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Best Online Public Colleges & Universities 2019
Top Consensus Ranked Schools for Distance Learning

College Consensus online public

Why are public universities offering online degrees? Because public universities have a mission to educate as many people as possible. Public universities have always been on the front lines, using different technology and other opportunities to fulfill that mission. Public universities pioneered distance education, with programs like Penn State’s correspondence courses in agriculture for farmers, or education by radio and television at the University of Louisville and the University of Wisconsin. Now that the internet is widely available, even in rural and remote areas, it provides one of the best ways to help universities reach people. 

Public universities with online programs exist all over the country because university directors understand how busy people have become. These days, a person doesn’t have to choose between being a parent and being a student, or advancing a career and earning a degree. People have options, and they need flexibility to embrace those options. Public universities with online programs make those opportunities happen, just as public universities have always done. 

How We Ranked the Best Public Online Universities 

The College Consensus methodology has been developing for years, providing a bird’s-eye view of the higher education landscape for students. (Our methodology is more fully explained on the About page.) By bringing together expert opinion, in the form of published rankings, and actual student experience from reputable review sites, our aggregate ranking score gives all perspectives their due. 

Colleges and universities in the Best Online Public Colleges and Universities ranking must have a Consensus Score and at least 5 fully online bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s completion programs to qualify. Schools are arranged in order of their Consensus Score. 

1. University of Florida

University of Florida logo.svg

When you’re looking for the best public online universities for your degree, you may want to consider the University of Florida. The university offers a variety of online degree programs that give you the same education you receive through their campus. You can choose from 20 online programs and obtain a degree that fits your career goals. 

A key aspect that makes the University of Florida one of the best options for your online degree is their ranking. The school is ranked number five by U.S. News and World Report for 2019. Their high ranking combined with the wide array of educational options allows you to focus on accomplishing your goals while you continue with your personal obligations or current work. You can work on your degree when it fits your schedule.

Consensus Score: 73.3

# of Online Programs: 20

2. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

Penn State World Campus logo from wikipedia

When you are evaluating your options and looking into different degree programs, you will notice that Pennsylvania State University-World Campus offers a variety of options for your goals. The school focuses on providing a high-quality education at every level. That is why they offer 37 online degrees that range from specialized certifications and associate degrees to bachelor’s programs and master’s degrees. You can also obtain a doctorate online through the school.

Pennsylvania State University-World Campus stands apart from other programs by offering a variety of online degree options. You can choose from 37 different degree programs and focus on accomplishing your educational goals. The degree programs are taught by the same faculty and staff as on-campus classes and students have access to educators for questions via email and online tools. It gives you the opportunity to obtain a degree while keeping up with other concerns or goals.

Consensus Score: 70.3

# of Online Programs: 37

3. Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University logo from website

Appalachian State University offers 11 online programs for students who want to focus on their career goals and work on their education. The degree programs give students a strong foundation to help with long-term goals and improve their opportunities for the future. Although most of the degree programs are fully online, the school does have a few hybrid online and on-campus programs, so you will want to look into the details for a specific major to determine the specifics of the classes you must take for your education.

A key way Appalachian State University stands apart is their focus on providing high-quality education through their online programs. The school also allows students to transfer credits into an online program to complete a degree at an accelerated pace. It is not necessary to start over when transferring from another school. The transfer equivalency course search helps you determine how many credits will transfer into the school and what classes are counted based on the options available through the university.

Consensus Score: 69.1

# of Online Programs: 11

4. Florida State University

florida state u

When you are looking for an online university to transfer credits from other colleges or universities, Florida State University is a good choice for your goals. While the school does require you to transfer a set number of credits and qualify for more advanced classes, it offers seven online degree programs that you can take to work around your schedule and obligations. The online degrees allow you to take specialized courses for junior and senior level classes. You can complete your degree online and work at your own pace.

Florida State University differs from other programs by focusing on specific areas of study. The online degree programs focus on Public Safety and Security, Computer Science, Criminology, and Social Science. Students who decide to pursue their degree will have options under those categories and will be able to choose specialized areas of study within the primary categories.

Consensus Score: 68.6

# of Online Programs: 7

5. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

minnesota twin citites logo

When you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree online, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities offers a solution for your goals. The online degrees through the university allow you to study a variety of subjects and focus on your career aspirations. The school offers 18 online bachelor’s degree programs. You can also enhance your education with specialized certifications available online through the school.

