Most Affordable Online Colleges for 2015

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

Key Online College Statistics

  • 5.5 million US students taking online courses
  • 2.6 million US students taking online classes exclusively

*Source: Most recent U.S. Department of Education online enrollment survey

Take a look at this list of almost 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.

USN 2015 rank
USN 2014 rank
2014-15 tuition (in state)
2014-15 tuition (out of state)
Pennsylvania State University-World Campus13$535$535
Western Kentucky University287$463$463
Daytona State College27$92$560
University of Illinois-Chicago29$575$575
Oregon State University546$191$191
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University55$335$335
Colorado State University-Global Campus716$350$350
Arizona State University89$480$480
Ohio State University-Columbus8127$382$1,070
Pace University103$570$570
Regent University1121$395$395
Savannah College of Art and Design1125$751$751
Utah State University1348$290$290
Central Michigan University131$387$387
University of Florida135$112$500
Fort Hays State University1616$187$187
Creighton University16201$412$412
SUNY College of Technology-Delhi181$257$257
University of La Verne1813$565$565
University of Illinois-Springfield2031$359$359
George Washington University2056$552$552
Washington State University2021$569$569
University of Wisconsin-Superior239$305$305
California Baptist University2337$511$511
Palm Beach Atlantic University2521$445$445
Siena Heights University25131$455$455
American Public University System2734$250$250
CUNY School of Professional Studies27N/A$260$260
City University of Seattle2746$388$388
University of Denver2713$539$539
Old Dominion University3169$299$314
Brandman University3141$500$500
Temple University31N/A$726$726
Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne349$355$355
University of Minnesota-Crookston3469$385$385
Charleston Southern University3456$490$490
Ball State University3429$284$499
University of Missouri-Kansas City34174$270$705
St. John's University3413$1,262$1,262
University of Maine-Augusta4061$217$271
Colorado State University40N/A$397$397
Eastern Kentucky University4077$398$398
Concordia University-St. Paul4056$420$420
Malone University4081$485$485
University of Nebraska-Lincoln4074$257$501
Florida Institute of Technology4048$510$510
Lamar University4765$208$208
Marist College4718$600$600
Loyola University Chicago4728$630$630
University of Wisconsin-Platteville5025$370$370
University of Missouri-St. Louis5034$452$452
St. Leo University50N/A$470$470
University of the Incarnate Word50179$495$495
University of Central Florida50N/A$230$749
University of North Florida55N/A$285$285
University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth5569$304$304
Wayne State University5521$397$397
Westfield State University5832$260$260
Regis University5865$460$460
University of Nebraska-Omaha5820$250$464
SUNY College of Technology-Canton58179$257$659
Drexel University6237$502$502
Western Illinois University6361$288$288
Granite State College6348$285$315
Bellevue University6318$385$385
University of Alabama-Huntsville637$440$440
Linfield College6397$450$450
Sam Houston State University6841$204$204
Southeast Missouri State University6865$201$381
University of Bridgeport6829$500$500
University of Oklahoma68N/A$138$563
Indiana University72N/A$207$298
Boise State University72N/A$317$317
Franklin University72N/A$464$464
Peirce College7281$550$550
University of Alabama-Birmingham7287$573$573
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay72148$262$578
California State University-Chico7241$247$619
University of West Georgia7969$260$260
Liberty University79141$360$360
Kaplan University7956$371$371
California University of Pennsylvania82N/A$332$347
Lynn University82120$355$355
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign82N/A$397$397
North Carolina State University-Raleigh8281$204$408
Univeristy of Phoenix8279$469$469
Upper Iowa University8761$405$405
Berkeley College87138$525$525
Sacred Heart University87127$530$530
