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 3 fully online bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s completion programs to qualify. Schools are arranged in order of their Consensus Score.
University of FloridaGainesville, FL
The University of Florida is a land grant institution and one of the best public online universities in the South. This school draws students who want to challenge themselves and reach for lofty goals. This school has a big impact in both research and academics, and its online courses provide just as much excellence as their campus equivalents.
California State University-ChicoChico, CA
As part of the Cal State System, Cal State Chico ranks among the best public online universities. Cal State Chico helps students take steps today that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. It provides a transformative educational experience at a great value, so students get a lot for their money, and its online programs provide quality and flexibility. An online education from Cal State Chico has an excellent ROI as a result.
Citadel Military College of South CarolinaCharleston, SC
Citadel Military College of South Carolina is one of the best public online universities, especially for military members and veterans. More than most others, Citadel’s faculty and administration understand what military students need most from their educations. Often, this means a flexible online education, and the Citadel provides just that. Online learning at the Citadel is just as robust as on-campus learning.
Appalachian State UniversityBoone, NC
Appalachian State University is one of the best public online universities for purposeful learning. It fosters curiosity, both inside and outside the classroom. This is great for online students, who take their learning experiences to different locations. App State’s online programs have been ranked among the best in the nation, so students know that they’re getting a worthwhile education.
Eastern Illinois UniversityCharleston, IL
Eastern Illinois University offers a challenging and comprehensive education, both for its online students and its on-campus students. It’s one of the best public online colleges in its region. Its online degree programs maintain academic excellence, and most of them offer in-state tuition to all students, regardless of location.
Rutgers University-New BrunswickNew Brunswick, NJ
Rutgers New Brunswick is the main Rutgers campus, and it ranks among the best public online universities in the Northeast region. An online education from Rutgers provides a career-focused pathway, helping students move forward with their goals. It’s a highly challenging school that helps students reach their highest potential.
University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago, IL
With its big-city location and resources, the University of Illinois at Chicago is a great school for growing careers and making connections through academic excellence. That’s not just true for online students. This school is also one of the best public online universities in the area. Online students, like their on-campus peers, learn from award-winning faculty.
University of IowaIowa City, IA
The University of Iowa is one of the best public online universities, thanks to its pioneering spirit. The University of Iowa sees itself as a starting point for brilliant futures, and that includes the futures of students who learn online. Iowa has some of the leading online programs in its region, so students get the best experiences in online education.
University of ArizonaTucson, AZ
The University of Arizona is a top university in the US, and it’s one of the best public online universities for today’s students. The University of Arizona is an innovative school that constantly moves forward to meet its students academic needs. Today’s students need more flexibility than ever, and the University of Arizona provides that flexibility.
University of Massachusetts-AmherstAmherst, MA
UMass Amherst is the flagship campus in the University of Massachusetts system. It’s a large school that’s full of opportunities for dedicated learners. Online students don’t get left out of these opportunities, either. They’re an important part of the UMass community, and they’re treated as such, which is why UMass is one of the best public online universities.
Clemson UniversityClemson, SC
Clemson University is a top research university and one of the best public online colleges available in the Appalachian region. Clemson’s research provides solutions for all sorts of issues around the world. This thriving university also has many challenging and impactful online programs for busy adult learners, so these learners can upgrade their careers without neglecting their other responsibilities.
Central Washington UniversityEllensburg, WA
Central Washington University appeals to students for many reasons. For example, it has small class sizes, so students never feel lost in the crowd. The same is true for online students, who learn in small cohorts and get support from faculty members. Central Washington University is one of the best public online universities for this reason. Students get personalization and flexibility at the same time, all while getting a challenging educational experience.
Radford UniversityRadford, VA
Radford University is one of the best public online universities in its region. It has a well-maintained online learning platform, which provides both excellence and flexibility in learning. All Radford students receive a multifaceted education. Radford believes that education should be transformative, no matter what platform students use to learn and grow their careers.
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL
The University of Central Florida is a top-ranked research university with a large student body and an even larger impact on the surrounding world. It also has a thriving virtual learning platform, making UCF one of the best public online universities. UCF’s online programs can serve as a springboard into exciting careers, much like UCF’s on-campus courses.
George Mason UniversityFairfax, VA
George Mason University is an innovative research university that centers on growth and discovery. It has many award-winning programs and is one of the best public online universities. Just like their on-campus peers, George Mason’s online students get an education that lets them grow and explore. They foster their curiosity as they take part in online classes.
California State University-East BayHayward, CA
Cal State East Bay is one of California State University’s many campuses. As such, it’s one of the best public online universities for students who value connection and resources. East Bay is a thriving university in and of itself, with many award-winning programs. It’s a diverse school and a leader in online education, so students can learn from different viewpoints from home. Meanwhile, they get an education with a big career impact.
SUNY College at OswegoOswego, NY
SUNY Oswego is part of the overall SUNY system. It’s also one of the best public online universities. It provides both flexibility and academic excellence, and it provides these things at a great value. SUNY Oswego’s tuition rates are 10% lower than the national average for public universities, but students don’t have to sacrifice quality or resources to save money here.
Rutgers University-NewarkNewark, NJ
As a Rutgers University campus, Rutgers Newark is one of the best public online universities in the Northeast area. In fact, this school is one of the highest-ranked universities in the United States, much like the main Rutgers campus. Online students get all of the challenge and depth of a Rutgers Newark education, but they also get a flexible learning experience.
University of UtahSalt Lake City, UT
The University of Utah is one of the best public online universities. In fact, it’s one of the top online schools in the state. It has several undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and certificates to choose from. All of those programs combine academic excellence with the convenience of home-based learning. This school also offers support for military members, veterans, and their family members.
Colorado State University-Fort CollinsFort Collins, CO
Colorado State University’s main campus is one of the best public online colleges. CSU Online provides the same education as the main CSU campus, but it adds flexibility and convenience to that education. CSU Online offers all types of degrees and programs, from certificate programs all the way up to doctoral degrees, so it’s a good choice for grad students and undergrads alike.
Washington State UniversityPullman, WA
Washington State University is one of the best public online colleges, especially for nontraditional or otherwise busy students. The WSU Global Campus provides a completely online college experience with the same course materials as their on-campus equivalents. Most Global Campus students are adults, and many of them are first-generation college students.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens PointStevens Point, WI
The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point provides a highly engaging education for online learners. It has many online course offerings, and it’s ranked among the best public online universities. It offers both undergraduate and graduate online degree programs, as well as online certificates. All provide an excellent educational experience.
The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL
The University of West Florida is a large and robust school with a lot of resources to offer its students. One of its many student-centered resources is a great online learning platform, which lets students learn from their own homes. The University of Florida is one of the best public online universities, especially for students who want an education that comes with options.
University of South Florida-Main CampusTampa, FL
The University of South Florida has a big impact, both in its research and its academics. USF has a commitment to empowering its students, both online and on campus, so students can put their educations to good use. The University of South Florida is one of the best public online universities for this reason. This school is one of the fast-growing US universities, and it has the resources to go with that growth.
University of Oklahoma-Norman CampusNorman, OK
The University of Oklahoma has existed longer than the state of Oklahoma itself, so it has a long history of service its students and community. Growing from humble roots, the University of Oklahoma has become one of the best public online universities. This school grows and adapts to what students need the most. These days, that means providing a flexible learning platform, and the University of Oklahoma is proud to do so.
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.