Most Affordable Online Colleges for 2014

The Best Value Schools and Online Degree Programs

Finding the most affordable online colleges comes down to looking for the best value, not just the lowest cost. You want to get what you pay for and then some, especially given that any degree is a two- or four-year investment.

That means in order to find the best online schools for your money, you have to dig deeper, considering factors like faculty credentials and the available student services in addition to tuition costs. This information is necessary to give you a complete picture of the overall quality of the education you’ll receive from that online program.

Take a look at this list of over 300 of the best online colleges that offer a quality educational experience. It is currently sorted by the most recent ranking, but you can view up to 100 online colleges in the directory at one time or search for your school of interest.

University
U.S. News 2014 Rank
U.S. News 2013 Rank
2013 - 2014 Tuition (In-State)
2013 - 2014 Tuition (Out-of-State)
SUNY College of Technology - Delhi1N/A$245$245
Central Michigan University139$370$370
Pace University31$570$570
Pennsylvania State University–​World Campus316$518$518
Embry-​Riddle Aeronautical University592$325$325
University of Florida534-$812
Daytona State College72$92$560
University of Alabama–​Huntsville721$427$427
Arizona State University940$460$460
University of Illinois–​Chicago918$572$572
University of Wisconsin–​Superior9148$305$305
Indiana University-​Purdue University–​Fort Wayne9UR$328$328
St. John's University133$1215$1215
University of La Verne1313$570$570
University of Denver13156$529$529
Colorado State University–​Global Campus167$350$350
Fort Hays State University1623$182$182
Bellevue University189$375$375
Marist College1817$600$600
University of Nebraska–​Omaha2011$250$464
Washington State University21N/A$569$1223
Regent University2110$395$395
Palm Beach Atlantic University2131$430$430
Wayne State University21114$384$384
Savannah College of Art and Design2538$732$732
University of Wisconsin–​Milwaukee25123$377$377
University of Wisconsin–​Platteville2585$370$370
Loyola University Chicago2864$615$615
Ball State University2920$277$488
University of Bridgeport2912$490$490
University of Illinois–​Springfield3183$353$353
Loyola University New Orleans32N/A$506$506
Westfield State University324$260$260
American Public University System3422$250$250
Western Carolina University34N/A$144$468
University of Missouri–​St. Louis3443$445$445
McKendree University37N/A$340$340
Drexel University37N/A$707$707
California Baptist University3725$495$495
Norwich University3726$250$250
Wright State University41N/A--
California State University–​Chico4175$619$619
Sam Houston State University4169$195$195
Brandman University418$500$500
University of South Carolina–​Aiken4129$768$768
Oregon State University46N/A$191$191
City University of Seattle4648$402$402
University of Northern Colorado4845$370$370
Wilmington University48N/A$330$330
DePaul University4858$550$550
Granite State College4827$305$305
Florida Institute of Technology4878$495$495
Utah State University4894$275$275
University of Missouri4868$274$274
Charter Oak State College4815$358$339
Kaplan University56N/A$371$371
George Washington University5635$552$552
University of Arkansas56N/A$212$212
Charleston Southern University56N/A$490$490
Concordia University–​St. Paul5637$420$420
St. Joseph's University6170$500$500
Upper Iowa University6147$378$378
Western Illinois University6144$280$280
University of Maine–​Augusta61103$217$525
Lamar University6572$208$208
Regis University6590$460$460
Graceland University655$495$495
Southeast Missouri State University6542$198$375
University of Massachusetts–​Dartmouth69RNP$304$304
University of West Georgia6956$256$256
University of Minnesota–​Crookston6960$385$385
Old Dominion University6971$285$285
Columbia College6936$245$245
Troy University7465$308$308
Belhaven University7432$375$375
University of Nebraska–​Lincoln74135$257$501
Georgia College & State University77UR$227$227
Wheeling Jesuit University77N/A$330$330
John Brown University7777$460$460
Eastern Kentucky University77N/A$395$395
Holy Apostles College and Seminary81N/A$430$430
University of St. Francis8128$585$585
Malone University8133$485$485
North Carolina State University–​Raleigh81122$204$408
Lawrence Technological University816$944$944
Peirce College8152$533$533
University of Cincinnati87133$381$396
Western Kentucky University87137$445$445
