, with new sessions starting monthly and lessons and assignments released weekly. Classes are built around discussion areas that allow for interaction with the instructor and other classmates. Students typically earn an award of completion from BU with a passing score.

Online cost per credit: $310 6-year grad rate: 54% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 39% City: Oshkosh State: Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UW Oshkosh) offers distance learning through its Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement program. Bachelor’s degrees in nine academic areas are available, as well as four certificate programs. Classes specific to these majors are held fully online, and general education classes can be taken online from UW Oshkosh or other schools in the University of Wisconsin system.

Another option for distance learners at UW Oshkosh is hybrid courses, which involve both on-campus and online learning. A hybrid course requires that no less than 20 percent but no greater than 75 percent of instruction take place face-to-face, and typically is split 50/50 for online and in-person instruction.

The school also has several credit transfer options that may allow students to earn certain degrees more quickly based on prior coursework and experiences. The bachelor of applied studies degree is geared towards students who have earned a degree at a technical college. Up to 60 credits from an associate’s degree can be transferred towards a bachelor’s degree with a major in fire and emergency response management, leadership and organizational skills, aviation management, or public safety.

Nontraditional students such as career changers and former military may be able to earn credits for non-academic work and experiences that can be applied to their online degree. In this case, students would need to submit a portfolio demonstrating learning gained through work or volunteer experience, or have their military transcript evaluated to gauge eligibility for these credits.

Beyond these programs, students seeking any of UW Oshkosh’s online degrees can transfer credits from all UW colleges and institutions, most other private and public institutions, and some technical colleges.

UW Oshkosh uses Desire2Learn as its distance learning platform, with capabilities including class discussions, a dropbox function for reading materials, posting and accessing grades, ePortfolios, and assessments and exams. Students in online programs have full access to library resources, and can order textbooks and course materials online from the university bookstore.

Online cost per credit: $313 6-year grad rate: 70% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 80% City: Heathrow State: Florida

Remington College provides a total of six fully online associate and bachelor’s degree programs. Online associate degrees are available for paralegal studies and health information technology (HIT). The HIT program is designed to expose students to health information management software, electronic health records and medical coding practices. Remington College also has one hybrid program for an associate degree in occupational therapy assisting, which blends Internet-based classes, in-person labs and fieldwork experience.

Online baccalaureate programs at Remington College encompass business administration, criminal justice, organizational management and health information management. The Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration program offers four concentrations: general, human resources, management, and marketing. Requirements for graduation depend on the choice of concentration—for example, students in the online management program should complete a total of 120 credit hours, with at least 25 of those hours in management-focused courses. Course schedules for the various majors also differ: the online bachelor’s degree program in business typically includes 12 separate 13-week units.

While online degree programs at Remington College vary in their specific prerequisites, typical requirements for admission include a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and a standardized entrance examination, unless applicants have already earned an associate degree or higher. Individuals enrolling in online courses must take a non-credit, asynchronous, web-based orientation course to prepare them for Internet-based studies.

Remington College uses the Moodle learning management system, noting that its choice of technology is subject to change. Features of the online educational environment allow students to interact with classmates and instructors through methods such as discussions and Q&A sessions. Online students can access a student portal and virtual library resources as well as support services.

Online cost per credit: $319 6-year grad rate: 61% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 77% City: Mississippi State State: Mississippi

Mississippi State University students can choose from four online bachelor’s degrees and 16 online master’s degrees in geosciences, technology, teacher education, business administration, aerospace engineering, forestry, general biology, workforce educational leadership, food science, information systems and more. Those who want to expand their knowledge base further can earn a doctor of philosophy in one of four fields: community college leadership, engineering with an aerospace or civil concentration, electrical and computer engineering, or industrial and systems engineering.

MSU uses the Blackboard learning system for MSU Distance Education course delivery, which enables students to connect with instructors and other students as well as access course materials and submit assignments. Blackboard has an extensive learning library, called the On Demand Learning Center, which includes interactive video tutorials and guides to assist students in their transition to online learning.

In addition to traditional bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, MSU also offers:

  • Certificate programs in broadcast meteorology and operational meteorology that can be applied to a bachelor’s degree
  • A post-baccalaureate diversity certificate
  • A veterans’ certificate program, designed for those who wish to work with veterans to meet their diverse needs
  • Other certificate programs to further personal and professional fulfillment

Online students at MSU have access to the same services as their traditional on-campus counterparts, including tutoring designed specifically for distance students. Students work with dedicated coordinators who assist in communication between the student and the academic team. The coursework and rigor is designed to be equivalent to similar programs on the main campus. Because courses follow the same academic schedule as traditional programs, students can remain on the same graduation track as on-campus students.

Online cost per credit: $320 6-year grad rate: 51% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 78% City: Cookeville State: Tennessee

At the undergraduate level, Tennessee Technological University has a range of online options, including two bachelor’s degree programs. The online degree in professional studies offers four concentrations ranging from health administration to information technology. The online Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies allows students to customize their major based on individual goals. In addition, “two + two” programs build on associate degrees earned at regional community colleges in subject areas such as organizational development. The university also provides 21 hours of upper-division undergraduate accounting courses.

Beyond the baccalaureate, Tennessee Technological University’s five online master’s degree programs target subjects such as education, exercise studies and nursing. The online master’s program in professional studies includes three concentrations with choices like strategic leadership or training and development. Graduate students pursuing an online master’s degree in business administration select one of six concentrations:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • General
  • Human Resource Management
  • International Business
  • Management Information Systems

For online students, the Tennessee Technological University website features the iLearn Resource Center with tips on using the learning management system, Learning Environment. Online alerts provide notification about new discussion posts in forums as well as ePortfolio comments. Through their TTU accounts, online learners can use email, library databases and other resources.

