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The Best Online Colleges of 2018

Online learning is the new norm, but with so many schools – including the largest and most recognizable in the nation – offering numerous distance learning options, how can you identify the best online colleges? While in the past the question may have been whether or not to pursue a degree online, current students are asking themselves how to find the right online college to attend instead. Prospective students who want to enroll in the best online program should start their journey at the school level. But what earns a school that distinction? Several variables may come into play, many of which depend on the individual student’s academic and financial needs. For many students, picking the best online college starts with accreditation and affordability.

Accreditation verifies that a school will provide a rigorous educational program meeting the high standards of a quality education. Affordability may seem self-explanatory; however, it involves some detective work to discover what tuition, fees and other costs to consider and how to find scholarships and grants. This page will guide you through these points and more, leave you with a solid understanding of what points are most important when considering your educational goals, and help you choose one of the best and most respected online colleges to get you there.

Best Online Colleges Ranking 2018

The following online college ranking considers that the best online college depends on the needs of an individual student; what might be the “best” for one might not even make the short-list of another. As a result, the list below ranks schools based on many variables, including tuition, financial aid and number of online programs available. Depending on what students find most important in a school, they can tailor their college search to focus on those characteristics. By narrowing down the options with their top needs and desires, students find the best online school for them.

Curious about our methodology? We assessed each school based on qualitative measures and data from the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as information provided by the colleges themselves. Each school included is a not-for-profit, accredited institution that offers at least three fully-online programs.

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Methodology
  • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution

  • At least 10 online bachelor’s or master’s degrees

  • Annual in-state tuition below $25,000

Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:

  • Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates

  • Count and breadth of online programs available

  • Student-teacher ratio

  • 6-year graduation rate

  • % of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college

  • Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college

  • Availability of academic/career counseling services

  • Availability of job placement services for students and graduates

  • 3-year loan default rate

  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.

Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.

  • Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 99.03 $8,072 46 64% 18:149%no yes yes

Northern Arizona University is a large, public institution based in the college town of Flagstaff. While the college town appeal is a big draw for NAU, many students decide to study toward an online degree. NAU is considered to be one of the best online colleges, largely because of their numerous programs offered entirely online. Through the online program, students will not only have access to their schooling whenever they want, but they also get access to technical support, library resources, tutoring and other campus resources for those who are able to commute to campus. Students aren't required to be living in the state of Arizona to attend the online school, but many of the benefits that come with their online program can only be accessed in person.

2 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL 98.65 $9,826 24 55% 24:167%yes yes yes

Best known for their dominant athletics, the University of Alabama is much more than just an athletics school. Considered one of the best schools, if not the best, in the state of Alabama, The University of Alabama has a long reputation for helping educate students that go on to do great things. The same can be said about Alabama's online school. One of the best online schools in the nation, Alabama's distance learning program offers the same high-quality, accredited education that they do on campus. Along with that, the distance learning program gives students - including military personnel and adults - the chance to study at their own pace and freedom. Alabama offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees through their online school, so students at all levels can find something to fit their needs.

3 Judson College Marion, AL 98.32 $15,204 14 98% 9:141%yes yes yes

Judson College is a private institution in Alabama that draws from its Baptist roots to form high standards of education and conduct. Being an undergraduate school with limited degree options, Judson College is best for students that want to earn a bachelor's degree in arts and sciences. However, the degrees that Judson College offers are well-regarded, and their track record has led them to become a respected institution. The online school at Judson College is also worth noting as it is one of the best online schools for an undergraduate degree. Just because students can study and earn their degree online doesn't mean that the courses or requirements are any easier, though. By earning an online degree from Judson, students will be just as prepared as any other graduate to begin their career.

4 Siena Heights University Adrian, MI 97.58 $22,100 29 100% 12:143%yes yes yes

Adult students looking to earn a degree from one of the best online schools for bachelor's degree should consider Siena Heights University. Founded on Catholic ethics, Siena Heights has gained a reputation for being one of the best liberal arts schools for adult learners and working students. Their degree programs are designed to help students further their careers, giving them the knowledge they need to make a jump from one career to another or advance further in their current field. The online school at Siena Heights is nationally recognized for the quality of their bachelor's degrees as well as their incredibly high graduation rate. Students who study at Siena can also choose to study in a hybrid format, allowing them to study both online and on-campus. There are many resources students can use as well, most of which are available entirely online.

5 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC 97.34 $6,038 35 52% 15:174%no yes yes

There is no shortage of options for degrees at North Carolina State University. A nationally ranked institution, their faculty are considered some of the best in the nation. One thing to note about NC State is that their faculty also play a large role in crafting their online courses, as well as teaching and assisting students who choose to study through the online school. There are over 350 courses offered online at NC State, as well as more than 90 degree programs to study, including graduate degrees. This allows students the chance to study toward their degree entirely online or with a combination of online and on-campus courses. NC State is considered one of the best online colleges in the nation for MBA candidates.

6 University of Southern Mississippi Hattiesburg, MS 97.28 $6,980 29 76% 17:145%no yes yes

The University of Southern Mississippi began as a small teacher's school, but over time it has grown into a successful university that offers various degree programs. One thing of note about USM is that their online college is considered to be the best online college in the nation in terms of affordability. Via the online schools, students are able to study toward many of the degrees that USM offers on-campus. There are dozens of online degrees offered at different levels, all of which are accredited. The graduate programs make up the bulk of USM's online degrees, many of which are related to the field of education, going back to the school's roots. Undergraduate degrees and certificates are also available online, as are doctoral degrees.

