The Best Online Colleges of 2020

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The latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that 6,651,536 students took distance education courses in fall 2017, compared to just 2,809,942 students in fall 2012. To meet the demand for online learning, many colleges offer online programs and courses.

Prospective online learners should consider their career goals, schedules, and budget when researching programs at the best affordable accredited online colleges. For example, students who need maximum flexibility can pursue an asynchronous program, which does not require set meeting times. Learners seeking more structure may prefer a synchronous program, which features set class times.

To help students find the right fit for their needs, we ranked the best affordable, accredited online colleges. We evaluate each school based on factors like affordability, student-to-faculty ratio, and graduate retention rates. In addition to ranking the best affordable online colleges, this guide offers other important information for prospective students, such as the benefits of earning an online degree, the importance of accreditation, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Top 10 Best Online Colleges and Universities of 2020

Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 Peirce College Philadelphia, PA
3 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saint Mary of the Woods, IN
4 University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL
5 Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK
6 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
7 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
8 Mercer University Macon, GA
9 Mary Baldwin University Staunton, VA
10 Florida International University Miami, FL

Online Colleges and Universities Overview

Online programs offer benefits like flexibility, affordability, and convenience. The flexibility of online learning allows students to balance their studies with professional and personal obligations. Additionally, online learning lets students attend the top programs in the country without relocating.

Online students also often save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs. In addition, many programs extend in-state tuition discounts to online students, regardless of where they live.

Online students often gain access to the same support services and resources as on-campus students, such as writing centers, academic advising, career centers, and library resources. They also typically gain access to a 24/7 IT help desk that can provide support for technological issues that online students may experience.

In addition to fully online programs, learners can pursue hybrid programs, which feature a combination of on-campus and online courses. Students who want to take classes exclusively online should ensure that their prospective program does not include any on-campus requirements. Some online programs require supervised proctored exams and other campus visits, like weekend intensives.

Why Get an Online Degree?

Online degrees offer many benefits. Below, we outline some of the advantages of engaging in virtual learning.

  • Flexibility: The flexibility of online learning allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.

  • Affordability: The flexibility of online learning allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.

  • Teaches Self-Discipline Skills: Given that online programs are typically not as structured as on-campus programs, online students must practice more self-discipline and time-management skills. This format prepares students to succeed in work-from-home jobs and other jobs without close supervision.

  • No Commute or Move Required: Online students can save time and money by avoiding a commute to class. They can also avoid the moving expenses associated with relocating.

  • Helps Meet Specific State Licensing Requirements: Individuals pursuing a career that requires state licensure, like counseling or nursing, can benefit from attending an online school based in the state where they wish to practice. Most online programs tailor their courses to the licensing requirements in the state where the school is located.

Common Online College Degrees

Marketing

Marketing degrees teach students how to assess consumer demand and create initiatives and strategies to help sell a product or service. Online marketing courses often require virtual group projects with peers. Marketing graduates can work in areas like public relations, advertising, and marketing.

Business

Business students learn about important business functions like operations, supply chain management, human resources, marketing, and financial planning. They also learn how to set realistic business goals and create strategic, actionable plans.

Graphic Design

Graphic design programs teach students how to visually communicate concepts and ideas for various media and publications. Students often critique designs by peers through online discussion boards. Online graphic design students typically need access to design software like Adobe Creative Cloud.

Nursing

Many schools offer online nursing degrees at various levels. While nursing students can often complete most or all coursework online, many online programs also require nursing students to complete in-person clinical requirements. They can often meet these requirements at an approved local site.

Education

Education programs prepare students to work as teachers and educational administrators. Because most states require teachers to complete student-teaching requirements before earning licensure, many online programs require in-person student-teaching experiences. Students can often complete these requirements at an approved site in their community.

Accreditation for an Online College

Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor. Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For example, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and credits from accredited institutions.

Programs within a school can also receive accreditation. For example, business programs can earn accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, while nursing programs can earn accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Students can verify a program or school's accreditation status through the U.S. Department of Education's database of accredited postsecondary programs and schools.

Learners pursuing online education should also search for programs with accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. This organization exclusively assesses online programs for quality.

Scholarships for Online Degrees

Online students can take advantage of a variety of financial aid opportunities to help offset the costs of a degree, including loans, grants, and scholarships. Below, we outline several popular scholarships for distance learners.

Get Educated Online College Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Learners attending an accredited online institution may apply. Applicants must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA and write a 500-word essay about what an online college degree means to them.
Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship
Christian Distance Learning Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Online students attending a Christian college or university may apply for this scholarship. The organization draws a winner at random. Applicants must only submit one form to qualify.
Amount: $2,500

Apply for Scholarship
Kansas State University's Global Distance Scholarships

Who Can Apply: To apply for these need-based scholarships for online learners, candidates must submit the FAFSA. Minimum GPA requirements may also apply, depending on the award.
Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship
Oregon State University's Campus Financial Hardship Grant

Who Can Apply: Oregon State University provides this scholarship to online students experiencing unforeseen financial hardships. Examples of these hardships include unexpected medical bills or loss of work due to COVID-19.
Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship
Pennsylvania State University's World Campus Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Online learners attending Penn State qualify for this opportunity. They must submit the FAFSA to determine financial need.
Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship

FAQ

Questions Answers
Is it cheaper to attend college online? Online students often save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs. Additionally, many programs extend in-state tuition rates to all online students, regardless of where they live.
What kind of degree can I get online? Individuals can earn nearly any type of degree online. However, some online programs, like teaching and nursing, may require in-person components.
What is the average cost of online college? The average annual cost of an online undergraduate degree is $16,580, while the average cost of a graduate degree is $28,588.
Is there a free online college? Some colleges offer free online tuition to military students, high-achieving and low-income students, and college employees and their children. View our list of 10 online colleges with free tuition.

The Best Online Colleges of 2020

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 Net Price # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher Ratio Grad Rate Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL - $11,313 14 93% 18:1 90% no yes yes

With roots dating back to 1853, the University of Florida (UF) has long attracted learners to its on-campus programs. In 2014, the school officially launched its online platform, which hosts more than 200 programs at various levels. UF is one of the best affordable online colleges for undergraduate students, offering 25 majors, plus minors and certificates. Learners can take degrees in fields such as computer science, communication sciences, and fire and emergency services. They can study full time or part time and complete the degree in less than four years.