Online professional development options at TTU include certificate programs as well as teacher education programs. The Regents Online Campus Collaborative provides teaching endorsements in special education, math or English as a Second Language. The Regents Online Continuing Education Program addresses ongoing training requirements for organizations in fields such as physical therapy, human resources and law enforcement. Non-credit opportunities delivered by online education providers offer a choice of instructor-led or self-paced courses. Participants in non-credit online programs often do not need a diploma or degree in order to enroll.

Online cost per credit: $323 6-year grad rate: 53% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 52% City: Grand Forks State: North Dakota

The Office of Extended Learning at the University of North Dakota features online and other forms of distance education, including college classes, certificate programs, and courses for personal or professional development. Among the for-credit alternatives are self-paced online courses for independent study, with open enrollment and a time frame of up to 9 months for completion. Students seeking a more interactive approach can take semester-based online courses providing a virtual classroom and tools for communication with instructors and classmates. Introductory college courses available online include areas such as business, biology, cultural anthropology and visual arts.

The university’s bachelor’s degree offerings include 11 programs such as petroleum engineering and nursing. The 22 master’s degree programs include several in the fields of business and education. The UND site lists fully online courses side-by-side with hybrid options, so students are encouraged to read the fine print. The master’s programs in aviation and forensic psychology, for example, incorporate a limited number of campus visits. While the online PhD in nursing involves intensive on-site sessions, it offers qualified candidates in-state tuition, regardless of residency. Students in UND’s online degree programs rely on the My UND portal for student service, technical support and access to the Blackboard learning platform. The portal links to manuals and tutorials for online learners as well as tips for accessing Blackboard via mobile devices.

In addition to college courses and degrees, other opportunities from the UND Office of Extended Learning are numerous:

  • Non-credit career-related training in fields such as education, real estate and food service
  • Personal enrichment programs from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
  • Certificate programs for graduate-level candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Courses focused on preparation for standardized examinations that can lead to professional certification
  • Certificates of completion, for example, continuing education courses that provide hours needed for re-certification or licensure

An extensive selection of subjects for online courses ranges from education to business to information technology, and prerequisites vary.

Online cost per credit: $333 6-year grad rate: 67% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 53% City: Tuscaloosa State: Alabama

The University of Alabama features approximately 30 online undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as a long list of individual web-based courses. UA targets a broad audience of learners through diverse methods of course delivery — even high school students can earn college credit online. Undergrads can take advantage of nine online bachelor’s programs for majors such as business, nutrition and early child development. Also available are a blended minor and baccalaureate in the area of engineering.

Among the fully online degrees offered by The University of Alabama are graduate and professional credentials such as post-master’s Educational Specialist (EdS), Master of Laws (LLM) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Blended graduate programs include eight master’s degrees and two doctorates, with one for nurse educators. Hybrid programs may require proctored exams or in-person skill labs at specified locations.

Professionals can sign up with the UA College of Continuing Studies for about 60 webinars awarding continuing education credit on specialized topics such as conductive polymers. More than 250 non-credit online certificate programs and courses emphasize career-related topics ranging from health care to marketing. Some not-for-credit courses focus on preparation for certification in proprietary software applications.

The University of Alabama’s online students rely on a variety of support services. The myBama portal allows students to access course information and college announcements, register for classes, and also check on grades and assignments. The university hosts student email accounts on Crimson, a Google Apps for Education domain. The UA mobile application provides access to university services from smartphones and mobile devices. Behind the scenes, the Office of Instructional Technology is overseeing the transition of course content to Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Managed Hosting. In addition, UA Academic Outreach distributes content for some courses using video streaming or video-conferencing over a statewide network.

Online cost per credit: $335 6-year grad rate: 58% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 31% City: Daytona Beach State: Florida

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s online campus offers numerous certificate and degree programs relating to aviation and space. Majors include:

  • Associate of Science: aeronautics, aviation business administration, aviation maintenance, engineering fundamentals, technical management
  • Bachelor of Science: aeronautics, aviation business administration, aviation maintenance, aviation security, communication, emergency services, engineering technology, technical management, transportation
  • Master of Science: aeronautical science, business administration in aviation, aviation finance, engineering management, information security and assurance, leadership, logistics and supply chain management, management, management information systems, occupational safety management, project management, unmanned systems, engineering
  • Ph.D. in Aviation: This program is conducted primarily online, but does require three six-day residencies on campus.

Embry-Riddle’s 4+1 Program allows students to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years. The program is available for students who are studying aeronautics or technical management. Students apply for the program while still earning their bachelor’s degree, typically during their junior year. They are then allowed to take up to three master’s level courses during their senior year, shortening the time needed to complete their graduate degree.

Minors are available for students who wish to specialize in a particular field such as international relations or project management. Certificates in a variety of topics including aviation maintenance technology, information assurance, accounting studies, and communication and writing skills can be earned online as well.

Online classes for undergraduate programs are nine weeks long, with twelve start dates throughout the year. Graduate level classes are generally nine weeks long as well, although some one-credit classes span six weeks instead. Graduate programs follow a schedule of five terms (and five start dates) a year. The school offers several benefits to students enrolled in its online degree programs, including academic advising, a career navigation center, and tuition assistance for members of the military. Students can also access the library’s online databases and receive research help from librarians via online chat, email or telephone.