7 Saint Leo University Saint Leo, FL 97.22 $19,740 41 99% 15:146%yes yes yes

One of the top schools in Central Florida, Saint Leo University has established its presence in the area by having over 40 locations for students to study at. However, the online school at Saint Leo University makes up a large part of their total student body. Online degrees at Saint Leo are available to students around the world, and the quality of education is the same that students would get if they were to study on-campus. Students can also choose to do a hybrid of both online and on-campus courses to complete their degree. The flexibility of the online programs combined with the expert staff make Saint Leo's one of the best online schools for adult learners who are looking to earn a degree to further their professional career.

8 University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL 96.99 $9,265 21 89% 14:143%yes yes yes

The University of Illinois at Springfield is well known for their small class sizes and focused curriculum. However, it's their online school that sets them apart from most other institutions. U of I offers various different undergraduate and graduate degrees online, all of which can be completed without having to commute to campus. This gives students the flexibility to study at their own pace while still earning a high-quality education. U of I's online programs are so well crafted that they are often considered one of the best online colleges for bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees in business, as well as one of the top schools for military members. There are also plenty of certificates and licenses offered online, so students can graduate with the education, degree and requirements necessary to begin their professional career.

9 Mississippi College Clinton, MS 96.63 $14,670 14 98% 15:153%no yes yes

As the oldest college in the state of Mississippi, Mississippi College is well aware of how challenging and busy life can be for students, especially adult learners. To help with this, they've crafted one of the best online schools in the state of Mississippi. The degree programs at their online school are available to students around the world, not just those who live in-state or in the country. As long as students have access to the internet, they can learn wherever, whenever they please. MC does offer some undergraduate degrees online, but their master's degree programs are the most popular. Many students choose to study toward a master's degree in education, communication or business administration with different focuses being available for all three.

10 Webster University Saint Louis, MO 96.58 $24,500 24 95% 13:159%yes yes yes

Webster University strives to be a global school, so along with their main campus they've opened up locations around the world. The goal is not only to give students the chance to see something new, but to show that they are including the global community. They also connect the local and global community through their online learning program which is available to people around the world. Through their online program, students can study toward one of more than 50 degree programs, all of which can be completed entirely online. Consistently ranked as one of the top online schools in the nation, Webster does an excellent job of keeping their online curriculum challenging, making sure that their graduates are prepared for the professional world after graduation.

11 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS 96.53 $3,450 34 74% 16:144%no yes yes

Designed largely for the independent and business minded, Fort Hays State University's degree programs give students an education that helps them prepare for a career in their field. Because of this, Fort Hays has become one of the best spots for adult learners to earn an education. For adult learners who don't live in Kansas or are unable to commute to regularly scheduled classes, Fort Hays offers online degrees. There are over 50 degrees offered through their virtual college which is considered to be one of the best online schools for the price. Most of their degrees are at the undergraduate level, so adult learners who prefer to study online will have plenty of options to choose from.

12 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Norman, OK 96.46 $4,128 15 77% 18:166%yes yes yes

The University of Oklahoma is a large public research school that offers various degrees for students with all types of interests. A highly regarded school, OU tries to give each student a unique, valuable education that works for them. To help with this, OU has an extended campus where students can study online. There are many different courses offered online, all of which can either go toward a degree or help bolster a student's education in whichever field they're interested in. OU is considered to be one of the best online schools in the state for graduate degrees, particularly because they offer a wide variety of master's degrees online. This is ideal for students that are busy with work or family and cannot regularly commute to campus for classes.

13 University of Virginia-Main Campus Charlottesville, VA 96.42 $10,484 16 27% 15:193%no yes yes

There are many different ways students can pursue an excellent education at the University of Virginia. Students who study on campus have access to many different schools, each with their own set of accredited degrees. Also useful for students is the online education offered by UVA. Because of the size and scope of the school, UVA offers different types of online programs. One popular option is their School of Continuing and Professional Studies, best for students that want to further their career either with a bachelor's degree, graduate degree or certificate. Also available is a master's degree in engineering. UVA is considered to be one of the best online schools in the nation for an online master's in engineering, so students who want to earn a graduate degree that fits their schedule may find this is the perfect fit.

14 Wayland Baptist University Plainview, TX 96.37 $11,880 31 91% 10:133%yes yes yes

While Wayland Baptist University was founded with Baptist roots, the school has grown into a large university that offers plenty of different degree options for students. One of the options offered by Wayland Baptist is their online program, designed to give students the flexibility to study at their own pace. Most students that choose to study through the online school are studying toward a master's degree. Wayland Baptist is considered one of the best schools in the nation to earn a master's degree in fields like divinity and Christian ministry, two popular options for online students. Aside from graduate degrees, Wayland Baptist also offers undergraduate degrees through their online school.

15 Murray State University Murray, KY 96.33 $6,360 15 72% 15:153%yes yes yes

Murray State University has made a point to be an inclusive institution where all people are able to learn. However, not everyone is able to commute to campus for classes, whether it be because of a job, family or location. To help with this, Murray State offers many of their degrees through their online school. Students can study for degrees at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels online, making Murray State one of the best online schools for students at any point in their education. Each of their graduate degrees is designed to help give their students a deeper knowledge of their field to help them advance in their career. Similarly, the undergrad programs at Murray State give students practical knowledge they need to begin a career. Popular options through their online school include RN to BSN, computer information systems and business administration.