Both in-state and out-of-state online students at UF enjoy lower tuition rates than on-campus learners. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum cumulative 2.0 GPA or the GED equivalent. Transfer applicants with a minimum 2.0 GPA may receive transfer credit for previous training. While online students can complete their entire degree online through asynchronous training, UF offers them access to both online and on-campus organizations and events.

The University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

2 Peirce College Philadelphia, PA - $6,395 16 100% 9:1 35% yes yes yes

Established in 1865, Peirce College enrolls more than 2,000 students in its more than 25 programs. In addition to being Pennsylvania's only higher learning institution committed to nontraditional students, Peirce is also one of the best affordable online colleges. The school offers 11 online bachelor's degrees, including bachelor of science degrees in technology management, criminal justice, and healthcare administration. Online learners complete courses through both asynchronous and synchronous training.

Applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential for admission. They must also possess a minimum 2.0 GPA in college-level English and mathematics or complete a placement exam. Transfer applicants may receive credit for previous training, professional experience, and military experience. Most programs run online at Peirce, with online learners enjoying the same tuition rates as on-campus learners.

Peirce College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

3 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Saint Mary of the Woods, IN - $16,337 31 100% 7:1 57% yes yes yes

Indiana's oldest Catholic college, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) established one of the first independent study programs in 1973. Over the years, the flexible and external independent study programs evolved into online programs, and the school became one of the best affordable online colleges. SMWC offers 25 bachelor's programs, including 13 online programs in human resource management, paralegal studies, and marketing.

SMWC online courses run asynchronously, though there may be some scheduled sessions. In addition to courses in their chosen major, online learners complete the 39-credit Wood core program, which provides unique perspectives on general education. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential. Transfer applicants may receive credit for previous training. At SMWC, all online students pay the same tuition rate, regardless of where they live.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4 University of Illinois at Springfield Springfield, IL - $10,733 12 100% 12:1 51% yes yes yes

Since its first classes in 1970, University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) has grown to host an enrollment of more than 4,000 traditional and online students. UIS offers 52 online programs, including 14 online bachelor's degrees, such as information systems security, healthcare informatics, and teacher education. Online students enjoy multiple start dates. Classes run throughout full and half semesters.

One of the best affordable online colleges available, UIS online classes run asynchronously. However, some classes feature synchronous sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential. Transfer applicants with a minimum 2.0 GPA may receive up to 60 credits for previous training. UIS out-of-state learners also pay a lower tuition rate for online programs than on-campus programs.

The University of Illinois Springfield is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

5 Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK - $6,707 9 96% 19:1 61% yes yes yes

Founded in 1890, Oklahoma State University (OSU) runs nearly 200 programs for its more than 35,000 students. To better accommodate contemporary students, working professionals, and distance learners, the school began offering online programs. Now one of the best affordable online colleges available, OSU offers more than 20 online degrees, including in business administration, human sciences, and nursing.

Though OSU offers most online classes asynchronously, some classes follow a synchronous format. Students can start in the fall, spring, and summer, taking full-semester or eight-week summer classes. Applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 3.0 GPA, strong SAT or ACT scores, and top standing in their graduating class. Transfer applicants may receive credit via transfer for previous undergraduate training.

Oklahoma State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

6 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN - $11,898 3 69% 13:1 81% yes yes yes

Beginning with 39 students in 1874, Purdue University enrolls more than 6,000 learners in more than 200 majors. The school also offers more than 175 online options, including more than 30 online bachelor's degrees. Some of the online degree options that make Purdue one of the best affordable online colleges include early childhood administration, nursing, and analytics.

Online classes at Purdue run asynchronously, although some classes feature synchronous sessions. Learners benefit from multiple start dates each year in many of the programs. Classes typically run in eight-week sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a highschool diploma or a GED credential, plus SAT or ACT scores. Transfer students may receive transfer credit for undergraduate training.

Purdue University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

7 Indiana University Bloomington, IN - $11,931 5 77% 16:1 78% yes yes yes

Indiana University Bloomington (IU) was founded in 1820 and has grown into an institution with more than 100,000 students across its nine campuses. With more than 125 online programs, including 25 online bachelor's degrees, IU offers its students one of the best affordable online college options. Online enrollees can take programs such as health information management, medical imaging technology, and political science, enjoying asynchronous classes that run year-round.

IU's online programs typically run in eight-week or full-semester sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential plus strong SAT or ACT scores. While IU does not post minimum requirements, the average freshman GPA was higher than 3.5. In-state transfer applicants need a minimum 2.3 GPA for admission while out-of-state transfer applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Indiana University Bloomington is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

8 Mercer University Macon, GA - $21,202 7 100% 13:1 66% yes yes yes

Founded in 1833, Mercer University enrolls nearly 9,000 students in its more than 130 programs. In addition to its on-campus programs and multiple physical locations, Mercer is one of the best affordable online colleges, featuring more than 20 online bachelor's degrees. Online students can earn degrees in accounting, management, and homeland security and emergency management, taking classes entirely online. At Mercer, online classes run asynchronously, though some synchronous sessions may be possible.

Online programs feature multiple start dates each year. Most classes run in eight-week sessions. For successful admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.25 GPA or the GED equivalent. Transfer applicants with a minimum 2.0 GPA may receive up to 88 transfer credits.

Mercer University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

9 Mary Baldwin University Staunton, VA - $16,556 19 100% 10:1 47% no yes yes

Since its founding in 1842, Mary Baldwin University (MBU) has been dedicated to offering innovative and flexible degrees. In 1977, the school introduced Virginia's first program for nontraditional students. Over time, MBU introduced online programs for its distance and nontraditional learners. Now one of the best affordable online colleges, the school offers more than 30 online programs, including 12 online bachelor's degrees, such as social work and health informatics.

MBU's online classes typically run asynchronously in eight-week sessions during the fall, spring, and summer. Some classes may feature synchronous sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential. MBU may require SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants may earn up to 84 credit hours via transfer. Online students pay the same tuition no matter where they live.

