Affordable Online Colleges Methodology

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AC Online Methodology: Most Affordable Online Colleges

Finding the most affordable colleges with online programs may be harder than you think. Some institutions provide very limited online educational options, or their tuition and fees can open the proverbial floodgates on your college fund. To help future students and parents connect with U.S. colleges and universities offering low-cost, high-quality distance learning options, we’ve sifted through some of the most current and comprehensive data sources available today, including:

– Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
– The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
–’s 2013 College Earnings Report
– The Carnegie Foundation

For years, distance learning has been viewed as an alternative to traditional college. Yet recently, many non-profit degree-granting institutions have made online education a major part of their curriculum, making some or all of their coursework available to remote students. The colleges on our list have emerged as leaders in affordable distance learning.

Data Integrity

When education- and career-related data come into play, integrity is everything. uses only the most reputable sources, ensuring that students and family members have the information they need to make important college and career decisions. Our primary sources and partners include the following:

  • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing post-secondary data. NCES focuses on academic, demographic, financial, classification, and other key data areas.
  • Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The most comprehensive source of datasets on colleges, universities, technical schools, vocational schools, and more.
  • The Carnegie Foundation. Provides detailed classifications of colleges based on degrees offered, financial status, and other institutional differences. The Carnegie Foundation also conducts numerous studies to ensure accurate representation of students and faculty in its datasets.
  • is a leading provider of career-related data on a national, state, local, and individual basis. PayScale’s team of statisticians continually refines data collection methods to maximize accuracy and integrity.

Detailed Methodology for the 54 Most Affordable Online Colleges

When seeking colleges offering high quality education at a solid price point, many elements require analysis. To find the most affordable online colleges in the U.S. with top-notch education, we analyzed the following factors:

  • Net Price (Tuition + Fees): < $15,000
  • Full accreditation
  • Non-profit colleges only (For-profit colleges are excluded)
  • Four-year, degree-granting institutions only
  • Students with starting salaries of at least $31,000 upon graduation (PayScale)
  • At least one course available online (IPEDS)
  • U.S. colleges only

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