Online cost per credit: $350 6-year grad rate: 55% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 90% City: Tigerville State: South Carolina

North Greenville University (NGU) offers undergraduate degree programs for distance learners in business administration, Christian ministries, criminal justice and legal studies, psychology, early childhood educational studies, and elementary educational studies. Many online graduate programs are available as well. For example, online students can pursue the following graduate level degree programs:

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA), for professionals looking to start or advance in their careers
  • Master of Christian Ministry (MCM) and Doctor of Ministry, for those called to ministry to develop the tools essential to the field
  • Master of Education (MEd), to further the training of licensed teachers with a focus on classroom technology and research-based practice
  • Master of Arts and Teaching (MAT), leading to teaching certification in the state of South Carolina for students with a bachelor’s degree in a non-teaching field
  • Master of Music Education (MME), for working professionals to further their skills as cultural leaders

All programs have a religious focus that combines faith and learning, and emphasize small class sizes with personal interaction. Online programs can be completed from any location, and are designed to take two years or less to complete. None of the programs require on-campus time; however, students earning teaching degrees that lead to certification should note that they will have to complete student teaching hours in a South Carolina school. If students prefer to have some on-campus presence, they can choose to attend classes on campus one night a week. Online bachelor’s degree courses are offered in accelerated 6-week sessions.

NGU offers financial aid and military benefits to eligible online students. While earning an online degree or after graduation, students can use NGU’s Office of Career Services to access the College Central Network. This online career center helps students and alumni to develop effective resumes and portfolios, and to view national and local job boards. Distance students are also encouraged to use the university’s online library catalog and databases to support their studies.

Online cost per credit: $353 6-year grad rate: 57% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 48% City: Richmond State: Virginia

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)’s online learning program, Online@VCU, focuses on four major goals: support for students to have new learning opportunities, access to high quality courses and programs, growth of innovative programs that are made possible by an online environment, and exploration of new teaching methods in an online format.

VCU provides distance learning opportunities at many levels, from certificates to Ph.D. Available programs include:

  • Bachelor of Science: clinical laboratory sciences, nursing
  • Master of Science: sociology, gerontology, health administration, nurse anesthesia, occupational therapy, patient counseling, rehabilitation counseling, medical and nuclear engineering, addiction studies, social work
  • Master of Arts: homeland security and emergency preparedness
  • Master of Education: special education and severe disabilities, sport leadership
  • Doctorate: health related sciences, nursing, nurse anesthesia practice, occupational therapy
  • Certificate: aging studies, adult literacy, patient counseling, autism spectrum disorders, homeland security and emergency preparedness

While some of the online courses and programs are available fully online through Internet and video conferencing methodologies, others follow a hybrid format, with both online and in-person instruction. The school also offers individual online courses that students can complete as part of a traditional on-campus degree.

Most of the online courses at VCU follow an asynchronous format, allowing students to study and participate whenever convenient. However, asynchronous courses still have assignments, activities, and exams that must be completed by due dates throughout the semester. Many of the courses use the Blackboard learning platform, through which students and professors can participate in discussions, post readings, submit assignments, and communicate with one another.

A number of student services offered to on-campus students are also available for distance learners. This includes an academic advisor to assist in admission, enrollment, and registration; financial aid for degree-seeking students; and veteran’s benefits. Academic resources include access to online library databases, technology services assistance, disability support services, and support from the career center.

Online cost per credit: $358 6-year grad rate: 54% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 62% City: Clarion State: Pennsylvania

Clarion University of Pennsylvania is a four-year public university with its main campus located in northwest Pennsylvania. It is one of the 14 universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Through the university’s distance learning portal, Clarion Online, students can access a number of degree programs and courses on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Two-year associate degrees are available in the fields of allied health, business administration, criminal justice and early childhood education. There are 16 bachelor’s degrees that can be earned online in subjects such as accounting, liberal studies (with several concentrations), sociology, psychology and technology leadership. Clarion also offers a bachelor’s level nursing degree completion program.

At the graduate level, Clarion students can choose from among master’s degrees in six fields as well as one doctoral degree, a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Of particular note is Clarion’s highly-regarded Master of Business Administration program. Certificates and special programs are also offered including a post-baccalaureate CPA exam eligibility course.

Clarion employs the Desire2Learn (D2L) web-based learning management system as its course delivery platform. Through the D2L system, instructors can post course documents, lectures, assignments and examinations as well as interact with students in discussion forums. The MyClarion information system allows students, faculty and staff to access registration, grades, financial aid, billing and other services. Other resources for distance learners include Mediasite Live for streaming media, an online writing center, online tutorial services, disability support services, counseling resources, textbook loans, and libraries services.

All distance education degree programs and courses are regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the same agency that accredits Clarion’s traditional on-campus programs and courses.

Online cost per credit: $365 6-year grad rate: 54% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 52% City: Lowell State: Massachusetts

Through its Division of Online and Continuing Education, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell provides more than 40 online degree and certificate programs. Online graduate and undergraduate courses, degrees and certificates are available for fields such as health care, information technology, engineering, liberal arts, psychology, criminal justice, education and science.

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell offers 10 online undergraduate programs, ranging from an associate degree in management to a baccalaureate in liberal arts, with eight concentrations, such as art history and legal studies. More than 10 hybrid undergrad majors rely on a mix of on-campus and online courses for studies in nursing, mathematics, and electronic or mechanical engineering. Nine fully online undergraduate certificate programs extend from Java development to nutrition to manufacturing technology.

Online graduate programs at UMass-Lowell feature an MBA with a choice of three concentrations as well as master’s degrees in areas from accounting to cyber security. Educators can find graduate programs in curriculum and instruction with different emphases such as autism studies. Among the 12 available graduate online certificate programs are clinical pathology, forensic criminology, network security and the foundations of business. Hybrid certificate programs at the graduate level include health informatics.

UM Lowell makes use of Blackboard tools for online, blended and web-enhanced course delivery. Students can take advantage of the Blackboard Mobile Learn app and can also access electronic library resources. Technical support is available by phone, email and live chat or via self-help resources such as tutorials. The university encourages applicants for distance education programs to evaluate their readiness by taking an online learning quiz and a test drive of an online course.