Mary Baldwin University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

10 Florida International University Miami, FL - $9,180 34 89% 26:1 58% yes yes yes

Since Florida International University (FIU) began offering online courses in 1998, online learning at the school has grown to more than 40,000 students enrolled in more than 1,000 courses and 100 degrees. With more than 40 online bachelor's degrees, FIU is one of the best affordable online colleges, providing degree options such as crime science, electrical engineering, and international relations. Learners can begin their programs in fall, spring, and summer.

FIU's online classes run asynchronously, typically in eight-week or full-semester sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA or a GED equivalent, along with ACT or SAT scores. Transfer students may receive credit for previous training. All online students get paired with a success coach to help them throughout the program.

Florida International University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

11 Dickinson State University Dickinson, ND - $6,768 25 74% 16:1 44% 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 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA - $36,727 16 100% 11:1 74% yes yes yes

A private research university founded in 1891, Drexel University has a long history of running innovative educational programs. Over time, this innovation led to the development of more than 150 online degrees and certificates. At the bachelor's level, Drexel offers nearly 20 online options, including degrees in behavioral health counseling, education, and computing and security technology. All online students pay the same tuition rate regardless of where they live.

One of the best affordable online colleges, Drexel runs most online programs asynchronously although there may be some synchronous elements. Classes run throughout four, 10-week quarters. Learners can start during any of these sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential plus SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA and completed prerequisites.

Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

13 McKendree University Lebanon, IL - $19,6760 12 100% 14:1 54% yes yes yes

Established in 1828, McKendree University (MCK) is Illinois' oldest college. MCK has been serving nontraditional learners since the 1970s. In more recent years, the nontraditional degree options evolved into online learning. Now one of the best affordable online colleges, MCK offers nearly 20 online degrees, including more than 10 online bachelor's degrees. Some of the degree options include cyber defense, psychology, and criminal justice. Online learners enjoy access to the same academic and career support as on-campus learners.

MCK's online courses run asynchronously in eight-week sessions. Depending on their schedule flexibility, learners can take two classes each session to complete the degree quicker. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential, and they must submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer students may qualify for up to 90 transfer credits for their previous undergraduate training.

McKendree University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

14 Valley City State University Valley City, ND - $12,135 14 99% 13:1 41% no yes yes

Founded in 1890, Valley City State University has expanded its program offerings greatly over the years. One of 11 schools in the North Dakota University System, VCSU offers more than 80 programs in total, including online certificates and programs in 20 areas. At the undergraduate level, students can earn online degrees in business, history, and professional communication.

Online classes at VCSU typically run asynchronously, though some sessions may require scheduled meeting times. Classes run through the fall, spring, and summer semesters. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum GPA of 2.0 or the GED equivalent. They may also need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants also need a 2.0 GPA at minimum. Some programs may not be available to out-of-state residents.

Valley City State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

15 Saint Louis University Saint Louis, MO - $31,460 18 96% 9:1 77% yes yes yes

In 1963, Saint Louis University (SLU) introduced its professional studies college and began offering innovative learning options for nontraditional students. Today, SLU offers many of these programs online. As one of the best affordable online colleges, SLU offers more than 10 online bachelor's programs, including in project management, security and strategic intelligence, and leadership and organizational behavior. Many of these programs feature concentrations for more focused training.

SLU's online courses run asynchronously in eight-week terms, allowing learners to study at the pace that best suits their schedule. Enrollees can also choose from among six annual start dates. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential, along with three years of work experience. Applicants must also attend a virtual coaching session prior to admission. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Saint Louis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

16 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, FL - $9,486 13 81% 21:1 52% yes yes yes

Since opening in 1964, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has expanded to serve more than 30,000 students with over 170 degrees. As one of the nation's best affordable online colleges, FAU offers more than 10 online bachelor's degrees, including in computer science, public safety administration, and interdisciplinary studies. FAU offers enrollees multiple start dates and class schedules, including traditional semesters, eight-week terms, and three-week intersessions. The school's online programs require no campus visits.

FAU offers online programs that run asynchronously and synchronously. Students can also take hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus classes. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential. They must also submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA for admission.

Florida Atlantic University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

17 Marian University Fond du Lac, WI - $20,427 5 100% 13:1 57% no yes yes

Established in 1936, Marian University has become one of the country's best affordable online colleges. To better accommodate its distance learners, busy students, and working professionals, Marian introduced a variety of online programs and online learning options. Students can choose from among 13 online bachelor's programs, including in dental hygiene, radiologic technology, and respiratory therapy. Marian offers full degrees and degree completion options online.

Marian's online classes run asynchronously and require no campus visits. While the school offers traditional 15-week courses, most bachelor's programs run throughout accelerated seven-week sessions. Learners can start these programs during six possible start dates. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA or the GED equivalent. They must also submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants also need a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Marian University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

18 Ball State University Muncie, IN - $13,642 11 90% 16:1 63% no yes yes

Since 1918, Ball State University has continued to grow its programs and make its educational offerings more accessible. That mission helped lead the school to developing online courses and programs. Now one of the best affordable online colleges available, Ball State offers seven online bachelor's degrees, including in business administration, applied behavior analysis, and logistics and supply chain management.

Ball State online classes run asynchronously, typically in eight-week sessions in the fall and spring. The school also offers summer sessions that span either five weeks or 10 weeks. Online students can complete the degree in less than four years via full-time study. Part-time study options are also available. Applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential. They may submit SAT or ACT scores if they wish. Transfer applicants need a 2.0 GPA at minimum.

Ball State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

19 Gardner-Webb University Boiling Springs, NC - $19,197 9 100% 11:1 53% no yes yes

Gardner-Webb University was founded in 1905 and features more than 60 programs for its more than 4,000 students. The school is also one of the best affordable online colleges, with 14 online bachelor's degrees, including in computer information systems, Christian ministry, and entrepreneurship. Most of the online bachelor's options are degree-completion programs, which allow students to complete most or all of the major requirements online.

Online training at Gardner-Webb features multiple start dates. Courses typically run throughout eight-week or full-semester sessions. Online courses may run either synchronously or asynchronously. For admission, most applicants need a high school diploma or GED credential. They may also need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants may receive up to 64 transfer credits for a completed associate degree.

