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. That’s why we turned to Peterson’s for authoritative data on cost per credit at America’s online institutions. Colleges will often try to hide their real costs from students until the bill comes due, but none of that here.
Institutions are ranked according to their price per credit, based on Peterson’s data.
Southwestern Oklahoma State UniversityTele-Learning
Topping our list of the most affordable online colleges in Southwestern Oklahoma State University. The school offers two undergraduate degrees online: an R.N. to B.S.N. nursing program and a B.S. in Health Information Management. SOSU also offers masters level programs in nursing and health information management, so this school is a great choice for budget-minded students who plan to continue their education past the bachelor’s level. In addition to its online programs, SOSU offers a B.B.A. in Management in a webinar format.
SOSU’s nursing program prepares students to provide quality, caring client care and helps them develop the leadership skills they need to be able to create and implement health care plans. The health information management program prepares students to ensure the integrity of health records and control access to confidential health information in order to protect patients’ privacy. SOSU’s nursing programs include more clinical hours than most other programs.
Columbia Southern University
Columbia Southern University offers 33 affordable online degree programs. There are 7 associate degrees, 16 bachelor’s degree programs, 9 master’s degrees, and 1 doctoral degree available. Students can choose to major in business administration, organizational leadership, criminal justice, emergency medical services administration, fire science, general studies, health information science, health care administration, psychology, health care management, public health, homeland security, human resources, information systems, information technology, occupational safety and health, environmental management, public administration, or emergency services management.
Columbia Southern University has been offering quality online education for more than 20 years. Their curriculum is up-to-date with the latest technology, trends, and best industry practices. Their faculty works closely with students, providing one-on-one support to ensure that students learn the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. Columbia’s online programs provide the flexibility for students to fit their education around their own schedules and learn at their own pace. CSU values hard work, quality, humility, and outstanding service to students.
Ohio University’s eCampus offers 10 bachelor’s degree programs and 6 associate programs. The bachelor-level programs are applied management, criminal justice, applied communication, technical and applied studies, customer service leadership, integrated healthcare studies, human services, RN to BSN, psychology, and technical operations management. One of the most trusted public research universities in the Midwest, Ohio University is also setting standards for online education.
Ohio University has partnerships with many community colleges in Ohio and neighboring states. Students who have taken courses at the school’s partner college can complete additional courses at Ohio University to finish their bachelor’s degrees. The Ohio University was founded in 1804 and has a long history of diversity and inclusiveness. Horse-loving students looking for affordable online colleges take note: Ohio University’s eCampus offers an Associate in Applied Science in Equine Studies.
Eastern Oregon UniversityDivision of Distance Education
Eastern Oregon University offers many online programs, with majors in accounting, anthropology/sociology, business administration, communication studies, computer science, early childhood education, economics, emergency medical services administration, English/writing, fire services administration, history, integrative studies, politics and economics, health and human performance, psychology, and public administration. The school also offers an online MBA and Master of Science in Education. The emergency medical services administration program offered by Eastern Oregon University is the only such program on the West coast that meets the National Fire Academy standards.
EOU Online offers flexible online programs that are regionally accredited. The school’s low cost and many scholarship opportunities make it a great choice for students looking for affordable online colleges. EOU offers a program called Assessment of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL), which allows students to earn credit for prior knowledge and work experience at a reduced tuition rate. This is an excellent way for non-traditional students who are returning to school after being in the workplace for years to accelerate their educational experiences.
American Business & Technology University
American Business & Technology University offers certificate and associate programs in healthcare, certificate through bachelor’s degrees in information technology, and certificate to master’s degree programs in business. The school offers an accelerated schedule that enables students to complete their degrees in less than the usual time if they choose. The curriculum is not stuffed with liberal arts courses, but focuses instead on practical courses that are directly related to the field of study. Each student is assigned to a coordinator for individualized attention. Live, interactive courses are offered online 1-3 days per week. The course lectures are recorded so students can access them to review the material at any time.
ABTU’s simplified cost structure means no surprise fees. There is a set cost per course that includes everything—even books. ABTU allows students to stack their credentials, so you can start by earning a specialist certificate, take a few more credits for a technical certificate, add 30 more for an associate degree, and so on—all the way up to a master’s degree.
University of Arkansas - GlobalGlobal Campus School of Continuing Education and Academic Outreach
The University of Arkansas Global Campus offers programs at all levels, from certificate to doctoral. For students seeking bachelor’s degree programs at affordable online colleges, the school offers eight options: communication, interdisciplinary studies, accounting, general business, supply chain management, human resource and workforce development education, LPN to BSN, and RN to BSN.