National-​Louis University87RNP$336$336
University of Alabama–​Birmingham87N/A$283$666
Huntington University8755$398$398
California State University–​Dominguez Hills87110$300-
Limestone College9367$376$376
Duquesne University93125$661$661
St. Louis University9395$610$610
DeVry University9361$609$609
Champlain College9754$590$590
Northern Arizona University9797$368$755
Lee University97130$175$175
Linfield College97136$435$435
Concordia University Chicago97N/A$475$475
Herzing University10280$500$500
University of West Florida102119-$552
Benedictine University10287$546$546
Minot State University10251$201$201
Florida State University102121$180$686
University of Maine—​Fort Kent102N/A$220$552
University of Toledo108N/A$327$327
Northwestern State University of Louisiana10857$374$1217
Neumann University108N/A$547$547
Post University10819$550$550
Chatham University112N/A$759$759
Monroe College112N/A$514$514
Madonna University11259--
Southwestern College11230$411$411
University of Southern Indiana11250-$318
Rogers State University11773$111$333
Bay State College117108$375$375
Toccoa Falls College11749$285$285
New Mexico State University120157$205$764
University of West Alabama120131$429$429
Fitchburg State University120N/A--
Lynn University120126$345$345
University of Tennessee–​Martin12491$264$289
Lindenwood University124RNP$471$471
Florida International University12474$151$333
Arkansas Tech University127RNP$199$398
Sacred Heart University127N/A$515$515
Eastern University127N/A$495$495
Ohio State University—​Columbus127N/A$387$387
University of North Dakota131152$257$257
University of Houston–​Victoria131RNP$164$518
Ferris State University131N/A$365$365
Bismarck State College13114$232$232
Siena Heights University131RNP$440$440
Baldwin Wallace University131UR$615$615
Montreat College131N/A$395$395
Valley City State University138N/A$161$430
University of Texas of the Permian Basin13846-$519
Berkeley College138N/A$487$487
Liberty University141109$340$340
Sullivan University141RNP$292$292
East Carolina University141159-$611
Nicholls State University141N/A$250$250
William Woods University141N/A$200$200
Davenport University14176$574$574
Our Lady of the Lake University141N/A$290$290
New England College148N/A$395$395
Northcentral University14896$417$417
University of Wisconsin–​Green Bay148RNP$262$578
Hope International University148112$480$480
Mercy College148N/A$715$715
Newman University153N/A$360$360
West Texas A&M University153N/A$233$233
Dallas Baptist University153139$775$775
Stevenson University153RNP$495$495
Averett University157N/A$375$375
Appalachian State University157RNP-$540
North Carolina A&T State University157106$110$485
University of Louisiana—​Monroe160N/A$285$285
Georgia Southern University160105$194$194
University of Minnesota—​Twin Cities160N/A-$704
Bay Path College160118$485$485
Bryan College164120$285$285
University of Findlay164142$390$390
Baker College of Flint16498$225$225
Park University164107$350$350
Stephen F. Austin State University164154$328$328
Northwood University169N/A$410$410
AIB College of Business16986$275$275
Gallaudet University169UR$671$671
DeSales University169RNP$432$432
St. Mary-​of-​the-​Woods College16993$482$482
Southern Illinois University–​Carbondale174RNP$281$281
University of Missouri–​Kansas City17482$270$695
University of South Alabama174143$363$363
Roger Williams University174N/A$484$484
Southeastern University174RNP$390$390
Academy of Art University179129$785$785
University of Michigan—​Flint179N/A$372$743
Pittsburg State University179146$157$487
Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-​Jewish College179RNP$633$633
SUNY College of Technology–​Canton179RNP$245$638
University of the Incarnate Word17941$485$485
Tiffin University179102$430$430
Stephens College18666$340$340
University of Houston–​Downtown186RNP$172$526
William Peace University186N/A$250$250
Hodges University189N/A$520$520
Columbus State University189140$266-
University of Houston—​Clear Lake189N/A$185$599
Northern State University189153$301$301
Misericordia University194N/A$350$350
Eastern Illinois University194RNP$283$283
Bemidji State University194160$250$250
Jacksonville State University194RNP$345$345
Midstate College194N/A$381$381
United States Sports Academy194N/A$330$330
Baptist College of Florida194144$310$310
Cornerstone University201N/A$340$340
Mid-​America Christian University201N/A$446$446
Creighton University201N/A$400$400
Eastern Michigan University201RNP$266-
Moody Bible Institute205N/A--