Gardner-Webb University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

20 Madonna University Livonia, MI - $16,415 11 99% 12:1 61% yes yes yes

Founded in 1937, Madonna University (MU) enrolls more than 3,000 students in more than 100 programs. For increased flexibility and accessibility, the school introduced nearly 10 online bachelor's degrees, including in gerontology, long-term care administration, and hospitality and tourism management. MU also offers certificates and minors for online learners. Online programs feature multiple start dates throughout the year.

One of the best affordable online colleges, MU offers online classes that run asynchronously and require no campus visits. Additionally, all online learners pay the same tuition rate regardless of where they live. For admission, applicants usually need a high school diploma with a minimum cumulative 2.8 GPA or the GED equivalent. They also must submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Madonna University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

21 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ - $15,594 27 92% 15:1 64% yes yes yes

Arizona's flagship university, University of Arizona enrolls more than 35,000 undergraduate students and features a variety of program and delivery options. The school is also one of the best affordable online colleges, offering more than 100 online degree programs, including more than 30 online bachelor's degrees. Online learners can take degrees in areas such as regional commerce, public health, and nutritional sciences.

Online classes at the University of Arizona run throughout 7.5-week sessions. Enrollees enjoy six annual start dates. Classes run asynchronously, though some classes may feature synchronous sessions. All online students pay the same tuition rate. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma and a 3.0 GPA minimum. Transfer applicants need an undergraduate 2.0 GPA and a minimum high school GPA of 2.5.

The University of Arizona is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

22 Concordia University-Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN - $18,591 22 99% 1:1 59% yes yes yes

Beginning as a Christian liberal arts institution in 1893, Concordia University, St. Paul (CSP) is now one of the best affordable online colleges. In addition to several on-campus and online certificates and graduate degrees, students can choose from 17 online bachelor's programs, such as exercise science, human resource management, and sport management. Many online courses offer seven-week sessions to allow learners to complete their degrees quicker.

CSP's online classes run asynchronously, although some classes may feature synchronous sessions or in-person clinical experiences. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA. They must also submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants may qualify for transfer credits for previous training. CSP's online students pay the same tuition rate no matter where they live.

Concordia University, St. Paul is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

23 Maryville University Saint Louis, MO - $26,540 17 100% 14:1 72% yes yes yes

Since 1872, Maryville University has been dedicated to innovation and better accommodating its students. To meet the needs of degree-seekers, the school established online programs and gradually became one of the nation's best affordable online colleges. Online learners enjoy access to more than 30 online bachelor's degrees, including programs such as data science, financial services, and digital media. Some programs offer additional concentration and specialization options.

Maryville's online courses run asynchronously and synchronously, with some classes combining these delivery methods. Classes typically run throughout eight-week sessions and feature multiple start dates each year. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.5 GPA or the GED equivalent. Transfer applicants need a 2.0 GPA minimum for admission and may receive up to 90 credits for previous training.

Maryville University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

24 DeSales University Center Valley, PA - $28,244 20 100% 14:1 71% no yes yes

Opened in 1965, DeSales University has expanded its programs and delivery options to serve more than 3,000 students. In 1991, the school developed its first distance learning program. Eventually, that division expanded to 14 online bachelor's degrees, which include financial planning, marketing, and theology. In addition to offering some of the best affordable online college degrees, DeSales offers various online certificates.

At DeSales, some online courses run in accelerated sessions that span six weeks or eight weeks. A regular session spans 15 weeks. The classes primarily run asynchronously, though some synchronous sessions may be possible. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential and must submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for admission or transfer credit.

DeSales University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

25 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA - $15,817 10 92% 16:1 73% yes yes yes

The state's oldest university, University of Iowa (UI) was founded in 1847 and enrolls more than 32,000 students. In addition to four physical campus locations, UI offers students access to one of the best affordable online colleges. Online students can choose from 617 online courses and 39 programs, including seven online bachelor's degrees, such as enterprise leadership, radiation sciences, and sport and recreation management.

Online classes typically run asynchronously, though some classes may feature synchronous sessions. Courses run throughout the fall, spring, and summer sessions. Enrollees may choose from among several start dates. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential. They may also need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants may receive credit for previous training.

The University of Iowa is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

26 Anderson University Anderson, SC - $21,641 14 100% 15:1 59% no yes yes

Beginning as a college for women in 1911, Anderson University (AU) enrolls more than 3,400 students in more than 100 program options. To meet the needs of contemporary students and distance learners, the school introduced online programs. Now one of the best affordable online colleges, AU offers nearly 20 online bachelor's degrees, including in criminal justice, elementary education, and healthcare management. Degree-seekers can choose from multiple program start dates.

AU's online programs run asynchronously, though some classes may run synchronously. Courses typically run throughout the entire fall, spring, and summer sessions. For admission, applicants need a high school diploma or GED credential. They must also submit SAT or GED scores. Transfer applicants may receive credit for previous undergraduate training.

Anderson University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

27 Saint Francis University Loretto, PA - $19,418 4 99% 13:1 62% yes yes yes

Since 1847, Saint Francis University has been committed to providing students with an intimate learning experience. As one of the best affordable online colleges, the school still manages that approach with small online classes and engagement opportunities. With nearly 10 online bachelor's degrees available, including in computer systems management, health studies, and behavioral science, online learners can pursue higher education without commuting to campus. Some degrees also offer concentration options.

The school's online classes run asynchronously, though some synchronous sessions may be required. Classes run throughout the fall, spring, and summer semesters. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential. They may also need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants may receive up to 98 credits via transfer. Online learners all pay the same tuition rate regardless of where they live.

Saint Francis University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

28 University of Mary Bismarck, ND - $17,216 12 98% 14:1 55% no yes yes

Beginning as a nursing school in 1959, University of Mary has since expanded its program offerings and delivery options. In addition to more than 100 traditional programs, the school is one of the best affordable online colleges. Online learners can take one of 12 online bachelor's degrees, such as in respiratory therapy, information technology management, or accounting. Online classes run in the fall, spring, and summer, and some programs offer start dates every five weeks.

The school's online students take mostly asynchronous classes, but some classes may feature synchronous sessions. Admission requirements vary, but most applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential, plus SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants usually need a minimum 2.0 GPA. All online students enjoy the same tuition rate no matter where they live.

