The Most Affordable Online Colleges

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Each year, a growing number of students choose to take college and university courses online. According to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 5.75 million students ― more than 25% of the nation’s collegiate population ― enrolled in distance-learning courses in the fall of 2014. More than 2.8 million of the 5.75 million students enrolled exclusively in online courses.

Online learning programs offer students the opportunity to earn a degree from an accredited institution while maintaining other responsibilities. The online format is ideal for students with childcare duties and full-time jobs. With many web-based options available, it’s important to choose the school that best meets your educational and career goals.

Affordability is a major factor for many college students. During the 2014-15 academic year, the average student attending a four-year university paid more than $25,000 in annual tuition and other college-related expenses. Commuting and room-and-board are not common expenses for online students, but four years of coursework still adds up to a significant investment.

Unsurprisingly, many students prioritize affordability when they begin their college search. And as online education gains even greater prominence, many cost-conscious students begin by looking for the cheapest online colleges in terms of tuition costs. It’s a fair place to start, considering how much students save by foregoing room and board and commuting costs.

There is a critical difference between ‘affordable’ online colleges and ‘cheap’ online colleges. The list below attempts to distinguish the former from the latter. Our new College Affordability Score takes several factors into account, including tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students, financial aid opportunities, four-year graduation rates, median graduate salary, and student loan default rates. Based on those factors, we have created a list of online colleges and universities that offer robust educational programs at the lowest overall cost to students. The results of our ranking are detailed in the school profiles below.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Location Description
1 University of Florida 92.30 3/5 Gainesville, FL

Based in Gainesville, University of Florida is a renowned public university, consistently ranked as one of the top in the nation. UF is also one of the best value colleges in the country, as 56% of students graduate with no student loan debt. The school is a recent entrant into online education -- Florida launched its online platform in 2014 -- but UF has already established itself as one of the most affordable online colleges in the region. Undergraduates can choose from a range of online degree programs, from biology and business administration to nursing and sports management.

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2 Brigham Young University-Idaho 85.20 2/5 Rexburg, ID

BYU-Idaho was founded in 1888 in association with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Known as Ricks College until 2001, BYU-I changed its name when it became a four-year university. The school offers 11 online bachelor’s programs, including healthcare administration, software engineering, and web design. Striving to keep faith-based higher education affordable for all students, BYU-I is one of the cheapest online colleges in Idaho and the country, offering affordable tuition and several financial aid opportunities. For students who want the convenience of online education without sacrificing a sense of campus community, the school maintains active community resources, including social media, a large alumni network, and weekly online devotionals that students can listen to or watch.

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3 Utah State University 83.63 3/5 Logan, UT

With more than 28,000 students, USU is one of the largest universities in the state. The school has offered distance education programs in some form for more than a century, and it’s no surprise that USU earns praise as one of the best and cheapest online colleges in the region. Forbes has ranked the school as the second-best value in the West, and annual tuition at USU is half as expensive as comparably ranked schools. Online students at USU can pursue one of seven undergraduate degrees, including liberal arts, economics, family life studies, and psychology. The school also offers a range of online minors, such as folklore, history, and gender studies.

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4 Appalachian State University 83.20 3/5 Boone, NC

Built on a sprawling campus in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, ASU has upheld a commitment to environmental sustainability and diverse education since its founding in 1899. ASU has been ranked as a top value college by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review, and the school is also one of the most affordable online colleges in the region. Online undergraduate degrees at ASU are offered as degree completion programs, providing upper level coursework for students who have already completed an associate degree. Students with an associate from any accredited North Carolina Community College can transfer their credits seamlessly, while those transferring from other institutions can have their credits evaluated on a course-by-course basis.

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5 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 80.63 3/5 Minneapolis, MN

The oldest and largest university in Minnesota, U of M was established in 1851 and now serves over 48,000 students. The school operates out of two main campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with secondary locations in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester. U.S. News & World Report ranks U of M among the top 100 universities nationally, and the school is also one of the most affordable online colleges in the region. U of M offers more than a dozen online and hybrid bachelor’s programs, from marketing and international business to psychology and applied health. Several of U of M’s online programs are certified under Minnesota’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which offers tuition assistance to underemployed or unemployed students.