Bowling Green State University205N/A-$389
Delta State University205N/A-$251
Andrews University205N/A$375$375
Jones International University20584$530$530
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–​NewarkN/ARNP--
Newberry CollegeN/AUR--
Cleary UniversityN/A149--
St. Leo UniversityN/A53--
Excelsior CollegeN/A89--
University of MemphisN/A141--
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–​New BrunswickN/ARNP--
Sterling CollegeN/A81--
SUNY–​PlattsburghN/ARNP--
Stony Brook University–​SUNYN/A138--
Corban UniversityN/A62--
University of Illinois–​Urbana-​ChampaignN/ARNP--
Grand Canyon UniversityN/A63--
University of Louisiana–​LafayetteN/ARNP--
St. Mary's College of CaliforniaN/A24--
Chipola CollegeN/A150--
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey–​CamdenN/ARNP--
Drury UniversityN/A127--
Thomas UniversityN/A134--
Grace Bible CollegeN/A124--
Morgan State UniversityN/AUR--
Winston-​Salem State UniversityN/ARNP--
Judson UniversityN/A117--
Fort Valley State UniversityN/A116--
Mansfield University of PennsylvaniaN/ARNP--
King CollegeN/ARNP--
Arkansas State UniversityN/ARNP--
Kentucky Christian UniversityN/AUR--
Inter American University of Puerto Rico–​AguadillaN/AUR--
University of Texas–​BrownsvilleN/A113--
St. Thomas UniversityN/ARNP--
Central Washington UniversityN/ARNP--
Western International UniversityN/A104--
Trinity College of Nursing & Health SciencesN/A100--
Carson-​Newman CollegeN/AUR--
Oakland UniversityN/A155--
Campbellsville UniversityN/AUR--
Bluefield State CollegeN/AUR--
University of PhoenixN/A79--
Western Governors UniversityN/A151--
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health SciencesN/AUR--
University of Maine–​MachiasN/ARNP--
St. Andrews Presbyterian CollegeN/AUR--
Tennessee Wesleyan CollegeN/AUR--
Waldorf CollegeN/A128--
Arcadia UniversityRNPRNP--
Cameron UniversityRNP101$115$363
Keystone CollegeRNPUR$400$400
Cumberland UniversityRNPRNP$425$425
Johnson State CollegeRNPN/A--
East Tennessee State UniversityRNPN/A--
D'Youville CollegeRNPN/A--
Clemson UniversityRNPN/A--
Tennessee State UniversityRNPN/A--
University of Arkansas—​Little RockRNPN/A--
Alaska Pacific UniversityRNPN/A--
Midway CollegeRNPN/A$445$445
Clarion University of PennsylvaniaRNPRNP$276$282
Marshall UniversityRNPN/A$215$215
Asbury UniversityRNPN/A$449$449
Robert Morris UniversityRNPRNP$680$680
Nova Southeastern UniversityRNPRNP$675$675
Mount Aloysius CollegeRNP115$650$650
West Virginia UniversityRNPN/A-$913
Webber International UniversityRNPUR$645$645
St. Petersburg CollegeRNPN/A--
University of LouisvilleRNPN/A$460$460
Philadelphia UniversityRNPUR$630$630
Utica CollegeRNPRNP$400$400
King UniversityRNPN/A$300$300
South Dakota State UniversityRNPRNP$302$302
Johnson and Wales UniversityRNPRNP$324$324
Salem International UniversityRNPN/A$590$590
Richard Stockton College of New JerseyRNPN/A--
Northern Kentucky UniversityRNPN/A--
University of CharlestonRNPN/A$380$380
Nebraska Methodist CollegeRNPN/A--
Fisher CollegeRNPRNP$325$325
Medaille CollegeRNPRNP$574$574
Mid-​Continent UniversityRNPRNP$325$325
Emporia State UniversityRNP158$146$216
Amridge UniversityRNP132$250$250
Crown CollegeRNPRNP--
Minnesota State University–​MankatoRNPRNP--
Kentucky Wesleyan CollegeRNPN/A$325$325
Trine UniversityRNPRNP$460$460
University of the SouthwestRNPUR$395$395
Brenau UniversityRNP99$560$560
Southwestern Assemblies of God UniversityRNPRNP$560$560
Welch CollegeRNPN/A$329$329
Buena Vista UniversityRNPRNP$392$392
Cleveland State UniversityRNPRNP$394$526
Dallas Christian CollegeRNPN/A$434$434
Thomas Edison State CollegeRNPRNP$170$229
Kendall CollegeRNPN/A--
Bluefield CollegeRNPRNP$345$345
Mayville State UniversityRNP145$194$194
Hampton UniversityRNPN/A$473$473
McNeese State UniversityRNPN/A$355$1263
Bethel CollegeRNPUR$367$367
Gardner-​Webb UniversityRNPN/A$362$362
University of Colorado—​DenverRNPN/A--
University of the CumberlandsRNPUR$199$199
Oklahoma Wesleyan UniversityRNP111$415$415
Valdosta State UniversityRNPUR$250$250
Baker UniversityRNP147$500$500
Greenville CollegeRNPN/A$420$420
Oklahoma Panhandle State UniversityRNPUR--
Cogswell Polytechnical CollegeRNP88$243$243
Southeastern Louisiana UniversityRNPN/A$238$739
Northwestern Oklahoma State UniversityRNPUR$394$394
Indiana Institute of TechnologyRNPRNP$385$385
College of Mount St. JosephURN/A$500$500
Blue Mountain CollegeURN/A$340$340
Mid-​Atlantic Christian UniversityURN/A$333$333
Dakota Wesleyan UniversityURN/A$325$325
Point Park UniversityURUR$709$709