To enroll in online or Continuing Education classes, individuals do not have to be admitted into a program at the university. Interested students can seek information through live chat advising or a virtual open house.

Online cost per credit: $386 6-year grad rate: 50% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 60% City: Fitchburg State: Massachusetts

Fitchburg State University is a public four-year school located in north central Massachusetts. Fitchburg State offers a small but growing number of undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as a limited number of certificates that can be earned fully or partially online. There are currently two bachelor degrees available through distance learning: a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration – Management Concentration and an RN to BSN degree.

Graduate students can choose from a range of master’s degree programs, including M.B.A.’s in Management and Human Resources Management, a M.S. in Forensic Nursing and five recently added M.S.’s in Special Education. The special education degrees are offered in a hybrid format that requires limited Saturday sessions for select classes. Five certificate programs are also available, including undergraduate certificates in business and web development and graduate certificates for forensic nursing, behavior analyst, and reading specialist.

Approximately 120 individual courses are also available. All online courses follow the university’s semester-based academic calendar. Distance learning programs at Fitchburg State are regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Online courses are asynchronous, meaning that they can be accessed at anytime convenient to the student. However, class assignments, quizzes and other activities may have specific due dates and deadlines as determined by the instructor. Coursework is delivered using the Blackboard learning management system. Through Blackboard, students can view lectures, receive and submit class assignments, take examinations and interact with their instructors and classmates.

Fitchburg State distance learners will find a wealth of information, services and other resources on the Online Student Resource Center webpage. Services for online students include IM chat with an academic advisor, 24/7 technical assistance and links to career, counseling and disability services, financial aid, library databases, and the university bookstore. Students unfamiliar with distance learning can also try out a demo online class.

Online cost per credit: $387 6-year grad rate: 59% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 58% City: Mount Pleasant State: Michigan

Located in the community of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Central Michigan University (CMU) is a comprehensive, public research institution with a strong online presence. Through its Global Campus division, CMU offers an impressive variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees, certificates, continuing education and professional development programs and individual courses that can be completed either fully or partially through distance learning.

On the undergraduate level, CMU students can choose from among 18 bachelor’s degrees in subject areas that include administration, education, engineering technology, psychology, community development, political science, information technology and integrated leadership studies. An undergraduate certificate in social media is also available.

CMU Global Campus offers distance learning graduate students a choice of 33 master’s, two specialist and three doctoral degree programs. Graduate certificates are offered in subjects that include college teaching, cybersecurity, human resources administration, leadership and many others. In addition to full degree and certificate programs, CMU offers hundreds of individual courses that can be completed online.

CMU online programs and courses employ Blackboard, an instructional delivery tool. Blackboard is available 24/7, so students can view lectures, submit assignments, take quizzes and interact with their instructors and other students at their convenience. Most classes are presented in an asynchronous format. However, instructors may schedule class chat sessions at specific meeting times. In addition, some undergraduate courses require students to take examinations in a proctored setting, meaning that the student must take the exam in the physical presence of a pre-approved proctor on a computer not belonging to the student.

The Global Campus Online Learning Resource Center provides a wealth of information about CMU distance education programs. Students visiting the site can take an online learning assessment, review elearning best practices, access Blackboard tutorials and how-to guides, preview a sample online course and much more.

Online cost per credit: $388 6-year grad rate: 53% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 84% City: Murray State: Kentucky

Murray State University offers a multitude of distance learning options at the undergraduate, graduate, and post master’s level through its Center for Continuing Education and Academic Outreach. Online programs include:

  • Undergraduate degree programs in business administration; computer information systems; integrated studies; logistics and supply management; RN to BSN; and telecommunications systems management.
  • Graduate degree programs in business administration; human development and leadership; information systems; library media; occupational health and safety; public administration; TESOL; and telecommunications systems management.
  • Graduate and post master’s nursing programs in Master of Science in nursing; BSN to Doctor of Nursing; and post master’s to Doctor of Nursing.
  • Online certificate programs in human development and leadership; professional writing; and youth and nonprofit leadership.
  • Online education certificates and endorsements in ESL certificate endorsement for Kentucky teachers; Gifted and Talented endorsement for Kentucky teachers; and instructional computer technology certificate endorsement for Kentucky teachers.
  • Human resource re-certification hours.

Online non-credit programs are also available, such as a GRE prep workshop and career training programs. Career training programs can be completed in three to six months and have open enrollment throughout the year.

Murray State advises that students can expect to spend six to eight hours per week studying and completing coursework for each online course. Programs are delivered entirely online with an asynchronous format, allowing students to complete coursework at any time and place. The school also offers many on-campus services online or over the phone, such as ordering textbooks from the university bookstore, accessing online databases through the university library, and receiving technical assistance from the IT department. Professors can also be reached by phone during their office hours.

Communication with professors and classmates takes place through email and Blackboard, an online learning platform where professors can distribute course materials, students can submit assignments, and groups can collaborate on projects. Students are also expected to use myGate, an online system to pay tuition and related bills, register for courses, view their transcripts, and receive grades.

Online cost per credit: $388 6-year grad rate: 73% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 72% City: Columbia State: South Carolina

Students attending the University of South Carolina-Columbia online have access to each of USC’s system-wide online degree programs, including online bachelor’s and graduate degrees. While these programs are hosted across a number of USC campuses–like Aiken, Beaufort and Columbia–each can be completed 100 percent online.

