Want low tuition? Convenience and flexibility? And a college loan debt that doesn’t keep you up at night? The College Consensus ranking of the best value online colleges is here!
This is an excellent time for people seeking affordable online colleges and degree programs, but it’s important to realize that different colleges often cater to different needs when it comes to online programs. For example, depending on where someone lives, they may want to choose one of the regional public colleges. Regional public colleges will usually have lower tuition costs for applicants who live in the region where the college is located. On the other hand, an affordable private college will offer many of the same benefits as attending a private college offline. Those benefits can include a more hands-on approach, a religious or ideological grounding, or unique and unusual degree choices.
In addition, the online college landscape also contains numerous working-adult focused colleges. These institutions typically offer programs specifically designed to work with people who have jobs, kids, or other adult responsibilities. People who want to attend online college courses have a lot affordable choices available to them, but just because a college is affordable doesn’t mean your degree will ROI. That’s why College Consensus – the authority on college rankings – has put together a definitive ranking of the most affordable online colleges.
Ranking the Most Affordable Online Colleges
The College Consensus method takes a lot of factors into consideration, but for the Most Affordable Online Colleges ranking, one factor stands above all: cost. Colleges will often try to hide their real costs from students until the bill comes due, but none of that here.
We combine official rankings from the most trusted publishers with verified student ratings from reputable review sites to form an aggregate ranking that takes into account the opinions of experts and the experience of students equally. That’s the Consensus Score.
To qualify for the Best Value Online Colleges and Universities ranking, institutions must have a Consensus Score, offer at least 3 bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s completion programs in an online or hybrid format, and be affordable. Schools are ranked according to their out-of-state tuition and fees.
Eastern Illinois UniversityCharleston, IL
Eastern Illinois University is one of the top universities in the US. It’s also one of the most affordable online colleges. EIU has its own scholarship database website that contains over 800 scholarship opportunities. This database updates all the time, so students are encouraged to check it multiple times.
University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND
The University of North Dakota has built one of the best online platforms in the nation, and it’s one of the most affordable colleges online. UND continually earns high rankings and recognitions for its affordability. Because of the combination of low cost and graduate success, UND is regularly recognized as a high-ROI school.
Fitchburg State UniversityFitchburg, MA
Fitchburg State University offers 100% online degrees from one of the world’s most affordable online colleges. For its very reasonable tuition rates, Fitchburg State offers lots of student support and other resources. It offers multiple forms of financial aid, including scholarships and loans.
Westfield State UniversityWestfield, MA
Westfield State University is a public institution in Massachusetts that has been recognized as one of the most affordable colleges online. Westfield has minimized tuition costs as much as possible in a region known for expensive, elite colleges and universities. It also offers low deposits and fees, as well as many forms of financial aid.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens PointStevens Point, WI
The University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point campus is one of the most affordable online colleges, and part of one of the nation’s most respected public university systems. It has several flexible online programs, all with reasonable tuition rates. UW Stevens Point has scholarship options for certain majors as well as other financial aid opportunities.
University of South Florida-Main CampusTampa, FL
The University of South Florida offers a big impact for a relatively low tuition rate. This school earns high rankings for research and learning, so students can get a high return on their college investment. USF is one of the most affordable colleges online today.
SUNY College at OswegoOswego, NY
SUNY Oswego is a relatively small university with a relatively low tuition rate compared to other schools in its region. Nearly 90% of SUNY Oswego students receive financial aid, which makes this school one of the most affordable online colleges. SUNY Oswego provides the excellence of the internationally-known State University System of New York at a reasonable cost.
California State University-East BayHayward, CA
California State University, East Bay is one of the most affordable colleges online today – a real accomplishment in one of the most expensive regions of the country. It has strong online programs and has been recognized by Money magazine for its educational quality. It has also won awards for diversity and inclusion, situated in one of the most diverse areas of the US.
Florida International UniversityMiami, FL
Florida International University is a public research university with lots of degree options, including many online degrees. Founded specifically to bring affordable public higher education to the growing Miami metropolitan area, today FIU is one of the most affordable online colleges, and it consistently earns high rankings across several categories.