Depending on what type of degree you’re pursuing, you may have to narrow your list of schools even further by the specializations they offer and what is most in line with your long-term career goals. Clearly, the sheer number of online universities can make choosing just one a daunting task.

To help with this, I created a full series on the most affordable online colleges, including separate articles on affordable online bachelor’s degrees, affordable online masters or graduate degrees, and affordable online MBAs. I’ll also walk you through some tips on the best ways to apply and provide a brief background on financial aid.

Before moving into the schools themselves, let’s address one of the big concerns about online education: the myth that employers look at online graduates differently than those who attended a traditional on-campus university.

Cheap Online Colleges: Low Tuition, High Reputation

It’s true that online colleges have a certain stigma attached to them. However, it’s important to note that all online colleges are not created equal.

Obtaining an online degree from a respected college means employers will perceive you no differently than they will someone who majored in the same subject from the same college but completed it on campus.

The bad rap comes from for-profit online colleges, which aren’t affordable at all. Not only that but the educational quality is subpar and many students struggle to complete their degree program, which can lead to a large debt with nothing to show for it.

affordable schools default rate

As you can see in the image above from the U.S. Department of Education, students at for-profit schools are defaulting twice as much as students at public schools and about three times as much as students at private schools.

An article on the The Economist blog explains exactly why many people don’t trust for-profit universities. It details how for-profit online colleges charge far higher tuition but spend less on instruction for each student.

It also mentions that the U.S. government spent $32 billion on for-profit online education in the 2009-2010 academic year. After an investigation by the U.S. Senate Committee, it turns out that government had failed to “safeguard the federal investment and ensure student success.” You can read the shortened version or executive summary here.

The bottom line: For-profit education has cost a lot of people a lot of money. It has given online education in general a poor reputation.

But now, online educational quality is on the rise thanks to the presence of online degree programs from well-established, traditional universities.

Some of the highest-ranked schools in the country offer a variety of bachelor’s and master’s degrees online. For example, a good friend of mine recently got his MBA from Duke University online while living and working full-time in California. As you might know, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business is one of the top-ranked business schools in the country.

I’m telling you this because it’s a testament to how far online education has come from the days when the University of Phoenix was your only option.

The fact that a degree is completed online is irrelevant. The only reason the negative perception of an online degree exists is because for-profit colleges are focused on enrolling in high volume, not providing a top-notch education.

It’s time to give credit to the schools that are delivering quality education at an affordable price. It’s time to completely separate these online schools from the for-profit schools that are owned by publicly traded companies.

A Look at the Best

When choosing the top 10 online colleges, price was the focal point, but other important factors were taken into full consideration.

Here’s the process I carried out to find cheap online colleges that offer great educational value:

  • Compiled a list of over 300 online colleges with tuition data from U.S. News & World Report
  • Sorted the list by cheapest undergraduate and graduate tuition rates
  • Reviewed the 2013 and 2014 overall online school rankings of each school from U.S. News & World Report
  • Stack-ranked the schools that had the lowest tuition rates and the best rankings from the past two years

When I looked at tuition costs and school rankings, it was obvious that educational quality doesn’t have to be sacrificed if you’re on a budget.

Many of the cheapest online schools in the country also rank high among the best-performing schools in measures of faculty quality, technological capability, and student satisfaction.

Ultimately, you want to go to an affordable online school that offers the bachelor’s or master’s degree program you’re looking for. In addition to the factors I already mentioned, all of the online schools that made my top ten most affordable colleges list offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs to choose from.

The 10 Best Affordable Online Colleges

  1. Sam Houston State University
  2. Fort Hays State University
  3. Lamar University
  4. University of Arkansas
  5. University of North Dakota
  6. Valdosta State University
  7. West Texas A&M University
  8. Columbia College
  9. University of West Georgia
  10. Oregon State University

Let’s take a deeper look at the bachelor’s programs, graduate programs, and tuition costs of some of the highly ranked, most affordable online schools.

Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University
Sam Houston State University heads up the list of the cheapest online schools with an excellent selection of nationally recognized online bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The online bachelor’s programs cost $195 per credit, while online graduate courses are only $245 per credit. In addition to low tuition rates, Sam Houston State also delivers on quality. In U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 survey of online degree programs, the school achieves a top 50 ranking for its bachelor’s programs and top 20 rankings for several of its graduate programs.

School Details

Location Texas
Application Fee $45
Bachelor's In-State Tuition $195/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition $195/credit
Master's In-State Tuition $254/credit
Master's Out-of-State Tuition $245/credit

Online Degrees Available at Sam Houston State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Criminal justice
  • Business administration
  • General studies
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Multiple education specialties
  • Criminal justice
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Information assurance and security
  • Library science
  • Public administration

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University-1
Fort Hays State University delivers a superb selection of inexpensive, quality online degrees, and it happens to be among the country’s cheapest online colleges. The school’s bachelor’s programs cost $182 per credit and are ranked among the top 20 in the nation. Most Fort Hays State graduate programs are priced at a very affordable $247 per credit. MBA courses are a little more expensive at $400 per credit, a rate that places the school just outside the top 20 cheapest MBA programs.