Palmetto College–the official name of the USC’s online degree completion program–offers seven online bachelor’s degree programs in the areas of business administration, criminal justice, elementary education, human services, liberal studies, organizational leadership and nursing (RN to BSN). Note that students must have at least 60 college credit hours to be admitted. Some of the programs offer opportunities for real-world experience via fieldwork, practicums and internships. Registration deadlines and course start dates follow the same academic calendar as on-campus classes. The program’s emphasis on completion and long-term career success is research-driven, and Palmetto College was designed to help students return to school to complete their educations in an affordable and convenient way.

The University of South Carolina in Columbia also offers four online graduate degrees in the areas of education, public health and health information technology, plus an online Doctor of Education degree. Each is a fully online degree program, so unlike Palmetto College students, USC’s graduate students need not complete any graduate-level courses before applying.

Students attending both Palmetto College and USC online:

  • Have access to the same support resources as campus-based students, like advising, library access and more.
  • Can apply for many forms of financial aid, including loans, grants and scholarships.
  • Study at their own pace, providing they meet instructor deadlines.

Note that active-duty service members who attend Palmetto College or USC online may qualify for additional support, including reduced tuition.

Online cost per credit: $388 6-year grad rate: 63% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 60% City: Slippery Rock State: Pennsylvania

At Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, online degree programs include 14 master’s degrees, one educational doctorate degree, three graduate endorsements and certifications for educators. Courses start during Fall, Spring, Winter or Summer terms, depending on the specific program.

The university’s main online focus is in offering degrees and endorsements in education. The department of Elementary Education provides programs that lead to an M.Ed degree in K-8 math and science, K-12 Reading Specialist, and K-12 Reading Specialist with Instructional Coaching Literacy Endorsement. Students can also enroll in non-degree programs in Elementary Education (Instructional Coaching Literacy Emphasis Endorsement) and Elementary Education (K-12 Reading endorsements).

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania’s online Special Education program is designed for graduate students seeking:

  • Special Education–Autism (M.Ed.)
  • Special Education–Autism Endorsement (non degree)
  • Special Education Grades 7 to 12 (M.Ed.)
  • Special Education Birth to Grade 8 (M.Ed.)
  • Supervision (M.Ed.)
  • Supervision Certification (non degree)
  • Special Education -Educational Doctorate (Ed.D.)

All Special Education programs are administered entirely online except for the Educational Doctorate, which has requirements for an on-campus summer residency. Online advanced track programs in Secondary Education lead to M.Ed degrees in Teaching Mathematics and Science, Teaching English, and Teaching History.

Other online programs include a Master of Arts in History, Master of Arts degree in criminal justice, and Park and Recreation graduate programs leading to graduate degrees in Environmental Education (M.Ed.) and Park and Resource Management (M.S.).

The institution’s Nursing Department offers a fully online RN-to-BSN program that requires 39 credits. All program applicants must hold a current license as a Registered Nurse. The Nursing Department also offers a 21-credit online graduate program for nurses holding bachelor’s degrees seeking an endorsement to serve as a school nurse in Pennsylvania.

Online cost per credit: $403 6-year grad rate: 81% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 30% City: Harrisonburg State: Virginia

James Madison University offers a varied selection of online programs for students already in the work field, who wish to pursue their higher education in a flexible learning environment. JMU offers a handful of online degree programs and certificates, including adult degree programs, Educational Technology degree and certificate programs, Higher Education Assessment Specialist Graduate Certificates, R.N. to B.S.N. programs and more.

Adult Degree Program

Online Adult Degree Programs at James Madison University offers adults the flexible learning options they need to complete their bachelor’s degree. JMU’s Adult Degree Program (ADP) is unique in that students can tailor their major to meet their career and education goals. Each program addresses the student’s individualized needs, goals, and time schedules.

R.N. to B.S.N.

James Madison University’s online R.N. to B.S.N. degree program is newer, and provides working nurses with the educational flexibility they need to complete their bachelor’s degrees. The program provides professional practice and equips students for further learning opportunities through graduate studies or advanced practices. Students in JMU’s R.N. to B.S.N. online degree program are part of a supportive environment within a community of learners, where all students are encourages to be active consumers of research, to be comfortable with advancing technology in health care delivery and to be astute clinical practitioners or managers.

Educational Technology

The graduate program in Educational Technology at JMU is offered completely online, with both master’s and certificate programs available. Students who intend to work in—or have already started their careers in—K12, higher education, business and industry or consulting have the opportunity to enroll in a flexible course schedule that meets their needs. Students in the program will discover new and effective ways to integrate learning technologies in their respective professional settings, while gaining a broad understanding of the practice of educational design and technology.

Online cost per credit: $424 6-year grad rate: 67% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 41% City: Fairfax State: Virginia

For students seeking flexibility to set an academic schedule conducive to their lifestyle, George Mason University offers a diverse selection of fully-accredited online degree programs, graduate certificates, and consortia programs through its innovative technologies and high quality distance education programs.

Mason Online offers varying degree programs in Nursing, Health and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering and more. Students at Mason Online may choose from two types of programs: fully online courses and hybrid online courses.

Hybrid online courses may be best for students in the D.C. area who require some flexibility in their academic schedule, but also enjoy and can benefit from student interaction on campus. Students will be expected to manage about 51% to 99% of class meetings online, and will also be required to occasionally meet for instruction on campus. Mason Online has 13 degree options for students wishing to learn through hybrid online courses.

Over 30 fully online programs are available for students looking for more flexibility, either because they are stationed abroad, traveling or other personal matters. Mason faculty can even make accommodations for remote proctoring options for orientation or testing for those students who are unable to visit the campus.

Both hybrid and fully online programs at George Mason University maintain the same high standard of excellence, providing active and collaborative learning environments to help students learn at their own pace. Like on-campus courses, online classes at Mason will require textbooks, assignments, exams, student-centered interaction and other features that boost success.