16 East Carolina University Greenville, NC 96.31 $3,959 49 48% 18:156%no yes yes

While most schools prepare students for their career right after they graduate, East Carolina University prepares students for a changing world. This means that their degree programs are designed to give students the knowledge to adapt to changing fields so that they can advance throughout their life. This is particularly true for students who earn an online degree from ECU. Residents of North Carolina and students from across the nation can complete their bachelor's degree online, but what really makes ECU one of the best online colleges in the nation is their master's degree program. With dozens of degrees and focuses available at the graduate level, ECU prepares students for a long, prosperous future in their career.

17 Mississippi State University Mississippi State, MS 96.28 $7,140 10 74% 19:161%yes yes yes

Mississippi State University has created a history of excellence, and it all starts with their degree programs. Regardless of what students study, each degree is meant to give students all the resources they need to succeed throughout their life. The same philosophy is applied to their online program, often considered one of the best online colleges in the nation. Students can study online while learning from faculty who also teach on-campus courses, meaning the quality of the education is consistent from on-campus to online. Also, Mississippi State offers in-state tuition to all online students, not just residents of Mississippi. Degrees can be earned entirely online from start to finish for students all around the world.

18 Jackson State University Jackson, MS 96.22 $6,602 14 54% 18:139%no yes yes

Not all students are able to study toward a degree in a traditional manner. To reach out to these students, Jackson State University has created an online program that allows students to earn a degree entirely online while also receiving the same benefits that traditional students receive. One of the best online schools in Mississippi, JSU designed their online degree programs to help students who want to improve their long term career outlook. Each degree offered online teaches students how to succeed in their field while also giving them the credentials to advance. Because JSU places such an emphasis on the career outlook for students, most of their online degree programs end with a master's degree. For students who want a mix of online and on-campus, some of the programs offered can be completed in a hybrid format.

19 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville, AL 96.17 $9,158 11 74% 16:148%no yes yes

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is one of the top research schools in the state with many students going on to earn a degree in science or engineering. However, many graduates realize that a bachelor's degree is no longer enough to advance through some careers. With this in mind, UAH has created one of the best online schools in Alabama to earn a master's degree. One of the popular areas of study for online students is engineering with degrees offered in seven different focuses. Some of these degrees are available at both the master's and doctoral level, giving students the chance to study toward two graduate degrees at the same online school. For students who live in the area, some of the courses offered are available entirely online or in a hybrid of both online and on-campus.

20 Newman University Wichita, KS 96.14 $23,700 10 98% 14:150%yes yes yes

For many people, earning a college degree is about much more than just the degree. Newman University knows that many people earn a degree to improve their career, so they offer degree programs that don't just educate, but prepare students for life after college. The same can be said about the online degrees offered at Newman University. Designed for working adults who cannot regularly attend scheduled classes, and students that live away from campus, the degrees offered through the online school will help students learn the skills to change or improve their career. Because of the quality and direction of the master's programs, Newman University is considered one the best online schools for students who want to advance their career, particularly if they are involved in theology or education.

21 Colorado Christian University Lakewood, CO 95.99 $20,435 16 98% 15:136%yes yes yes

For over a century, Colorado Christian University has been providing students in Colorado with some of the best education in the state and nation. Nationally recognized as one of the best online schools for adult learners, CCU's online degree programs are largely designed to give adults a stronger education. This often translates to a better career, or the opportunity to advance through their current career. One impressive part of CCU's online school is the number of degree programs offered at each level. Students can study toward an undergraduate, graduate or associate degree, and these degrees can be completed entirely online. For adult learners looking to make a change or jump in their career, the flexibility and size of this program is a big part of why it's nationally respected.

22 University of Saint Mary Leavenworth, KS 95.95 $23,750 12 96% 8:153%yes yes yes

The University of Saint Mary has established itself as one of the tops schools in the Midwest, largely due to their healthcare and science programs. The same can be said about the school's online programs, it is one of the best online schools for earning a degree in nursing or healthcare. One reason their healthcare and science degrees are so well respected is because of the emphasis the University of Saint Mary puts on liberal arts. With a liberal arts background in any field, students gain a better all-around perspective, something that be helpful for advancing through future careers. Online degrees are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and while many students study toward a nursing or healthcare degree, a master's in business administration is also available.

23 Troy University Troy, AL 95.87 $6,528 24 54% 15:136%yes yes yes

Flexibility is important to students that choose to study online, and Troy University offers just that. Online programs at Troy can be completed entirely online or through a hybrid of online and on-campus courses, allowing students to choose what works best for them. Also, online courses are only nine weeks long, so students aren't committed to courses for a whole semester. Troy is one of the best online colleges for earning a bachelor's degree because of their flexibility and the number of programs offered. Students can study in just about any field online through Troy, and each degree is designed to prepare students to begin a career in their field of choice. Associate and graduate degrees are also available through the online school.

24 Arizona State University-Tempe Tempe, AZ 95.84 $9,454 11 83% 23:159%no yes yes

Well known as one of the most innovative institutions in the country, Arizona State University has established itself as a leader in online education. ASU is one of the best online colleges in terms of accessibility, degree offerings and quality, and a lot of their success is due to their innovative spirit. Students that choose to study online will find that there is no shortage of options at any level. ASU has an impressive list of online programs offered, which can be completed entirely online. The online programs are accredited, and classes start each quarter, so students can study toward a degree at their own pace. These degrees are perfect for students who are unable to commute to campus but still want to earn an ASU education.