School Details

LocationKansas
Application Fee$30
Bachelor's In-State Tuition$182/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition$182/credit
Master's In-State Tuition$247 - $400/credit
Master's Out-of-State Tuition$247 - $400/credit

Online Degrees Available at Fort Hays State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:

  • Multiple business specialties
  • Multiple education specialties
  • Information technology
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Nursing
  • Medical diagnostic imaging
  • Philosophy
Online Graduate Programs:

  • Several education specialties
  • Several nursing specialties
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Health and human performance
  • Counseling
  • School psychology

Lamar University

Lamar University
Lamar University offers highly regarded programs in nursing and education, among many other options. Seven of the school’s eight bachelor’s degree programs cost $208 per credit. The bachelor’s program in nursing is more expensive at $277 per credit. All of the school’s graduate programs cost less than $300 per credit, including the nationally ranked graduate nursing program.

School Details

Location
Texas
Application Fee
$25
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$208/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$208/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$235 - $250/credit
Master's Out-of-State Tuition
$235 - $250/credit

Online Degrees Available at Lamar University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Business
  • Nursing
  • Communication
  • Criminal justice
  • General studies
Online Graduate Programs (15 to choose from):
  • A dozen education specialties
  • Nursing administration
  • Nursing education
  • Criminal justice

University of Arkansas

UA_Logo
The University of Arkansas is known for much more than being a cheap online college by evidence of their online graduate engineering programs ranking among the top 25 in the country for educational quality. Their graduate education, graduate nursing, and bachelor’s degree programs also rank among the country’s top 75 online programs. Tuition at the University of Arkansas is $212 per credit for bachelor’s programs and $362 per credit for most master’s programs. Master’s programs in engineering are even more affordable at $250 per credit.

School Details

Location
Arkansas
Application Fee
$40
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$212/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$212/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$250 - $362/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$250 - $362/credit

Online Degrees Available at the University of Arkansas

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Nursing
  • Human resource and workforce development education
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Several education specialties
  • Electrical engineering
  • Human environmental sciences
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Information systems
  • Nursing

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota
The University of North Dakota offers a variety of rather rare online bachelor’s subjects, including degrees in chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. The school also delivers quality degree programs in more common online subjects such as education, nursing, and business. Bachelor’s degree courses are $257 per credit and graduate degree courses are $276 per credit, making the University of North Dakota one of the most affordable online colleges around.

School Details

Location
North Dakota
Application Fee
$35
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$257/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$257/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$276/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$276/credit

Online Degrees Available at the University of North Dakota

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Multiple engineering specialties
  • Nursing
  • Communication
  • Social science
  • Psychology
  • General studies
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Several education specialties
  • Applied economics
  • Space studies
  • Aviation
  • Forensic psychology
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Nursing

Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University
Valdosta State University is home to a solid selection of online bachelor’s and graduate programs designed to emphasize practical skills development in order to prepare students to enter the workforce or to advance in a current job. Bachelor’s degree courses are priced at $250 per credit and most graduate courses are priced at $285 per credit, placing Valdosta State University just outside the top five cheapest online schools in the country.

School Details

Location
Georgia
Application Fee
$40
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$250/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$250/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$285 - $700/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$285 - $700/credit

Online Degrees Available at Valdosta State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Criminal justice
  • Office administration
  • Organizational leadership
  • Legal assistant studies
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Multiple education specialties
  • Criminal justice
  • Public administration
  • Library and information sciences

West Texas A&M University

West Texas A&M University
West Texas A&M University offers several standout degrees, including graduate business and nursing programs that rank 27th and 41st in the country, respectively. While most of the school’s online programs are delivered entirely online, a few require some limited travel to campus. Bachelor’s degree courses cost $233 per credit. Online graduate nursing courses cost $392 per credit, while all other online graduate courses cost $328 per credit.

School Details

Location
Texas
Application Fee
$40
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$233/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$233/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$298 - $366/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$298 - $366/credit

Online Degrees Available at West Texas A&M University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Criminal justice
  • General studies
  • Business administration
  • Nursing
  • Emergency management administration
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Nursing
  • Educational diagnostician
  • Teaching
  • Instructional design and technology

Columbia College

Columbia College
Offering a diverse selection of online bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Columbia College is a very strong choice in this list of affordable online schools. While most online degree programs operate on a traditional semester or quarter schedule, Columbia College delivers courses on a compressed eight-week schedule with five individual sessions each year. This means you can get started at any time throughout the year rather than waiting to enroll in either the fall or spring. Bachelor’s courses are priced at $245 per credit, while graduate courses cost around $345 per credit.

