The adoption of various online learning models has impacted two major components of higher education: access and flexibility. More students can now earn a college degree because time and location are no longer constraints. Many institutions in Alabama have followed suit, adding a number online degree programs to their respective academic catalogs. Some colleges, however, have gone one step further, developing online learning environments that include highly trained faculty, new technology and resources, and online support services to help students achieve educational and career success. See which schools made the list of the Best Online Colleges in Alabama for 2016-2017.
|Rank||School Name||Score||Tution & fees||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||School Information|
Judson College has a distance learning program for students who cannot attend campus in-person. Bachelor programs can be completed completely though the distance learning program. Students complete 128 semester hours. There are general education core requirements, in addition to the regular requirements of the specific bachelor programs students are attempting to gain. Students complete either a minor or 15 credit hours of upper-level electives. Courses are delivered through the Moodle Online Course Management System. Students also learn through resources like video, email, mail, phone and fax. Students are provided instructor contact information, a course description and suitable learning activities.
Troy University has undergraduate, graduate and continuing education degrees that are offered online. Some of the degrees offered through Troy’s online program are unique, like their interpreter training program. Many programs also offer specific emphases like the associate of science in general education – military operations. The school prides itself on its convenient course delivery, where students can access their school resources right from the comfort of their own office. The school has been involved in online learning for the past 20 years. Students participate in online assessments, digital discussions and can collaborate with fellow students in a virtual setting.
|3||University of Alabama at Birmingham||98.92||$$$$$||21||66%||18:1||56%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
More than 18,000 students attend the University of North Alabama at Birmingham. Academics at the university starts at the undergraduate level and extends up to post doctorate training in fields like business, dentistry, public health, medicine, engineering, education and optometry. Post doctorate programs are in career development. Symposiums, discussions, research and review of trending topics impacting real world environments are components of post doctorate programs. The school also prepares adults for military careers through the Air Force ROTC and the Army ROTC. After completing military training, graduates of these programs serve in the military at the officer ranks.
|4||University of North Alabama||98.78||$$$$$||23||51%||17:1||39%||No||Yes||Yes|
At the University of North Alabama, academics in areas like nursing, physics, biology, mass communications, foreign languages and professional management offer a solid foundation of educational and hands on training. Professional selling, education and family studies are top programs at the university. Teacher to student ratio is about 1 to 17, which at least 80 percent of the faculty teaching full-time. There are more than 140 student clubs at the school. Lioncam and Canvas are primary resources used to implement and maintain the school’s virtual campus. The school’s main campus is in Florence, Alabama, a town of about 147,000 people.
|5||The University of Alabama||98.52||$$$$$||32||53%||21:1||66%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
The University of Alabama has strong and diverse academic programs that lead to undergraduate and graduate degrees in specialties like arts and sciences, health sciences, education, engineering, nursing and social work. Adults can earn non-credit and professional certifications to meet licensing training requirements. Law, library studies, accounting, public relations and business are academic fields that the school has earned accolades in. As a leading state school, the university is widely known for its nationally ranked football program. More than 37,000 students take a class at the school. About 46 percent of these students are from Alabama, with the remaining students coming from other states and 3 percent deriving from other countries.
|6||Athens State University||98.49||$$$$$||30||N/A||16:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Athens State University has its main offices in Athens, Alabama. Concentrations that degrees are conferred in at Athens State University include education, business, computer science, arts and health. Total degrees awarded at the school are 50. Through its Teacher Education Services division, students majoring in education complete internships, receive teacher certifications and take the Praxis II exam. Adults enrolled in the school’s Center for Lifelong Learning offerings can continue to receive training that aligns with current career needs. Nearly 3,000 students are enrolled at the school each semester.
|7||University of West Alabama||98.22||$$$$$||18||47%||15:1||33%||No||Yes||Yes|
Founded in 1835 as a school for women, the University of West Alabama enrolls about 2,261 students in its on campus classes. Its main campus is in Livingston, Alabama. Technology, education, math, natural sciences, nursing and business are areas that degrees are awarded in at the school. The university operates an Educational Outreach and a School of Graduate Studies. Degrees in its graduate studies division are in education and at the master’s level. History, Black Belt initiatives and cultural and community programs are made available via Educational Outreach. Learning environments are on campus and virtual.
