The Best Online Colleges of 2016Academic Programs

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Online colleges have come a long way in the last decade. Once a rare offering from a small handful of schools, online coursework is now a common feature of a student’s postsecondary degree path. According to a 2015 Babson Research Survey, 70.8% of academic leaders stated that online learning is now a fundamental part of their postsecondary institution’s long-term growth strategy. Furthermore, the growth rate among students enrolled in online college programs again exceeds that of traditional programs at all schools. Online learning enrollment has been highest at four-year nonprofit and public institutions in the last few years.

The introduction of online education has proven to be a viable option for millions of students, who might otherwise not be able to attend a postsecondary institution due to cost, location, or other priorities such as family and job constraints. Many of the best online schools offer the same curriculum and teaching faculty, along with the flexibility and increased affordability of learning off-campus.

With thousands of hybrid and online bachelor’s and associate’s degree programs available at hundreds of institutions nationwide, finding and narrowing down your options can seem intimidating. To help you find program options that work for you, we’ve compiled the following two lists of the best online colleges in the country, using qualitative measures and data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics and from individual schools themselves. Each ranked school is fully accredited.

The first list assesses four-year online schools based on key performance indicators, such as admissions, enrollment, retention, and graduation rates. The second list uses the same criteria to rank two-year schools. Each school included in our rankings of the best online colleges is a not-for-profit institution that offers at least three accredited, 100% online degree programs.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

  1. RankSchoolLocationTuition+
  2. Rank
    1
    School

    Mitchell Technical Institute

    Location
    Mitchell, SD
    Tuition
    $4,296 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1800 E. Spruce Street
    Mitchell, SD 57301
    (605) 995-3025

    School Description

    MTI offers completely online two-year degrees for aspiring administrative office specialists, medical office professionals, office technology specialists and managers of small businesses. Students in the associate-level speech language pathology and advanced medical imaging programs must enroll in a blend of online and in-person courses, with on-campus work required so students can develop hands-on technical skills and perform clinical activities.

    Through their MyMTI accounts, students have access to their webmail, their online courses, coursework and assignments from instructors, an events calendar and more. Once registered, all online students must complete the MTI Online orientation, which will introduce them to the MyMTI learning management system.

  3. Rank
    2
    School

    Alexandria Technical & Community College

    Location
    Alexandria, MN
    Tuition
    $5,385 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1601 Jefferson Streeet
    Alexandria, MN 56308
    (320) 762-0221

    School Description

    Alexandria College Online offers a total of 12 web-based educational programs. These include associate degrees in liberal arts, business administration and computer information systems. Career-wise, there are programs for aspiring human service practitioners, legal administrative assistants, medical administrative assistants, paralegal and speech-language pathology assistants.

  4. Rank
    3
    School

    Northwest Iowa Community College

    Location
    Sheldon, IA
    Tuition
    $5,370 in state;
    $5,850 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    603 W Park St
    Sheldon, IA 51201
    (712) 324-5061

    School Description

    Students who enroll at Northwest Iowa Community College may earn an online, pre-professional associate degree in seven different fields: accounting, business, criminal justice, early childhood education, education, human resource management and paralegal. Associate of science degrees are also available online in health information technology, agriculture, accounting and powerline technology.

    Northwest employs Pearson's eCollege Learning Management System for all online programs. The system supports email and allows instructors to incorporate compatible third party software and media to their online class dashboard, letting students experience highly tailored classes.

  5. Rank
    4
    School

    Foothill College

    Location
    Los Altos Hills, CA
    Tuition
    $1,536 in state;
    $8,016 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    12345 El Monte Rd
    Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
    (650) 949-7777

    School Description

    Foothill College conducts 13 different associate programs entirely online; programs in accounting, psychology and sociology, to name a few. The school also identifies a series of online courses that meet general education requirements.

    The Foothill's platform is Etudes, a course management system that manages over 450,000 enrollments per year for hundreds of schools. The platform manages collaboration, assessment and live, in-classroom instruction.

  6. Rank
    5
    School

    Moraine Park Technical College

    Location
    Fond du Lac, WI
    Tuition
    $4,032 in state;
    $5,865 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    235 N National Avenue
    Fond du Lac, WI 54936-1940
    (920) 929-2483

    School Description

    The online offerings at Moraine Park Technical College include associate degrees in accounting, health information technology, leadership development, information technology and business management. Additionally, blended programs are offered for educational assistants and water quality technology professionals.

    Moraine's online platform is eCollege, a Pearson Company creation. The school stresses that their online classes are non self-paced, meaning students must adhere to set deadlines for all course assignments and exams.

  7. Rank
    6
    School

    Western Wyoming Community College

    Location
    Rock Springs, WY
    Tuition
    $2,282 in state;
    $6,074 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    2500 College Dr
    Rock Springs, WY 82902-0428
    (307) 382-1600

    School Description

    Western Wyoming Community College offers 17 web-based educational programs. Associate degrees are available in majors like accounting, business administration, computer information systems, marketing, criminal justice and sociology.