The University of Mary is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

29 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL - $13,016 19 90% 30:1 73% yes yes yes

In 1996, more than 30 years after its founding, University of Central Florida (UCF) began offering online courses to accommodate distance learners and nontraditional students. The school now offers more than 90 online programs, including more than 20 online bachelor's degrees. Online learners can acquire degrees in areas such as legal studies, senior living management, and communication and conflict. UCF offers classes and start dates through the fall, spring, and summer.

One of the best affordable online colleges, UCF's online classes run asynchronously and synchronously. Online students enjoy lower tuition rates than on-campus learners. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.5 GPA or the GED equivalent, plus SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for admission, as well as transfer credits.

The University of Central Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

30 Point Park University Pittsburgh, PA - $21,713 13 100% 12:1 60% no yes yes

Founded in 1960, Point Park University enrolls 4,000 students annually. For nontraditional students, the school also offers a variety of online programs and certificates. At the undergraduate level, Point Park is one of best affordable online colleges, offering more than 10 online bachelor's degrees, including in public administration, communication technology, and public relations and advertising. Programs run year-round, and enrollees enjoy multiple start dates.

Point Park's online classes run asynchronously, although some may feature synchronous sessions. Classes usually run throughout eight-week sessions. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA. Transfer applicants may qualify for up to 90 credits for previous training. Online students pay the same tuition rate no matter where they live.

Point Park University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

31 Bay Path University Longmeadow, MA - $21,100 17 100% 12:1 59% yes yes yes

Since 1897, Bay Path University has committed to providing accessible and practical training. In addition to its physical campus locations, the school established an online college for women. One of the best affordable online colleges, the school offers more than 28 online undergraduate degrees, such as business analytics, child psychology, and community health. Some online programs may require attendance in on-campus sessions.

The school's online programs run asynchronously and allow learners to accelerate their degrees and finish in less than four years. Courses run throughout six-week sessions, and programs feature six annual start dates. Applicants typically need a high school diploma with a 2.0 GPA at minimum or the GED equivalent. Some may need to submit SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants can receive up to 90 transfer credits.

Bay Path University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

32 LeTourneau University Longview, TX - $23,386 19 100% 11:1 61% no yes yes

Founded in 1946, LeTourneau University (LETU) enrolls more than 1,000 students at its Longview, Texas, campus, two educational centers, and online learning platform. One of the best affordable online colleges, LETU has been dedicated to running flexible programs for nontraditional students since 1989. The school now offers more than 140 programs, including more than 15 online bachelor's programs in fields such as aviation management, theological studies, and cybersecurity.

Online classes may run in a variety of formats, but many courses run throughout an eight-week session. Classes run asynchronously and synchronously, and learners often join cohorts. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA or GED equivalent. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for admission and transfer credit.

LeTourneau University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

33 Thomas Jefferson University Philadelphia, PA - $27,846 10 99% 12:1 64% yes yes yes

Founded in 1824, Thomas Jefferson University began as a medical college, eventually growing its program offerings, student body, and delivery options. Now one of the best affordable online colleges, the school offers nearly 10 online bachelor's degrees, including in health services management, law enforcement leadership, and professional communications and emerging media. The school features a variety of start dates to best accommodate online learners. Many programs require a one-day, on-campus session.

The university's online classes run asynchronously throughout eight-week sessions. Online learners can take two classes each session, which allows them to complete their degree faster than a traditional program. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or a GED credential and may need SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for admission and transfer credits.

Thomas Jefferson University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

34 South Texas College McAllen, TX - $1,610 28 91% 23:1 22% no yes yes

South Texas College was founded in 1993 and enrolls more than 32,000 students in more than 120 programs. With 36 online programs available, including four online bachelor's degrees, the school is also one of the best affordable online colleges. Some of the undergraduate options include technology management, organizational leadership, and medical and health services management. The online courses at South Texas College run throughout six, seven-week sessions each year.

Most online courses run asynchronously, though some synchronous sessions may be possible. After completing 90 credits online, students then take the remaining 30 credits in a blended online and on-campus format. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential. Transfer applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA for admission and transfer credit.

South Texas College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).

35 University of Minnesota Crookston, MN - $12,135 18 95% 16:1 48% no yes yes

Established in 1966, University of Minnesota Crookston (UMC) is one of five campuses in the University of Minnesota system. The school also hosts one of the best affordable online colleges, with 15 online bachelor's degrees -- including in quality management, international business, and agricultural business. Online programs start in the fall, spring, and summer. Online classes run asynchronously and require no campus visits. Online students can access the same support resources as on-campus learners.

UMC's online classes typically run throughout the entire semester. Students can take a course load that suits their schedule. All online learners, no matter where they live, pay the same tuition rate. For admission, applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED credential, plus SAT or ACT scores. Transfer applicants may receive transfer credit for previous training.

The University of Minnesota Crookston is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

36 Regis University Denver, CO - $26,273 39 99% 14:1 69% yes no yes

Founded in 1877 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Regis University moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1887. One of the best affordable online colleges, the school comprises five colleges and four campuses and enrolls more than 10,000 online and on-campus students. Regis offers undergraduate and graduate online programs in several disciplines, including business, computer science, education, and nursing.

Regis follows a generous transfer credit policy. Online undergraduate students can transfer up to 90 semester credits hours with a grade of C or higher earned at another accredited school. Learners transferring fewer than 45 credit hours begin their Regis education with the Cornerstone program, which allows them to develop the foundational skills they need to succeed in their chosen career path.

Some online programs at Regis offer six start dates each year. Online students can explore the same financial aid opportunities as their on-campus counterparts.

Regis University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

37 Eastern Illinois University Charleston, IL - $10,751 70 94% 21:1 44% yes yes yes

Founded in 1895 and currently ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top regional universities in the Midwest (No. 40), Eastern Illinois University (EIU) enrolls more than 6,000 undergraduate students.

EIU's School of Extended Learning offers several undergraduate and master's degrees off campus, including online bachelor of arts degrees in general studies, communication in organizations, and psychology. The school offers online bachelor of science degrees in the fields of business administration, organizational development, and health communication. Students can also enroll in EIU's online RN-to-BSN program.

Online learners at EIU can take advantage of affordable in-state tuition rates. They benefit from not having to pay out-of-state tuition fees that are much higher than in-state tuition. EIU also offers several scholarship and grant programs specifically for adult online learners.