|8||Heritage Christian University||98.05||$$$$$||3||100%||6:1||50%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Programs and majors at Heritage Christian University prepare students for careers in areas like biblical studies, ministry, education and professional studies. As a Christian school, the school highlights churches of Christ and mission work. Associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees are awarded. The Department of Student Affairs is an active part of the entire learning process. Aim of Student Affairs is to support students spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. It does this in partnership with the Student Government Association and by sponsoring events that inspire personal growth and leadership abilities.
|9||Jacksonville State University||97.96||$$$$$||9||56%||19:1||30%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Jacksonville State University supplements on campus learning with distance education options. Degree, certificate and non-credit training is available through on campus and distance education options. The school was founded in 1883 and enrolls over 8,600 students. More than 45 degrees are awarded at Jacksonville State. Graduate and undergraduate admissions processes are handled separately. Mentor opportunities are available to graduates and area business and organizational leaders. Whether students live in campus, commute or take virtual classes, they are encouraged to deepen their learning by participating in university hosted activities and events.
|10||University of Alabama in Huntsville||97.58||$$$$$||3||66%||16:1||46%||No||Yes||Yes|
Focus at the University of Alabama in Huntsville centers on nursing, science, business administration, engineering, education, arts and sciences and humanities. The degree selection exceeds 100. Enrollment at the undergraduate and graduate levels exceeds 8,400 students. Recently, the university rolled out a 3D virtual campus tour. Size of the actual, physical campus is 432 acres. Fifteen research centers and over 53 academic and administrative buildings make up the school. The university is a public school that is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
|11||Auburn University at Montgomery||97.51||$$$$$||6||41%||15:1||22%||No||Yes||Yes|
Auburn University at Montgomery Online has a wide range of online programs and degrees and non-credit, continuing education courses. These programs are flexible so students can advance their careers while not sacrificing their work and home lives. Students use Blackboard as their online learning management system and participate in class discussions and submit assignments online. Online students have access to learning support, such as the AUM Learning Center, the library and the Center for Disability Services. Some online programs may require students to participate in an in-person practicum component, however these are usually done at the student’s convenience.
|12||Alabama State University||97.36||$$$$$||3||36%||16:1||26%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Alabama State University’s online degree programs are specifically designed for professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree or beyond under their belts. The school offers four online master’s degrees in education and a transitional doctorate in physical therapy. Each program has its own specific requirements for admission, however students should have basic computer skills and be able to effectively communicate in writing. The content in online courses is the same and classes are often taught by the same instructors. Most classes are taught asynchronously, so students must have the self-discipline to access course materials and complete coursework on their own time.
Students at Auburn University can elect to complete their degree online or take select courses online for added flexibility in their program. The school’s online programs blend traditional instruction with modern technology, allowing students to learn the same material but in a more amenable format for their personal and professional schedules. It has both undergraduate and graduate programs as well as professional credit and personal enrichment programs. Learning opportunities include accountancy, real estate development, finance, education, library media, nutrition and engineering.
Students can get a Christian-centered education, at a time and location that’s convenient for them, at Falkner University. Degree options include an associate of arts or science in liberal studies, a bachelor’s in forensic psychology, a master of business administration and a doctor of philosophy in biblical studies. Falkner has 23 online degree options in all. Active military members and veterans receive special benefits and students can opt to accelerate their schedule to graduate more quickly. Student athletes cannot register for fully online undergraduate programs, however they can register for individual general education online courses or online graduate programs.
|15||Alabama A & M University||97.07||$$$$$||3||49%||20:1||35%||No||Yes||Yes|
Alabama A&M University Online is an opportunity for students to further their education and their career in a flexible format because traditional, full-time coursework doesn’t fit into their lives. The same instructors that teach on-campus classes also teach in the online programs and students get to interact with a diverse group of peers. Students can earn an undergraduate program in business management, the school’s first online degree offered. They can access the university bookstore and technical support online as well as all course lectures and coursework.