    WWCC's online courses are not self-paced; most online courses share their start date with the on-campus equivalent programs. The school suggests that, for a 3 credit course, remote students need to commit to being online, in class, a minimum of 3 days per week and, outside the class, studying for a minimum of 9 hours a week.

  8. Rank
    7
    School

    Northeast Community College

    Location
    Norfolk, NE
    Tuition
    $2,910 in state;
    $3,855 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    801 E Benjamin
    Norfolk, NE 68702-0469
    (-2) -

    School Description

    Northeast Community College currently runs 14 online associate programs, including programs in accounting, criminal justice, elementary education and behavioral science. The school also has made a striking commitment to online programs in business, with administration, international business and insurance services all offered as individual programs at the associate level.

    Northeast's online system is referred to as "My Sakai." The interface is broken into training materials, courses (divided by type of instruction) and tools, including a calendar, email and file storage. NCC has also committed a sizable amount of resources to support services for online students, be they IT support, career counseling or tutoring.

  9. Rank
    8
    School

    Olney Central College

    Location
    Olney, IL
    Tuition
    $8,873 in state;
    $10,811 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    305 N West Street
    Olney, IL 62450
    (618) 393-2982

    School Description

    IECC online courses do not require any campus visits and are conducted 100% online; however, an occasional proctored exam may be required at an approved location in proximity to the distance student. Associate-level programs in accounting and computing are offered online. There is also an online program for aspiring medical office assistants.

    Olney Central College (and most of the IECC schools) use the learning management system (LMS) Desire2Learn for online learning. Students log in to their Entrata account and click on the "Online Learning" link to learn how to use their D2L account. Students who aren’t sure if online learning is for them can take the school's Intro to Online Learning course. The course explores a wide range of online learning aspects and transitions students into Angel, the LMS learning management system used by IECC.

  10. Rank
    9
    School

    Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

    Location
    Shell Lake, WI
    Tuition
    $4,296 in state;
    $6,252 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    505 Pine Ridge Drive
    Shell Lake, WI 54871-8727
    (715) 468-2815

    School Description

    Online associate degrees are available at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in the following fields: accounting, administrative professional services, E-Child (early childhood education), IT-Web/software development and marketing.

    WITC's online courses are run through the Blackboard platform, a leader in course management systems since the advent of online education. It should be noted that some programs, such as accounting, require their own separate set of tech requirements that go beyond the basics of Blackboard.

  11. Rank
    10
    School

    Citrus College

    Location
    Glendora, CA
    Tuition
    $1,174 in state;
    $5,086 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1000 W Foothill Blvd
    Glendora, CA 91741-1899
    (626) 963-0323

    School Description

    Citrus College offers online associate degrees in the arts and humanities, math and science, social and behavioral sciences, technology and business, administration of justice and business. Classes are typically offered during fall and spring semesters, each lasting 16 weeks. There are, however, other scheduling options as well, including six-week long summer and winter sessions, evening classes, flexible start and end dates and hybrid online formats.

    Citrus College uses Blackboard as its primary online course delivery mechanism. Through Blackboard, instructors and students communicate via discussion boards, virtual classrooms and lightweight chat. Exams, tests, projects and assignments are also conveyed through Blackboard and Citrus College email. Once enrolled in distance education, students participate in the online orientation to gain a better understanding of how Citrus College orchestrates online learning.

  12. Rank
    11
    School

    Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture

    Location
    Curtis, NE
    Tuition
    $4,530 in state;
    $8,706 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    404 East 7th
    Curtis, NE 69025-9552
    (308) 367-5253

    School Description

    NCTA in Curtis offers four great areas of study: agribusiness management systems, agriculture education and animal science, agronomy and horticulture and veterinary technology. Students choose one of four associate options, within which there are online courses available, such as animal sciences, veterinary technology, agribusiness management courses and general education.

    Online courses at NCTA are offered each spring, summer and fall semester through the Blackboard Course Management System. Most distance courses are asynchronous and use social media, discussion boards, videos and online lectures, live chats and email. Students register for them through their MyRed account, and once enrolled can then see details about individual courses.

  13. Rank
    12
    School

    Santiago Canyon College

    Location
    Orange, CA
    Tuition
    $1,142 in state;
    $5,174 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    8045 E Chapman
    Orange, CA 92869-4512
    (714) 628-4900

    School Description

    Associate degrees, with the option to transfer to a California State University, are available both online and as an online and in-person hybrid at SCC. Courses offered cover women’s studies, accounting, marketing, gemology, education, sign language, cosmetology and computer science, just to name a few. Some SCC programs provide students with the skills to immediately enter the workforce, while others serve as the first two years on the path to a bachelor’s degree at a four-year school.

    SCC Online students gain access to their online classes using Blackboard 9.1. Tutorials are available for individuals not yet comfortable or familiar with Blackboard. Distance courses with SCC require interaction with your instructor and peers through chat rooms and discussion boards. Instructors deliver electronic lectures and assignments, respond to discussion posts, provide feedback on assignments and generally monitor students’ progress.

