The Most Affordable Colleges in 2020

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An online degree helps students advance their education and increase their earning potential through a flexible learning format. At online colleges, undergraduates pursue majors like business, nursing, and the liberal arts without attending courses on campus. Thanks to the accessibility and convenience of online programs, students can choose the most affordable online college degrees without sacrificing quality.

While the cost of an online degree varies by program, many online colleges offer affordable tuition rates. In addition, online students save on housing costs while eliminating commuting and parking costs of attending in-person courses. The flexible schedule of an online degree also appeals to working professionals balancing personal and professional responsibilities.

This ranking lists the most affordable online colleges to help prospective students find a school that fits their budget and their schedule. This page also provides information about common online degrees, the price of higher education, and scholarship opportunities for online students.

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Top 10 Most Affordable Online Colleges

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Affordable Online Colleges Overview

Students looking for the most affordable online college degrees can earn a degree in business, liberal arts, nursing, or another in-demand field through a fully online format. An online college degree provides the possibility of lower tuition fees, the ability to attend classes from home, and a flexible schedule.

During an online college degree, students access coursework through a learning management system such as Canvas or Blackboard. Depending on the program, learners may watch recorded or streamed lectures, engage with other students on discussion boards, or complete group projects virtually. Schools may offer coursework synchronously or asynchronously, with many designing their curricula around the needs of working students.

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Many online colleges offer transfer-ready degrees for students planning to earn a bachelor’s degree. In these programs, online learners complete courses that meet general education requirements for many bachelor’s programs. This route helps students pursuing a bachelor’s degree save on tuition costs, since two-year colleges charge much lower rates than four-year institutions.

Some online programs also incorporate internship or practicum requirements, which students can complete in their local area. For example, an online nursing program combines coursework in a distance-learning format with onsite clinical hours at an approved location near the student. More technical programs may also include practicum or apprenticeship requirements to build career-ready skills.

Affordable online colleges support students by offering online resources. Many schools help students complete the admissions process with admission advisors. Admitted students can work with an academic advisor to select courses. Writing centers and online tutoring help students master core skills. Students may also use career centers to transition into the workforce.

 
 

Why Get an Online Degree?

Choosing an online degree provides many professional and personal benefits, including the following.

Affordability
Many students find online programs more affordable than on-campus programs. The cheapest online colleges save students money on tuition, housing, transportation, and other expenses.
Convenience
By selecting an online program, students can balance school with professional or personal responsibilities.
Flexibility
An online format prioritizes flexibility, allowing students to pursue a college degree around their schedules. Programs that deliver coursework asynchronously let students complete coursework at any time.
Online Resources
Online colleges support students through resources like academic advising, online tutoring, writing centers, and career services.
Accessibility
By choosing an online format, students can attend the cheapest online college, even if it is not in their local area.

Cost and Quality: A Closer Look at the Price of Higher Education

The price of higher education continues to rise. Students benefit from many cost-saving options, including schools that offer affordable tuition and online programs. Choosing an online program means students do not pay room-and-board fees or commuting costs.

What to Expect from Tuition and Fees

The cost of an online college degree varies depending on the school and degree level. According to the College Board, a public two-year college charged $3,730 in tuition and fees for 2019-2020, while public four-year schools charged $10,440 for in-state students and $26,820 for out-of-state students. Private four-year schools charged the highest tuition rates, at $36,880 per year.

Tuition and fees at online colleges follow a similar pattern. At public colleges, an online bachelor’s degree cost $316 per credit in 2019-2020, while private online bachelor’s programs charged $488 per credit, according to data from U.S. News and World Report.

In addition to tuition, online learners must also factor in distance-learning fees, technology costs, and graduation fees. However, online students save on housing and transportation costs.

Common Online College Degrees


  • Business

    A degree in business administration, management, or organizational leadership prepares graduates for careers in business or for a bachelor’s program. During the degree, learners gain foundational knowledge in areas like marketing, finance, accounting, and management.


  • Nursing

    Nursing is one of the most popular online college degrees. During a nursing degree, learners study human anatomy, evidence-based care, and patient health outcomes. Online nursing students complete coursework in an online learning environment while meeting the program’s clinical requirements at a local site.


  • Liberal Arts

    Students who choose a liberal arts major study the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Within the liberal arts, colleges may offer concentrations like English, history, political science, and sociology. Many students choose a liberal arts major to fulfill general education requirements for a bachelor’s program.


  • General Studies

    A general studies major lets students design an interdisciplinary course of study that can include arts and science courses. Many schools work with students to design a custom curriculum based on their interests and prior experience.


  • Criminal Justice

    A criminal justice degree introduces students to criminology, corrections, forensics, and the legal system. Courses in criminal justice methods, victimology, law enforcement, and homeland security prepare graduates for careers in the criminal justice system. Graduates can also transfer into a bachelor’s program.


Accreditation for an Online College

Prospective students researching cheap online colleges should always check a school’s accreditation status before applying. Accredited schools must meet high standards for academic excellence, which benefits students in several ways. An accredited degree meets the requirements for more professional licenses and certifications, and credits earned at an accredited school are more likely to transfer.

Colleges and universities earn accreditation by undergoing a rigorous review process. Independent accrediting agencies measure the school’s student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements to determine whether the school should hold accreditation.

At the institutional level, regional accrediting agencies focus on liberal arts and research institutions, while national accrediting agencies review vocational, technical, and religious schools.

In addition to institutional accreditation, students in certain fields should also look for programmatic accreditation. In nursing, for example, students must attend an accredited program to earn their registered nursing license. The Department of Education provides a database of accredited schools and programs.

FAQ


  • Is it cheaper to do college online?


    Cheap online colleges can save students thousands on their degree. The most affordable online colleges save students on tuition, transportation, and housing costs.

  • What kind of degree can I get online?


    Students can earn online degrees in business, education, nursing, and other in-demand fields. Online learners can also transfer into a bachelor’s program to continue their education.

  • How much is the average cost of online college?


    While the cost of online college varies depending on the school, the cheapest online college tuition costs under $100 per credit.

  • Is there a free online college?


    Many of the cheapest online colleges offer low tuition costs and discounts for online learners. In addition, scholarships and grants can cover the cost of an online degree.

The Most Affordable Online Colleges for 2020

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