Alabama Online Colleges & Universities – Top Online Schools for 2015

More than 434,000 students attended Alabama's 91 colleges, universities and career schools in 2013, placing the state at 29th in the nation for the number of college students. Though the state has one of the lowest figures for colleges per capita, one in 68 U.S. college students pursued their certificate, undergraduate or graduate degree in Alabama in 2013. The state has a diverse group of schools from which to choose, including large four-year universities, historically black colleges, several colleges with religious affiliations and two medical schools. Take a look at all the options:

College Type Number in Alabama
Public 42
Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation) 16
Private for-profit 12
Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation) 4

Top Alabama Cities for Colleges and Students

Alabama's rich history dating back to settlement in the early 1700s brings with it a diverse culture and wide expanses of open land. College students can choose among large universities in major metropolitan areas or small, rural or private colleges -- the options are varied. Below are some of the cities with the largest student populations as well as the areas with the most colleges.

Highest Student Populations (Total)

  • Birmingham (55,139)
  • Tuscaloosa (38,065)
  • Mobile (26,837)
  • Troy (25,182)
  • Orange Beach (25,169)

Areas with the Most Colleges (Total)

  • Birmingham (tied) (13)
  • Montgomery (tied) (13)
  • Mobile (11)
  • Hunstville (5)
  • Tuscaloosa (4)

Spotlight City: Birmingham

Birmingham’s more than 1 million residents have access to a number of well-regarded colleges and universities attended by students from some of the top secondary schools in the country. The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), an internationally renowned research facility, and one of three institutions in the University of Alabama system, 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 have graduated law school 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 career studies in a degree program or in a variety of certificate and vocational/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.

The Online Learning Scene in Birmingham

Distance learning opportunities are in high demand today, and Birmingham’s colleges have a variety of options. UAB, which appeared on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees for 2014, offers degrees and certificates as well as professional studies in three different modes: online, where all content is online with no or very few on-campus meetings; distance accessible, which uses both online technology and periodic in-person intensives; and lastly, blended, where at least half of the course content is online and the remaining portion consists of on-campus meetings. At the undergraduate level, UAB students can choose from the following online degrees: accounting, economics, finance, information systems, management, marketing, health care management and RN to BSN (distance accessible). Students at the graduate level have a much wider selection. Virginia College, which has nearly 30 campuses across the South, offers 24 online degrees.

Online Colleges and Programs in Alabama

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 coursework as an option for students seeking a certificate or degree. The University of Alabama's "Bama by Distance" program, for example, offers 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 design to help military personnel and veterans work toward a degree online.

All About Cost: Tuition, Fees and COL

Tuition costs and other fees are an important consideration when choosing an Alabama college to attend. Tuition is the primary expense and often the first thing prospective 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 to attend college when looking at tuition alone.

It's important to look at other fees as well. Most colleges have additional fees, including application and enrollment fees, parking costs, lab and technology fees, recreation fees, and potential costs for special classes. These extra charges can add up, and in 2012, with Alabama students paying an estimated $9,850 per year for both tuition and fees.

Charges from the university make up the bulk of college expenses, but students must also take other living expenses into account, like room and board. Alabama's cost of living is 8 percent lower than the U.S. average, offering cost-effective 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%).

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Decatur-Hartselle -10.8% -25.8% -1.5% -9.4% -3.3% -14.5% -3.4%
Dothan -10.2% -19.9% 0.3% -20.3% -8.2% -18.3% -2.1%
Florence -9.8% -20.4% -3.4% -9.0% -5.5% -15.9% -3.7%
Birmingham -9.2% -26.8% -6.5% 5.7% -6.5% -12.1% 0.3%
Huntsville -8.8% -21.3% -5.1% -13.9% -0.3% -8.0% -0.2%
Anniston-Calhoun County -8.8% -25.2% 1.2% 11.2% -11.2% -10.7% -3.4%
Mobile -7.3% -19.6% 2.7% 4.4% -7.0% -13.5% -3.3%
Tuscaloosa -5.4% -19.4% 4.9% 5.9% 2.8% -9.8% -2.6%
Auburn-Opelika -1.1% -9.8% 4.6% 1.3% -7.1% -11.6% 6.5%
Montgomery -0.8% -4.0% 2.9% 8.4% -0.4% -12.0% -0.9%

Another cost-related element that should be considered 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 lifetime ROI (lifetime salary minus total cost of attendance):

  • University of Alabama at Huntsville
  • Auburn University
  • Tuskegee University
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Southern Alabama

Financial Assistance and Scholarships

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. Students can apply for federal aid in the form of loans and grants, making a big impact on the bottom line. Students 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. Students can explore scholarships 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.

  • 3M
  • Alabama Funeral Directors Association
  • Alabama National Guard
  • Alabama Commission on Higher Education
  • Alabama Power
  • American Legion
  • American Quarter Horse Foundation
  • American Radio Relay League
  • American Red Cross
  • American Welding Society
  • Coca-Cola Foundation
  • Enterprise Banking Company
  • Future Farmers of America
  • Jemison Society
  • Legacy, Inc.
  • National Association of Junior Auxiliaries, Inc.

Accreditation: A Must-Have

Prospective college students in Alabama and across the country must also consider school accreditation. Financial assistance usually requires that the college meet specific 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.

While affordability is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a college, we understand that a school is more than the numbers on its price tag. 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:

Online Departments in Alabama
  • Judson College -

    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.