  14. Rank
    13
    School

    Minnesota West Community and Technical College

    Location
    Granite Falls, MN
    Tuition
    $5,660 in state;
    $10,807 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1593 11th Ave
    Granite Falls, MN 56241
    (800) 658-2330

    School Description

    Minnesota West Online makes it possible to complete an associate or applied science degree exclusively online. A typical two-year degree at MW is comprised of 35 core skill credits, with the rest of the program made up of specialty elective credits. For each three-credit class, students spend six to nine hours a week working on coursework. Liberal arts, nursing, energy technical specialist, business management, administrative assistant, computer information and security assurance are just a few of the online two-year degrees offered.

    MWTCT uses the Desire2Learn learning management system to deliver its online courses, however, depending on the course, instructors may use additional software and websites. While there are weekly deadlines and assignments, there are no live courses to attend. Courses are typically asynchronous, with date-assigned tests and assignment due dates, so students can make their own schedule. Students complete written assignments, participate in interactive discussions, take quizzes and use email to communicate with instructors.

  15. Rank
    14
    School

    Seward County Community College and Area Technical School

    Location
    Liberal, KS
    Tuition
    $2,432 in state;
    $3,584 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1801 N. Kansas Ave.
    Liberal, KS 67901
    (620) 624-1951

    School Description

    Via EduKan, which was formed as a cooperative effort between six western Kansas community colleges in the spring of 1999, SCCC/ATS offers those enrolled in the online program coursework that could lead to an associate degree from one of six participating institutions. EduKan consortium community colleges offer the first two years toward a bachelor’s or higher degree through their AS, AA, AGS and AAS degrees. Associate programs SCC/ATS students can enroll in include liberal arts, biology, business administration and chemistry.

    Edukan uses Canvas as its primary online learning management system. Once properly registered, students have access to eText or MyLabs courses, online proctoring for tests and exams and more. Students of the fully online programs at SCCC/ATS will have access to the Epworth Allied Health Education Center, a surgical technology skills laboratory, to be used to develop the skills need to provide adequate patient care. Students interact with each other and their instructors via email, web chat or phone.

  16. Rank
    15
    School

    Kennebec Valley Community College

    Location
    Fairfield, ME
    Tuition
    $3,258 in state;
    $5,898 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    92 Western Ave
    Fairfield, ME 04937-1367
    (207) 453-5000

    School Description

    While some programs require courses that have in-person meetings or practicums, KVCC offers fully online programs and single online courses. Associate of applied science degrees in pulp and paper technology, mental health and business administration are available online; the school also conducts an associate in arts in liberal studies program online, but some face-to-face instruction is required.

    KVCC’s online interface is Blackboard. KVCC recommends online students be comfortable relying on email-based communications and online videos for instruction.

  17. Rank
    16
    School

    Casa Loma College-Van Nuys

    Location
    Van Nuys, CA
    Tuition
    $27,400 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    6725 Kester Ave
    Van Nuys, CA 91405
    (818) 785-2726

    School Description

    Casa Loma's blended learning programs combine online education with traditional face-to-face classroom instruction. Programs for magnetic resonance imaging, diagnostic medical sonography, vocational nursing, and physical therapy assistance are offered in this blended method. Typically, general education requirements are offered in the form of online courses. While core courses, especially those the medical field, are primarily delivered in a traditional, in-person method to ensure students receive the necessary hands-on experience before entering the workforce.

    CLC uses Moodle for online courses; the interface lets students access class documents, communicate with instructors and classmates, participate in discussions and group projects and take quizzes and tests. The majority of coursework can be done asynchronously. The exception to this are scheduled, synchronous weekly chat sessions via web conferencing or chatrooms. Otherwise, online courses are structured into weekly modules organized by the instructor (they are not self-paced).

  18. Rank
    17
    School

    Big Bend Community College

    Location
    Moses Lake, WA
    Tuition
    $4,150 in state;
    $4,550 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    7662 Chanute St NE
    Moses Lake, WA 98837-3299
    (509) 793-2222

    School Description

    Big Bend, in partnership with Washington Online, proudly offers associate degrees, transfer degrees and professional technical degree courses online every summer, fall, winter and spring quarters. Thousands of students successfully transfer to state universities from community colleges like Big Bend every year. There are two modes of distant education technology available to students: online and over the ITV network.

    Canvas is BBCC’s online learning management systems of choice. Students have access to online services and multiple resources (databases, libraries, their personal profile with financial aid information and online tutoring) through their BigBend Portal. Every distance learner has an advisor from the start of enrollment through to completion. All students have access to the same superb faculty and high quality instruction that traditional students receive on campus.

  19. Rank
    18
    School

    Northcentral Technical College

    Location
    Wausau, WI
    Tuition
    $4,025 in state;
    $5,858 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1000 Campus Dr
    Wausau, WI 54401-1899
    (715) 675-3331

    School Description

    NTC offers nine associate degrees entirely online and ten associate degrees that are largely, but not fully, online. The programs offered vary year to year but generally include: video production, accounting, insurance, human services, marketing and IT. There are also over twenty technical diploma programs offered either fully or partially online.