School Details

Location
Missouri
Application Fee
$35
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$245/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$245/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$335 - 345/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$335 - 345/credit

Online Degrees Available at Columbia College

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Computer information systems
  • Business
  • Human services
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • English
  • General studies
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Educational leadership
  • Criminal justice
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Teaching
  • Military studies

University of West Georgia

University of West Georgia
While not the cheapest online college on this list, the University of West Georgia performs exceptionally well in the rankings of online degree programs. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranks the school’s online MBA program fourth in the nation, while the online graduate IT program is ranked 12th in the nation. The university offers only one online bachelor’s program, in criminology, which costs $256 per credit. The school’s graduate programs vary in cost, from $282 per credit for a graduate education degree to $700 per credit for an MBA.

School Details

Location
Georgia
Application Fee
$40
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$256/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$256/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$282 - $700/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$282 - $700/credit

Online Degrees Available at the University of West Georgia

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Criminology
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Nursing
  • Applied computer science
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Instructional technology
  • Early childhood education
  • Music education
  • Reading instruction

Oregon State University

Oregon State University
Oregon State University has offered online bachelor’s programs since 2000. These online bachelor’s degree programs are currently ranked 46th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Oregon State University’s Ecampus is best known for their student services and technology, which allow for additional convenience. All online classes are recorded and archived so material can be accessed at any time. Online bachelor’s programs cost between $191 and $271 per credit for both in-state and out-of-state students, which is how Oregon State snuck onto this list. Graduate programs are pricier than the other schools listed here, with an average of around $550 per credit. However, the online graduate programs are also more specialized, which may justify the cost.

School Details

Location
Oregon
Application Fee
$60
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$191/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$191/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$550/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$550/credit

Online Degrees Available at Oregon State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Agricultural sciences
  • Anthropology
  • Computer science
  • Economics
  • Environmental economics and policy
  • Environmental sciences
  • Fisheries and wildlife sciences
  • German
  • Horticulture
  • Human development and family sciences
  • Liberal studies
  • Natural resources
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Sustainability
  • Women, gender, and sexuality studies
Online Graduate Programs:
  • MBA in executive leadership
  • Adult education (not fully online)
  • Education (K-12)
  • Counseling
  • Science or mathematics education
  • Natural resources
  • Fisheries and wildlife administration
  • Radiation health physics

Comparing the Most Affordable Online Colleges to the Best Online Colleges

You may be wondering how the affordable online schools on the list above match up against the best online colleges in the country. It might surprise you to know that there aren’t that many differences between the two.

Depending on the type of degree you’re interested in, you may get just as good of an education from one of the most affordable schools as you could from some of the highest-ranked online colleges.

Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees

If you’re looking at online bachelor’s degree programs, you’ll notice a much bigger difference in quality between the best online schools and the most affordable online schools. Of course, there’s also a big difference in cost as well. Of all the degree levels, you get what you pay for at the undergraduate level.

Before you make any decisions, look closely at the type of majors offered by these schools. Just because one university’s online bachelor’s programs are considered better than another doesn’t mean they have the degree you’re looking for. If you are settled on the idea of taking classes online, but not certain of your major, you’ll want to look into a school that offers more majors.

Even with online master’s degree programs, not every university is going to offer the exact type of degree you’re interested in. Do your research and weigh these considerations against paying more tuition at another school that has a specialty more suited to your career goals.

In general, there are fewer differences in quality between the online master’s programs at the most highly-rated schools and the programs that are considered to be the most affordable. A lot of the highest rated universities in the country offer graduate programs online.

A Graduate Degree Comparison

Let’s say, for example, you’re looking to pursue a graduate degree in information technology from an online school. There are a number of universities you might consider, including Pennsylvania State University—World Campus. Their graduate IT program is ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, with above-average scores in the areas of faculty credentials, student services, and student engagement. Tuition for this program costs $825 per credit.

Now compare that to the IT program offered by Sam Houston State University. Their program falls slightly behind Pennsylvania State University—World Campus in rankings of the best online colleges, coming in at number seven.

However, when you look a little deeper, their programs aren’t all that different. In fact, you can see clearly where Sam Houston State is a very competitive option at a quarter of the cost.

  • Sam Houston State actually ranks higher than Penn State when it comes to faculty credentials.
  • Sam Houston State holds the highest possible score for student engagement and satisfaction.
  • Sam Houston State offers several more concentration options for students to choose from.
  • The program costs just $245 per credit for both in-state and out-of-state students.

If price is your main concern, there’s no question which school you should choose. The amount you’ll save in tuition costs far outweighs any minor advantages you might gain from going with Penn State’s slightly higher-ranked program.

Now, this isn’t to say that the best online schools haven’t earned their reputation for academic excellence. As a nationally recognized school in the Big Ten, Penn State does have a larger reputation than Sam Houston State. The above example simply illustrates that you have options regardless of your budget.

