| ACO rankings team with contributions from Genevieve Carlton
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Most Affordable Online Schools
Affordable online college degrees are helping learners advance their careers and increase earning potential. Choosing a cheaper online college can help students earn their degrees without going into debt.
Careers that require a bachelor’s degree typically pay more than occupations that require only a high school diploma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s degree-holders earn $26,000 more per year, on average, than professionals with only a high school diploma. Additionally, the unemployment rate for individuals with a high school diploma was 3.7% in 2019, compared to 2.2% for bachelor’s degree-holders, according to the BLS.
Earning a bachelor’s degree can lead to career possibilities in a variety of industries. Entry-level positions in education, healthcare, business, and technology all require a bachelor’s degree.
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The following list ranks the most affordable colleges to help students find the best online college for their budget and career goals. This article also introduces the requirements for earning a college degree and explores scholarship opportunities for undergraduate students.
Questions About Inexpensive Programs & Courses
Q. How can I go to college for free?
Students can reduce the cost of their education by choosing one of the most affordable programs. Learners can also apply for grants and scholarships, many of which cover the full cost of tuition.
Q. How much does it cost to get a college degree?
The cost of earning a college degree varies by school. For the 2017-18 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees was about $18,000 at public institutions and about $46,000 at private schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Q. How can I make college more affordable?
Degree-seekers can reduce the cost of attending college by living off campus, applying for scholarships and grants, and choosing one of the most affordable universities.
Q. What is a work-study program?
Work-study programs help students pay for school by providing funding in exchange for part-time employment. Students can qualify for the federal work-study program by submitting the FAFSA form.
Benefits of Earning a College Degree?
Students earning a college degree develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Undergraduate learners specialize their education by choosing a major. According to NCES data, the most popular majors include options in business, health professions, the social sciences, psychology, biology, engineering, and communication. Other common undergraduate majors include topics in the arts, education, social work, and criminal justice.
A bachelor’s degree meets the entry-level educational requirement for many high-paying careers, including occupations in management, accounting, marketing, and teaching. Earning a college degree can help professionals advance their current career or pursue opportunities in a new field.
Why Get a College Degree?
Earning a college degree can lead to additional job opportunities and higher earning potential. Many of the top-ranked and most affordable colleges offer online programs, which make postsecondary education more accessible for working students. See below for some common reasons that working professionals pursue distance-learning programs.
Increased Earning Potential
Professionals with a college degree typically earn more than those with a high school diploma. According to BLS data, higher levels of education correlate with higher median salaries.
More Career Opportunities
Many entry-level positions in business, education, and healthcare require a bachelor’s degree. Earning a college degree can lead to new career prospects.
Online programs typically offer more scheduling flexibility than on-campus programs. Asynchronous online course formats allow students to complete assignments at their convenience, which can help learners balance coursework with personal and professional responsibilities.
Online students can attend a top-ranked program without relocating or leaving their current job. Because geography does not limit distance learners, they can choose from the nation’s most affordable programs.
What Are the Requirements for a College Degree?
Prospective students considering affordable programs should ensure they meet admission requirements before applying. Depending on the school, applicants may need to submit proof of a high school diploma or the equivalent, high school transcripts, and standardized test scores. Transfer students must typically submit official college transcripts. Some schools also require recommendation letters, a resume, and a statement of purpose.
Admitted undergraduate students complete general education requirements, take courses in their major, and choose a minor or electives. Degree-seekers may also complete an internship, capstone project, or thesis.
College students can reduce the cost of earning a degree by applying for scholarships. Some scholarships cover the full cost of tuition at affordable universities. Professional associations, private foundations, and institutions award scholarships to undergraduate students. Learners can research awards based on their field, background, and state. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree can apply for the scholarships below.
Unigo $10K Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Unigo awards a $10,000 scholarship to U.S. students. Applicants must submit an essay about the favorite mobile app of a historical figure if they lived today. Applicants must be enrolled in or plan to enroll in an accredited college or university.