Northwestern State University of Louisiana90108$206$206
Oklahoma Panhandle State University90RNP$233$233
Charter Oak State College9048$263$346
Western Carolina University9034$124$475
Herzing University90102$525$525
University of Texas of the Permian Basin90138$168$530
Duquense University9093$687$687
University of Georgia90N/A$286$893
Columbia College9869$260$260
Florida International University98124$162$279
University of Tennessee-Martin98124$280$308
University of Missouri9848$274$350
McKendree University9837$350$350
Norwich University9837$375$375
Cornerstone University98201$385$385
Lindenwood University98124$484$484
Everglades University98N/A$600$600
Georgia Southern University107160$199$199
John Brown University10777$410$410
Concordia University107N/A$425$425
University of St. Francis10781$599$599
Valley City State University111138$168$168
Toccoa Falls College111117$295$295
Ferris State University111131$381$381
Northwood University111169$420$420
University of Houston-Victoria111131$173$535
DeVry University11193$609$609
Robert Morris University111RNP$695$695
Lawrence Technological University11181$986$986
West Texas A&M University119153$246$277
North Carolina A&T State University119157$110$544
Post University119108$570$570
Davenport University119141$613$613
University of South Carolina-Aiken11941$388$777
Chatham University119112$782$782
Georgia College & State University12577$232$232
Fitchburg State University125120$40$294
Colorado Technical University125N/A$325$325
Wheeling Jesuit University12577$365$365
Limestone College12593$390$390
Dominican College125N/A$753$753
Lee University13197$182$182
United States Sports Academy131194$360$360
New England College131148$395$395
Gallaudet University131169$725$725
Northern Arizona University13197$362$771
Southwestern College136112$427$427
Concordia University-Chicago13697$475$475
University at Buffalo-SUNY136N/A$257$816
Madonna University136112--
New England Institute of Technology140N/A$350$350
California State University-Dominguez Hills14087$300-
Minot State University142102$206$206
Southern Arkansas University142N/A$210$325
University of Wisconsin-Stout142N/A$334$334
Oral Roberts University142N/A$349$349
University of Toledo142108$385$385
Monroe College142112$535$535
University of Arkansas14856$256$256
Bay State College148117$393$393
Graceland University14865$395$395
St. Joseph's University14861$541$541
Plymouth State University148N/A$435$763
California State University-East Bay153N/A$297$297
Newman University153153$377$377
Brescia University153N/A$395$395
Tiffin University153179$430$430
Cleveland State University153RNP$401$537
Missouri Southern State University158N/A$173$346
MCPHS University158N/A$380$380
Northcentral University158148$417$417
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee16125$337$337
Wilmington University16148$338$338
Maranahta Baptist University161N/A$364$364
Baker University161RNP$525$525
Florida State University161102$270$776
New Mexico State University161120$248$796
Faulkner University167N/A$295$295
Dakota Wesleyan University167UR$325$325
New England College of Business and Finance167N/A$433$433
Stevenson University167153$495$495
Pittsburg State University167179$165$502
Patten University172N/A$110$110
Montreat College172131$395$395
University of Mary172N/A$500$500
Eastern University172127$510$510
Benedictine University172102$560$560
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale177174$281$281
Mid-Atlantic Christian University177UR$430$430
Hope International University177148$480$480
William Woods University180141$200$200
Webber International University180RNP$316$316
University of Cincinnati18087$389$404
University of Southern Indiana180112$221$533
Northern State University184189$312$312
Stephens College184186$346$346
University of Northern Colorado18448$390$390
Bay Path University184160$400$400
DeSales University184169$446$446
DePaul University18448$570$570
Roberts Wesleyan College184N/A$650$650
Rochester Institute of Technology184N/A$807$807
Columbia College19269$385$385
University of North Dakota194131$266$266
King University194RNP$300$300
Bluefield College194RNP$355$355