How to Save the Most When Choosing an Online College

  1. Decide on your major
  2. If you can’t decide on a major, look for schools with many degree options
  3. Get an idea of cost for your degree
  4. Set your budget
  5. Look for schools within your budget that offer your degree (or multiple degrees)
  6. Eliminate the schools that are too expensive
  7. Weigh the quality measures of that school
  8. Apply to a select number schools where you have a good chance of being accepted

Money-Saving Tips

Step 1: Decide on Your Major

The first thing you need to do to find an affordable online college is to decide which degree you want to pursue, then narrow down your search to only schools that offer the program you want. If you can’t decide on a major, look for a school that has many online bachelor’s degree programs so you have the flexibility to change your major. Remember, online education is best for students who have a specific educational focus because the full range of undergraduate degrees is not always available online.

Step 2: Set Your Budget

Once you’ve determined the major you want to pursue, set a realistic budget to help you find cheap online colleges that are also a good academic fit. Start by looking at the online colleges that offer the degree you want. You should be able to gauge the tuition cost per credit for the programs you’re interested in. Once you have a general idea of your total program cost, you can then decide which schools are aligned with your budget or which ones offer the most value for the money. If you plan to work while taking classes, you can factor in that income into your choice as well.

Step 3: Narrow Down Your List

Depending on the program you’re seeking, this can be easy or difficult. You need to get the list of schools you’re interested in down to a manageable number. Identify your top five schools by performing some more in-depth research on the options that fit within your budget and criteria.

You’ll also want to make sure your GPA and test scores are good enough to get into the schools you want to apply to. Talk to admissions advisers from each of the online colleges or look for students who are currently enrolled in the program and ask them questions. You can also talk to alumni who completed the online program, although the sample size may be small. LinkedIn is a good place to find alumni.

Step 4: Apply to Your Top 5 Schools

Once you decide on your top five online schools, it’s time to apply. Make sure you get everything you need for your application, like recommendation letters, prepared ahead of time. By having a smaller number of schools on your list (and applying early), you’ll save money on application fees and have a more targeted approach.

Start with Price: The Cheapest Online Degree Paths

The online college you choose is going to be a big factor in how much you pay for your schooling, but there are other things to consider if you’re really looking to minimize your educational costs. Since online tuition is generally priced according to degree level rather than degree subject, there is an opportunity to save even more money by opting for the cheapest degree path available, based on your career goals.

If you haven’t decided on a career yet and you’re looking for the most affordable path to a dependable career with good pay, you can consider careers that require only a two-year associate’s degree. Choosing a high-paying career that only requires an associate’s degree immediately saves you two years of tuition costs compared to a career that requires a bachelor’s degree.

An online associate’s degree is not the best option for everyone, but it’s the cheapest and quickest path to a career if you’re willing to work in certain fields.

How to save the most money while getting your desired degree:

  1. Get an internship or entry-level job in your desired field
  2. Start with your associate’s degree
  3. Move to a bachelor’s completion program
  4. Advance in your career
  5. Continue your education with an online graduate program while working

If you’ve already identified your ideal career, but it requires a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, you can still save some money by considering an associate’s degree first. Once your associate’s degree is complete, simply transfer into an affordable two-year bachelor’s completion program. With a bachelor’s degree complete, you’re ready to enter a master’s degree program or the workforce.

Online Associate’s Degree Programs

Online associate’s degrees are the cheapest online degrees available on a cost-per-credit basis. These affordable online degree programs require two years of full-time study to complete, making the full cost of the degree very inexpensive compared to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. With a shorter two-year curriculum you can start working and earning a full-time salary years earlier than you can in careers that require a higher-level degree.

Associate’s degrees are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in fields of all kinds, from information technology to business. Both community colleges and four-year universities across the country offer cheap online degrees at the associate’s level, many with a dozen or more subjects to choose from. While the full spectrum of associate’s degree subjects are not offered in an online format, plenty of good options are available to distance education students.

Best Online Associate’s Degrees to Consider
Technology

Computer and information technology subjects are some of the best associate’s degrees to pursue online and rank among the cheapest online degree programs available on a value-for-money basis. Most associate’s degrees in technology subjects provide all the basic skills you need to get started in careers with very high salary potential.

An online associate’s degree in web development makes for excellent and relatively affordable career training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a web developer in the U.S. is more than $62,000 per year and the job pool is expected to grow more than 20% this decade. Fields such as media production, computer support services, and systems and network maintenance are also open to associate’s degree graduates and offer median salaries of around $50,000 or more.

Web developers earn more than $62,000/year and the field is growing at a rate of higher than 20%. It only takes an associate’s degree to get your foot in the door.

Among many affordable online degrees, Baker College in Michigan offers several quality online associate’s degrees in information technology subjects.

Baker College offers degrees in the following:

  • Web Development
  • IT Support,
  • Computer Programming

Pennsylvania State University—World Campus, one of the very top online schools in the country, offers an associate’s program in information sciences and technology.

You can individualize the program to focus on any of the following:

  • Web Development
  • Database or Network Administration
  • Technical Support
Business

Although associate’s degrees in business subjects are not as lucrative after graduation as some degrees in technology fields, they do enable you to secure the skills you need to get a foothold in all kinds of business positions.