    NTC’s Virtual College uses Blackboard to deliver its online courses, and allows students to start courses when they want, work at their own pace and adjust due dates. Despite the flexible start date, however, students still only have until the end of the semester to complete all coursework. So while courses are instructor-led, students pace themselves within their module. Students have the option to communicate with their instructor face-to-face through Skype, Adobe Connect or HD conferencing.

  20. Rank
    19
    School

    North Dakota State College of Science

    Location
    Wahpeton, ND
    Tuition
    $4,094 in state;
    $9,902 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    800 N 6th St
    Wahpeton, ND 58076-0002
    (701) 671-2403

    School Description

    At the North Dakota State College of Science, online students can earn associate degrees in eight departments: architectural drafting/estimating, business administration/management, English/humanities, health information, information/communications technology, liberal arts, pharmacy tech and technical studies. Additionally, nursing students who are licensed practical nurses may enroll in the accelerated "certificate to nursing associate" program.

    NDSCS's online courses are run on the Pearson Company's LearningStudio platform. The service is used for exams, coursework and live, in-class learning. The school also makes a concerted effort to pair all online students with an academic advisor, who they can reach out to throughout their program for academic and career support.

  21. Rank
    20
    School

    City College of San Francisco

    Location
    San Francisco, CA
    Tuition
    $1,274 in state;
    $6,748 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    50 Phelan Ave
    San Francisco, CA 94112-1898
    (415) 239-3000

    School Description

    CCSF offers students the opportunity to complete all major coursework online, with an entirely online catalogue of 8 associate degrees and 12 certificate programs. The online programs offered include anthropology, computer science, early childhood education and studio arts.

    CSF’s learning management system, Insight, delivers all online class assignments, quizzes and exams. Since the school’s online courses are not self-paced, assigned coursework has set deadlines, and the class follows the regular semester schedule. As of the conclusion of the fall 2014 semester, CSF no longer offers Telecourses. Students register for their online courses using Web4 and receive updates through their CCSFmail.

  22. Rank
    21
    School

    West Kentucky Community and Technical College

    Location
    Paducah, KY
    Tuition
    $3,456 in state;
    $12,096 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    4810 Alben Barkley Drive
    Paducah, KY 42002-7380
    (270) 554-92000

    School Description

    Offering online courses for over 20 years, WKCTC continues to be a leader in online learning. The school currently offers a number of online associates degrees designed to help students transfer into bachelor’s programs; the school also maintains a list of online-run courses students can elect to audit in order to complete a prerequisite or to continue to earn college credits at their own pace. Online programs found at WKCTC include business administration, computer information, criminal justice, marine technology and medical information technology.

    Using the online learning management system Blackboard, students have two instructional methods to choose from. "Learn by Term" is the more traditional option, where online courses follow the typical semester schedule. Occasionally labs or exams will require an on-site visit to an approved location. "Learn on Demand" breaks courses down into smaller, 3 to 5 week long modules that allow students to choose their own start date, and choose to take just one module or an entire 15 week course at one time. WKCTC’s associate degrees are delivered via the Learn by Term method.

    Once students have access to their Blackboard account, they can learn how to create a discussion board post, submit assignments, check their grades and take an online test by watching video tutorials.

  23. Rank
    22
    School

    Palomar College

    Location
    San Marcos, CA
    Tuition
    $1,328 in state;
    $5,472 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1140 W. Mission
    San Marcos, CA 92069-1487
    (760) 744-1150

    School Description

    As a member of the Associate Degree for Transfer program, Palomar College offers Administration of Justice AA degrees that can be transferred to a number of four-year universities in California that Palomar has transfer agreements with, specifically the California State and University of California systems.

    Palomar College Online uses Blackboard as its learning management system of choice. All of PC’s online courses receive the same unit credits and transfer status as traditional classroom courses, while at the same time providing students with greater flexibility in their schedules. Instructors assess students’ progress using exams, papers, quizzes and class participation.

  24. Rank
    23
    School

    Ridgewater College

    Location
    Willmar, MN
    Tuition
    $5,390 annually
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    2101 15th Ave NW
    Willmar, MN 56201
    (800) 722-1151

    School Description

    Associate degrees in liberal arts, computer aided drafting and design are all offered fully online through Ridgewater College. Due to the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum, some of the programs allow students to transfer to baccalaureate majors at four-year colleges and universities, after "getting their generals" done for considerably less money. The Law Enforcement program offers 3 distinct educational tracks that prepare students to pass the Minnesota Peace Officer’s Standards and Training (POST) Board’s examinations.

    RC uses the learning management system Desire2Learn (D2L) program. Some online courses are "student-paced," allowing students to work at their own pace, so long as all course requirements are completed by semester's end. Others are "instructor-paced," meaning they have several instructor-designated deadlines and due dates throughout the semester.