25 University of Toledo Toledo, OH 95.73 $8,052 18 89% 20:146%yes yes yes

The University of Toledo has been offering online courses for two decades, giving them plenty of time create one of the best online schools in the nation for adults who want to further their career. The flexibility of the courses offered by UT is one of the biggest draws, particularly for adults who are working or have families, or for military members. These students are usually looking for a way to move forward, and the online degrees offered by UT are designed to do just that. With degrees offered from the associate to doctoral level, students and adult learners of all ages can find something that fits their needs, helping them advance their career or learn new skills to pivot into a new field.

26 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla, MO 95.72 $8,220 16 84% 19:163%no yes yes

Founded in 1870, Missouri University of Science and Technology was one of the earliest technological post-secondary schools built west of the Mississippi. It currently enrolls nearly 9,000 students who can choose from nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. MUST has been ranked among the nation's top-100 best online colleges and received acclaim for its online engineering degree program, ranked 3rd in the country by USA Today. The distance degree program at Missouri S&T offers 17 graduate degrees and more than 50 graduate certificate programs. Graduate degrees require 10 courses or 30 course hours for completion. Graduate certificate requirements are comprised of four courses for a total of 12 credit hours.

27 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA 95.71 $4,934 30 58% 20:138%yes yes yes

Established 130 years ago in Natchitoches, Northwestern State University of Louisiana has extended its community reach through satellite campuses in Alexandria, Shreveport, and Fort Polk - and through its online programs. Two NSU online graduate programs have been ranked in the top-five degrees in education. The master's in special education is a 36-hour program preparing students to excel in elementary and secondary gifted education and early intervention. Online students can also complete an associate degree, 18 online bachelor degrees, 22 master's degrees, and two doctoral programs (education or nursing practice). NSU also offers six hybrid degrees that combine campus settings with online learning. Technology students can earn an online, competency-based Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems that since 1999 has received citations for "Area of Excellence" by the University of Louisiana system.

28 Arkansas State University-Main Campus Jonesboro, AR 95.70 $5,760 23 69% 17:136%no yes yes

Arkansas State University-Main Campus, founded in Jonesboro in 1909, has graduated more than 80,000 alumni in the succeeding years and has a current enrollment of 14,085. As Arkansas' second-largest university, A-State offers more than 150 degrees and is ranked one of the best online colleges in the region. The university was ranked among the of the 2018 Best Colleges, Regional Universities South, by U.S. News and World Report. Online students can choose from eight wholly online bachelor degrees, 13 master's programs, five Ed.S. education degrees, and eight certificates. Nursing students can complete the online RN-to-BSN degree program in as little as one year. Other online baccalaureate fields include communication, criminology, political science and social media management. The average class size at the university is 29, with a student/faculty ratio of 17:1.

29 King University Bristol, TN 95.66 $24,316 16 86% 16:152%yes yes yes

King University was founded in 1867 in Bristol, TN as King College, a Christian, Presbyterian-affiliated institution of higher learning. For 30 connected years now, U.S. News and World Report has named King College a Best Regional University in the South. Its academic colleges offer 90 majors through the King College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, School of Education, School of Nursing, the Peeke School of Christian Mission, School of Behavioral and Health Sciences, and School of Communication, Information, and Design. Consistently ranked among the best online colleges in the region, King's Department of Online Studies hosts 15 degrees that can be completed entirely online. These include an Associate of Arts, 12 online baccalaureate degrees, and two master's degrees.

30 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin Odessa, TX 95.62 $4,029 17 88% 20:127%no yes yes

Located in Odessa, TX, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin offers students a choice of 35 undergraduate and 18 graduate programs. The university is one of the best online colleges in the region. Its current 250 teaching faculty members serve more than 7,000 students who attend campus-based courses or study online. UTPB is part of the University of Texas system of nine universities and six health institutions in the Lone Star State. The distance degree program was named among the Best Online Bachelor's Programs for 2016 by U.S. News and World Report. Online students can complete one of 18 bachelor degrees, 10 master's programs, and five online education certificates. Many of the bachelor-level courses are offered in 8-week semester formats, and some online courses are offered through University of Texas Online consortium (UTOC).

31 Davenport University Grand Rapids, MI 95.63 $14,472 27 92% 11:142%yes yes yes

Davenport University, founded in 1866, is a private, non-profit university serving 7,500 students at its Michigan campuses and through its extensive online programs. There are more than 50 academic programs at Davenport's Colleges of Business, Arts & Sciences, Technology, Urban Education, and Health Professions. Among the best online schools in the Midwest, Davenport University has been an annual recipient, from 2012-2017, of the INSIGHT into Diversity's "Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award". At DU, online students can prepare for the workplace or advance their careers in some of the most in-demand fields of employment. There are 25 online master's degrees and graduate certificates at DU. Online baccalaureate degree majors include accounting, finance, computer science, nursing, general business, human resource management, international business, leadership and organizational performance, management, marketing, and sport management. Students may also complete an associate degree in computer science, health information technology, accounting, business administration and finance.

32 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX 95.61 $6,476 32 55% 20:179%no yes yes

When Texas A&M University-College Station enrolled its first students in 1876, it became the first public post-secondary institution in Texas. The university, dubbed "Aggieland" is home to 68,625 students. A&M's 19 colleges host nearly 130 undergraduate, 268 post-graduate degrees and certificates. Three A &M graduates are recipients in the Nobel Prize and the university was ranked 3rd nationwide by Washington Monthly for its "research, service, social mobility, and contributions to society." For students who cannot get to campus in College Station, A&M offers one of best online colleges in the region. You can choose among one online undergraduate degree, 48 online graduate degrees, and 26 online certificates. Online studies are delivered as web-based, on-campus and web-based, off-campus courses. Distance-degrees at A&M include the Master of Agriculture (MAG), MED in Curriculum and Instruction, Master of Public Service and Administration (MPS), MS in Education for Health Care Professionals, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)/Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and Master of Jurisprudence (MJ).