Central Washington University194N/A$265$677
University of North Carolina-Pembroke198N/A$120$457
Moody Bible Institute199205$300$300
Baptist College of Florida199194$310$310
Rogers State University199117$117$352
Belhaven University19974$375$375
University of Central Oklahoma199N/A$175$450
St. Mary-of-the-Woods College199169$496$496
University of Louisiana-Lafayette199N/A$290$764
Dallas Baptist University199153$795$795
Baker College of Flint207164$230$230
College of Coastal Georgia207N/A$100$368
East Carolina University207141$134$648
Mercy College207148$722$722
Mayville State University211RNP$200$200
University of Massachusetts-Lowell211N/A$365$365
Appalachian State University211157$128$573
Amridge University214RNP$250$250
South Dakota State University214RNP$313$313
University of South Alabama214174$392$392
Asbury University214RNP$458$458
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey214RNP$312$563
University of Wisconsin-River Falls214N/A$390-
Eastern Oregon UniversityRNPN/A$145$145
Inter American University of Puerto Rico - AguadillaRNPN/A$178$178
University of the CumberlandsRNPRNP$199$199
Texas Tech UniversityRNPN/A$213$213
Emporia State UniversityRNPRNP$150$225
Marshall UniversityRNPRNP$237$237
Ohio UniversityRNPN/A$240$243
Bemidji State UniversityRNP194$250$250
Valdosta State UniversityRNPRNP$250$250
Western International UniversityRNPN/A$250$250
Columbus State UniversityRNP189$270$270
Eastern Michigan UniversityRNP201$275$275
Missouri State UniversityRNPN/A$275$275
Nicholls State UniversityRNP141$275$275
AIB College of BusinessRNP169$283$283
Eastern Illinois UniversityRNP194$283$283
Clarion University of PennsylvaniaRNPRNP$284$301
University of Louisiana-MonroeRNP160$314$314
Johnson and Wales UniversityRNPRNP$338$338
Stephen F. Austin State UniversityRNP164$221$341
Fisher CollegeRNPRNP$342$342
Jacksonville State UniversityRNP194$345$345
Bethel CollegeRNPRNP$367$367
Blue Moutain CollegeRNPUR$370$370
Andrews UniversityRNP205$375$375
Anna Maria CollegeRNPN/A$375$375
Gardner-Webb UniversityRNPRNP$382$382
Northwest Missouri State UniversityRNPN/A$179$387
Northern Kentucky UniversityRNPRNP$388$388
Bowling Green State UniversityRNP205$379$389
University of Wisconsin-WhitewaterRNPN/A$389$389
Cameron UniversityRNPRNP$124$392
Tabor CollegeRNPN/A$397$397
University of FindlayRNP164$400$400
Utica CollegeRNPRNP$400$400
Arkansas Tech UniversityRNP127$209$418
Northwestern Oklahoma State UniversityRNPRNP$221$428
Holy Apostles College and SeminaryRNP81$445$445
Northwest Christian UniversityRNPN/A$452$452
Trine UniversityRNPRNP$470$470
Bethel UniversityRNPN/A$475$475
Cedar Crest CollegeRNPN/A$486$486
University of MemphisRNPN/A$294$488
Union Institute and UniversityRNPN/A$490$490
College of Mount St. JosephRNPUR$500$500
Jones International UniversityRNP205$530$530
Indian River State CollegeRNPN/A$117$536
University of Houston-DowntownRNP186$183$545
University of North Carolina-CharlotteRNPN/A$119$564
Nebraska Methodist CollegeRNPRNP$590$590
Medaille CollegeRNPRNP$597$597
University of Houston-Clear LakeRNP189$196$628
University of West FloridaRNP102$219$648
University of Southern MaineRNPN/A$253$665
Louisiana State University-ShreveportRNPN/A$206$668
Keiser UniversityRNPN/A$706$706
D'Youville CollegeRNPRNP$720$720
Mount Aloysius CollegeRNPRNP$720$720
St. Joseph's College New YorkRNPN/A$720$720
University of Michigan-FlintRNP179$384$766
Oakland UniversityRNPN/A$356$796
Adelphi UniversityRNPN/A$805$805
Academy of Art UniversityRNP179$810$810
Stony Brook University-SUNYRNPN/A$257$816
Nova Southeastern UniversityRNPRNP$865$865
West Virginia UniversityRNPRNP$388$927
McNeese State UniversityRNPRNP$390$1,312
Kennesaw State UniversityRNPN/A$270-
Williams Baptist CollegeURN/A$350$350
North Greenville UniversityURN/A$395$395
Huntington UniversityUR87$408$408
Northwestern CollegeURN/A$425$425
Wilson CollegeURN/A$425$425
Berklee College of MusicURN/A$483$483
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey-CamdenURN/A$550$550
Maryville University of St. LouisURN/A$755$755
Southeastern Louisiana UniversityURRNP$273$796
Shenandoah UniversityURN/A$843$843