  25. Rank
    24
    School

    Fox Valley Technical College

    Location
    Appleton, WI
    Tuition
    $4,152 in state;
    $5,985 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1825 N Bluemound Dr
    Appleton, WI 54912-2277
    (920) 735-5600

    School Description

    Through APICS (a not-for-profit international education organization and leading association for supply chain and operations management), FVTC offers the Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) and Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM) designations online, as well as an associate degree in forensic science.

    Online FVTC students use the Blackboard platform. Instructors use videos, emails, discussions threads, group activities, reflection journals and other interactive software to conduct online coursework and assess students’ progress and performance. Students can work at their own pace, so long as they keep up with the week to week schedule for each program.

  26. Rank
    25
    School

    Gateway Community and Technical College

    Location
    Florence, KY
    Tuition
    $3,536 in state;
    $15,176 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    500 Technology Way
    Florence, KY 41042
    (859) 441-4500

    School Description

    As a member of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), Gateway offers a "Core Transfer" program, otherwise known as an associate to bachelor degree partnership, along with two convenient online options: Learn on Demand, which offers 12-16 week courses or flexible module-based courses, and Learn by Term, which offers courses in the traditional semester-length through all of the 16 Kentucky community colleges.

    Students who wish to complete a four-year bachelor’s would first complete the two-year associate degrees at Gateway, which include the 48 hours of general education courses required by any college in Kentucky that awards bachelor’s degrees. Areas of study for AA/AS to BA/BS students include psychology, communications, business administration, information technology and criminal studies.

    Gateway uses Blackboard's web-based classrooms to allow students to check, manage, review and submit their assignments, communicate with instructors and classmates via discussion boards, use journals and wikis, participate in interactive lectures take quizzes and tests online, among other coursework activities.

  1. RankSchoolLocationTuition+
  2. Rank
    1
    School

    East Carolina University

    Location
    Greenville, NC
    Tuition
    $6,143 in state;
    $20,256 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    East 5th Street
    Greenville, NC 27858-4353
    (252) 328-6131

    School Description

    As a leader in distance education in North Carolina for more than sixty years, East Carolina University earned the top spot on our list of the best online colleges. ECU is proud to offer over 75 online certificate and degree programs. Areas of study include business, education, health care and technology. Full-time traditional ECU students do have the option to attend distance education courses in addition to their regular on-campus schedule, however they will be charged distance education tuition and fees on top of their regular tuition.

    Distance education students at ECU have access to their online coursework 24/7, through an easy-to-understand learning management system (aka, Blackboard or Centra). On a weekly basis, coursework and assignments are submitted via e-mail or the class website. The same faculty who teach on-campus courses communicate with their online students using discussion forums and real-time "chat" sessions in virtual classrooms. Students often work in groups, thereby benefitting from collaborating and their peers’ professional experience.

  3. Rank
    2
    School

    Appalachian State University

    Location
    Boone, NC
    Tuition
    $6,462 in state;
    $18,670 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    Dougherty Administration Building
    Boone, NC 28608
    (828) 262-2000

    School Description

    The online undergraduate programs offered at Appalachian State University are all comprised of upper-division courses ― and these degrees can be earned in two years or less. However, upper-division means that the courses offered are only intended to represent the second half of a bachelor's program ― the more advanced courses. All general ed. and lower-level requirements must have already been completed by prospective students in order to be accepted, making the program ideal for returning students or professionals looking to advance their education.

    The 19 bachelor's degree programs cover majors like education, business management, health/nursing, social work and psychology. Other web-based offerings include six professional certificates, 13 master's degrees and three education specialist programs.

  4. Rank
    3
    School

    University of Illinois at Springfield

    Location
    Springfield, IL
    Tuition
    $9,178 in state;
    $16,498 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    One University Plaza
    Springfield, IL 62703-5407
    (217) 206-6600

    School Description

    The University of Illinois at Springfield offers its students a variety of online undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as certification programs. Innovative online programs include a BS in healthcare information management, an MA in liberal and integrative studies, and a certificate in child advocacy studies. UIS also has partnerships with colleges across the state that allow students to easily transfer credits and finish their degree at Springfield. As of 2015, UIS had 1,597 students enrolled in its online programs.

    UIS uses Blackboard to facilitate its online learning experience, and the program offers students 24/7 access to courses. Instructors use audio, video, chat, and discussion boards to foster peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor interaction. Classes are small, which encourages students to form relationships with peers and instructors. Some programs may also require students to complete internships or service learning projects.

  5. Rank
    4
    School

    Eastern Illinois University

    Location
    Charleston, IL
    Tuition
    $11,144 in state;
    $28,124 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    600 Lincoln Avenue
    Charleston, IL 61920
    (217) 581-5000

    School Description

    Eastern Illinois offers one of the most affordable online programs in Illinois. Undergraduate students can choose from three bachelor online programs; graduate students can pursue one of five master’s programs, including renowned degrees in public policy and public administration. Some of EIU’s online graduate programs are categorized as low-residency, which allows students to complete most coursework online, but requires them to occasionally attend class on campus.

    Students enrolled in online programs pay in-state tuition.