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports college students who submit a 250-word essay describing why education matters. Applicants must hold legal U.S. residency. Their essay should detail a theoretical response to someone who calls college a waste of time.
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports distance learners at accredited institutions. Candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit an essay describing what an online degree means to them personally. The scholarship committee considers each applicant’s merit and financial need.
Who Can Apply: The Horatio Alger Association offers multiple scholarships for undergraduate and vocational students. Applicants must demonstrate critical financial need. The association also considers each candidate’s academic achievement and leadership potential.
Who Can Apply: Study.com awards merit-based scholarships to online learners at the associate and bachelor’s levels. Applicants must be a U.S citizen or permanent resident attending an accredited school. The committee considers each candidate’s academic achievements and extracurricular activities.
At the University of Florida in Gainesville, students can choose from over 200 online programs at the certificate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Applicants must meet the university's general admission criteria in addition to each program's specific requirements.
UF currently offers 24 undergraduate degrees online in various fields of study, including digital arts and sciences, environmental management, health education, and sport management. Many programs offer multiple start dates, flexible course schedules, and full-time or part-time enrollment options.
Just like on-campus students, online enrollees can access the university's financial aid programs by submitting the FAFSA. Additionally, they can take advantage of various student services, including UF-exclusive virtual career fairs and job boards. UF graduates join an extensive alumni network that connects them to professional opportunities across the country and throughout the world.
Cal State L.A. enrolls 26,000 students annually. The school leverages the reach and resources of the College of Professional and Global Education to offer affordable programs online. The university offers online bachelor of arts programs in communication; psychology; business administration; and hospitality, wellness, and leisure services.
Cal State L.A. also offers an online accelerated bachelor of science in nursing for graduates with a non-nursing degree from an accredited institution. The 53-credit program prepares graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN.
Postgraduate students can explore online programs in business, public health, and social work. The 16-month fully employed master of business administration follows a hybrid format and is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Students attend Saturday classes and complete remaining course requirements online during the week.
The online master of social work accepts applications from bachelor of social work degree-holders and starts during the summer term. Students begin the program with advanced standing and can graduate within one year.
At Indiana University Bloomington, students can select from over 150 online programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The university offers online degrees in diverse fields of study, including computing and technology, labor studies, parks and recreation, and public health. IU serves approximately 6,000 online learners each year.
Like many of the most affordable colleges, students can complete several of IU's online programs without any campus visits. Some of the university's online programs include an internship or practicum component. Enrollees can complete these requirements in their home communities with their program director's approval.
Online enrollees can access several student services, including academic advising, math and writing support, internship opportunities, and career services.
Palm Beach State College offers several online bachelor's programs for students with an associate degree or at least 60 transferable undergraduate credits. Applicants who meet this requirement typically earn their bachelor's degree within 18-24 months, depending on their program and enrollment status.
PBSC offers an online bachelor of applied science (BAS) in supervision and management with four degree pathways. Students can pursue a general program in management or specialize in one of three areas: entrepreneurship, health management, or project management. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
Students looking for a challenging IT program can explore PBSC's information management offering. The online BAS degree offers specializations in database administration, project management, and security and network assurance.
The college may require online learners to take proctored exams at a campus testing center or approved testing site within their geographical region. PBSC does not offer online courses to out-of-state students.
St. Petersburg College in Clearwater, Florida, offers more than 50 online programs at the certificate, associate, and bachelor's levels. Students can explore online programs in several fields of study, including health sciences and veterinary technology, business, science and mathematics, and education. SPC caters to the educational needs of different types of enrollees by offering live synchronous classes, asynchronous courses, and self-paced programs.
Students interested in a business program can pursue a two-year associate or four-year bachelor's in business administration online. The school also offers online certificate programs in business operations, business development and entrepreneurship, and business management. SPC's business programs do not require any campus visits and run entirely online.
Online learners can access many of the services available to on-campus students, including library and information resources, free live/remote tutoring sessions, and video tutorials on many academic subjects.