33 Oklahoma State University-Main Campus Stillwater, OK 95.60 $4,425 17 75% 20:160%yes yes yes

Founded in 1890, Oklahoma State University-Main Campus serves more than 35,000 at its main campus in Stillwater, online through OCampus, at campus locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and the OSU Institute of Technology in Okmulgee. Popular majors include agriculture operations; business (management and marketing); biological and biomedical sciences; and engineering. OSU also serves distance students as one of the best online colleges in the region, with more than 32 online degree programs leading to baccalaureate and master's degrees through OCampus. Certificate students can select among 10 online programs in the fields of business, engineering, finance, and online teaching.

34 University of Maine Orono, ME 95.47 $8,370 12 86% 16:156%no yes yes

The University of Maine was founded in 1865 along the Stillwater River in Orono, ME. Current enrollment includes 9,279 undergraduates and 1,961 graduate students. The university offers 90 undergraduate programs, 85 master's degree programs, and 35 doctorates at its flagship campus and online. It was ranked among the 50 Green Colleges by The Princeton Review and hosts one of the best online schools in Maine. In fact, UMaine Online offers two undergraduate degrees, 16 master's and doctoral degrees, and 15 graduate certificate programs. There are eight education graduate degrees online, along with in-demand MBA and social work master's programs. Online doctorates are available in biomedicine (engineering and science).

35 University of Louisiana at Monroe Monroe, LA 95.42 $4,986 33 58% 21:140%no yes yes

What is today's University of Louisiana at Monroe opened its doors in 1931 as Ouachita Parish Junior College. It has since become the largest university in North Louisiana with 9,700 students taking campus-based and online courses. eULM, the university's distance education division, has been ranked as Louisiana's "Best Online College," now offering more than 30 online degree programs. Online students can complete a 63-hour Associate of General Studies (AGS), one of 14 bachelor programs of 120-125 hours, one of 24 master's degree programs of 30-39 credit hours, or a 60-hour online doctorate in education or philosophy (marriage and family therapy). Online students gain virtual access to ULM's faculty, advisors, and admissions counselors.

36 Amridge University Montgomery, AL 95.43 $6,000 17 100% 10:167%yes no yes

Amridge University, founded in Montgomery, AL in 1967, was among the first 15 universities to offer online degree programs as part of a U.S. Department of Education initiative. The study culminated with a change in Federal laws to allow more students to receive online degrees. Ranked among the best online schools, AU currently offers programs leading to an Associate or Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts or Science, Master or Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Philosophy. Its online programs are administered by the College of Business, College of General Studies, School of Human Services, and Turner School of Theology.

37 Tiffin University Tiffin, OH 95.32 $21,510 29 89% 15:142%yes yes yes

Established in 1888, Tiffin University has developed an innovative online program serving 4,282 students at home in Ohio and around the world. It offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration, bachelor and master's degrees in criminal justice, and baccalaureate and master's degrees in the arts and sciences. As one of the nation's best online colleges, Tiffin was ranked in U.S. News and World Report's 2018 edition of the Best Colleges and Regional Universities. Classes are small, averaging 10-15 students to allow close, personalized educational experiences with the faculty. Online degree programs begin each year in January, March, May, July, August and October.

38 University of Idaho Moscow, ID 95.17 $4,784 17 74% 16:154%yes yes yes

Beginning with the establishment of a campus in Moscow in 1889, the University of Idaho today serves more than 12,000 through its home campus, education centers in Coeur d'Alene, Boise and Idaho Falls. U of I also provides educational programs at extension offices in 42 Idaho counties and online. Students have a selection of 93 undergraduate and 67 graduate majors, leading to degrees and certificates. Graduates of the university have received National Science Foundation Fellowships, Rhodes Scholarships, and Fulbright Awards. The university has one of the best online colleges in the region, and was has been recognized for its online graduate education programs. Master's level education degrees are offered in adult organizational learning and leadership, educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, physical education, and special education. More than 25 online degrees are offered at U of I, including the M.S., M.Ed., M.S., M.Engr., P.S.M., M.A.T., M.P.A., and Ph.D.

39 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR 95.08 $7,650 30 59% 18:161%no yes yes

Over the past 150 years, Oregon State University has built its reputation for innovative solutions to many of the world's problems, whether dealing in forestry, oceanography, marine biology, agriculture or natural resources. Today, OSU has added the field of robotics to its acclaimed specialties. The university's two campuses serve nearly 32,000 students, offering more than 200 academic programs at 11 colleges, 35 extension offices, and 15 experiment stations. OSU's eCampus degree program has been recognized among the best online colleges in the nation. There are 22 online bachelor degrees available through the eCampus, along with online master's degrees in the fields of business, natural resource sciences, science and engineering, public policy, adult education and higher education leadership, and teacher and counselor education. Online students may also complete one of 12 graduate certificates.