    Students access their online courses through Brightspace by D2L, an integrated learning platform. All students also have free access to online classes through lynda.com, which includes over 53,000 video tutorials across a range of subjects. Students from 49 states may pursue an online degree three EIU; distance learners from Alabama are currently ineligible to apply.

    Top Three Programs by Enrollment

    • BA in General Studies
    • BS in Organizational and Professional Development
    • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  6. Rank
    5
    School

    University of Florida

    Location
    Gainesville, FL
    Tuition
    $6,263 in state;
    $28,541 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    Gainesville, FL 32611
    (352) 392-3261

    School Description

    For the second year in a row, the University of Florida earned a spot on our list of the best online colleges with its extensive and inclusive online education portfolio. In addition to five levels of online degrees, including traditional bachelor's, master's and doctoral credentials, students can opt to earn one of three specialist degrees, all of which are related to the field of education. International degrees in construction management, pharmacy and public health are also available. There are several bachelor's degree completion programs that can be earned in two years if applicants already hold an associate's degree.

    UF's online students access their classes through e-Learning, powered by the open source learning management system Sakai. Through this platform, students and instructors have access to a number of web-based collaboration and research tools, such as the anti-plagiarism programs Turnitin and iThenticate. Some classes are also accessed through Canvas. Online students have the same support system and services in place as their on-campus counterparts. They can sign up for disability accommodations and remotely access: counseling services, the UF bookstore and library, Career Resource Center and academic advising.

  7. Rank
    6
    School

    Northern Kentucky University

    Location
    Highland Heights, KY
    Tuition
    $8,376 in state;
    $16,464 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    Nunn Drive
    Highland Heights, KY 41099
    (859) 572-5100

    School Description

    Northern Kentucky's online courses are taught asynchronously. Students can study in one of 10 undergraduate programs, including business informatics, health science, and organizational leadership. NKU also offers four graduate programs, including a nursing degree that is only available to in-state students. The school’s special dual-enrollment program with Gateway Community & Technical College allows students to complete an associate degree at Gateway and then automatically transfer to NKU to complete their bachelor’s online.

    Most programs are taught on an accelerated schedule, and can be completed in two years. Distance learners benefit from the same quality support services as residential students, including an online librarian and online writing center. Class materials are available through Blackboard.

  8. Rank
    7
    School

    Asbury University

    Location
    Wilmore, KY
    Tuition
    $26,076 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1 Macklem Dr
    Wilmore, KY 40390-1198
    (859) 858-3511

    School Description

    Asbury's bachelor's programs in business, elementary education and ministry education are either taught entirely online, in a hybrid format, through on-campus evening classes or via a degree completion program. Kentucky licensure is received upon completion of any of the online education programs.

    Discovery is the name of Asbury’s online campus learning management system platform. Via Discovery, students can access class activities, assessment items, communication tools, courses, their grade book, and message their fellow learning cohorts and instructors.

    Interactions are conducted through face-to-face online chat sessions and forums structured within the course schedule. Occasionally, pre-scheduled chat sessions, class presentations, discussions or video web-conferences are conducted synchronously; otherwise, coursework is conducted asynchronously.

  9. Rank
    8
    School

    Minot State University

    Location
    Minot, ND
    Tuition
    $6,086 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    500 University Ave W
    Minot, ND 58707
    (701) 858-3000

    School Description

    Minot State has offered online courses for 18 years. Through its Center for Extended Learning, the school offers a growing number of affordable undergraduate and graduate degrees, along with several postgraduate certificates. Popular programs include bachelor’s degrees in management and nursing, and a master’s degree in management information systems. Some programs, such as the RN to BSN, require students to complete a field experience locally.

    Online courses are delivered through Blackboard. Most online programs are taught asynchronously, with the exception of the BS in human services degree, which requires students to observe class at scheduled hours. Online students have access to the same academic services as residential students, including online tutoring and essay help through the school’s online writing center. Many courses also use Read&Write GOLD, a comprehensive literacy software program that allows students to complete assignments and take tests online. The software accommodates students from all backgrounds, including those with learning disabilities and students who learned English as a second language.

    Top Three Programs by Enrollment

    • BS in Management
    • BSN Completion
    • MS in Management Information Systems
  10. Rank
    9
    School

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro

    Location
    Greensboro, NC
    Tuition
    $6,382 in state;
    $20,180 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    1400 Spring Garden St
    Greensboro, NC 27402-6170
    (336) 334-5000

    School Description

    UNCG offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate online programs in the arts and sciences, along with two online doctorate degrees and several postgraduate certificates. Popular programs include:

    • BA in Peace and Conflict Studies
    • MS in Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies
    • EdS in Educational Leadership

    UNCG is also a top-rated military-friendly school.

    Courses are taught either asynchronously or in real-time, depending on the program. UNCG uses Canvas to deliver their online classes. To study and listen to lectures on the go, students can download Canvas Mobile on all iOS and Android mobile devices. UNCG also provides an online writing center and digital library materials to all distance learners.