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 master’s 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 getting 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. Some may have a high profile, but the educational quality is subpar, and many students struggle to complete their degree program — which can leave them saddled with a large debt and nothing to show for it.

default rates at universities and for-profit colleges

Almost half of all student loan defaults are from for-profit collegesAs reflected in the graphic above, students at for-profit schools who entered loan repayment in fiscal year 2011, the most recent data available, defaulted at a rate of 19.13%, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That’s substantially higher than the 8.9% and 7% rates for students at four-year public and private schools, respectively. Two-year public school students defaulted at a 12.9% rate. Minority students are at particularly high risk of poor outcomes, the Center for Responsible Lending reports.

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 a 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. In early 2015, students, consumer groups, and some lawmakers even called for the Department of Education to forgive federal student loans after the high-profile collapse of Corinthian Colleges Inc., formerly a major player in the U.S. for-profit education market.

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 online degrees exists is because for-profit colleges are focused on high-volume enrollment, 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 also 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 I took other important factors into full consideration.

Here’s the process I used 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 U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 and 2015 overall rankings of online schools
  • 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 you don’t have to sacrifice educational quality if you’re on a budget.

Many of the cheapest online schools in the country also rank among the best-performing online 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 10 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. Utah 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 $204 per credit, while online graduate courses are only $245 to $254 per credit.

In addition to low tuition rates, Sam Houston State also delivers on quality. In U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 survey of online degree programs, the school achieves a top-10 ranking for two of its graduate programs and a solid top-70 ranking for its bachelor’s program.

School Details

Location Texas
Application Fee $45
Bachelor's In-State Tuition $204/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition $204/credit
Master's In-State Tuition $245 - $254/credit
Master's Out-of-State Tuition $245 - $254/credit

Online Degrees Available at Sam Houston State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Criminal justice
  • Business administration
  • General studies
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Multiple education specialties
  • Multiple criminal justice and security specialties
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Communication studies
  • History
  • Information assurance and security
  • Kinesiology
  • Library science
  • Public administration
  • Sociology


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 $187 per credit and are ranked among the top 20 online programs in the nation. The graduate education program also makes it into the top 30. Most Fort Hays State graduate programs are priced at a very affordable $251 per credit. MBA courses are a little more expensive at $400 per credit.

School Details

Application Fee$30 - $40
Bachelor's In-State Tuition$187/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition$187/credit
Master's In-State Tuition$251 - $400/credit
Master's Out-of-State Tuition$251 - $400/credit

Online Degrees Available at Fort Hays State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:

  • Multiple business specialties
  • Multiple education specialties
  • Information technology
  • Justice studies
  • Marketing
  • Medical diagnostic imaging
  • Nursing
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Tourism and hospitality

Online Graduate Programs:

  • Several education specialties
  • Several nursing specialties
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Counseling
  • Health and human performance
  • Instructional technology
  • Liberal studies
  • Professional studies
  • School psychology


Lamar University

Lamar University
Lamar University offers highly regarded options in criminal justice, nursing, and education — all of which rank among the top 75 online programs — among many other options. Most of the school’s online bachelor’s degree programs, among the nation’s top 50, cost $208 per credit. The bachelor’s program in nursing is more expensive at $283 per credit. The school’s graduate programs cost $235 per credit, including the nationally ranked graduate nursing program.