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6 Minot State University 77.88 3/5 Minot, ND

Minot, North Dakota is home to MSU, the third-largest university in the state. With a mixture of liberal arts and professional programs, the school’s academic offerings are designed to serve students from all backgrounds, and U.S. News & World Report has ranked MSU as one of the top public universities in the region. A longstanding proponent of distance education, MSU has offered online degrees for 18 years. Students can pursue nine undergraduate degrees entirely online, including general studies, marketing, and nursing. Distance learners also have full access to the Writing Center’s "E Tutoring” service, which allows students to receive personalized assistance with any of their writing assignments via email.

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7 Towson University 77.88 3/5 Towson, MD

Towson is a part of the University System of Maryland and is one of the largest colleges in the state, enrolling more than 22,000 students annually. Both U.S. News & World Report and Forbes have lauded TU as one of the top public colleges in the country, and the school has also earned praise as one of the Northeast’s cheapest online colleges. Distance learners at TU can earn a bachelor’s in allied health and pursue six different concentrations, two of which are available entirely online: administration/management and advanced respiratory therapy. Designed as a transfer program for students who already have an associate degree, Towson prepares graduates for collaborative work in healthcare.

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8 North Dakota State University-Main Campus 77.58 3/5 Fargo, ND

NDSU is a major center of education and research, and with a student body of over 14,000, it’s one of the largest colleges in the state. The school is also one of the cheapest online colleges in the country, with tuition that is 11.4% less on average than comparable regional schools. NDSU offers three online bachelor’s degrees: human development & family science, sociology, university studies, and strategic communications. The human development program offers three specialization options, including adult development, child development, and family science. NDSU is also part of the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance, a regional online education network that pools the resources of 11 area colleges to give students a wider selection of online classes.

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9 The Baptist College of Florida 77.35 3/5 Graceville, FL

Founded in 1943, BCF sits on a small campus in Graceville, Florida, about 90 miles northwest of Tallahassee. With just 480 students total, the college offers an intimate, faith-based education sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention. For students seeking an affordable Christian education, BCF is one of the cheapest online colleges in Florida. Online students at BCF can earn traditional degrees -- such as english, history, or psychology -- or Christian-focused majors like ministry studies, christian education, and missions. The school offers all programs online, though students from outside of Florida should inquire about state authorization guidelines.

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10 Arizona State University-Tempe 75.63 3/5 Tempe, AZ

For its focus on creative collaboration and technology, U.S. News & World Report ranked ASU as the most innovative university in the country in 2016. This spirit of innovation carries over to the school’s online programs, which rank among the best in the country. ASU’s comprehensive distance education program offers dozens of online undergraduate degrees, from art history and anthropology to urban planning and women’s studies. ASU’s tuition also positions it as one of the most affordable online colleges in the country, as out-of-state students pay the same rate as state residents. The school also typically awards more than $1 billion in financial aid to students each year.

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11 Colorado State University-Fort Collins 75.60 3/5 Fort Collins, CO

CSU is home to more than 33,000 students, and is one of the largest schools in the Four Corners. Tuition is also highly affordable and includes no extra charges for out-of-state residents, making CSU one of the cheapest online colleges in Colorado. The school offers eight online bachelor’s degrees, ranging from anthropology and economics to more eclectic majors like fire and emergency services administration, agriculture business, and horticulture. Online students also receive access to a variety of campus resources, including academic advising, career counseling, and library services.

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12 Dickinson State University 75.53 3/5 Dickinson, ND

Part of the North Dakota University System, DSU was founded in 1918 and achieved full university status in 1987. DSU students graduate with some of the lowest student loan debt in the state, and the school is one of the cheapest online colleges in the region. DUS established its online education system in 2003, and today it offers six online degree programs: accounting, applied science, business administration, finance, human resource management, and university studies.