Getting an entry-level position in business enables you to start working your way up the ladder to greater responsibility and higher pay. Hundreds of online schools offer associate’s degrees in business.

Health, Education, Legal, and Family

Other affordable online degrees worth looking into include health administrative services, health information technology, childhood and elementary education, criminal justice, paralegal studies, and family development.

Note that some of these fields require both an associate’s degree and a license or certification in many states. Make sure you identify your local requirements before committing to a program.

Online Bachelor’s Completion Programs

After you complete a low-cost online associate’s degree from an accredited university or college, you can transfer your credits into an online bachelor’s degree program and start studying as a third-year student. Many online bachelor’s programs exist to primarily support students for this situation.

Virtually all online bachelor’s programs accept transfer credits from online associate’s programs. You have the ability to choose from a full selection of degree options at any price.

Many bachelor’s completion programs only deliver the third and fourth year of courses online. However, you don’t have to limit your search to formal bachelor’s-completion programs. You can transfer into virtually any standard four-year online bachelor’s program as a degree-completion student with junior-year standing.

Standout schools that offer inexpensive online bachelor’s degree completion programs are:

  1. Fort Hays State
  2. Oregon State University
  3. Sam Houston State University
  4. Lamar University
  5. University of Arkansas
  6. West Texas A&M University

Some of the country’s highest ranked and most affordable online degrees are available to associate’s degree graduates. For example, Fort Hays State University offers some of the cheapest online degrees anywhere. Choose from more than 25 different subjects, including multiple specialties in the business, education, and information technology fields.

Oregon State University is another inexpensive option for bachelor’s-completion students. Oregon State’s affordable online degree programs include common subjects like business, psychology, and political science. The school also offers some rather rare online subjects, including horticulture, fisheries and wildlife, German, and environmental economics, among many other interesting options.

Other schools offering very affordable online degree programs open to associate’s degree graduates include Sam Houston State University, Lamar University, University of Arkansas, and West Texas A&M University. Each of these institutions ranks among the top 25 online schools for cheap out-of-state tuition.

Making Your Online Education More Affordable

If you’re thinking about pursuing an online degree, you might be thinking about financial aid to help pay for college. Even the most affordable colleges represent a substantial expense when you add up tuition, school fees, and the cost of books and supplies. Then, you have to factor in your regular living expenses.

The FAFSA

Before looking at the different types of online schools that accept financial aid, it’s important to understand the basics of the federal financial aid system. Both traditional and online colleges operate under the very same system, which is centered around the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.

Any student interested in federal financial aid must complete a FAFSA to be eligible for funds. A FAFSA can be completed and submitted online at any time.
The FAFSA is designed to collect information about your personal finances to determine your ability to pay for school on your own. Your ability to pay is calculated as a dollar figure known as your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC.

How It Works

Once you get accepted into any traditional or online colleges that accept FAFSA, your EFC is subtracted from the school’s cost of attendance in order to determine your financial need. All traditional and online schools that accept FAFSA are required to calculate official cost of attendance figures, which include educational and living expenses for a typical enrolled student.

The difference between your EFC and a school’s official cost of attendance is the amount of need-based federal financial aid you are eligible for, up to certain maximum annual limits. Need-based aid includes grants, which you don’t have to pay back, and interest-subsidized federal loans, which you do have to pay back.

On top of need-based aid, most students are also eligible for non-need-based aid. Non-need-based aid is made up of unsubsidized federal loans, which you must pay back. Your overall financial aid eligibility cannot exceed your total cost of attendance.

After you accept admission to an online school that offers financial aid, the school puts together a financial aid package including loans and any grants for which you are eligible. While the funds come from the federal government, the school administers those funds, first paying your tuition and fees, and then disbursing the remainder to you for payment of your personal expenses.

Financial Aid Specifically for Online Education

There are hundreds of online colleges that accept financial aid, including large public universities, small private colleges, and for-profit educational institutions. Like traditional schools, online schools must be accredited by a federally recognized education accreditation agency in order to be a part of the federal financial aid system.

Online schools that offer financial aid can only grant it to students enrolled in formal degree or certificate programs recognized under federal financial aid standards. Virtually all online degree programs offered by properly accredited colleges are compatible with federal financial aid.

There are some exceptions, however. For example, many independent-study programs are ineligible for federal student aid because they aren’t carried out on a regular quarter- or semester-based academic calendar, which is a general requirement for federal financial aid. Even when a program is fully eligible under federal standards, a school may choose not to offer aid.

Ultimately, to be certain that an online college offers federal financial aid for a particular online degree program, you must contact the school’s admissions department or financial aid office directly.

If you enjoyed reading this, sign up for free updates!

About this resource:

Created on: March 10, 2014

Updated on: August 29, 2014

Edited by: Sarah Ban, Kailey Fralick

Research by: Mike Jelinek, Kailey Fralick, Allen Leng