School Details

Application Fee
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$208 - $283/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$208 - $283/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
Master's Out-of-State Tuition

Online Degrees Available at Lamar University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Several business specialties
  • Applied arts and sciences
  • General studies
  • Communication
  • Computer science
  • Criminal justice
  • Industrial technology
  • Industrial engineering
  • Nursing
  • Sociology
Online Graduate Programs (17 to choose from at master’s level):
  • Many business administration (MBA) options
  • Many education specialties
  • Engineering management
  • Health promotion
  • Nursing administration
  • Nursing education
  • Criminal justice


University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas offers top-40 graduate programs in engineering and education. Tuition at the University of Arkansas is $256 per credit for bachelor’s programs and $388 per credit for most master’s programs. Master’s programs in engineering are even more affordable at $250 per credit.

School Details

Application Fee
$40 - $50
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition
$250 - $388/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$250 - $388/credit

Online Degrees Available at the University of Arkansas

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • General business
  • Human resource and workforce development education
  • Nursing
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Several education specialties
  • Agricultural and food law
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Engineering and electrical engineering
  • Food safety
  • Human environmental sciences
  • Information systems
  • Nursing
  • Operations management


University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota offers certain 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. Both the general business and MBA graduate programs rank in the top 40 online programs.

Bachelor’s degree courses are $266 per credit and graduate degree courses are $286 per credit, positioning the University of North Dakota as one of the more affordable online colleges.

School Details

North Dakota
Application Fee
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition

Online Degrees Available at the University of North Dakota

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Multiple engineering specialties
  • Communication
  • General studies
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Social science
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Several education specialties
  • Applied economics
  • Aviation
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Forensic psychology
  • Instructional design and technology
  • Nursing
  • Public administration (MPA)
  • Social work (MSW)
  • Space studies


Utah State University

Utah State University

Utah State University boasts online bachelor’s programs that are ranked 13th in the nation as well as a highly regarded online graduate education program, also ranked 13th by U.S. News & World Report. The bachelor’s degree courses are a reasonable $290 per credit for both in- and out-of-state students, while most master’s courses range from $370 to $392 per credit. (The graduate human resources program is pricier at $685 per credit.)

School Details

Location Utah
Application Fee $40
Bachelor's In-State Tuition $290/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition $290/credit
Master's In-State Tuition $370 - $685/credit
Master's Out-of-State Tuition $370 - $685/credit

Online Degrees Available at Utah State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Agribusiness
  • Communicative disorders
  • Economics
  • Family life studies
  • Interdisciplinary studies
  • Liberal arts
  • Psychology
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Career and technical education
  • Human resources
  • Instructional technology and learning sciences
  • Natural resources
  • Technical communication


West Texas A&M University

West Texas A&M University

West Texas A&M University’s standout degrees include an online graduate business program (excluding MBAs) that ranks 11th and an online MBA program that ranks 32nd in the country, respectively. While most of the school’s online programs are delivered entirely remotely, a few require some limited travel to campus.

Bachelor’s degree courses cost $246 per credit for in-state students and $277 out of state. Most online graduate courses cost from $298 to $334 per credit, while the nursing program is less expensive at $193 for both in- and out-of-state students.

School Details

Application Fee
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition
$193 - $334/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$193 - $334/credit

Online Degrees Available at West Texas A&M University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Applied arts and sciences
  • Business administration
  • Criminal justice
  • Emergency management administration
  • General studies
  • Nursing
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Several education specialties
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Instructional design and technology
  • Nursing


Columbia College

Columbia College

Offering a diverse selection of online bachelor’s and master’s degrees — including a criminal justice program in the nation’s top 10 — Columbia College in Missouri 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 $260 per credit, while graduate courses cost around $350 per credit.

School Details

Application Fee
$35 - $55
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition

Online Degrees Available at Columbia College

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • American studies
  • Business
  • Computer information systems
  • Criminal justice administration
  • English
  • General studies
  • History
  • Human services
  • Nursing
  • Political science
  • Public administration
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
Online Graduate Programs:
  • Many criminal justice specialties
  • Many education specialties
  • Business administration (MBA)
  • Military studies


University of West Georgia

University of West Georgia

While not the cheapest online college on this list, the University of West Georgia is a solid performer in the rankings of online degree programs. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranks the school’s online graduate IT program 16th in the nation, while the graduate MBA and nursing programs are both in the top 50.