40 Central Michigan University Mount Pleasant, MI 95.04 $11,165 22 79% 20:159%yes yes yes

Central Michigan University, established in 1892 as a teacher's college, today offers more than 200 majors through its undergraduate, master's, specialist and doctoral degree programs. It serves more than 20,000 students at its Mount Pleasant campus and another 7,000 students pursuing degrees and certificates wholly online. CMU is one of the small number of educational institutions to hold the two highest Carnegie research classifications. CMU Online offers wholly online degree and certificate programs held in 8-, 12- and 16-week sessions. One of the nation's best online schools, CMU Online has been ranked among the best colleges for online bachelor degrees, MBA degrees, and graduate education. Distance students have full access to CMU's Online Learning Resource Center.

41 Carson-Newman University Jefferson City, TN 95.03 $23,300 10 99% 13:150%no yes yes

Mossy Creek Missionary Baptist Seminary enrolled its first students at its location near Knoxville in the fall of 1851. Today's Carson-Newman University enrolls 2,362 students, some of whom come from 28 different countries to complete one of 50 undergraduate majors and 11 graduate degrees offered at the school. More than 96 percent of all Carson-Newman students qualify for financial aid. The university has one of the best online colleges in the region and has been ranked as one of the Best Baccalaureate Colleges by Washington Monthly. The university's Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies (BSIS) completion-degree can be earned entirely online, as can the B.S. in Organizational Leadership, Bachelor of Business Administration. Online graduate students can earn their Master of Business Administration degree at Carson-Newman University.

42 Campbellsville University Campbellsville, KY 95.01 $22,342 20 97% 13:141%yes yes yes

Campbellsville University, a comprehensive, Christian institution, offers students a wide range of associate degrees, undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as non-credit technical programs. As one of the best online colleges, Campbellsville University offers programs like certificates in Christian ministry, five associate degrees, and 20 different wholly-online master's degrees. In addition to its celebrated graduate business studies, the university focuses on teacher training, offering a selection of online master's degrees in education with 13 different specializations.

43 Brescia University Owensboro, KY 94.96 $19,500 11 96% 13:130%no yes yes

The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph founded Brescia University in 1950. While offering an extensive range of academic programs on its campus in Owensboro, the Roman Catholic university began offering online courses in 2007. Ranked among the Top-30 Regional Colleges in the South, Brescia has also become one of the best online schools in the region. Students will benefit from online tuition, which has been frozen at its current level through 2022. Online courses are offered in accelerated 8-week formats. Programs at Brescia Online culminate in four associate degrees, six bachelor degrees (including degree-completion), and two master's degrees. Students can also complete an online certificate in accounting.

44 North Greenville University Tigerville, SC 94.95 $15,510 10 98% 14:155%yes yes yes

North Greenville University, in Tigerville, SC, is a private institution founded in liberal arts traditions of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Students can complete one of more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degrees at NGU's main campus, at its sister campus in Greer, SC, or entirely online. The university has one of the best online schools in the region, ranking second among the "2018 Best Online Colleges in South Carolina." NGU offers wholly online bachelor degrees in business & leadership, Christian ministries, criminal justice, elementary education, applied psychology, and general studies. Online graduate studies lead to degrees in business, ministry, education, music education, and health science. Students can complete their Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in as little as 18 months with classes that have five starting dates annually.

45 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY 94.93 $9,140 31 43% 18:150%no yes yes

In March 1906, the Kentucky General Assembly approved the establishment of the Bowling Green school that was to become Western Kentucky University. Today, more than 100 majors lead to the baccalaureate degree, and students can choose from 111 academic minors. U.S. News and World Report has ranked WKU 12th in The Best Online Bachelor's Programs and 12th in Best Online Graduate Criminal Justice Programs for 2018. Among the best online schools in the region, WKU offers 20 online undergraduate degrees, 30 wholly online master's degrees, and online 45 graduate/undergraduate certificates. Students may also enroll in one of more than 100 courses offered through the on-demand program that offers for-credit classes in 7-week semesters.

46 Midway University Midway, KY 94.89 $22,000 21 86% 15:148%yes yes yes

Midway University, founded in 1847 by Dr. Lewis L. Pinkerton, was one of the nation's first schools to serve disadvantaged or orphaned women. Today, the coeducational Midway offers its 1,005 students over 30 academic majors in many of the region's top-demand fields of business, teacher education, nursing/healthcare, and equine studies. For distance education, Midway is among the best online colleges in the region. Students can earn their associate degree online, one of more than 20 baccalaureate degrees, or a 100-percent-online MBA, M.Ed., or MSN graduate degree. Online options for a bachelor's degree in education include more than 12 areas of specialization. Midway's Credit for Prior Learning (CPL) program may grant course credits for online students based on their work experience or career preparation outside the classroom.

47 New Mexico State University-Main Campus Las Cruces, NM 94.86 $4,812 15 38% 16:143%no yes yes

The history of the New Mexico State University-Main Campus dates back to 1888 when Las Cruces College was established in the territory of New Mexico. Home to the first honors program in the state, the university today serves 6,428 students that hail from across the US and more than 70 countries. Students take courses from the major colleges: Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering; Health and Social Services; and Honors. New Mexico State University is nationally-ranked for its online graduate nursing programs. NMSU Distance Education offers online bachelor degree-completion programs, masters and doctorate programs, and graduate certificates. Teachers can pursue their online New Mexico K-12 educator licensure and endorsements.