U of A is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers quality education at an affordable price. The school’s online programs are comparable to the programs offered on campus. U of A is rated among the top 2% of all schools nationwide for its research by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
University of Alaska FairbankseLearning & Distance Education
The University of Alaska Fairbanks eCampus offers a variety of online programs at every level from occupational endorsements to graduate degrees. At the bachelor’s degree level, there are nine options: accounting, applied management, bachelor’s degree completion, business administration, history, homeland security and emergency management, justice, psychology, and sport and recreation business. The bachelor’s degree completion program, also known as interdisciplinary general studies, allows students who have already earned at least 100 college credits a way to earn a bachelor’s degree—even if their credits are from a variety of disciplines and don’t fit neatly into a typical degree program.
UAF’s eCampus offers a flexible way for busy students to earn their degrees online affordably. UAF is a Land, Sea, and Space Grant university and Alaska’s research university. UAF drives innovation in the areas of arctic and climate change research. UAF’s tagline is “Naturally Inspiring.” It is one of just a few universities in the country bearing the designation of land, sea, and space grant institution.
University of Arkansas at Little RockeLearning
Students at the University of Arkansas Little Rock can choose from several certificates, degrees, and minors that can be completed at their convenience, 100% online. There are bachelor’s programs available in marketing, business analytics, management, sociology, social work, psychology, middle level education, accounting, business information systems, information quality, professional and technical writing, health education and promotion, interdisciplinary studies, management, RN to BSN (nursing), applied communication, applied science, and criminal justice.
The University of Arkansas Little Rock offers flexible learning while providing a quality educational experience. Students at UA Little Rock learn from the best professors while taking courses that are both rigorous and engaging. Courses include real-world experiences that help prepare students for their future careers. UA Little Rock strives to develop students’ intellect, to contribute to society, and to instill a lifelong love of learning in its students.
Athens State UniversityAthens, Alabama
Athens State University’s online degree programs offer quality, convenience, and affordability. For students seeking an online bachelor’s degree, the school offers the following choices: religion, educational studies, technical education, accounting, acquisition and contract management, human resource management, information assurance, logistics and supply chain management, management, and management of technology.
Athens State University seeks to promote global cultural understanding and to produce graduates who can think critically and communicate effectively. ASU graduates should possess practical skills in additional to academic knowledge, and should strive to continue learning throughout their lives. ASU manages its resources carefully in order to ensure that it can continue to keep tuition costs low. Its rates are the lowest in the state of Alabama. Athens State University is dedicated to meeting the academic needs of its students, providing an education that will serve its graduates for a lifetime.
University of MaineUMaineOnline
The University of Maine has been providing distance education for 30 years, and has played a pivotal role in shaping the online education movement. The school offers several online bachelor’s degree programs, including a BA in Political Science and a BS in Surveying Engineering Technology. UMaine also provides a unique Bachelor of University Studies online track with concentrations in Labor Studies, Leadership, Maine Studies, and a self-designed focus.
UMaine’s online programs use many methods of engaging students through technology, including live interactive video lectures, pre-recorded lectures, an online Blackboard that allows sharing of completed work, and interactive tests and quizzes that are graded instantly upon completion. The technology for providing distance learning has improved dramatically since the early days of interactive television. UMaine is continually pursuing new, cutting-edge technologies to improve their online offerings. Could a virtual reality classroom be coming soon? Students enrolled in online degree programs at UMaine have easy access to their academic advisors online as well.
Eastern Illinois UniversityOnline/Distance Learning Programs
Eastern Illinois University offers 9 bachelor’s degree programs: general studies, communication in organizations, psychology, organizational development, RN to BSN (nursing), business administration, health communication, health promotion: emergency management and disaster preparedness, and health promotion: community health. For online students who want to continue after their bachelor’s, Eastern Illinois University also offers 16 online master’s degree programs in areas of study ranging from aging studies and art education to cybersecurity and talent development.
EIU’s online programs provide a way for working professionals to earn their degrees while continuing to work at the same time. The school has a history of excellence and focuses on educational content that engages the student and is easy to access. Most of EIU’s online courses are charged at the in-state tuition rate regardless of where the student lives. The online educational experience opens doors for non-traditional students who would be unable to attend classes any other way.
Oregon State UniversityEcampus
Oregon State University offers more than 25 online undergraduate degree programs, and with options like natural resources, environmental sciences, rangeland science, zoology and fisheries and wildlife science, this affordable online college is a great choice for nature lovers and students interested in agriculture. Some of the school’s other programs include agricultural sciences, anthropology, business administration, computer science, economics, French, German, Spanish, horticulture, political science, psychology, religious studies, sociology, and sustainability.