Eastern Illinois University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

38 Northern Kentucky University Highland Heights, KY - $9,753 13 99% 19:1 42% yes yes yes

Northern Kentucky University (NKU) began in 1968 as Northern Kentucky State College. The school achieved university status in 1976 and currently offers 90 undergraduate, 24 master's, and three doctoral programs. NKU serves nearly 15,000 students.

Online students can choose from more than 30 online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. As one of the best affordable online colleges, NKU offers online bachelor's programs in several areas, including business and leadership, criminal justice, organizational leadership, and psychological science. Some online programs follow a traditional 16-week format, while others follow an accelerated seven-week schedule.

NKU provides several support services for its online learners, including peer tutoring services, academic and career counseling, and library and IT assistance. Online degree-seekers can also take advantage of writing tutoring sessions from regular writing consultants through the university's online writing center.

Northern Kentucky University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

39 University of Nebraska at Omaha Omaha, NE - $12,105 16 87% 15:1 48% no yes yes

A public institution founded in 1908, University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) offers more than 200 undergraduate degrees and over 90 graduate programs. The school enrolls nearly 11,000 full-time undergraduate and graduate students. U.S. News & World Report includes UNO in its ranking for the top universities offering the best online bachelor's degrees in the country (No. 80).

UNO offers online programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Learners can pursue degrees in fields such as criminology and criminal justice, emergency management, library science, and sociology. UNO offers a top-ranked bachelor of multidisciplinary studies degree with 50 concentration areas, 12 of which students can complete entirely online.

UNO's online courses follow the same schedule as on-campus classes, meaning they are not self-paced. The university provides online learners with the same student services as their onsite counterparts, including career counseling, academic advising, and tutoring assistance.

University of Nebraska Omaha is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

40 Campbell University Buies Creek, NC - $22,458 21 100% 16:1 53% yes yes yes

Established in 1887 as the Buies Creek Academy in North Carolina with 16 students, Campbell University now enrolls close to 7,000 learners and includes eight academic colleges. U.S. News & World Report includes Campbell University in its ranking of the top universities with the nation's best online bachelor's programs (No. 133).

Degree-seekers can choose from 20 bachelor's and eight associate degrees and one certificate program that Campbell University offers completely online. Some degrees that students can earn without any campus visits include bachelor's degrees in accounting, criminology, information technology security, and special education. The school's online classes follow convenient eight-week formats.

Campbell University provides academic advisors to help online students transfer credits, schedule career counseling, and sign up for writing and tutoring services.

Campbell University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

41 Webster University Saint Louis, MO - $22,727 25 98% 12:1 59% no yes yes

Webster University began as a women's college in 1915, one of the first institutions west of the Mississippi River to accept women. Today, the school welcomes men and women from all over the United States and more than 100 countries and comprises five schools and colleges. A highly regarded institution, Webster University ranks among the best regional universities in the Midwest (No. 17).

As one of the best affordable accredited online colleges, Webster University offers more than 50 certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs online. Degree-seekers can choose from several fields of study, including healthcare, criminal justice and legal studies, marketing and communications, and education.

Webster offers a generous transfer credit policy. To determine which credits transfer, online students can find their class in a course equivalency database or follow community college transfer guides. Many of Webster's online undergraduate degrees are degree-completion programs.

Webster University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

42 Missouri State University Springfield, MO - $10,235 28 86% 21:1 54% yes yes yes

Missouri State University (MSU) began as the Fourth District Normal School in 1905 and was originally established to educate teachers for the public school system in the state's southwest region. MSU now offers degrees in several fields, including agriculture, health and human services, business, and natural and applied sciences.

MSU offers online degrees in 10 academic disciplines, including information technology, finance, criminology and criminal justice, and psychology. The university follows a straightforward transfer process, giving learners access to transfer advisors to help simplify the transition. Transfer students with fewer than 24 transferable credits must attend a 45-minute online orientation seminar available during the semester before their initial enrollment.

Online learners can access the same student services as on-campus enrollees, including virtual research help, one-on-one tutoring, career and academic counseling, and writing assistance.

Missouri State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

43 Ferris State University Big Rapids, MI - $13,351 24 97% 16:1 49% no yes yes

Ferris State University (FSU) began as the Big Rapids Industrial School in 1884. The school currently enrolls nearly 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students and offers more than 190 programs across eight colleges. U.S. News & World Report ranks FSU among the nation's top universities offering online bachelor's programs (No. 113 out of 353 schools).

FSU offers more than 30 online programs, including bachelor's degrees in business administration, health information management, respiratory therapy, and an RN-to-BSN program. Online degree-seekers can access the same services as on-campus enrollees, including online tutoring, a writing center, student financial services, and career and academic counseling. FSU provides a range of library services to online students. Learners can download electronic copies of textbooks and academic articles and receive assistance with research methods and best practices.

Ferris State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

44 Washington State University Pullman, WA - $17,297 26 90% 15:1 59% yes yes yes

Washington State University (WSU) was founded in 1890 as the Washington Agricultural College and School of Science with an initial enrollment of 13 students. Today, WSU is home to more than 26,000 undergraduate students from 48 states and 106 countries. The school offers over 90 undergraduate and more than 127 graduate and professional programs. U.S. News & World Report ranks WSU among the nation's top universities offering online bachelor's programs (No. 23 out of 353 schools).

In addition to offering online degrees in popular fields such as business, communication, and education, WSU also offers online programs in emerging fields such as environmental and ecosystem sciences and integrated strategic communication. Students can pursue many degrees without any campus visits. Online enrollees enjoy access to several student services such as academic and career counseling, financial assistance, and tutorial services.

Washington State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

45 University of Alaska Southeast Juneau, AK - $8,927 23 84% 10:1 36% no yes yes

The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) offers online bachelor's degrees in elementary education, social science, special education, business administration, and the liberal arts. UAS only accepts resident students to its bachelor of arts in elementary education and the bachelor of arts in special education online programs. Non-resident students enrolling in the other online programs must pay out-of-state tuition.

Many online classes at UAS feature both synchronous and asynchronous elements. UAS offers a generous transfer credit policy that can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes online students to complete their degree. The UASConnect platform allows online learners to connect through video study sessions and virtual social or academic groups.