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13 Valley City State University 75.23 3/5 Valley City, ND

A small public school in North Dakota, VCSU is home to just 1,300 students. Despite small enrollment numbers, Valley City State has a sizeable reputation: U.S. News & World Report has ranked VCSU as a top university for 18 consecutive years, and the school took home the top spot among public regional colleges in the Midwest in 2016. VCSU is also an affordable college, and is considered a top value school and one of the cheapest online colleges in the Midwest. It offers a range of online programs, many with a focus on education, including English education, history education, and business education. Students can also earn degrees in music, professional communication, and business process integration management. Some education programs, including history, business, and technology, may include components that require additional authorization for residents of certain states.

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14 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 75.20 3/5 Oshkosh, WI

With nearly 14,000 students, UW Oshkosh is the third-largest university in the state and an important part of the University of Wisconsin System. The school opened in 1871 as a teacher’s college, and gained full university status in 1961. UW Oshkosh is one of the top affordable online colleges in the state, emphasizing professionally-focused degrees that are intended for working adults. The school features a variety of online degree programs, including disciplines like aviation management, fire and emergency response management, liberal studies, and human services leadership. UWO helps students develop practical skills, and adult students may be able to earn credit for life experience, including military service, work, volunteering, and other relevant experience.

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15 University of Missouri-Columbia 73.88 3/5 Columbia, MO

Affectionately referred to as "Mizzou," MU is the largest university in Missouri and the first public college founded west of the Mississippi River. The school was established in 1839 and now serves as the flagship campus of the University of Missouri System. MU is one of just 60 public and private colleges in the prestigious Association of American Universities, which also counts Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Princeton among its members. Despite its reputation, MU remains one of the cheapest online colleges in Missouri. Online learning is a major part of the school’s educational model, with over 16,000 students enrolled in at least one online course. The school’s online programs range from nursing and health sciences to hospitality management and early childhood education.

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16 University of Arkansas 73.38 3/5 Fayetteville, AR

Founded in 1871 near the Ozark Mountains in Fayetteville, UARK is the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas System, and is home to more than 26,000 students. The school is widely respected, and has received praise as a top national university from The Princeton Review and as a top value college from USA Today. U.S. News & World Report also ranks the school’s online bachelor’s programs among the best in the country, and UARK’s low tuition makes it one of the most affordable online colleges in the region. The school’s online degree programs include communication, interdisciplinary studies, and general business. Online students pay in-state tuition along with some distance education fees.

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17 University of Central Florida 72.38 3/5 Orlando, FL

With over 63,000 students, UCF is one of the largest schools in the country, but its size doesn’t detract from its quality. Kiplinger’s, USA Today, and The Princeton Review all rank UCF as one of the country’s best value colleges, and it’s also in the running for the most affordable online college in Florida. The school offers a variety of online degrees. Students can choose from over a dozen online programs, including creative writing, Latin American studies, and political science, and the college also offers a range of online minors in fields like education, health, hospitality management, and sciences. Online students at UCF have access to many campus resources, including the writing center, academic resource center, career services, and the school’s experiential learning and internship programs.

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18 Excelsior College 71.15 3/5 Albany, NY

A private, nonprofit, independent college, Excelsior emphasizes convenience and flexibility in education, offering one of the most liberal credit transfer policies found at any academic institution. The average age among the school’s 36,000 students is 37, which speaks to Excelsior’s focus on career-oriented education for nontraditional students. Each degree program at Excelsior is available online, and students can pursue a range of degrees in fields like business, liberal arts, nursing, public service, technology, and health sciences. Excelsior boasts lower tuition than many comparable schools, making it a natural choice as one of the cheapest online colleges in the country. The school also offers a range of financial aid options and payment plans that make education accessible for all students.

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19 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin 70.90 2/5 Odessa, TX

UTPB was incepted in 1973 as an upper level university for juniors, seniors, and graduate students, and the school has since developed into a four-year school with an undergraduate enrollment of over 5,000. Today, UTPB offers a range of in-person and distance programs, and is one of the cheapest online colleges in Texas. The school is a member of the University of Texas Online Consortium, which allows students to take online courses offered at other universities in the system while still earning degree credit at their enrolled institution. Distance education students can choose from several online degrees, including sociology, marketing and criminal justice. Many programs at UTPB are offered in an accelerated eight-week format to help students complete their degrees quickly.