The university offers only one online bachelor’s program, in criminology, which costs $260 per credit. The school’s graduate programs vary in cost, from $294 per credit for a graduate education degree to $728 per credit for an MBA.

School Details

Application Fee
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
Master's In-State Tuition
$294 - $728/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$294 - $728/credit

Online Degrees Available at the University of West Georgia

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


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 5th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Oregon State University’s Ecampus is best known for its student services and technology, which allow for additional convenience. All online classes are recorded and archived, so material can be accessed at any time.

Most online bachelor’s programs cost between $271 and $322 per credit for both in-state and out-of-state students. Graduate programs are pricier than the other schools listed here, starting around $512 per credit. However, the online graduate programs are also more specialized, which may justify the cost.

School Details

Application Fee
Bachelor's In-State Tuition
$271 - $322/credit
Bachelor's Out-of-State Tuition
$271 - $322/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$512 - $761/credit
Master's In-State Tuition
$512 - $761/credit

Online Degrees Available at Oregon State University

Online Bachelor’s Programs:
  • Agricultural sciences
  • Anthropology
  • Business administration
  • 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
  • Spanish
  • Sustainability
  • Women, gender, and sexuality studies
Online Graduate Programs:
  • MBA in executive leadership
  • Adult education (not fully online)
  • Counseling
  • Education (K-12)
  • Fisheries and wildlife administration
  • Industrial engineering
  • Natural resources
  • Radiation health physics
  • Science or mathematics education

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 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 fourth 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 $784 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 third of the cost.

  • Sam Houston State actually ranks higher than Penn State when it comes to faculty credentials and the same for student services.
  • 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 more potent reputation than Sam Houston State. The above example simply illustrates that you have options regardless of your budget.

Affordable Online Bachelor’s Programs

If an online bachelor’s degree is what you’re after, I recommend going to our full page on affordable online bachelor’s degree programs. This article goes into depth about finding a program that won’t drain your bank account. For a sample, I’ve included the top five most affordable online bachelor’s programs in 2015 below.

  1. Fort Hays State University
  2. Oregon State University
  3. Lamar University
  4. SUNY College of Technology—Delhi
  5. Colorado State University—Global Campus

Affordable Online Master’s Degrees

For those of you who are looking for an online graduate degree in a specific field, we also researched the most affordable online master’s programs for some popular areas of study. Take a look at the list of schools for each degree program below. For a more detailed look at these online degree programs, go to our full page on affordable online master’s degree programs.

Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Nursing

  1. Georgia College & State University
  2. University of Southern Indiana
  3. University of Missouri—Kansas City
  4. University of Kansas
  5. University of Texas—Tyler

Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Education

  1. Lamar University
  2. Fort Hays State University
  3. Sam Houston State University
  4. University of Texas—Arlington
  5. Emporia State University

Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in IT

  1. Sam Houston State University
  2. Southern Polytechnic State University
  3. Mississippi State University
  4. University of West Georgia
  5. Georgia Southern University

Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Engineering

  1. University of Arkansas
  2. Mississippi State University
  3. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
  4. University of Tennessee—Chattanooga
  5. University of Cincinnati

Affordable Online MBA Programs

Getting an online MBA from an excellent university with a solid reputation is no longer the difficult task it once was. It’s becoming very common for people in the business world to jump back into their education online. It’s also feasible to find an online college that offers an MBA program at an affordable price in 2015. I’ve included a list of those top schools below, but if you’re interested in getting more details, you should check out our article on affordable online MBA programs.

  1. University of North Dakota
  2. West Texas A&M University
  3. Mississippi State University
  4. University of South Dakota
  5. Arkansas State University—Jonesboro

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 the remaining schools.
  8. Apply to a select number of 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 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 Five 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.

Best Online Associate’s Degrees to Consider


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 a 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 many information technology subjects.

Baker College offers degrees that include 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

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

Getting an entry-level position in business lets you 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 include:

  1. Fort Hays State University
  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.

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 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 50 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.


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 uses 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 for which you are eligible, 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 accept 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, contact the school’s admissions department or financial aid office directly.

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