Eastern Florida State College offers affordable programs online in fields such as nursing, accounting technology, office management, and business administration. Students can complete several certificate, associate, and bachelor's programs entirely online. EFSC participates in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, so it only offers online courses to students residing in participating states.
The online bachelor of applied science (BAS) in organizational management offers eight specializations, including healthcare management, sales and marketing, human resources, and accounting. The school also offers online BAS programs in computer information systems technology and applied health sciences. Associate-trained registered nurses (RNs) can apply to the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program, an RN-to-BSN program that runs exclusively online.
Once accepted to the college, online enrollees gain access to tutoring services, course advising, and technical assistance.
The Extended Campus at the University of Texas at Austin offers many online programs, including continuing education courses, master's degrees, and professional development classes. The online professional education programs help companies and individuals improve their overall performance and meet their professional objectives. The programs cover several areas, including health informatics and IT, legal education, social work, and public affairs.
UT offers online master of science (MS) degrees in electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and engineering management. Information security specialists can explore the 30-credit online MS in information security and privacy, which most students can complete in 21 months.
A program designed specifically for entrepreneurial students, the one-year MS in technology commercialization teaches enrollees how to launch a new business. Students can choose to attend classes online, in person, or a combination of both.
Arkansas Tech University offers several affordable programs online in fields such as health informatics, emergency management and administration, and educational leadership. Students can explore online degree options at the certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's, and specialist levels. ATU waives out-of-state tuition for online undergraduate students living in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.
The online bachelor of professional studies offers concentrations in eight areas, including workforce technology, criminal justice, child development, and agricultural business. Students can transfer up to 12 credits toward the degree from prior learning experience.
Educators can explore several online options, including a graduate certificate in dyslexia therapy (K-12), a master's in student affairs administration, and an education specialist degree in educational leadership. ATU also offers a 21-credit online special education program that leads to licensure in Arkansas.
Students interested in earning a master of business administration online can pursue a general program at ATU or a concentration in business data analytics or digital marketing.
The online programs at the University of Connecticut encompass several academic arenas, including energy and environmental management, public policy, digital media and design, and science and engineering.
Online enrollees can access many of the student resources available to on-campus learners, including tutoring services, program and career advising, and assistance with academic writing and graduate-level research. They can also participate in virtual and onsite job fairs hosted by the university several times each year.
UConn offers many of its online courses asynchronously, giving students sufficient flexibility and convenience to earn their degree while working full time. Online students can access multiple levels of technical support services, including live assistance and video tutorials.
As part of the University System of Georgia, Dalton State College offers most of its general education courses entirely online. General education coursework typically makes up the first two years of college and includes core subjects such as mathematics, composition, and U.S. history.
Dalton State offers online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and organizational leadership. Both programs allow learners to earn credits toward the degree through prior learning assessment. The organizational leadership program offers specializations in healthcare administration, public service, and office administration and technology. The major comprises 42 credits.
The online criminal justice major comprises 60 credits, 21 of which must come from required upper-division coursework in areas like criminal law, corrections, and criminal procedures. The program also offers specializations in juvenile delinquency and justice, criminal investigations, and drugs in America.
Colorado State University in Fort Collins offers several online programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Students can explore academic opportunities in fields such as environmental and natural resource economics, agricultural sciences, and human development and family studies.
Developed as degree-completion programs, many of CSU's online undergraduate offerings require the transfer of at least 60 college-level credits or an associate degree from an accredited school. Students can explore online bachelor's programs in areas like economics, horticulture, and agricultural business. CSU also offers an online master of applied statistics and an online master of business administration accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Online learners can access many of the student support resources available to on-campus enrollees, including program and career advice, technical support, tutorial videos, and tutoring. Regardless of where they live, all online enrollees pay in-state tuition rates.
The Outreach College at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa works in tandem with the eight academic colleges that make up the university to offer several affordable programs online. Students can explore online undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields such as education, nursing, social work, and economics.
The college offers asynchronous and synchronous classes. Many of the programs follow a cohort model of education. The college offers five-week and 16-week programs, giving students added flexibility and convenience in pursuing their degree. Online enrollees can access services and resources such as recorded technical tutorials and live help, tutoring services, program and career advising, and job search assistance.