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20 University of North Carolina at Greensboro 70.68 3/5 Greensboro, NC

One of the three original schools in the University of North Carolina System, UNCG was founded in 1891 as a women’s college. Today it's a comprehensive, nationally ranked university, renowned for its accessibility, affordability, and high graduation rate. UNCG offers reduced tuition rates for online courses, and tuition is less expensive here than at many comparable universities. The college offers six online bachelor’s degree programs, ranging from philosophy to public health to peace and conflict studies.

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21 Fort Hays State University 69.63 3/5 Hays, KS

FHSU sits on a 200-acre campus in Hays, Kansas, about halfway between Kansas City and Denver. More than half of the college’s 14,000 students are enrolled in online courses, and FHSU has received dozens of accolades for the strength of its online programs, including a top 25 ranking for its online bachelor’s programs from U.S. News & World Report. An affordable online college, the school serves distance students from all over the world, including a substantial population in China. FHSU offers dozens of online programs through its Virtual College, including accounting, health studies, organizational leadership, and philosophy. The school also offers a highly flexible general studies degree that lets students design an education program that meets their unique needs.

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22 Washington State University 69.60 3/5 Pullman, WA

Based in Pullman, eight miles from the Idaho border, WSU is the second-largest university in the state, with a total enrollment of nearly 30,000. WSU is also considered one of the cheapest online colleges in the Northwest, and U.S. News & World Report ranks the school as the 70th best public university and 140th university over all in the United States. Popular online degree programs available at WSU include hospitality, criminal justice, humanities, and psychology. The school works to foster a sense of community among its online students, organizing face-to-face meet ups around Washington and encouraging participation in its WSU Global student government. Online students at WSU also have access to a variety of academic resources, including online tutoring services and the campus writing lab.

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23 City University of Seattle 69.10 3/5 Seattle, WA

CityU operates a main campus out of Seattle, but the school maintains dozens of other locations in countries around the world, including China, Greece, Mexico, and Switzerland. The college serves more than 7,000 students in total, operating through a mission of flexibility, accessibility, innovation, and relevance. CityU is one of the most affordable online colleges in the Northwest, with a diverse student body that includes many non-traditional students. Online students can pursue a variety of bachelor’s degrees, including programs in education, applied psychology, criminal justice, and healthcare administration

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24 East Carolina University 68.95 3/5 Greenville, NC

Serving over 28,000 students from its campus in Greenville, North Carolina, ECU is the third-largest university in the state. The school’s distance education program dates back more than 60 years, and ECU was one of the first institutions in the country to offer fully online degree programs. Ranked as one of the most affordable online colleges in North Carolina, ECU’s online programs include business, education, industrial technology, nursing, and more. All bachelor’s programs at ECU are degree-completion programs, which require students to earn their first two years of credits at another institution, typically a community college, before transferring to ECU. Due to changes in online education regulations, ECU is unable to offer courses to students in the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon, and Utah.

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25 South Dakota State University 68.73 3/5 Brookings, SD

With more than 12,000 students, SDSU is the largest university in South Dakota, offering more than 180 fields of study through nine schools and colleges. SDSU is one of the Midwest’s major research centers, and U.S. News & World Report ranks the university among its top 200 colleges nationally. In addition to its strong academic reputation, SDSU also ranks as one of the most affordable online colleges in the Midwest. Students can choose from a variety of online programs, including early education, geography, nursing, and sociology. SDSU also participates in the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance, a regional online system that allows online students to take online courses through more than one university for greater flexibility.

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When choosing an affordable online college or university, you should prioritize schools that will provide a quality education and prepare you for a rewarding career in your chosen field.

Accreditation status is one of the most important considerations. In order to become accredited, a school must earn approval from an agency appointed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation; this process involves a comprehensive inspection and peer-review. Choosing an accredited online institution means you are able to transfer course credits to and from other schools, and that you will be eligible for federal loans and other financial aid opportunities. Accreditation is important for your job market status as most employers will not hire candidates with degrees from non-accredited schools. Graduating from a non-accredited university is counterproductive for online students pursuing a degree to expand their career potential.