The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL
The University of West Florida has many thriving online degree programs. While UWF has a lot of impact, both for students and for the surrounding community, it’s also one of the most affordable colleges online. Several publications have recognized UWF for its value.
Texas Tech UniversityLubbock, TX
Texas Tech University is a great school for business and STEM majors, and it’s also online of the most affordable online colleges in its area. It’s a university with high standards that come at a relatively low cost. Students from bordering states get the same tuition rates as Texas students.
California State University-ChicoChico, CA
California State University, Chico offers a quality education at an affordable cost. In fact, it’s one of the most affordable colleges online. This school has many programs to choose from, and each one comes at a high value. US News and World Report has recognized CSU Chico for its affordability.
University of Alabama at BirminghamBirmingham, AL
The University of Alabama at Birmingham ranks among the most affordable online colleges. Once a humble satellite campus, today UAB has arguably outpaced the flagship U of A by pushing boundaries in academics and research, and it has done so while offering reasonable tuition rates. It also ranks highly for diversity among students.
University of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmington, NC
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington is a coastal university that attracts high achievers and beach lovers. But in recent years UNCW has earned a ranking among the most affordable colleges online. It’s been ranked among the best public national universities, and its low tuition is just one of the reasons why so many put it high on their list.
Appalachian State UniversityBoone, NC
Appalachian State University’s mission was originally to bring affordable education to the underdeveloped mountain region, and today it is counted among the most affordable online colleges. This North Carolina school also ranks highly for its research. US News and World Report has recognized App State for its strong online programs, and the relatively low tuition rate is just one of many things that set this school apart.
University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL
The University of Central Florida began to train professionals for NASA, and remains a place where high achievers get a challenging education. Unlike many other prestigious schools, though, UCF is affordable. This is especially true for online students, since UCF is one of the most affordable colleges online.
Concordia University-Saint PaulSaint Paul, MN
Part of the respected Concordia system, Concordia University Saint Paul is one of the most affordable colleges online. Concordia is a Lutheran school, and the Christian faith infuses all courses here. Concordia also offers financial aid options to help students afford school.
Radford UniversityRadford, VA
Radford University has been recognized for its academics, sustainability, and support for its students. It’s also been recognized as one of the most affordable colleges online. Money magazine in particular has highlighted Radford for its value.
Brescia UniversityOwensboro, KY
Brescia University is one of the most affordable online colleges, especially among Christian schools. Brescia takes a faith-based approach to education while providing affordable tuition rates, scholarships, and other finial aid opportunities.
East Carolina UniversityGreenville, NC
East Carolina University is a top choice for students who want to pursue medical and dental school. It’s also ranks among the most affordable colleges online. The affordable tuition is just one part of ECU’s mission to serve its students and community.
Central Washington UniversityEllensburg, WA
Central Washington University is one of the most affordable online colleges. In addition to its affordable rates and financial aid options, CWU also has small class sizes, a diverse and inclusive student body, and excellent accessibility.
University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical CampusDenver, CO
The University of Colorado Denver is one of the most affordable colleges online, recognized for the high. quality of its healthcare and professional programs. Though healthcare education can get expensive, this school helps motivated students mitigate the cost with affordable tuition rates.
Washington State UniversityPullman, WA
Washington State University is a land grant research institution with a great educational value. In fact, it’s one of the most affordable online colleges. WSU balances excellent academics with effective research. With 76% of students receiving financial aid, WSU makes education more accessible.
University of Oklahoma-Norman CampusNorman, OK
The University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus ranks among the most affordable colleges online today. This diverse university features challenging academics and a diverse student body. Affordable tuition rates and financial aid opportunities help students afford their education.
University of UtahSalt Lake City, UT
The University of Utah is the state’s flagship university and one of the most affordable online colleges in the West. This school thrives in research and technology, and it has the affordable tuition to help students minimize debt while working toward their goals.