  11. Rank
    10
    School

    University of Arkansas

    Location
    Fayetteville, AR
    Tuition
    $7,818 in state;
    $19,074 out of state

    Websites

    Address

    Administration Bldg 425
    Fayetteville, AR 72701
    (479) 575-2000

    School Description

    Online degrees at the University of Arkansas are affordable and designed according to standards set forth by the Quality Matters Program, a national service that helps schools create and implement quality online programs. The school offers four undergraduate programs in the arts and sciences, along with a variety of master’s and doctoral programs. Arkansas currently has 1,696 students enrolled entirely online, and nearly 8,000 more taking at least one online course.

    Arkansas offers both self-paced and traditional online courses through Blackboard, though no program consists entirely of self-paced courses. Self-paced courses allow students to complete all course requirements on their own schedule, while traditional online courses take place along a predetermined schedule. Traditional courses may be taught asynchronously or synchronously.

  12. Rank
    11
    School

    Colorado State University - Global Campus

    Location
    Greenwood Village, CO
    Tuition
    $350 per credit hour online

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    7800 East Orchard Road Ste 200
    Greenwood Village, CO 80111-0000
    (800) 920-6723

    School Description

    CSU-Global markets itself as the nation’s first 100% online state university. Students can choose from a list of undergraduate and graduate programs in the arts and sciences, including criminal justice and law enforcement, information technology, and organizational leadership. In addition to low tuition rates, CSU’s students benefit from a tuition guarantee that locks their initial tuition rates in place for as long as they’re enrolled.

    Online courses are interactive, and can be accessed through Blackboard. Many courses include portfolio projectsb and are designed to help distance learners build skills to complement their professional experience. Students have 24/7 access to live tutors for all subjects through the Smarthinking platform, and they can also use the ask-a-librarian chat service at all hours of the day. All undergraduate courses are taught by instructors with at least a master’s degree in their subject-related field; graduate program instructors have a PhD or terminal degree in their field

  13. Rank
    12
    School

    University of Central Florida

    Location
    Orlando, FL
    Tuition
    $6,317 in state;
    $22,416 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    4000 Central Florida Blvd
    Orlando, FL 32816
    (407) 823-2000

    School Description

    In 1996, UCF became one of the first accredited universities in the country to offer an online degree program; today, the Center for Distributed Learning strives to provide online programs to all interested undergraduate and graduate students. Prospective distance learners at UCF can be certain of a quality education in a flexible environment. The school offers 16 bachelor's and 25 master's degree programs, as well as a number of online minors and graduate certificates. Most courses are taken fully online, but many of the programs include practicum and internship requirements that must be fulfilled in person.

    Webcourses@UCF uses the Canvas LMS to give students and instructors access to online course materials including, but not limited to: syllabi, assignments, readings and grades. With the Canvas app, classes can be accessed from any iOS or Android device. Prospective students can tour an online course to familiarize themselves with how delivery works.

  14. Rank
    13
    School

    Central Washington University

    Location
    Ellensburg, WA
    Tuition
    $8,976 in state;
    $20,886 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    400 East University Way
    Ellensburg, WA 98926-7501
    (509) 963-1111

    School Description

    CWU is a regional leader in delivering hybrid and online degree programs to both undergraduate and graduate students. Popular bachelor’s programs include a BA in professional and creative writing and a BS in aviation management. Central also offers seven master’s programs, including an MEd in special education and an MS in information technology. CWU is authorized to offer its online degrees in 43 states, though some states do not allow associated internships; students should check their state authorization on CWU’s website and specific degree requirements for more details. All non-resident students enrolled in an online program are eligible for in-state tuition.

    CWU offers its online courses through Canvas. Most courses are asynchronous but structured, with scheduled due dates for assignments and exams. The CWU online tutoring center offers writing and math help through Canvas’ tutoring dimension and through Blackboard Collaborate.

    Top Three Programs by Enrollment

    • BAS Information Technology & Administrative Management
    • BS Information Technology & Administrative Management
    • BA Psychology
  15. Rank
    14
    School

    Arizona State University

    Location
    Tempe, AZ
    Tuition
    $9,861 in state;
    $23,654 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    University Drive and Mill Avenue
    Tempe, AZ 85287
    (480) 965-9011

    School Description

    ASU Online offers over 100 degrees and postgraduate certificate programs, along with plenty of minors and exploratory programs. These allow students who haven’t declared a major to start completing general studies requirements while exploring different disciplines. With exclusive tuition rates for online programs and six start dates throughout the year, ASU is an affordable and convenient school for distance learners.

    Most online courses are available through MyASU. Professors use video, audio, and other interactive tools to encourage collaboration between faculty and students. Some programs use simulated virtual labs, particularly in the sciences, that measure and adapt to a student’s progress. Students are also given access to Google apps, and many other software programs, at no cost through MyASU. Online classes are taught in accelerated 7.5 week periods.