A key aspect that sets the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities apart from other schools is their options for online bachelor degree programs that are fully online. You can focus on a major that makes sense for your career aspirations and goals. By taking a fully online certification program, you can enhance your undergraduate degree for more opportunities within your field and career. The number of options for your career depends on the combination of online programs and certifications you consider through the university.

Consensus Score: 68

# of Online Programs: 18

6. University of Oklahoma

University of Oklahoma logo from website

The University of Oklahoma is one of the best public online universities when you want to study aviation, criminal justice, liberal studies, administrative leadership, or lifespan care administration. While the university only offers five fully online bachelor’s degree programs, the school focuses on quality education and provides students with a high level of education to accomplish personal career goals. The small number of options for a degree allows students to focus on specific areas of study without getting bogged down with too many options.

The University of Oklahoma stands apart for limiting the number of online programs and allowing students to focus on specific types of degrees. It only offers five online programs, which prevents confusion in students who may change their minds about a major over time. It allows students to stay on track to get a degree that fits their career goals and helps with their long-term plans.

Consensus Score: 67.4

# of Online Programs: 5

7. UMass Amherst

umass amherst

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst is one of the top 30 public universities in the country according to U.S. News. The high ranking of the school stems from their quality education and their focus on providing students with the skills to handle their career goals. When you are looking for an online degree program, UMass Amherst offers several options to help with your goals. The 17 online programs are taught by the same faculty and staff as the on-campus degree programs, which contributes to the quality of education available through the university.

UMass Amherst stands out from other programs by offering hundreds of online classes and courses to students. While the school only offers 17 bachelor’s degree majors through the online programs, you can enhance your degree with certifications and minors that are available online. The school offers several programs and options to help students reach their goals and focus on their areas of interest.

Consensus Score: 67.4

# of Online Programs: 17

8. University of Iowa

u iowa logo

The University of Iowa is one of the best public online universities when you want to focus on your career goals. The school offers eight online programs for an undergraduate degree. It also offers several online certifications or minors that you can add to your degree to help you understand specialized areas of your industry or to enhance your training. The majors are taught by experienced faculty who have worked in the industry and have the skills to handle different aspects of your career plans.

The University of Iowa stands out by offering fully online degrees in unique and interesting areas of study. You can focus on a bachelor’s degree in nursing or you can study social work or political science. You are not limited to common degree programs, and you can enhance your training with specialized certifications. For example, you can take a nursing degree and a certification in aging and longevity to develop specialized skills that will help in your career. The certifications give you a chance to specialize in your field of study.

Consensus Score: 67.2

# of Online Programs: 8

9. UNC-Wilmington

unc wilmington

When you plan to take an online program for your bachelor’s degree, UNC-Wilmington offers six undergraduate degrees to help with your goals. The six degree programs cover areas of study like criminology and international studies, as well as interdisciplinary studies and elementary education. You can choose a major that fits with your long-term goals and career plans. Since the degrees are fully online, you have opportunities to work around a busy schedule. You can also take an RN to BSN program if you plan to improve your opportunities as a nurse.

UNC-Wilmington offers accredited online degree programs for your bachelor’s degree. While the school only offers six programs, you can feel confident that it is one of the best schools for the majors available online. The majors focus on specific areas of study and help you stay on track without giving you too many options to confuse you about the right area of study for your career.

Consensus Score: 66.2

# of Online Programs: 6

10. Oregon Tech

oregon institute of technology logo 7997

If you’re looking for an online degree in the technology or medical industries, then Oregon Tech offers a program to help with your goals. Although the school only offers six online degree programs at the undergraduate level, it focuses on technology studies and technology as it relates to the medical industry. You can study health informatics, applied psychology, and healthcare management through Oregon Tech. You can also take online degrees with a focus on technology and management, operations management, and information technology.

Oregon Tech stands apart from other schools for their focused online degrees. You can choose from six online majors with a focus on technology and specific studies within the medical industry. That focus allows you to stay on track for your career goals with specialized areas of study for your career.