In addition to choosing between hybrid and fully online programs, Mason Online’s courses also vary in the level of interaction required among students. Synchronous courses may require that students follow along with the instructor for online class meetings. Instructors may also choose to share recordings of the online meetings for future viewings. Asynchronous classes allow for even more flexibility, with class instruction available online for students to access at any time from any location. However, students are still required to adhere to scheduled assignment due dates and exams in asynchronous classes.

Online cost per credit: $448 6-year grad rate: 70% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 40% City: Glassboro State: New Jersey

Rowan University Online offers distance education programs in a variety of fields through its College of Graduate & Continuing Education (CGCE):

  • Business: MBA, business graduate certificate
  • Communication and Creative Arts: integrated marketing and new media graduate certificate, school public relations graduate certificate
  • Education: two doctoral programs, six master’s programs, eight graduate certificates, and several other programs
  • Engineering and Technology: Master of Engineering Management
  • Humanities and Social Sciences: M.A. in Criminal Justice, B.A. in Humanities/Social Science
  • Healthcare: B.S. in Nursing (hybrid program), school nursing certification (hybrid program), M.S. in Nursing (hybrid program)
  • Performing Arts: M.A. in Theatre Arts Administration, Master of Music in Jazz Studies

Courses are offered through the Canvas Learning Management System. This system provides a platform for discussion, instruction, and assessment, including digital slide shows, audio and video materials, email and chat rooms, and online discussion boards. Rowan also offers an online orientation course that introduces the Canvas Learning Management System and familiarizes students with the technology that they will use to complete their online courses.

Both fully online and hybrid (part online, part on-campus) courses and programs are available. Each program has its own start dates, with some programs having just one start date per year and others having multiple start dates every fall, spring, and summer.

The school offers technical support 24/7 for students having difficulties accessing course materials. Students can also use the school library, including online access to books, periodicals, and newspapers. Rowan’s career management center offers distance students electronic resources on career and company research, resume development, job search assistance, and interview skills. For local students, whether enrolled in online or in-person programs, the recreational center is available with fitness and weight rooms, a pool and a track.

Online cost per credit: $451 6-year grad rate: 75% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 55% City: Minneapolis State: Minnesota

Students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities may choose to study through online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs, as well as for-credit and non-credit certificates. The university’s Digital Campus provides fully online studies for 15 undergraduate and six graduate credentials. Majors range from business management and finance to manufacturing quality management.

In addition, the school also offers hybrid programs that include both online and on-campus components. These programs typically require hands-on, technical, or clinical experiences that necessitate in-person sessions. However, the majority of course work for these programs is online. Hybrid programs available at the university include: clinical science, education, healthcare administration, and more. Prospective nursing students can join the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, a hybrid program with specialties in 13 areas ranging from midwifery to psychiatric health.

The online bachelor’s degree in applied studies allows candidates with technical education or career experience to structure an individualized curriculum. The university’s extensive programs have varying requirements, and applicants should consult an advisor before applying as non-degree seeking students or enrolling in courses offered at campuses other than their home campus.

For individuals interested in professional development, for-credit certificates are delivered entirely online in 11 areas, from applied biostatistics to taxation. Digital Campus also features online courses from a variety of university departments, including:

  • U of M Extension
  • The School of Nursing
  • The Centers for Public Health Education and Outreach
  • The Center for Dairy Health, Management and Food Quality

Students enrolled in any University of Minnesota-Twin Cities online degree programs can use advising services and library resources as well as technical support via Internet, phone, email or personal contact with a specialist. Also accessible are free training modules for Microsoft Office products and tutorials on the use of the university’s myU learning platform. For those who are not yet enrolled, a sample online course is available using the Moodle application. This demo course allows prospective students to explore interactive, collaborative features of online education such as discussion forums and wikis.

Online cost per credit: $454 6-year grad rate: 82% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 45% City: Newark State: Delaware

The University of Delaware (UD) Online offers many distance education programs through its department of Graduate and Professional Education and its Professional and Continuing Studies departments. Most of the programs are for graduate degrees, including master’s programs in business, nursing, and education. An associate degree in the arts and a RN-to-BSN program are also offered.

In addition to its degree programs, UD Online offers a number of certificates, refresher courses, and career development courses online. Prospective students can register for and take individual online courses without being formally admitted to the university.

UD Online uses the course management tool Sakai as its main delivery method for distance instruction, including video streamed class lectures, video and audio clips, posted reading material, chatrooms, interactive web activities, and forum discussions. Most courses only require a high-speed Internet connection, but several also require a microphone and headset for virtual class sessions through video or audio conferencing. Coursework, assignments, and assessments for UD’s online classes are the same as those for its in-person classes, and diplomas and transcripts do not indicate that classes were taken online.

The University offers several services that support online students, including technical support during regular daytime hours, and evening and weekend support during the first two weeks of each semester. Online students can also take advantage of academic advisement and career counseling services before and during their tenure at the university.

Residents of Delaware pay a lower, in-state tuition for their online courses at UD. For students who live outside of Delaware, the university offers some discounts on tuition; part-time online students during any semester and full-time online students during the summer and winter semesters can qualify for a steep discount on the standard non-resident tuition fee.

Online cost per credit: $459 6-year grad rate: 53% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 91% City: Clinton State: Mississippi

Located in the Jackson, Mississippi metropolitan area of Clinton, Mississippi College (MC) is a private, not-for-profit , four-year educational institution and the second oldest Baptist university in the United States. MC offers a number of degree and certificate programs that can be completed fully online, as well as a wealth of online and hybrid course options. Mississippi College and its online programs and courses are regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Undergraduate Degrees

MC currently offers six Bachelor of Science degrees that can be earned online in nursing, business administration, communication, paralegal studies, homeland security, and loss prevention. The business administration and communication degrees are offered in an accelerated format and can be completed fully online or by attending courses on the Clinton campus.