University of Missouri-St LouisSaint Louis, MO
The University of Missouri Saint Louis helps students get ready for their careers. It accomplishes this goal through strong academics, practical training, and by being one of the most affordable colleges online. UMSL is both flexible and affordable, which makes it a good choice for a lot of students.
University of IdahoMoscow, ID
The University of Idaho offers highly-ranked programs across several domains, but students don’t have to break the bank to enjoy these programs. The University of Idaho offers low tuition rates, making it one of the most affordable online colleges in its region.
University of Illinois at ChicagoChicago, IL
The University of Illinois at Chicago is a great school for connections, diversity, and great academics. It’s also been recognized among the most affordable colleges online today. Wall Street Journal has ranked UIC as one of the top schools for value.
John Brown UniversitySiloam Springs, AR
John Brown University is one of the most affordable online colleges, especially among private Christian universities. Originally founded to provide educational opportunity to young people left behind by the system (like its founder John E. Brown), JBU is a top choice university in Arkansas, and its affordable tuition is just one reason why it’s a leader in Christian education.
University of KansasLawrence, KS
The University of Kansas is a public research institution that ranks among the most affordable colleges online. KU has a global vision that includes reaching online students with flexibility and affordability. Learners get a lot of value for their tuition dollars, which makes this great education far more accessible than it would have been otherwise.
University of Missouri-ColumbiaColumbia, MO
The University of Missouri ranks as one of the most affordable online colleges. Its online academics are just as thorough and worthwhile as its in-classroom academics. On top of its affordable tuition, the University of Missouri has lots of great financial aid opportunities. This combination of factors makes the University of Missouri a popular choice for adult students.
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical CollegeBaton Rouge, LA
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College makes a good choice for science, math, and business majors who want to attend one of the most affordable colleges online. This school has many financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Plus, its practical learning approach can lead to high employability after graduation.
University of FloridaGainesville, FL
The University of Florida is one of the nation’s best-known public universities, and just happens to be one of the most affordable online colleges as well. The University of Florida has been recognized both for its academics and for its high value. This school is helping with some of the world’s most pressing concerns, and its reasonable tuition rates mean that students can participate without going into deep debt.
Webster UniversitySaint Louis, MO
Webster University is a private university that’s also one of the most affordable colleges online. This school offers a private school education without the exorbitant price tag that most people associate with private schools. Plus, it makes a good choice for adult learners and otherwise busy college students.
Southern Illinois University-CarbondaleCarbondale, IL
Southern Illinois University Carbondale prides itself on having “something for everyone,” and that includes an affordable and accessible education. In fact, it’s one of the most affordable online colleges in its region. It provides great academics with plenty of flexibility, so students can get exactly what they need from their learning experiences.
Temple UniversityPhiladelphia, PA
Temple University began as a night school for the working class in the late 19th century, and though Temple is highly acclaimed, it never forgotten its roots. Today, it’s a full and thriving university, and it ranks among the most affordable colleges online. It’s the largest university in Philadelphia, and it has the resources to go with its size. It’s also a well-respected school, which can help students in their job searches after graduation.
Colorado State University-Fort CollinsFort Collins, CO
Colorado State University has some great online programs, and they come at a reasonable price tag. This school is one of the most affordable online colleges. It continues to innovate even after 150 years, rising to meet the needs of its students. That includes providing excellent financial aid opportunities.
Oregon State UniversityCorvallis, OR
Oregon State University isn’t just the largest university in its state. It’s also one of the most affordable colleges online. Oregon State is all about helping students meet challenges head-on, but expensive tuition doesn’t have to be one of those challenges. Instead, students here can focus on more important things.
LeTourneau UniversityLongview, TX
LeTourneau University is a Christian polytechnic university, and it’s counted among the most affordable online colleges. Students choose this school when they want an affordable Christian education that focuses on science and technology. For many students, this school is the best of all worlds.