UAS offers an online program for adult learners called Finish College Alaska. The program provides participants with incentives, advice, and support as they return to school.

University of Alaska Southeast is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

46 Fayetteville State University Fayetteville, NC - $5,685 10 94% 17:1 35% yes yes yes

Ranked by U.S. News and World Report among the nation's top regional universities, Fayetteville State University (FSU) began in 1867 as Howard School, a school for educating black children. FSU currently supports an undergraduate student population of over 5,400 and offers more than 60 programs across four colleges.

FSU offers online degree-completion programs open to students who have already completed the school's general education requirements and are academically prepared to take junior- and senior-level courses. Degree-seekers can choose from several fields of study such as criminology, professional studies, fire and emergency services administration, and nursing. FSU's online courses follow the regular semester schedule for on-campus classes.

Online students take advantage of the services offered by the school's Center for Personal Development, which includes personal, academic, and career counseling.

Fayetteville State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

47 Southern Nazarene University Bethany, OK - $18,170 10 99% 11:1 44% no yes yes

Founded in 1899, Southern Nazarene University (SNU) grew from a series of mergers of small colleges committed to providing Christian education within the region. SNU now comprises four academic colleges and enrolls just over 2,100 undergraduate and graduate students.

SNU offers online bachelor's degree-completion programs in business administration, criminal justice, family studies and gerontology, and organizational leadership. Designed specifically for adult learners, SNU's online programs run fully online. Learners can enroll in only one course at a time.

All of SNU's online programs give college credits for prior knowledge. Degree-seekers pursuing a business administration or criminal justice program can earn up to 30 college credits for qualifying prior learning experience. SNU assigns a student success advisor to all online enrollees to help them succeed academically and maximize their SNU experience.

Southern Nazarene University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

48 Arkansas State University Jonesboro, AR - $13,459 10 97% 18:1 48% no yes yes

Established as an agricultural school in 1909, Arkansas State University (A-State) now comprises 11 colleges and confers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. A-State enrolls more than 14,000 students and ranks among the country's top schools offering online undergraduate programs.

Students can pursue an online bachelor's degree in communication studies, disaster preparedness and emergency management, strategic communication, and political science. Many of A-State's online courses follow an asynchronous delivery format, giving students added flexibility and convenience.

A-State remains committed to maintaining a student-centered educational philosophy and assigns highly qualified and experienced teaching assistants to all online enrollees to help ensure their path to graduation. Online learners also enjoy access to the same student services as on-campus learners, including library and technical support and academic and career counseling.

Arkansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

49 Roger Williams University Bristol, RI - $37,138 16 100% 14:1 70% no yes yes

Chartered by the State of Rhode Island in 1956, Roger Williams University began as a two-year, degree-granting institution. When it achieved university status in 1992, the school adopted its current name. Roger Williams University now ranks among the top universities in the north (No. 28 out of 170 schools).

Roger Williams University offers a range of online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels through the University College (UC). Students can pursue a bachelor's degree in applied psychology, public administration, emergency medical services, and criminal justice. Online learning at UC often features asynchronous classes for increased flexibility and convenience and year-round academic support. UC courses follow a 10-week delivery schedule.

UC supports several prior learning assessment options, including transfer credits from an accredited college or university, military credit transfer, and standardized credit documentation.

Roger Williams University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

50 Mercy College Dobbs Ferry, NY - $13,972 17 97% 17:1 44% yes yes yes

Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1950 as a private religious school for women, Mercy College eventually became a nonsectarian coeducational institution and currently enrolls over 10,500 full-time and part-time undergraduate and graduate students. The college offers 40 online programs at the certificate, bachelor's, and master's levels.

Students can pursue an online degree in one of several major fields of study, including behavioral science, computer information systems, corporate and homeland security management, and business administration. Mercy College follows a liberal transfer credit policy. On-campus and online students can transfer up to 75 credits from a two-year school and up to 90 credits from a four-year college or university. Learners must have earned the credits from an accredited institution. Some programs allow students to transfer an additional six credits of upper-level coursework towards their degree.

Mercy College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

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How Online Colleges Work

While online and on-campus courses can be similar in terms of lectures and assignments, these programs also differ in several ways. Finding great online colleges can be difficult due to differences among institutions. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about online programs.

1. How Are Online Courses Delivered?

Online colleges use specialized software known as learning management systems (LMSs) to deliver course material. Beyond lecture content in video form, LMSs support images, slide shows, written text, charts and tables, and links that allow students to refer to relevant external websites. Instructors also use them to administer tests and track attendance if necessary. Some well-known LMS examples include Blackboard Learn, Coursera, D2L Brightspace, Instructure Canvas, and LoudCloud. Some LMSs have advanced hardware and software requirements, and students may need to upgrade their computer systems to achieve full compatibility.

In an online college course, students often participate in group chats or forums that replace traditional classroom discussions. Additional course requirements typically include familiar components like readings, lectures, and assignments. Instructors can deliver lectures in livestream or prerecorded form. Finally, some courses may require occasional or regular campus visits or other in-person elements, especially in fields that demand practical field training or licensure.

2. Are Online Courses Self-Paced?

Here how it usually breaks down:

Asynchronous or self-paced courses remove traditional time and attendance constraints, allowing students to engage with the material on their own schedules. For example, the instructor may deliver a prerecorded lecture that students must watch before completing a related assignment and moving on to the next component.

Synchronous courses feature elements like livestream lectures. Students must attend in real time, just as they would in a traditional class.

3. Do Online Courses Include Any In-Person Requirements?

As a general rule, schools try to offer 100% online learning whenever possible, but in some fields, in-person attendance is mandatory. Fields like nursing and education require students to develop specific hands-on skills to meet licensure requirements, so these programs tend to have inflexible in-person requirements that complement online learning.

4. How Are Online Course Exams Administered?

Online college courses frequently feature required examinations, just like traditional classes. To ensure that students adhere to fairness policies, some schools use in-person testing facilities supervised by proctors to administer exams to students in online courses. Others deliver their exams online using measures like online ID authentication, secure browsers that shut down all other applications, automated proctoring, screen capture tools, and webcam monitoring to prevent cheating.