At Amridge University, students can choose from online associate programs, bachelor’s programs, master’s programs or doctoral programs. Students can choose areas of study from the college of general studies, the college of business and leadership, the school of human services and the Turner school of theology. The school offers many graduate programs in ministry, counseling and theology. It’s a Christian school that holds to its traditional Christian values. Some other undergraduate areas of study include information systems, criminal justice and human development. Courses are offered in a 15-week semester, a 10-week semester and an eight-week semester.
|17||United States Sports Academy||86.00||$$$$$||9||N/A||8:1||N/A||No||No||Yes|
Students at the United States Sports Academy can take courses for a degree program at any time convenient to them—day or night. This online, asynchronous schedule is designed to allow students to continue working full time while earning their degree. Students may begin at any time during the school year and must complete each course within 16 weeks; active-duty military personnel my take 18 weeks per course. Academic programs include a bachelor’s or master’s in sports science and a doctor of education in sports management. Continuing education and certificate programs are also available.
Across the country, online learning was chiefly the domain of private for-profit colleges and universities for years. More recently, traditional institutions in Alabama have recognized the importance of flexibility for the state’s college students. As a result, many schools now offer online courses, certificates and degrees. The University of Alabama’s “Bama by Distance” program, for example, features more than 50 degree programs via distance learning. Key subject areas include arts and sciences, education, engineering, law and nursing. Bama by Distance even has resources designed to help military personnel and veterans work toward a degree online.
One way to get a better understanding of Alabama online colleges is to explore areas where universities are embracing, advancing and fostering the adoption of non-traditional instructional formats.
Birmingham’s more than 1 million residents have access to a number of well-regarded colleges and universities attended by students from some top secondary schools. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is known internationally as a research facility. One of three institutions in the University of Alabama system, it has one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. It houses the only American College of Surgeons trauma program in the state. Thousands of attorneys have graduated from Birmingham’s esteemed Cumberland Law School at Samford University, Birmingham Law School and Miles Law School.
Just one of many community colleges in Birmingham, Lawson State Community College provides an affordable venue where students can begin their post-secondary studies in a degree program or in a variety of vocational or technical programs. With more than 30 business-related degrees and certificates, seven health profession degrees, several career technical programs and a college transfer program, Lawson offers educational options to meet the needs of nearly any student. Washington Monthly’s 2013 Community College Rankings named Lawson the fifth best community college in the nation.
Distance learning opportunities are in high demand today, and Birmingham’s colleges have a variety of options. UAB, listed in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees for 2014, offers degrees and certificates as well as professional studies. UAB’s online offerings span three different modes of delivery. Purely online courses provide all content over the Internet, with no or very few on-campus meetings. Distance accessible programs use both online technology and periodic in-person intensives. Also available are blended offerings, where at least half of the course materials are online and the remaining portion of the class takes place on campus. At the undergraduate level, UAB students can choose from online degrees ranging from accounting to information systems to health care management. The RN to BSN program for registered nurses follows the distance accessible model. Students at the graduate level have a wide selection of online programs.
Birmingham students also have access to an array of private online schools, such as Virginia College. This school has nearly 30 campuses across the South, including its main branch in Birmingham, and offers 24 online degrees.
Finances play an important role when choosing an Alabama college to attend. Tuition is the primary expense and often the first thing would-be students look at when weighing their college options. The total price tag varies depending on the school, location and the student’s residency. In 2012, Alabama students paid about $8,814 per year for tuition, placing Alabama as the 12th least expensive state for college when looking at tuition alone.
A student’s budget should include other fees as well. Most colleges have additional fees that could cover application and enrollment, parking, recreation, and the use of labs and technology or facilities for special classes. These extra charges can add up, and in 2012, Alabama students paid an estimated $9,850 per year for both tuition and fees.