Graduate Degrees

There are nine master’s degree options for MC distance learners in the following subjects: higher education administration; applied communication; professional communication in health services administration; professional communication in sports; health services administration; teaching arts; athletic administration; homeland security; and loss prevention. The applied communication and professional communication in health services administration programs are offered in an 8-week accelerated format.

Certificate Programs

Three certificate programs are available to online students at MC. The loss prevention and homeland security certificate programs are open to high school graduates or those who have passed the GED exam. Both programs require a minimum of 15 semester hours be completed at Mississippi College. MC also offers a post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies.

Online Courses

MC offers 26 fully online and 38 online/on-site hybrid courses to currently enrolled students. All online courses are designed to accommodate working adults and can be accessed at anytime. MC employs Moodle as its course management system. Students use Moodle to access coursework and information, hold class discussions, take quizzes and communicate with their instructors and classmates.

Online cost per credit: $483 6-year grad rate: 56% % Undergraduates Receiving Aid: 52% City: Plymouth State: New Hampshire

Plymouth State University’s Plymouth Online program allows students to earn a degree or take courses fully online with a schedule and location that is convenient for them. Several degree programs are available:

  • Undergraduate degrees: business administration, communication and media studies, criminal justice, nursing (RN to BSN completion program)
  • Graduate degrees: MBA, curriculum and instruction, education technology integrator, library media

Many of the programs allow students to choose areas of focus, such as an MBA with a focus in health care administration, the human side of enterprise or international business. The school also offers a dual certification program that combines its education technology integrator and library media majors. For on-campus PSU students, the school offers online classes that can be taken as part of a traditional degree.

PSU’s online degrees allow students to access course materials and complete assignments at their own pace, spending more time on topics that challenge and interest them. Students are encouraged to communicate frequently with instructors through email, and to interact with classmates through online platforms. PSU stresses that online learning may be ideal for students who prefer to express themselves in writing and who like having time to process information and craft a response when contributing to a discussion.

Many courses are offered year-round and can be completed fully online, but students also have the option of taking blended courses (with some online and some in-person requirements) or taking some in-person classes as part of their degree.

In addition to degree programs, PSU also offers non-credit online courses. The university partners with several organizations including Ed2Go, MindEdge, Career Step, and the Center for Legal Studies to offer non-credit courses for professional development, career skills, and general interests. They also offer courses for standardized test prep for the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GMAT, and GRE.

While it may seem like an affordable opportunity, the price of online education depends on the institution and the degree program. For example, many non-profit colleges — traditional colleges and universities — now have full-length, fully online degree programs at multiple academic levels. Community colleges often have dozens of relatively short-term online programs that end in a specialized diploma, certificate or associate degree. And four-year schools, whether public or private, routinely offer online or hybrid programs for students working toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree. These online learning options come with price tags comparable to those of a traditional face-to-face program, which usually means the cheaper the school, the cheaper the online program.

For-profit colleges, however, which specialize in distance learning, can possess very different cost-related pros and cons. For instance, many of these schools are a business, so they do not receive state or federal funding like public colleges or universities do. This can mean higher-than-usual tuition and fees than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Yet taking an online class offers students a unique set of cost-saving benefits, including the lack of commuting, parking fees and other campus-specific costs that may arise. Bottom line, when looking at online colleges, whether traditional or for-profit, analyze the school and program carefully to make sure you get the education you need at the price you want.

Two-Year Colleges: Cheapest Path to an Online Degree

When it comes to cost, non-profit versus for-profit is only part of the online college equation. Students looking for a quality program for cheap should also consider institutional level. Two-year colleges with distance learning options, which includes online community colleges and junior colleges, offer a pair of distinct advantages not always found at four-year universities:

  • Cheaper tuition rates: Two-year schools often cost far less than their four-year counterparts. These more cost- and community-friendly institutions keep tuition lower to ensure a wider variety of students can afford a degree. Many students also use two-year colleges to earn as many pre-requisites as possible before transferring to a university – a much cheaper two-year option.

  • Targeted learning: Two-year colleges allow students to earn online associate degrees, certificates and diplomas in very specific areas. For example, a medical assistant may need special training in medical coding in order to qualify for promotion.

One student’s idea of a cheap online college may be different from another’s. Each college hopeful has a unique set of monetary needs that shape what he or she can and can’t afford. Yet in general, the cheapest online colleges provide their students with quality distance learning opportunities at an affordable price. A great place to start researching such colleges is by getting a better handle on their cost structures.

A Closer Look at Cost

On the surface, cost may seem simple. If tuition at College A is more than tuition at College B, then College B is cheaper, right? Not necessarily, especially with distance learning. In addition to standard tuition and fee differences between colleges, students need to think about secondary costs that may seem less important, but that surely contribute to the bottom line. Here’s a look at the entire cost spectrum when it comes to online education.

Understanding Tuition & Fees

Tuition serves as the primary cost of a college education, campus or online. Post-secondary institutions usually set tuition rates by credit and academic period. For example, a university may charge $200 per credit to attend graduate school for a full semester. Therefore, if a student takes 10 credits per semester, that’s $2,000 per semester and $4,000 per year.

Of course, certain elements influence the price of tuition for each student. Residency, for instance, can dictate whether someone pays in-state tuition or out-of-state tuition. Many state colleges and universities require applicants to live in the same state as the institution for a minimum of six months before enrollment to qualify for the cheaper in-state rate. Applicants who moved to the state to attend the college specifically may need to pay the out-of-state amount. Some schools with distance learning alternatives allow students to take online programs and pay in-state tuition – a big money saver. Others, however, charge all students the same amount regardless of where they live.