48 University of Florida Gainesville, FL 94.84 $4,477 37 28% 20:187%no yes yes

For more than 160 years, the University of Florida has consistently grown in status as a major research university. Last year, UF received $724 million in research awards. UF was ranked second among all AAU institutions in the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to Hispanic students. U.S. News also ranked UF Online among the nation's best online colleges, singling out high marks for the Best Online MBA Programs, Best Online Bachelor's Programs, and Best Online Graduate Education Programs. In addition to more than 200 college degree programs, UF Online also offers certificate programs at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

49 Auburn University Auburn University, AL 94.82 $8,592 20 57% 19:168%no yes yes

Auburn University, chartered in 1856 and closed during the Civil War, Auburn University is Alabama's oldest 4-year, coeducational institution. Today it enrolls 29,776 students who attend degree programs at Auburn's College of Agriculture; College of Architecture, Design & Construction; Raymond J. Harbert College of Business; College of Education; Samuel Ginn College of Engineering; School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences; Graduate School; College of Human Sciences; College of Liberal Arts; The School of Nursing; James Harrison School of Pharmacy; College of Sciences and Mathematics; College of Veterinary Medicine; University College; and Honors College. Auburn Online is one of the region's best online schools. It garners top-20 national rankings in the categories of best online MBA programs and best online graduate computer information technology programs. Students can earn one of four online baccalaureate degrees as well as undergraduate certificates in education, and pharmacy studies.

50 Park University Parkville, MO 94.81 $10,500 30 65% 17:143%yes yes yes

Park University was founded on 700 acres along shore of the Mississippi River in Parkville, MO, in 1875. The university today enrolls 16,933 students at its main campus, at 41 campus centers, and online. Undergraduate students can complete one of 38 bachelor and eight associate degrees. Graduate students have a selection of eight master's degrees. There are also 27 undergraduate and graduate-level certificate programs. Park University is one of the best online colleges in the region, offering 63 online degrees. Park Universities' business and management programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Explore Online Degree Programs

Finding the Best Online Colleges for You: Five Steps

The path to finding the best online education isn’t set in stone. Rather, it requires serious contemplation on the student’s part. For example, what are their future goals? What aspects of higher education most appeal to them? Which aspects are a “must have” for them? The following five step process takes these questions and more into account. We’ll cover the major things prospective college students need to consider, including choosing the online delivery method, ensuring accreditation, making sure the school fits with future career goals, choosing which degree to get and how to pay for college.

Step 1: Know Your Best Online Education Options

The path to finding the best online education isn’t set in stone. Rather, it requires serious contemplation on the student’s part. For example, what are their future goals? What aspects of higher education most appeal to them? Which aspects are a “must have” for them? The following five step process takes these questions and more into account. We’ll cover the major things prospective college students need to consider, including choosing the online delivery method, ensuring accreditation, making sure the school fits with future career goals, choosing which degree to get and how to pay for college.

Explore Online Degree Programs

There are several types of online programs available, but some of them might not be entirely online. Why not? Take nursing, for instance. Nursing degree programs, especially those at the undergraduate level, require a student to participate in hands-on clinical work in order to graduate. This means the degree program cannot, by its very nature, be entirely online. Therefore, it’s a hybrid program.

So, what are some other differences between fully-online and hybrid programs? Let’s break them down.

  • Fully-online

    A fully-online program is exactly what it sounds like:a college program that can be completed 100 percent online, with no need for the student to accomplish any degree requirements on-campus. Lectures are often provided in a video or audio recording, with communication and completion of assignments taking place over email or a special online system, such as Blackboard. Many schools offering fully-online programs have partnered with online education companies, such as Coursera. It is important to remember that even though every aspect of the class is online, this in no way means it’s less challenging than what a student will encounter in a classroom setting. Students should expect to spend roughly the same amount of time in class and complete homework as they would in a traditional, on campus setting.

  • Hybrid

    Sometimes referred to as a blended program, hybrid online programs are similar in most aspects to fully-online programs, but they do have an in-person or on-campus curriculum requirement. This can include lab or clinical requirements that necessitate the student to come on campus or to an approved site, at least once during a particular class, to complete an assignment. The big advantage of hybrid programs is that they allow colleges to offer a much wider range of online degree options. On the other hand, hybrid education means students must take into account the necessity of traveling to an approved location (which might be nearby) or the college itself (which could be across the country). Also, the hands-on requirement must be completed at a set time or place, which means the ability to study at a pace comfortable for the student might not be as possible as it would be with a fully-online option.

At the best online colleges, an online program or course can be delivered in a variety of ways. Some are more flexible and accommodating than others. Let’s look at the variety of options available.

  • Open schedule

    A type of asynchronous learning, open schedule provides students with the most amount of flexibility. The school will dictate certain course deadlines, such as when a certain project or assignment must be finished. As long as students meet this deadline, they can study wherever and whenever they want.

  • Fixed time

    A type of synchronous learning, the fixed time format expects students to “attend” class at a certain time, but allows students to show up for class from anywhere, whether it’s at home, work or on the go. This format might feature live lectures provided over streaming video, live video chats and the like, which means a student must log on at a certain time and stay for a certain duration.

  • Synchronous

    This broad type of online learning format has a certain level of pacing that the student must maintain throughout the program, such as logging into class at a particular time or watching a lecture at a specific time on a certain day. It is flexible, however, in that students can be anywhere in the world and still attend class, if they have a reliable internet connection.

  • Asynchronous

    Asynchronous learning allows students to complete most, if not all, classroom requirements on their own timetable and pace, as long as certain deadlines are met. These deadlines are typically widely spaced; for instance, perhaps a student must complete all work for a course within a four-month timeframe. Asynchronous learning provides the greatest level of flexibility in that students can take the class anytime and anywhere.