Charges from the university make up the bulk of financial obligations, but students must also take other expenses into account, like room and board. Alabama’s cost of living is 8 percent lower than the U.S. average, offering opportunities to earn an affordable degree. Take a better look at the cost of living (COL) for some of Alabama’s largest cities, as compared to the national average (100%).
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Another cost-related element to consider when evaluating colleges–whether traditional or online–is return on investment (ROI). Some schools might have hefty price tags, but nice career prospects after graduation may be worth the investment. And vice versa, graduating from a cheap college might lead to a tough job search after getting that degree. The following five Alabama colleges have demonstrated a significant ROI, calculated as lifetime salary minus the total cost of attendance:
Scholarships and financial assistance both offer ways to cut the student contribution to college, making it more affordable. Alabama students have a number of national, state and school-based opportunities. Federal aid in the form of loans and grants could make a big impact on the bottom line. Applicants must first fill out FAFSA® forms to seek federal aid. Nearly 75 percent of Alabama undergraduates received some form of federal assistance in 2012.
Students can also apply for scholarships, free money that further lowers the financial impact of a college degree. Scholarships are available from a variety of sources, including nonprofit organizations, private companies, the government and even individual learning institutions. Below are some of the organizations that offer scholarships to undergrads in Alabama.
Aspiring college students in Alabama and across the country must also consider school accreditation. Financial assistance programs usually require that the college meet established regional or national standards. In Alabama, look for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Specific academic programs might also be accredited to ensure quality standards are met. For example, the University of Alabama’s Capstone College of Nursing has received and maintained approval status by the Alabama Board of Nursing. The College is also accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
For the first-time online student, research is an important element in choosing a school and preparing for a career. The list below includes information on getting ready for college and possibilities for financial assistance. Other resources cover the types of online learning technologies available, free additional subject-based instruction and academic support for the distance education learner.
While affordability is an important factor in choosing a college, a school is more than its price tag. For example, students may value opportunities for customized learning as well as a flexible schedule for enrollment. To get a closer look at what online education in Alabama is really about, we spoke with the higher-ups from Judson College’s online department. Here’s what they said:
How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?
At Judson College, most distance learning students receive individualized instruction from professors with a customized curriculum in an accommodating learning environment. A simpler way to describe this is to say that most of our Distance Learning classes are taught in a "one-on-one" learning environment. Moreover, our dedicated staff at the Distance Learning Office contacts each individual student on a regular basis in order to monitor their learning progress, and provide support and encouragement.
What makes your online programs so valuable to students?
I think the personalized nature of our program is what makes it top-notch, and this is shown in a number of ways:
First, our rolling admissions policy means that a student can begin courses at any time. Should a student decide to enroll in college in September, he or she does not have to wait until the following January or August, but can begin immediately.
Secondly, I would say that while though our program costs a little more than other schools, students gets more value out of the program because of the unique way of teaching and the support they receive. How many schools have a professor with degrees from Stanford and Harvard to teach students individually to meet their learning needs? How many schools have a Director of Distance Learning who contacts students regularly and to personally help them resolve issues -- whether the issues are related to technology or academic advising? That is the value we provide to our students at Judson College.
Finally, since most of our courses are taught one-on-one, Distance Learning students at Judson do not have to dwell on learning materials which they have already mastered. Because they are not constrained by the cohort model at all times, they are allowed to concentrate on the areas in which they need further study, or, often, move on quickly to new learning materials and gain new skills. This establishes momentum in a course and, in the end, often leads to a faster path to graduation.
Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?
We have recently upgraded to a new course management system, and we would like to continue to see all of our professors and students continue to utilize all aspects of this course management system. At the same that we are emphasizing "staying current" technologically speaking, we shall continue to have individual student care and support as our top emphasis. Technology has been a help, not a hindrance (the webcam and the subsequent ability to have individualized video chats with our students is but one example), but it is but a means to an end -- and our end (or goal) at Judson is to care for each individual student and to see that she (or he, in the Distance Learning program) is learning and progressing.