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 2015-2016:
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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.
|2||Heritage Christian University||94.98||5:1||100%|
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.
|3||University of West Alabama||94.66||16:1||95%|
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.
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.
|5||University of Alabama at Birmingham||94.62||18:1||90%|
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.
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.
|7||Alabama A & M University||94.56||15:1||97%|
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.
|8||Jacksonville State University||94.50||18:1||93%|
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.
|9||University of South Alabama||94.45||19:1||91%|
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.
|10||Auburn University at Montgomery||94.30||16:1||90%|
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.
|11||University of Alabama in Huntsville||94.25||16:1||87%|
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.
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.
|13||The University of Alabama||91.60||21:1||75%|
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.
|14||Athens State University||87.99||17:1||N/A|
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.
For prospective students, navigating the different types of online programs and finding the right school can be challenging. The tool below provides a way to easily review an extensive database of college and program options, taking into account factors such as tuition, location and various academic criteria.
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.
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.