5. How Long Does It Take To Earn a Degree Online?

Students attending college online can complete their degrees in the same amount of time as those attending on campus. However, motivated learners in asynchronous courses that do not use a cohort model can move through the material more quickly, which opens up faster completion timelines. Many of the best online colleges also maintain generous transfer credit policies that enable students to earn advanced standing and accelerate program completion.

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Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is one of the most important considerations for online students evaluating a college or university. The term refers to a voluntary evaluation process that schools undergo in order to demonstrate quality academics and positive student outcomes. Third-party organizations known as accrediting agencies carry out this comprehensive assessment.

Without accreditation, employers and other schools will not recognize your credentials, and the education you receive will not meet quality standards. You should only consider online colleges that hold one or more of the three recognized accreditation types: national, regional, and programmatic.

National accreditation usually applies to for-profit schools and institutions focused on vocational and practical training. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission specifically endorses online colleges.

Nonprofit schools, state-run public colleges, and schools focused on traditional academics usually hold regional accreditation. Programmatic accreditation extends only to specific degree or diploma paths offered at a given school. For example, a university's master of business administration program might hold accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, even though the institution itself only has a national or regional endorsement.

Two organizations oversee the accreditation process and officially recognize accrediting agencies: the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a nongovernmental organization. Both the ED website and CHEA website maintain exhaustive lists of all recognized regional, national, and programmatic accrediting agencies. These organizations also list the accreditation status of each participating school, including the best regionally accredited online colleges and universities. Students comparing colleges and universities should check both lists to ensure that a recognized agency has evaluated the school they select.

How to Choose an Online College

In addition to checking accreditation status, prospective online students should research other aspects of the colleges and universities they are interested in attending. These include the following factors.

Tuition

The cost of attending college typically depends on the type of school you attend and your state of residence. According to College Board, private nonprofit institutions carry the highest price tag with an average of $36,880 for the 2020 academic year. Tuition prices are also relatively high for out-of-state students attending four-year public universities.

Tuition prices are lower for in-state students attending four-year public schools. However, students attending community colleges and other two-year institutions pay the lowest annual tuition.

It's important to note that tuition prices for online students do not always match those of their on-campus counterparts. Many colleges and universities offer a flat tuition rate for online students regardless of their state of residence. These rates vary by school but generally fall between the rates for in- and out-of-state learners.

Flexibility

Some online students prefer a self-paced schedule and the possibility of early graduation, while others value a structured program and taking multiple courses with the same group of students. You should choose programs based on your own learning style.

You can also choose between a fully online or hybrid format. Hybrid learning requires students to participate in on-site training, group work, and other activities that take them away from their computer. This fosters social interaction but may not be ideal for students with busy schedules. Fully online programs do not offer the same level of personal interaction but are more suitable for students with full-time jobs, childcare duties, and other time commitments.

Financial Aid

For most students, the cost of tuition at the best online schools represents a significant financial investment. As a result, many rely on financial aid in the form of student loans, scholarships, and grants. For more information, please see the "How to Pay for College" section at the bottom of this page and check out Online Colleges that Accept FAFSA.

Online Degrees Available

As you research different schools, check to make sure the degree you want is available online in the format you prefer. Colleges and universities based online tend to offer a broader program selection than brick-and-mortar schools that have distance learning options.

Career Support

The best online colleges offer career support services that are on par with their brick-and-mortar counterparts. However, these resources vary from school to school. According to U.S. News & World Report, students should look for online institutions that offer one-on-one career counseling, virtual networking, access to online career fairs, and opportunities to meet and network with other students. Some schools also provide students with access to webinars and livestreamed lectures related to their career path.

Transferable Credits

Many students enter online programs with previous college credits. However, there are some limits on transferring these credits. Schools sometimes place a maximum on transfer credits; this is often 90 credits for undergraduates. Older credits may not be accepted after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Credits from regionally accredited schools are more likely to be accepted than those from nationally accredited schools.

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Paying for Online College

Lastly, let's look at key financial considerations for online students. When calculating the expected costs of online college attendance, here are a few factors to consider.

Housing and Food

On-campus housing is typically much more expensive than a rented apartment or a living space shared with roommates off campus. However, monthly rent payments, utility bills, food, and other weekly expenses can also add up -- especially in areas where the cost of living is higher. Additionally, online students need access to a strong WiFi connection. Be sure to perform a comprehensive calculation of expected costs for living on and off campus in order to determine which option is cheaper.

Transportation

A notable upside of online learning is the absence of a regular commute to and from campus. On-campus students often pay for campus parking spaces or public transportation. Online students in programs with on-site requirements may need to pay for or arrange transportation on occasion.

Course Materials

Purchasing books and other materials for online courses can sometimes be cheaper than buying materials for on-campus classes. Some online courses require students to rent electronic textbooks and/or offer free digital resources.

Technology Fees

Unlike on-campus students, online learners usually need to pay per-course technology fees. These costs may range from less than $50 per course to more than $100. These fees are typically listed with the school's tuition rates.

Make sure to compare the cost of tuition to the net price of attendance. Tuition is the listed rate found on the school's website. Net price refers to the amount students pay after loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid are applied.

Students can reduce their net price by applying for as much financial aid as possible. Loans are the most common source of financial aid for U.S. students. In order to qualify for federal loans, students must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). On this form, students must list their family's annual income and their own along with tax information and other financial details. The U.S. Department of Education uses data from the FAFSA to determine each applicant's total loan amount.

Students are urged to seek federal loans over private loans for several reasons. For one, federal loans are offered at a fixed interest rate while private loans come with a variable rate that is often higher. Loan repayments for federal aid are not required until the student leaves school or graduates. For private loans, students often need to begin paying back the money while they are still in school. Other benefits of federal loans include the possibilities of loan consolidation and loan forgiveness.

Students may also apply for scholarships and grants for extra financial aid. Unlike loans, scholarships and grants never need to be paid back -- and some cover a year's worth of tuition or more. Scholarships and grants are available through sources including private businesses, nonprofit organizations, community foundations, and religious institutions. Additionally, most colleges and universities offer scholarships and grants to students who attend or are planning to attend school there.

Additional Resources

The Most Affordable Online Colleges

Best Online Colleges with High ROI

Best Online Christian Colleges

Most Popular Rankings by Degree, State, and More

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