Rutgers University-CamdenCamden, NJ
Rutgers University Camden is home to Rutger’s Business, Law, and Nursing schools and one of the most affordable colleges online. This school fosters fully engaged learning. Its low tuition rates and financial aid opportunities mean that students can focus more fully on their studies. Rutgers Camden provides a high ROI for its tuition rates, so students can make sure they’re getting the best value for their education.
University of IowaIowa City, IA
The University of Iowa fosters greatness in several areas, from the arts to the sciences. One thing that supports this greatness is the fact that it’s one of the most affordable online colleges. This diverse university gives students a lot of value for their tuition money. Students dive deeply into their areas of study, and they do so with the help of scholarships and other financial aid opportunities.
Rutgers University-NewarkNewark, NJ
The Newark campus of Rutgers University, like its sister institution in Camden, is one of the most affordable colleges online. Rutgers promotes academic engagement and esteemed research, and it does so at a reasonable cost. Plus, its online programs provide a lot of flexibility for adult learners and other non-traditional students.
The University of Tennessee-KnoxvilleKnoxville, TN
The University of Tennessee Knoxville is a public land grant university. It’s one of the top research universities in the United States, but it also has a fairly low tuition rate. In fact, it’s one of the most affordable online universities. UT Knoxville is recognized for its great academics, so students get a lot for their tuition dollars.
Rutgers University-New BrunswickNew Brunswick, NJ
Rutgers University is one of the oldest universities in the US, founded before the United States itself, but even with that rich heritage it’s still one of the most affordable colleges online. Not only is this school highly affordable, but its also one of the highest-ranked schools in the US for graduate employability. Many students are hired quickly after graduation, and as a result, they can pay off any student loans quickly.
Albertus Magnus CollegeNew Haven, CT
Albertus Magnus College is a liberal arts college. It provides a deep and well-rounded education, but it’s also one of the most affordable online colleges that students can choose. As a Catholic school, it also blends faith and education while promoting service to others.
Lewis UniversityRomeoville, IL
Lewis University is a practical university focused on career-based goals and adult learners. It’s also one of the most affordable colleges online, which adds to its practicality. It’s a top choice for students who have specific goals and want training to help them meet those goals.
Mount Mercy UniversityCedar Rapids, IA
Mount Mercy University is a Catholic school and one of the most affordable online colleges in its region. This school encourages students to live boldly, and it provides the flexibility and affordability that students need to get started. Mount Mercy provides a faith-based education with a reasonable tuition rate.
University of South Carolina-ColumbiaColumbia, SC
The University of South Carolina isn’t just one of the South’s most respected research institutions. It’s also one of the most affordable colleges online. This school has been around for more than two centuries, and it’s always adapted to keep up with students’ needs and goals. One of those needs, especially now, is affordable tuition.
Westminster College (UT)Salt Lake City, UT
Westminster College in Utah is a private liberal arts college without the private liberal arts price tag. It’s actually one of the most affordable online colleges. This school provides an education that is both deep and broad at the same time.
Buena Vista UniversityStorm Lake, IA
Buena Vista University may be a private school, but it’s also one of the most affordable colleges online. This school supports high student achievement, and its reasonable tuition helps make that achievement possible. It also fosters personalized learning with lots of faculty support.
Are Online Colleges Cheaper than Traditional Colleges?
These days, listings, databases, and various other resources exist to guide people towards just what they’re looking for. A search online will populate with numerous results that include updated reviews and pricing information for online colleges. If you’re paying for college yourself, it’s essential to do you homework.
When it comes to online college vs traditional college cost, people often assume online colleges always cost less than traditional colleges. In truth, just as with traditional colleges, online college costs can vary widely. Each institution will have a different pricing method based on their own criteria.
Most colleges that offer online courses will have tuition calculators or average cost breakdowns. People are often surprised to find out some universities charge the same price for their courses whether online or off. Some places charge even more for their online programs than their equivalent on-campus ones.
The online college vs traditional college cost question has no clear answer. As with all things college-related, it depends. This should drive home why seeking affordable online college is so important.
The average cost online bachelor’s degree will vary as well from place to place and student to student. For those who want to figure out the average cost online bachelor’s degree or any other degree program for themselves, a net price calculator can help.