Consensus Score: 65.9

# of Online Programs: 6

11. University of South Carolina

u south carolina

The University of South Carolina is one of the best public online universities with 13 different online bachelor’s degrees. While the degree programs are fully online, the school does require students to transfer credits for their first two years of education. The online classes start at the junior and senior level of the degree program. It is ideal when you plan to transfer credits from a community college or are looking for a program to return to school after you have finished general studies previously.

The University of South Carolina stands apart by offering bachelor’s degrees in a variety of fields and areas of interest. Students can study topics related to criminal justice, early childhood education, and human services. You have several options, so you can choose a field of study that fits your interests and your career goals.

Consensus Score: 65.4

# of Online Programs: 13

12. University of Illinois-Springfield

u illinois springfield

The University of Illinois-Springfield is a good option when you are looking for an online degree program to complete your undergraduate studies. The university offers 14 programs that range from history and philosophy to computer science and business administration. You can choose an area of study that fits your interests and your goals.

The way the University of Illinois at Springfield stands out from other programs is the number of programs and the wide array of studies. It also offers a 2+2 joint agreement with other colleges in Illinois that allows students to easily transfer credits from a junior college to complete their undergraduate degree. Since students can easily transfer credits, it simplifies the process of completing your degree by directly transferring your credits.

Consensus Score: 64.7

# of Online Programs: 14

13. Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University logo from website e1556305438256

When you are looking for the best online programs from a public university, the options available at Western Carolina University help with your goals. The university offers eight fully online and hybrid online programs at the undergraduate level. The accredited programs allow you to focus on your career goals by obtaining the level of education you need for your plans.

Western Carolina University stands out by offering unique areas of study. You can study engineering technology, emergency medical care, and emergency and disaster management through their online or hybrid programs. The interesting areas of study allow you to focus on specific career goals and gives you the training you need to handle emergencies or unexpected situations.

Consensus Score: 64.6

# of Online Programs: 8

14. Mississippi University for Women

mississippi university women

When you’re looking for the best public online universities for your degree, you want to consider the Mississippi University for Women. The university offers 13 online programs for undergraduate students. The online degree programs range from business degrees and management programs to healthcare administration and related administrative options. Students can also enhance their undergraduate degree with an online certification in business or a minor in a secondary study.

The Mississippi University for Women stands out from other programs by offering a 2+2 program for students. The program means that students can complete two years of their degree in a community college and finish up the degree online within two years for a bachelor’s degree. That gives students flexibility and allows them to transfer credits when they have already completed classes for their degree program.

Consensus Score: 64.4

# of Online Programs: 13

15. University of Alabama in Huntsville

university Alabama huntsville logo

The University of Alabama in Huntsville offers a combination of online and hybrid programs that allow students to focus on their goals for a degree. The school offers seven online bachelor’s degree programs online that allow students the flexibility to focus on their goals for their career. Students can also take online certifications or advanced studies in certain fields if they are looking for more advanced roles in their career and want to continue their education after finishing an undergraduate degree.

A key reason the University of Alabama in Huntsville is a good option for students looking for the best public online universities is the focus on specialized degrees. Students can take online courses in nursing, engineering, business, education, or interdisciplinary studies with a focus on topics like cybersecurity. The variety of degree programs allow students to accomplish personal goals for their long-term plans.

Consensus Score: 64.2

# of Online Programs: 7

16. University of Alabama (tie)

University of Alabama logo

The University of Alabama offers 14 online degree programs to help students accomplish their goals when it fits a personal schedule. The online programs range from general studies to health and nutrition studies. Students can also study mechanical engineering through the hybrid online program that offers most classes and coursework online. The flexibility in online courses and the number of options available allows students to focus on career goals.

The way the University of Alabama stands apart from other programs is the wide array of programs available online. The school offers 14 online programs for undergraduate students that cover a wide array of interests and careers. Since the degree programs are online, students are able to work at their own pace and keep up with other obligations while focusing on their future career.

Consensus Score: 64

# of Online Programs: 14

16. University of Utah (tie)

u utah

When you are looking into the best public online universities for research-focused degree programs, the University of Utah offers seven online options for your goals. The school focuses on the research aspects of a degree, which prepares students for more complex studies when they are moving into a master’s degree program or a similar program. Students are also given a flexible schedule that works around their hours and location. 

The University of Utah stands apart from other programs by offering students a research-focused degree. Faculty working with online students and providing online lectures have the research skills to provide students with a focused education. The school also offers seven programs that range from economics and nursing to psychology and social work.