Step 2: Check the Online Colleges’ Accreditation

Accreditation gets a lot of attention, and for good reason. To achieve accreditation, a school’s academic programs are reviewed by an independent organization, which confirms the school meets certain educational standards.

Put another way, accreditation is confirmation that a program provides an education filled with pertinent, tangible information a student can use to advance their professional or academic career. There are several different types of accreditation available; understanding the differences can help students make a more informed decision on their college or program choice.

Regional accreditation refers to an organization that limits its accreditation to schools located within a certain geographical region of the country. In contrast with regional accreditors, national accreditors will accredit schools anywhere in the country, although they tend to focus on a particular type of learning, such as vocational training, or the delivery method, such as online learning. The type of school and its location will determine the type of accreditation it receives. Some of the primary regional accrediting bodies in the United States include:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges

  • Higher Learning Commission

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

  • WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Sometimes referred to as specialized accreditation, programmatic accreditation doesn’t accredit the schools themselves, but rather, the specific programs offered by those schools. While a national or regional accrediting body looks at the school, a programmatic accrediting body will look at a specific program to ensure it meets certain minimum requirements for a specialized area of knowledge. A few examples of programmatic accreditors include:

  • The Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology

  • The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business

  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

  • The American Bar Association

If students intend to enroll in a program subject to programmatic accreditation, they should determine if both the school and the program itself is accredited. It’s entirely possible for a school to be regionally or nationally accredited, but not have a particular program accredited. Obtaining a degree from a program that isn’t accredited (while the school itself is accredited) doesn’t mean the student’s degree is worthless! However, it could be far less valuable to the student if future employers or graduate schools give less weight to the chosen area of study. This can mean getting a job or transferring to another school becomes more difficult.

Accreditation is not only important to ensure a degree will be worth more than the paper it’s printed on. It’s also necessary to obtain financial aid. Most scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs have eligibility standards that require students to attend an accredited post-secondary institution.

Step 3: Look at Your Career Goals

To find the best online college, prospective students must first figure out what they want to gain from completing their chosen program. Since some careers require certain degrees to meet minimum eligibility requirements, it’s important that a student prepares for that career from early in the college search.

For example, to be a professor at a university, a doctorate degree is almost always necessary. To become an attorney, earning the undergraduate degree and then attending law school is a must. So before deciding on a school to attend, students must first determine their ultimate career objective, then backtrack from there and figure out how to achieve each step. To help figure out these steps, consider the following:

Students should ask themselves where they ultimately want to take their professional career. Some careers will have degree requirements, such as a minimum of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while others will have knowledge, experience or skill-based requirements that a degree can help them obtain.

To learn more about possible career goals and the degrees that can help take you there, look at some the following subject guides:

Step 4: Select Your Degree Level

Choosing the best online degree from among the many colleges offering them will require taking many things into consideration. For example, a person’s ultimate career goal will primarily dictate the area of study they choose. Then, the student’s potential time commitment will decide what kind of class format the student can take. For instance, if a student has a full-time job or significant financial responsibilities, they will probably need to enroll in an online program that offers asynchronous learning. Finally, the student must confirm the program is accredited.

But there’s still more to think about, including the degree level. Online degrees are now available at many levels, from the associate (which typically takes two years) up to the doctoral degree (which might take a total of seven years or more).

Earning an associate degree online can take the same amount of time as working toward a traditional associate degree. But through the wonders of asynchronous learning, very committed students can obtain their online associate degree in as little as 18 months. Depending on their goals, a student should choose an associate degree that meets immediate professional objectives but also provides the flexibility of serving as a first step toward a bachelor’s degree. This can be especially helpful if they decide to continue their education in the future.

Popular online associate degrees:
  1. Paralegal studies
  2. Medical assisting
  3. CNA
  4. Information technology
  5. Accounting

Median annual salary of associate degree holders: $42,588

Step 5: Get Your Finances in Order

Paying for school is a major hurdle for many potential online college and university students. Not only can the financial cost be high, but the financial aid process can be daunting and confusing. We can help alleviate some of this confusion and help you find the most affordable colleges online by explaining how to determine a program’s true cost of attendance. Remember, tuition is not the bottom line! There are other costs to consider. Let’s break them all down so you can make a more informed decision.

At a private online college or university, there will be one tuition rate for all online students. But at a public online college or university, there may be two or more tuition rates for those who choose to study online. Let’s take a closer look. Usually, the in-state rate is lower. This is available only to students who are legal residents of the state in which the school is located. Students who are not residents of the state are charged the more expensive out-of-state tuition rate. However, some schools set a tuition rate somewhere in the middle for students enrolling in certain fields of study or those from neighboring states that participate in special reciprocity agreements among schools and states.

Many public online colleges and universities are shifting toward one tuition rate for all online students, regardless of residency. In some schools, this uniform tuition is the same as the in-state tuition rate. At other schools, out-of-state online students pay a rate that’s higher than the in-state rate, but lower than the out-of-state on campus rate. When choosing the right school for you, make certain any comparisons include the correct rate for online learning.

To be eligible for most financial aid awards, students must complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Financial Student Aid. While this application is technically for students applying for federal financial aid, most states and schools that offer their own financial aid packages require students to complete the FAFSA as well. The FAFSA provides a snapshot of a student’s financial situation, which helps states, schools, organizations and others determine how much to award students who seek need-based awards.

Resources

Explore Online Degree Programs

Choosing a college is a major decision, one that deserves careful consideration and planning. For further assistance in choosing just one of the best online colleges available, look at the following resources.