OSU is a regionally accredited research university that has been around since 1868. It has built its eCampus on a solid foundation of academic excellence. The school offers more variety than most other institutions, with more than 60 certificate and degree programs available online. The OSU eCampus is one of the best providers of online education and gives access to OSU’s high-quality educational programs to students from all over the world. OSU’s distance learning program began with “farmers’ institutes” in 1889 and in 1911 was expanded to include locomotive learning, which involved lectures delivered from the caboose of a train.
Southern Illinois University CarbondaleOffice of Distance Education
Southern Illinois University offers online bachelor’s degree programs in criminology and criminal justice; electrical engineering technology; health care management; hospitality, tourism and event management; industrial management and applied engineering; information systems technologies; journalism; public safety management; university studies program; and workforce education and development. The school also offers bachelor completion programs in accounting, aviation technologies, business and administration, electronic systems technologies, mortuary science and funeral service, radiology management/education, and technical resource management.
SIU is in the top 5% of all research institutions in the US. The school conducts research on autism at the SIU Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which provides services to autistic children and their families. In 2015, the school earned the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s community engagement classification. SIU has been recognized by the Princeton Review for its sustainability programs, practices, and policies. Southern Illinois University values diversity and enrolled African-American students in its very first class in 1869.
West Virginia State University
West Virginia State University is among the most affordable online colleges for an undergraduate degree program. The online degrees allow students to work on a higher level of education from the comfort of home or any location with an Internet connection. The school offers six online programs for a reasonable cost that encourages students to focus on their long-term career goals. West Virginia State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and has accreditation for bachelor’s programs that relate to the specific field of study.
A key aspect of West Virginia State University that stands out is the focus on a student-centered approach to learning. The online programs recognize that students need relevant information for their education and it strives to provide a focused approach that puts the needs and goals of students at the forefront of the degree program.
Rogers State UniversityDistance Learning
Rogers State University offers an affordable online degree program that allows students to focus on accomplishing their goals. The school offers six fully online bachelor’s degree programs as well as a master’s degree program and associate degree programs. That flexibility to obtain a degree online allows students to keep up with any job responsibilities or personal concerns in their life without giving up on their education. Rogers State University was the first university in Oklahoma to offer fully online bachelor’s and associate’s degrees to students.
Rogers State University differs from other schools by participating in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, or the NC-SARA. The agreement focuses on helping students by keeping down costs and ensuring better resolutions to potential conflicts. It also strives to make the process of online learning easier as more students use online tools to obtain their degree.
Dakota State University OnlineOffice of Online Education
When you are looking for affordable online colleges, Dakota State University is a good option for your goals. The online degree programs allow you to work on your degree from any location with an Internet connection. It works with you by offering a course management system that gives students greater flexibility to set a schedule that works for their situation and to arrange times to work with classmates on projects or classwork.
Dakota State University stands out by offering 20 online degree programs to students. The degree programs available in a specific state may vary slightly, since the school does have some differences based on your location and the laws of your state. Due to the variety of online degree programs, the school makes it easy for students to clarify their goals and select a major that fits their situation. Dakota State University was founded in 1881 and the faculty teaching the online courses are the same as the faculty at the campus location, which ensures that students have a high-quality education.
Mississippi State UniversityMississippi State, MS
Mississippi State University offers an affordable option for students looking for online degree programs that fit their long-term goals. The school offers six online programs to help students with their situation. The low cost of the program ensures that students are able to set up a strategy to obtain a degree without facing the difficulties associated with a high-cost education.
A key way Mississippi State University stands apart from other programs is the focus on encouraging innovation, imagination, and bold decisions. The school encourages students to think outside the box to find creative solutions to potential concerns or problems. The school also focuses on helping students finalize their plans and make bold choices for their futures. Mississippi State University is a public research university, which means it is ideal for students who want to be involved in research projects.
University of Illinois at SpringfieldOffice of Technology-Enhanced Learning
The University of Illinois at Springfield is an affordable online college for students who want to avoid the traditional class environment. The university offers 14 online programs to students who want to study traditional subjects like business administration or psychology, as well as modern topics like computer science or health care informatics. You have flexible options for your degree that fit in with your long-term plans.
A key way the University of Illinois at Springfield differs from other programs is the diversity of the students. You will have a chance to work on projects or engage with others from diverse backgrounds that bring a new perspective to the online classroom. The experience working with students from diverse backgrounds will prepare you for an increasingly global work environment. The University of Illinois at Springfield has 2+2 and Joint Agreements with other colleges and universities throughout Illinois, which means nearly 90 percent of online students transfer from other schools.
Ashland University offers eight online programs for students who are looking for affordable colleges with online degree programs. The degree programs allow students to focus on their career goals and obtain an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree to fit in with their plans. It also recognizes that students may take time off from school and return, so it allows students to transfer credits.