South Florida State College offers many required courses for its bachelor's and associate degrees online. The college offers a fully online bachelor of science in nursing for associate-trained registered nurses with an unencumbered Florida nursing license. The program prepares graduates for advanced nursing practice roles and meets the education requirements for many postgraduate nursing degrees.
South Florida State College also offers a completely online associate of arts degree. Program completion guarantees acceptance to any accredited four-year college or university in Florida. However, the degree cannot guarantee acceptance to a student's program of choice at the four-year institution.
The college charges the same tuition for online and on-campus courses. Online learners can access many of the student support resources available to onsite enrollees, including tutoring services, career counseling, and course and program advising.
Youngstown State University offers online degrees in diverse fields of study, including engineering, education, business administration, and financial economics. The school offers online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, nursing, allied health, and respiratory care. Designed as degree-completion programs, these online offerings require applicants to possess at least 60 transferable college-level credits or an associate degree from an accredited school.
The university's online master of business administration (MBA) offers specializations in leadership, digital marketing, and healthcare management. Students can also pursue a general MBA program. The school also offers a master of science in education degree with concentrations in curriculum and instruction and educational administration. Curriculum and instruction students can further specialize in literacy, digital teaching and learning, mathematics, or STEM education.
The School of Business and Public Management at the College of Coastal Georgia offers online bachelor's programs in workforce management and leadership, business administration, and public management. Developed as degree-completion programs, the programs require at least 60 transferable credits from an accredited institution or an associate degree in a relevant field.
Students can also pursue a bachelor of applied science in workforce management exclusively online. The program offers a concentration in the technical and industrial field. The school also offers an online bachelor's in business administration.
The College of Coastal Georgia offers all required general education courses for the first two years of college online. Satisfactory completion of these courses typically qualifies students for junior standing at four-year institutions or immediate employment, depending on the program.
Seminole State College of Florida offers more than 40 online programs. Students can explore online bachelor of science degrees in five areas of study: business and information management, construction, engineering technology, health sciences, and information systems technology. The business and information technology program offers concentrations in entrepreneurship, supply chain management, and interdisciplinary studies.
Seminole State's online associate of science degrees cover nine academic fields of study, including administrative office management, computer programming and analysis, health information technology, and social media and marketing.
Online enrollees can access the same student support services as on-campus learners, including interactive tutorials, financial aid, library resources, and career and job counseling. Many of the required courses for Seminole State's online programs follow asynchronous delivery formats, adding to their flexibility and convenience.
The University of Alaska Anchorage offers online programs at the certificate, bachelor's, and master's levels. Students can explore degrees in fields such as education, nursing, pharmacy technology, and public health. Many of UA's online offerings do not require any campus visits. Students enrolled in programs with internship or practicum components can typically complete these requirements in their home communities.
The school also offers an online master of social work with a generalist and an advanced-standing curriculum. The program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Online students gain access to tutoring services, course and program advising, career counseling, and job search assistance.
Northwestern Oklahoma State University offers business and nursing online programs through the School of Professional Studies. Business students can choose from a bachelor's degree in business administration or accounting. The school also offers a bachelor of applied arts and sciences in technical management. NWOSU's online business degrees do not require any campus visits.
The university offers online nursing programs at the bachelor's and doctoral levels. Students can complete the required coursework for each degree entirely online, and they can complete the clinical requirements in their home communities. NWOSU maintains a tuition waiver program for out-of-state online enrollees. Students must apply for this waiver to be considered for in-state tuition rates.
Students can explore a variety of online programs at Western Illinois University. The school offers online bachelor's degrees in areas like business, anthropology, human resource management, and nursing. The bachelor of business in accounting offers concentrations in taxation and management. The school also offers a bachelor's in geographic information science with concentrations in geo-environment and planning and geospatial science.
At the postgraduate level, WIU offers online master's degrees in business, education, music, and public safety administration. The master of science in education offers concentrations in curriculum and instruction, educational studies, reading, and special education.