While not as hefty as tuition, fees can add up. Some college bills include charges for lab use, library access, parking, health insurance and, when the time comes, graduation. Although both campus and online programs come with fees, they can differ rather significantly. For example, a parking pass for a campus-based student can run up to $500 per year, something an online student won’t need to pay. In contrast, many online programs charge technology fees for every single class, no matter the subject, which can reach into the triple digits. Tech fees for campus students are usually reserved for tech-oriented courses. Potential fees to watch out for with online learning include:

  • Technology fees
  • Assessment fees (English and math) to gauge aptitude before enrollment
  • Graduation fees
  • Travel fees (hybrid programs, or online programs at the graduate level, may require campus visits at the student’s expense)

Some students may also avoid certain fees by learning remotely. The parking pass is the most ready example, but others include computer fees, campus/service fees and recreation/activity fees. Always keep in mind that when researching programs and courses, account for all fees that could occur from day one to commencement. It’s always good to overestimate.

Room & Board

Students enrolled in campus-based programs often live in a dormitory – at least during their first year or two. According to The College Board, the cost of on-campus housing ranged from $9,500 to $10,830 in 2013, depending on the type of college (public or private) and the package chosen by the student. Online learning, however, allows students to select from a wider variety of living options, including room and board farther away from campus and/or in a place with cheaper rent and amenities.

Others Costs to Consider

It’s also important to account for the often-overlooked costs that can creep up and bite you in the wallet. For campus commuters, this means one or more travel-related expenses, including car maintenance, gas and tolls. For online learners, heftier Internet bills, Skype and other tech-based education solutions could mean less money for leisure time. The good news is, although colleges serve as the source of many of these costs, they also provide myriad ways for students to save.

Online College on the Cheap: Ways to Save

Many students qualify for some sort of financial assistance to help pay for college. Student loans are the most popular, but need to be paid back with interest after the student leaves school – with diploma in hand or not. One of the best ways to defray college costs lies in funding that doesn’t require payback during or after program completion. The following “ways to pay” give students (and parents) a chance to make the college experience manageable when it comes to money.

  • Scholarships: Numerous types of scholarships exist. Each year college students receive money for tuition based on academics, athletics, family history, race, gender and more. Even those who may not qualify for these traditional scholarships can (and should!) research creative scholarships to see what’s out there. Private companies, research firms, non-profits and other organizations offer scholarships for things as offbeat as being left-handed or having the best duck call.

  • Grants: Grants are another type of financial aid award that does not have to be repaid. Federal grants, such as the Pell Grant, are awarded based on need. States and college also award student grants. There are even career-specific grants, such as the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant, which provides up to $4,000 to students who agree to teach in low-income school districts upon graduation.

  • Assistantships: This form of financial agreement usually occurs at the graduate level. Students work for a professor (grading papers or running discussion groups or labs) in exchange for discounted tuition. Some assistantships allow students to apply their earnings to housing, fees or any other way they see fit.

In addition to big-ticket money items, there’s a ton of ways students (and parents) can make college cheaper. Some may be common sense, but others could be difference makers. Ways to save a little hard-earned cash include:

  • Buying or borrowing used textbooks: Amazon has a strong collection of used books, and if you’re a Prime member, some can be borrowed at no additional cost. And if you’re a history major, some texts may be available online for free.

  • Eat in: Seems easy, but grabbing coffee and a bagel in the morning and a sandwich in the afternoon adds up. Take your breakfast and lunch as much as you can.

  • Cheap transportation: If you have a bike, use it. Live near a bus line? Get a pass. Taking an online program? You don’t need to go anywhere.

  • Take advantage of student discounts: Many businesses on or around a campus will give ANY college student a discount. If you’re an online student, it still applies. See which restaurants, department stores and other business help students save.

Making a college education cheaper should be the goal of every student. No one wants to pay more than required. Yet when researching cheap online colleges, or even campus-focused colleges, no education should come at the expense of quality.

The Importance of Quality

Cost is important, but it isn’t everything. A cheap college or university carries zero academic and professional value without quality programs for students. But how do students and parents know an institution has sufficient quality standards? It starts with accreditation, but other factors should be weighed, as well. Learn what to look for to ensure all colleges on the short list have the right cost and quality balance.

  • Accreditation:  The first step to assessing the quality of an online college or program is checking its accreditation. Accreditation means that an independent agency endorsed by the Department of Education has thoroughly vetted a college and/or program for academic excellence, faculty credentials, student support, available resources and more. Earning full accreditation can take years to achieve, and usually entails multiple visits to an institution. For a complete look at the types of accreditation and how the process works, visit our new, expert-driven online guide to college accreditation.

  • Graduation rates:  If you start a degree program, you want to finish it. Dropping out can mean a huge loss of time and financial investment. If an online college has a high graduation rate, it often means they support their students and provide top-notch education and career services. Low rates can be a huge red flag. It could mean many things, among them that students can’t get the courses they need to complete their degree, that the online classes are falling below what students expected, that students are discovering the online school is actually a degree mill pumping out useless diplomas, and more.

  • Reputation with employers:  Getting a job is a main reason students pursue a degree. Knowing a school’s reputation with employers can help you gauge how well you might do in the job market after graduation, and how much you might earn. However, it is also an indication of the value of the degree and how much students learn. If eager students are failing in the workplace time and time again, it could be a reflection of the online program, not of the students themselves. Or it could be an indication that students are allowed into the program too readily and are given a great amount of leniency during the course. Remember: Just because a course or program is online, or just because it is an inexpensive option, doesn’t mean that the quality should be any less than in-person classes.