How Do Affordable Online Colleges Save Me Money?
When seeking an affordable online college, it’s important to look at the stated dollar amounts. Finding the cheapest online college per credit hour can help once someone has already narrowed their search to the places that interest them.
However, saving money with affordable online colleges involves a few other factors as well. Places that offer cheap online degrees fast aren’t necessarily the most affordable. As previously stated, applicants must consider the net price of attending. In addition, looking for places things like cheap online colleges without application fees can help as well.
Because students aren’t attending a campus, many places will offer a lower tuition. That’s not a given, but it’s worth searching for. Speedy courses also don’t require as many ongoing fees as a longer traditional course.
The cheapest online per credit hours and the cheap online colleges without application fees can give someone the numbers they need to calculate just how much they can save. People should always look at the numbers when they want cheap online degrees fast, because those accelerated programs can often come with savings they don’t expect.
Are There Any Free Online Colleges?
Like with anything else online, if a college claims to be free, be skeptical. There are plenty of tuition-free colleges and universities, from work colleges (where students pay for their college education by working for the college) to the elite Ivy League and top-tier research universities, which make sure worthy students never have to pay a dime. But totally free online colleges? That’s trickier
Free online colleges do exist. A handful of accredited online universities offer tuition-free programs for associates, bachelor’s, and even master’s degrees. The University of the People, for instance, is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission and provides entirely free programs, except for clearly-identified fees. Other free online colleges do offer degrees. Applicants may have to pay an application fee or other small fees.
Another place to look for free online education is MOOCs.
Some other institutions offer free courses, lectures, and other learning materials, often referred to as MOOCs. The free courses and materials can sometimes come with a certificate.
More rarely, MOOCs may offer credits that can be transferred to the institution, but that doesn’t necessarily add up to a free online college – just a little head start. But even if MOOCs don’t equate to free online college credits, these free online courses can be extremely valuable for dipping your toe in the water, getting a sense of a discipline, and deciding if you really want to go into a particular major. Considering that a third of students change their majors within 3 years, and 10% change more than once, getting a taste of your major ahead of time is a savings in itself.
How Do Online College Degree Programs ROI?
People invest their money and time with the hopes their degree will pay off in the future, especially when so many students take out loans to pay for college. This is a return on investment college education, and it’s important for that investment to work. To that end, it’s a good idea to think of the best ROI degrees that can make that happen.
What do we mean by ROI? Typically, we think of return on investment for a college degree by relating the cost of the degree to the potential earnings over what would be expected without the degree.
In other words, if you don’t make any more with the degree than you would have made without it, that’s not much of an ROI. However, if you make a lot more with the degree than you would have made without it, you’re on the way to a better ROI.
But how much did you pay? If you’re making a salary of $70,000, but have $120,000 in student loan debt, your ROI isn’t as good as someone who makes $70,000 and has $20,000 in student loan debt. You paid too much, and it’s cutting into your ROI!
So what makes an online college degree good for ROI? Well, if you find an affordable online degree, you’re automatically starting out ahead – you kept your costs down. Online degrees also have the advantage of allowing you to work while going back to school, so you’re putting your learning into practice earlier.
So if you want a high ROI online degree, keep these tips in mind:
- Choose an Affordable Online Degree
- Keep Student Loan Debt Low
- Choose an In-Demand Online Degree
- Take Advantage of Job Placement Opportunities
But, what are the best ROI degrees? That all depends on where an applicant lives and which industries have the largest amount of growth. Today, the places to look are in healthcare, technology, and services. There’s also a strong ROI in the trades, considering how cheap community college and trade degrees can be, and how lucrative trades like plumbing, electrical, and HVAC can be.
Figuring out college ROI by major is possible, especially if the major is one that allows an applicant to advance in their career field or get a fair start in a new career. The ability to move forward, earn more, and do more with a college degree is what makes the return on investment college education worthwhile. Payscale has done a lot of work figuring out the best ROI online colleges and degrees.