Consensus Score: 64

# of Online Programs: 7

18. Oklahoma State University

oklahoma state

Oklahoma State University offers one of the best options for online students among public institutions. The school offers seven fully online programs that range from specialized areas of business administration to a liberal studies degree program. The online classes allow students to work at their own pace and focus on a degree program that fits their situation. It also gives students a chance to work from any location.

A key way Oklahoma State University stands out for their fully online degree programs is the concentrations in business administration. Students are able to study management, marketing, or general business when focusing on a business administration degree. That allows students to develop specialized skills that give them a competitive edge when moving into the workforce.

Consensus Score: 63.9

# of Online Programs: 7

19. University of Arizona

u arizona

The University of Arizona is known for online degree programs and it does not disappoint when you are looking for a public university for an online degree. The school offers 32 online programs for students who want to obtain an undergraduate degree. The programs range from early childhood education to cyber operations. You can also study subjects like history, law, or psychology. Since the school offers a wide array of degrees, students can find a major that fits their long-term goals.

The University of Arizona stands apart by offering a large number of online programs that range from modern degrees used in technology to more traditional programs that focus on more traditional paths for a career. The degrees give students the flexibility to study when it fits their situation and allows students to focus on their long-term goals. It also gives students several options to address a specific plan within their industry.

Consensus Score: 63.8

# of Online Programs: 32

20. University of Minnesota Crookston

Minnesota Crookston logo

The University of Minnesota at Crookston offers students an opportunity to focus on their career goals through an online degree program. The school offers 16 online undergraduate degrees. The university focuses on providing a high quality of education in all of their online programs and set a high standard for students who are working on their undergraduate degree. It also offers minors and certifications that may enhance a degree or your knowledge of a subject that improves your options in your career. 

A key way the University of Minnesota at Crookston differs from other programs is the flexibility for your career. The school offers 16 online programs for undergraduate students. It also offers online minors and online certifications that can add to a degree program to enhance your options or gain specialized skills within your industry. That allows you greater flexibility for your career goals.

Consensus Score: 63.6

# of Online Programs: 16

21. University of Missouri

u missouri

The online degree programs at the University of Missouri prepare students for their career with a high-quality education. The school offers 17 online undergraduate degrees that range from English and Psychology to Information Technology and Nursing. The degree programs give students greater flexibility for their studies and allow students to focus on their long-term goals.

Although the University of Missouri offers 17 online undergraduate degrees, it also offers students certifications and a higher level of study when they plan to continue their education. Most of the degree programs are fully online, though students may find that some programs require on-campus activities or classes for a hybrid program. The options depend on the goals of the student and the degree the student plans to pursue.

Consensus Score: 63.5

# of Online Programs: 17

22. Valley City State University (tie)

valley city state

Valley City State University offers eight online degree programs for students who plan to obtain an undergraduate degree while balancing other obligations. The school offers programs that range from History and Technology to Music and Business. Although the school offers a variety of undergraduate degrees, it allows students to improve their knowledge by adding several minors and certifications that can be added to the undergraduate program for enhanced knowledge in specific fields.

A key way Valley City State University stands out is through the interesting online degree programs. The school offers traditional degrees as well as a degree in music that gives students the flexibility to pursue interesting classes for their degree. It also gives students an opportunity to improve their basic degree with certifications and minors in specialized fields.

Consensus Score: 63.2

# of Online Programs: 8

22. Washington State University (tie)

global campus washington state university logo 130375

Washington State University is one of the best public online universities for their undergraduate degree programs. The school offers 15 online degree programs that allow students to follow up on their long-term goals while maintaining their personal obligations or current job. The degree programs work around your schedule to prepare you for the options available for your long-term goals.

A key way Washington State University stands out is the high standards set for the fully online programs. The school has the same high standards for online students as their on-campus students, which adds prestige to the degree. It also offers flexibility for students who may have complex obligations or schedules that limit their time for their studies.

Consensus Score: 63.2

# of Online Programs: 15

24. California State University, Chico

regional and continuing education california state university chico logo 129722

California State University, Chico has a long history of excellence in online education. The standards that apply to the school’s on-campus programs also apply to the five fully online degree programs. The school offers five undergraduate degrees that are fully online: Liberal Studies, Religious Studies, Specialized Social and Behavioral Studies, Multidisciplinary Social and Behavioral Studies, and Sociology. The school also offers hybrid programs for students who want a flexible schedule, but want to have a few classes on the school’s campus.