Student outcomes are important. As you browse different online schools, be sure to look for certain trends. Important factors include retention rate, or the number of students who re-enroll after each academic year; graduation rate, or the number of students who complete their degree requirements within the expected timeframe; and the employment rates for graduates one or two years after they leave school. This data can be used to pinpoint schools that place the highest value on student performance, success, and satisfaction. If these figures are not easily accessible on a school’s website, then you should contact campus officials for more information ― and be wary of colleges and universities that are unwilling to provide them.

It’s important to investigate each school’s online learning experience. Every college and university has different requirements and expectations for distance learners, and you should ask certain questions as you explore your options. Are the courses exclusively online, or do some feature face-to-face sessions? Does the schedule follow a standard format (synchronous), or are the courses self-paced (asynchronous)? What learning platform is used? Does the school offer 24/7 tech support, academic advising, and online tutoring? These resources can make your online learning experience more manageable, they’ll keep you from feeling like you’re on your own and help you graduate on time. After conducting some thorough research, you will be able to determine the schools that offer an immersive learning experience for web-based students.

For many students, the right school comes down to the most affordable option. But the cheapest online college or university is unlikely to provide a quality education. Your degree represents a significant investment in your future ― and separating affordable programs from cheap ones will benefit you down the road.

Most Affordable Online Colleges of 2016
Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 University of Delaware Newark, DE
3 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
4 Texas A&M University College Station, TX
5 University of Missouri - Columbia Columbia, MO
6 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
7 University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN
8 Brigham Young University - Idaho Rexburg, ID
9 Westfield State University Westfield, MA
10 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC
11 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
12 Utah State University Logan, UT
13 University of Massachusetts - Amherst Amherst, MA
14 Washington State University Pullman, WA
15 Indian River State College Fort Pierce, FL
16 Johnson University Knoxville, TN
17 University of Oklahoma Norman, OK
18 University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh Oshkosh, WI
19 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD
20 State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota Bradenton, FL
21 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
22 SUNY at Oswego Oswego, NY
23 Asbury University Wilmore, KY
24 Saint Jospeh's College of Maine Standish, ME
25 University of Mississippi University, MS

Most Affordable Online Colleges of 2015
Rank School City
1 Texas A&M University College Station, TX
2 University of Florida Gainsville, FL
3 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
4 Brigham Young University-IDaho Rexburg, ID
5 LeTourneau University Longview, TX
6 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
7 University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, NC
8 Florida International University Miami, FL
9 University of Nebraska at Omaha Omaha, NE
10 California Baptist University Riverside, CA
11 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
12 University of Nebraska at a Kearny Kearney, NE
13 Oregon Institute of Technology Klamath Falls, OR
14 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
15 Eastern Oregon University La grande, OR
16 Minot State University Minot, ND
17 University of Arkansas at Little Rock Little Rock, AR
18 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR
19 Central Washington University Ellensburg, WA
20 Southern Polytechnic State University Marietta, GA
21 Utah State University Logan, UT
22 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
23 University of Missouri - Columbia Columbia, MO
24 University of Houston - Victoria Victoria, TX
25 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach, FL
26 University of Wisconsin - Stout Menomonie, WI
27 Concordia University - Wisconsin Mequon, WI
28 Southeastern Oklahoma State University Durant, OK
29 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
30 University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh Oshkosh, WI
31 Nicholls State University Thibodaux, LA
32 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD
33 Southeast Missouri State University Cape Girardeau, MO
34 Winston - Salem State University Winston-Salem, NC
35 Endicott College Beverly, MA
36 Missouri State University Springfield, MO
37 Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA
38 Assumption College Worcester, MA
39 Lamar University Beaumont, TX
40 University of Central Missouri Warrensburg, MO
41 University of South Dakota Vermillion, SD
42 University of Houston-Downtown Houston, TX
43 Bemidji State University Bemidji, MN
44 Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN
45 University of Wisconsin=Superior Superior, WI
46 Columbus State University Columbus, OH
47 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
48 Arkansas State University Jonesboro, AR
49 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH
50 University of North Alabama Florence, AL