The state of Alabama, known as the heart of Dixie, is also the heart of online learning opportunities. Alabama boasts a multitude of four-year colleges offering full online degree programs. Distance learning courses range in degree levels and admission requirements, but they all offer unparalleled flexibility. This list compiles the best online schools in Alabama, which provide the ability to earn degrees that are just as coveted as those earned via on-campus learning. With affordability being paramount, these Alabama online schools are sorted from lowest tuition to highest.

Click here to see our methodology.
Athens State University
Tuition and fees: $5,340 Enrollment: 4,690 Accredited: YES Website: Athens State University

Athens State University offers a variety of fully online bachelor's degrees and certificates to students within several subject areas, with several online degree options available in business. Other degree options may offer distance-learning options, but still require online college students to take some courses on campus. Athens State is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of North Alabama
Tuition and fees: $6,084 Enrollment: 7,260 Accredited: YES Website: University of North Alabama

The University of North Alabama offers single undergraduate and graduate courses online as well bachelor's and master's degrees that are offered fully online through its distance learning programming. The school utilizes Angel, its online course management system, for student instruction, and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of South Alabama
Tuition and fees: $6,204 Enrollment: 13,366 Accredited: YES Website: University of South Alabama

The University of South Alabama offers online college around the clock through its "USAOnline" program. At the undergraduate level, some junior and senior classes of bachelor's degrees are offered online, and graduate level degrees that are offered fully online include education specialist and master's degrees. The university is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Tuition and fees: $6,264 Enrollment: 12,962 Accredited: YES Website: University of Alabama at Birmingham

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, aka "UAB Online," offers bachelor's degrees, including minors, as well as master's and doctoral degrees entirely online. The university also offers a diverse number of academic certificates, and a few professional certificates, completely through distance learning. UAB Online is accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Troy University
Tuition and fees: $6,412 Enrollment: 25,182 Accredited: YES Website: Troy University

Troy University's distance-learning program, aka "eTROY", offers students a variety of online college degree options at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. All eTROY degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Many e-courses include Blackboard software, live chat and videoconferencing technology to facilitate communication and material delivery.

Alabama A & M University
Tuition and fees: $6,828 Enrollment: 4,582 Accredited: YES Website: Alabama A & M University

Students in Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) online programs receive instruction from the same faculty that teach in AAMU's classrooms. Long-distance learners can pursue baccalaureate, master's, educational specialist, and doctoral degrees online with access to resources that include an online college bookstore and technical support for Blackboard and email platforms. Courses focus on preparation for real-world employment experiences.

University of West Alabama
Tuition and fees: $6,918 Enrollment: 2,454 Accredited: YES Website: University of West Alabama

Students at the University of West Alabama can pursue fully online college learning at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels. Accreditation is by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Courses are offered online through Blackboard, and available in eight-week sessions five times a year. Additional software and hardware programs ensure secure online proctoring of exams.

Auburn University at Montgomery
Tuition and fees: $7,580 Enrollment: 5,424 Accredited: YES Website: Auburn University at Montgomery

Auburn University at Montgomery, or "AUM Online," offers bachelor's, master's, doctoral and education specialist degrees through its distance learning programming. Students take their e-courses using Blackboard, an online content management system, and can find online college learning support services available. The university is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Jacksonville State University
Tuition and fees: $7,650 Enrollment: 9,671 Accredited: YES Website: Jacksonville State University

Jackson State University offers bachelor's, master's, education specialist, and doctoral degrees online through its distance learning program. Students can also pursue graduate certificates online or take single courses for degrees when available. The online college uses a Blackboard online course management system and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Alabama at Huntsville
Tuition and fees: $8,094 Enrollment: 6,983 Accredited: YES Website: University of Alabama at Huntsville

The University of Alabama in Huntsville offers online degree options at the bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. The university is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Online college coursework is offered either through Angel, the university's online course management tool, or through class capture technology, synchronous chat and presentation tools, and videoconferencing.

The University of Alabama
Tuition and fees: $8,600 Enrollment: 28,718 Accredited: YES Website: The University of Alabama

Distance learning through The University of Alabama, or "Bama by Distance," gives students the opportunity to pursue online college degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels. Some classes are entirely online while others are offered through a video streaming format. The school is accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Auburn University
Tuition and fees: $8,698 Enrollment: 21,429 Accredited: YES Website: Auburn University

Auburn University offers online college courses at the undergraduate level and a broad range of master's degrees, as well as educational specialist degrees, entirely online. Graduate level certificates are also available is a variety of fields, and learning may either be synchronous or asynchronous. Auburn University is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Amridge University
Tuition and fees: $8,720 Enrollment: 522 Accredited: YES Website: Amridge University

Amridge University offers all of its degrees and instruction entirely online. Students access their instruction using the Blackboard online college course management system, and can find bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level degrees online in areas like business, general studies, human services, and theology. The university is accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Heritage Christian University
Tuition and fees: $9,792 Enrollment: 82 Accredited: YES Website: Heritage Christian University

At Heritage Christian University, students can find online associate, bachelor's and master's degrees in biblical studies as well as a distance-learning master's of ministry degree. The online college uses the Populi course management system for online learning, and has accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education.

Judson College
Tuition and fees: $14,460 Enrollment: 388 Accredited: YES Website: Judson College

Judson College offers Bachelor's of Science, Bachelor's of Arts, and Bachelor's of Ministry degrees that are available entirely online to its students. Online college majors and minors are offered in subjects such as business administration, criminal justice, English, history, religion, psychology, and many others fields. The school is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Faulkner University
Tuition and fees: $15,880 Enrollment: 3,637 Accredited: YES Website: Faulkner University

Faulkner University, a Christian school, provides several degree programs fully online across the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Online college programs are available at an accelerated schedule to allow students to more quickly work toward degree completion. The school is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.