CalState Chico stands out for offering five fully online programs that give students options for their goals. While the degree programs are limited, the school sets high standards for its students and expects students to meet the standards set for each class. It also offers students the flexibility to work around personal and career obligations while working on a degree.

Consensus Score: 63.1

# of Online Programs: 5

25. Ohio University

Ohio University logo from website

Ohio University offers ten fully online degree programs that help students focus on their career goals. The online degrees range from Applied Communication and Criminal Justice to Human Services and Psychology. Students have an array of options to help with their career goals and the university works around a student’s schedule.

A key way Ohio University stands out is its flexibility for transfer students. The school allows students who have an associate’s degree from a community college to finish their bachelor’s degree online. It also allows you to transfer credits when you have not finished an associate’s degree or have only finished a set number of classes. That helps you accelerate to finish your degree in a short amount of time.

Consensus Score: 63

# of Online Programs: 10

What is a Public University? 

When someone asks “What is a public university?” or “What is a public college?” they might get all sorts of answers. People might bring up quality, prestige, or any number of answers. In reality, though, those answers don’t quite explain what is a public college and what is a private college. The difference comes from where these schools get their funding. Both options require tuition, but public schools are primarily funded by the government. Private schools are funded by donations and tuition. 

The biggest benefit of a public university, for students, is cost. Since public universities receive government funding, they can often offer lower tuition costs than most private schools can offer. While it is true that public universities have received reduced funding in recent years, the combination of lower costs and greater access have made public universities one of the best choices for aspiring professionals. 

How Are Public Universities Accredited? 

When you look into your education options, it’s not enough just to look for online public universities. You need to look for accreditation. There are two types of university accreditation for online public universities: national and regional. If a school has national accreditation, that means that it has been accredited by a national organization. Many for-profit and career centered colleges are accredited nationally. If, however, you’re looking at regionally accredited online colleges, you’re looking for schools that have been accredited by one of seven regional organizations in the US. While both options mean that your university has been independently reviewed, keep in mind that regional accreditation can carry more weight than the national option, so you may want to look for the best regionally accredited online colleges. 

How are Online Public Universities Different? 

The question of state school vs private school can keep a lot of students up at night. Ultimately, the decision depends on what works best for you. You’ll just have to weigh the private vs public college pros and cons for yourself and make the decision based on your research. As mentioned earlier, public schools get a lot of their funding from the government, and private schools get their funding from other sources. While that’s the only official difference between the two, they result in a lot of differences in public vs private statistics. 

One big difference in the state school vs private school question is school size. As already mentioned, public schools tend to offer lower tuition rates than private schools. As a result. public schools tend to have more students. The larger class sizes come with pros and cons, of course. On the one hand, a large school usually means a lot of resources and options. On the other hand, it can also mean less one-on-one attention from your instructors. If class size matters to you, then it’ll play a part in whether you choose a public or private school. 

The next question in public vs private college statistics is the amount of weight your degree will carry. Generally speaking, a degree from a private school garners more respect than a degree from a public school. However, this is only a generalization and should be taken with a grain of salt. Some universities don’t follow this pattern at all. For example, some private colleges are so small that most employers won’t recognize them, while some public universities, such as UCLA, garner a lot of attention and respect. 

Here’s the bottom line: When you start exploring private vs public college pros and cons, don’t forget to measure the benefits of individual schools. Again, it all boils down to which school will work best for your needs. 

Are Online Public Colleges Cheaper than Private and For-Profit? 

You’ve already seen that online public colleges are usually cheaper than private schools. Questions of in-state vs out of state tuition can complicate things a little, but on the whole, public universities are cheaper. But what about for-profit colleges? Are they any cheaper than public universities? Unfortunately, no. Some students choose for-profit universities because these universities tend to focus on careers and technical skills. However, remember that the mission of a for-profit school will always be to make money. Student education comes second. As a result, their tuition rates will usually be higher so that they can meet their money-making goal. 

So how can you save money while looking for a good, nonprofit program? Well, remember that nonprofit universities are usually accredited regionally while the for-profit options are usually accredited nationally. You can start by searching for the cheapest regionally accredited online colleges.