A key advantage of Ashland University is the focus on improving the online system. The school looks for innovative and realistic strategies to improve and enhance the online programs to keep up with modern expectations for student knowledge and skill after graduation. It prepares students to adapt to a changing and evolving work environment. Ashland University focuses on research-driven online degree programs that give students a strong foundation in their field of study and the research associated with their industry.
Columbia College is an affordable online college that offers 23 online programs for students. The online programs give students the flexibility to work with their responsibilities and still get their degree. The school offers degree programs that range from accounting, business administration, and finance to cybersecurity and criminal justice, so you have several options to fit your long-term career goals.
Columbia College differs from other programs by focusing on convenience and flexibility. It strives to make the process of obtaining a bachelor’s degree online convenient for students who may have limited time for their studies. It also works around the needs of adult students who need to work on non-traditional studies due to their obligations and responsibilities. Columbia College has a long history and was founded in 1851, so it offers students degree programs with a strong foundation in their field.
University of AlabamaCollege of Continuing Studies
When you want to find an affordable online program for your degree, the University of Alabama offers a solution to help with your goals. The school offers 15 online degree programs, as well as partially online programs, that help you work around a busy schedule and complete your undergraduate education. Students can study nutrition, nursing, early childhood education, or criminal justice when it fits their schedule. It prepares you for the challenges of a career in your industry and field.
A key way the University of Alabama stands apart is the variety of programs available to students. You are not limited to traditional studies, though you should be aware that some programs may require lab work or in-person training to help enhance your learning experience. Keep in mind that some programs are partially online due to the hands-on components of the degree program. The University of Alabama stands out by setting clear guidelines for student behavior, privacy, and academics. The high standards ensure that students are ready when they start working in their career.
Old Dominion UniversityOffice of Distance Learning and Extended Education
Old Dominion University offers affordable online degree programs that give students an opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree. The online programs ensure that students have access to information and training that allows them to start working on more advanced and leadership roles in their field. The school offers more than 25 online bachelor’s degree programs in a variety of fields and industries.
The way Old Dominion University differs from other programs is the flexibility of the programs. You have several fully online programs that allow you to start at general studies and work through the entire degree without stepping onto the campus. You also have options that are partially online and give you more options when you want a few on-campus classes for the experience. Old Dominion University allows students to seamlessly transfer credits from community colleges or other universities to help cut the costs of their degree and education.
Eastern Kentucky UniversityContinuing Education and Outreach
The affordable online degree programs at Eastern Kentucky University give you an opportunity to focus on your career goals while completing your degree. The school offers flat tuition rates, which means you will not see a change to the cost of tuition when you are working on an online degree through the university. That limits the cost of your degree and allows you to cut back on the high costs associated with college.
Eastern Kentucky University gives students a chance to work around a schedule and start or finish a degree when they have time. It focuses on the goals of the student and makes it easy to keep up with your classes. You will not need to worry about high-cost degree programs because it offers an affordable option that will help you focus on your plans. Eastern Kentucky University offers online tutoring and resources for students in their online degree programs who may need extra help with their studies.
Indiana State UniversityOffice of Distance Support Services
Indiana State University gives students a chance to obtain their degree without worrying about excessive costs. The affordable online degree programs give you a chance to set new goals for your career. You can start working in a leadership position or adjust your career path by obtaining the training you need to move forward with your goals. Indiana State University also offers online certifications and minors that enhance a bachelor’s degree and give students extra training for specialized skills.
Indiana State University stands out by offering 23 online programs that fit into the needs of students. The programs are available in most states, which allows students from other locations to work on a degree without leaving the comfort of their home. It also allows active members of the military with APO and FPO addresses to complete a degree when it fits their schedule.
Northern Arizona UniversityNAU Extended Campuses
If you’re looking for an affordable online college with a wide variety of programs, then Northern Arizona University is a good choice for your goals. The school offers more than 50 online bachelor’s degree programs, which gives you several options to fit your personal goals for your career. The degree programs are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and focus on providing students with the quality of education they expect from a reputable university.
A key way Northern Arizona University stands out is their two-path process. Students can obtain a degree through traditional online programs or can choose the competency-based programs that allow students to set their own schedule and choose when they want to state. The competency-based program sets a flat-rate subscription cost, while the traditional program sets the cost based on credit hours, so the most affordable process depends on your schedule and situation.
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?
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 free online colleges do offer degrees. Applicants may have to pay an application fee or other small fees.
Some other institutions offer free courses, lectures, and other learning materials. The free courses and materials can sometimes come with a certificate, but rarely with a credit.
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.
But, what are the best ROI degrees? That all depends on where an applicant lives and which industries have the largest amount of growth.
Figuring our 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.