WIU offers integrated online bachelor's and master's programs that allow enrollees to earn two degrees in a shorter period of time than it would take to earn each degree separately. Students can pursue online integrated programs in fields like law enforcement and justice administration, economics, and supply chain management.
Students can pursue a variety of affordable programs online at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. At the undergraduate level, SWOSU offers online bachelor of science degrees in nursing and health information management. The university also offers master of science degrees in these two professional arenas.
The online master of education (M.Ed.) offers specializations in special education (mild to moderate), reading, and instructional coaching. The M.Ed. comprises 33-36 credits, depending on the specialization.
SWOSU's business programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education. The university's 33-credit online master of business administration offers courses in areas such as accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing, and finance.
Trine University offers several affordable programs online at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. Students pursuing an associate or bachelor's degree can transfer up to 15 or 30 credits, respectively, from prior learning assessment.
Trine University offers online programs in business administration, criminal justice and psychology, education, engineering and technology, healthcare, and leadership. Students can pursue a combined bachelor's and master's program online to earn both degrees in five years rather than the typical six years it would take to complete each degree separately.
Online enrollees enjoy access to academic tutors, financial aid options, comprehensive library and IT services, and career counseling. Classes follow eight-week delivery schedules, and many occur asynchronously. More than 45 online courses currently come with free textbooks.
The online undergraduate programs at John Brown University include bachelor's degrees in liberal arts, business, and psychology. JBU considers relevant coursework and out-of-classroom learning experiences for credit toward its degrees.
Students interested in pursuing the school's online master of education can specialize in special education or school counseling. The university's online master of science in counseling prepares graduates for the licensure exam and to work as licensed professional counselors in Arkansas.
The university offers a Graduate School Pathways program that allows undergraduates to earn graduate credits while completing their bachelor's degree. Graduate School Pathways programs cover the following academic areas: business, counseling, cybersecurity, education, and teaching.
Many of the online programs at American University lead to a master of science or master of arts degree. The university does not offer any online undergraduate programs. AU's Kogod School of Business, accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, offers an online master of business administration in addition to master of science degrees in international relations and business and marketing analytics.
AU also offers online graduate certificates in healthcare management, project monitoring and evaluation, human resource analytics and management, and sports analytics and management. These programs typically take 6-8 months to complete.
Online enrollees can participate in on-campus or virtual recruiting events. They can also access services such as program and course advising, career counseling, and job search assistance. Additionally, online students can apply for merit scholarships worth up to $10,000 earmarked by the university specifically for qualified online learners.
Gallaudet University offers online programs at the bachelor's and master's levels. Postgraduate students can explore master of arts programs in clinical mental health counseling, advanced studies in deaf education, school counseling, and sign language education.
The master's in advanced studies in deaf education welcomes applications from licensed teachers of deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Online enrollees follow an existing plan of study and choose from two specializations: American Sign Language and English bilingual early childhood education or educating students with disabilities.
The university also offers an online degree-completion program that leads to a bachelor of arts. Applicants must show completion of at least 80 college-level credits earned at an accredited institution. The program offers majors in deaf studies and psychology.
Gallaudet University participates in the Online Consortium of Independent Colleges and Universities, which allows Gallaudet students to enroll in consortium courses for credit toward their degree at the university.
Illinois Institute of Technology offers several online programs. The school offers master's in engineering programs in areas such as biomedical, electrical, chemical, and mechanical and aerospace engineering.
The Stuart School of Business offers an accelerated online master of business administration (MBA) that combines asynchronous learning with weekly synchronous video conferencing. Students enroll in one course at a time. Most part-time learners graduate from the program in two years. Online accelerated MBA enrollees can apply for the Chicago Innovation Scholarships, which offer up to $14,000.
Illinois Tech also offers online graduate certificates in diverse fields such as chromatography, communication systems, hazardous waste engineering, and food safety and industrial management. Most post-bachelor's certificates require no more than 13 credits to complete.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.
August 18, 2021 | ACO rankings team with contributions from Doug Wintemute
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