  16. Rank
    15
    School

    Florida International University

    Location
    Miami, FL
    Tuition
    $6,496 in state;
    $18,895 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    11200 S. W. 8 Street
    Miami, FL 33199
    (305) 348-2000

    School Description

    FIU Online offers a number of online undergraduate degrees, with programs in business, healthcare, childhood development, criminal justice and hospitality. Scholarships, such as the First Generation Scholarship, or the Fulbright Scholarship, are available for FIU’s online students, in addition to financial aid. Applying is easy; simply complete the online application, submit the application fee and have official high school transcripts and SAT/ACT test scores sent over.

    Using Blackboard along with other technology (like NBC Learn, Respondus Study Mate, Turnitin and ProctorU), faculty and students can collaborate via message boards and virtual classrooms, access grades at any time and post and share course content. At FIU, online courses are not self-paced; all activities, assignments, projects and exams must be completed by their scheduled due dates. The Online Student Orientation is also designed to inform students of information that will help them succeed at FIU Online. A practice course is even available for those who want to try before they buy.

  17. Rank
    16
    School

    California State University - Chico

    Location
    Chico, CA
    Tuition
    $6,972 in state;
    $18,132 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    First and Normal Sts
    Chico, CA 95929-0150
    (530) 898-6116

    School Description

    With one of the highest graduation rates in the California State University system, Chico State has over 40 years of experience offering distance and online education courses and programs. Chico Distance & Online Education offers five bachelor’s degrees and two master’s programs, including an RN to BSN and an MS in agricultural education. Some programs require field experiences, and students should check placement requirements before applying. Most courses are available entirely online.

    The Chico online portal provides students with access to classes and course materials through Blackboard. Distance learners have remote access to the school’s digital library materials and several other resources. These include recordings from on-campus guest speakers and material from student workshops held at the career center, or any other campus hub.

  18. Rank
    17
    School

    Misericordia University

    Location
    Dallas, PA
    Tuition
    $28,210 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    301 Lake St
    Dallas, PA 18612-1098
    (570) 674-6400

    School Description

    Misericordia University offers online undergraduate programs in accounting, applied behavioral sciences, business administration, government/law/national security and health care management. The online arm of Misericordia also features three professional undergraduate certificates: addictions counseling, diagnostic medical sonography and picture archiving and communications systems (PARC) administration

    Misericordia's online management system is referred to as e-MU, a service that supports online and offline students alike. The program is backed by a student support desk, which can be reached by phone or email.

  19. Rank
    18
    School

    Buena Vista University

    Location
    Storm Lake, IA
    Tuition
    $29,448 annually

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    610 W 4th St
    Storm Lake, IA 50588
    (712) 749-2400

    School Description

    Buena Vista began offering postgraduate degrees in 1995, and the school recently added online degrees to its suite of offerings. BVU features both undergraduate and graduate programs, all of which were designed to accommodate a working professional’s busy schedule. The school features 10 graduate programs in education and support services, while undergrads can pursue a variety of bachelor’s programs, including degrees in public administration and health services leadership.

    Online class sizes are small and courses are kept engaging with clear instruction and collaborative assignments and discussions. Courses are accelerated and structured in eight week stretches. Many bachelor’s programs can be completed in two years. BVU uses the Canvas learning management system to deliver its courses. Students can access BVU’s digital library and one-on-one online tutoring through the Smartthink platform.

  20. Rank
    19
    School

    University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

    Location
    Minneapolis, MN
    Tuition
    $13,555 in state;
    $19,805 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    100 Church Street SE
    Minneapolis, MN 55455-0213
    (612) 625-5000

    School Description

    The timeline of distance education at the University of Minnesota begins with correspondence courses in 1906, moves to radio and television classes in the 1930s and 1960s and ends with the Digital Campus today. Featuring more than 50 degree and certificate programs, completely or partially online, prospective bachelor's, master's, doctorate and continuing education students have plenty of options for their educations.

    Using the open source, course management system Moodle, distant and on-campus faculty and students can access all online class materials, as well as submit assignments, take tests and quizzes and communicate via forums and discussion boards. UM online students can also access some class lectures on the school's iTunes account.

  21. Rank
    20
    School

    Indiana University - East

    Location
    Richmond, IN
    Tuition
    $6,639 in state;
    $17,778 out of state

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    2325 Chester Blvd
    Richmond, IN 47374-1289
    (765) 973-8200

    School Description

    Indiana University-East’s online degree programs follow the same structure as the school’s on-campus programs. Students can choose from 12 undergraduate programs in the arts and sciences, including math, business administration, and psychology. Postgraduate students can sign up for one of four different certification programs. As a recognized military-friendly school, IUE also offers veteran benefits to qualifying non-residents and graduate students.

    New students work with a dedicated advisor to create a customized plan of study based on their educational background and interests. Each student gets their own One.IU portal, which connects them to all online tools, including the Canvas learning management system. While most courses are offered online, all bachelor’s programs require students to complete at least 15 credit hours on campus. All students are required to earn a 2.0 GPA in English composition courses.

  22. Rank
    21
    School

    Old Dominion University

    Location
    Norfolk, VA
    Tuition
    $8,550 in state;
    $24,210 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    5115 Hampton Blvd
    Norfolk, VA 23529
    (757) 683-3000

    School Description

    A pioneer in distance learning, ODU has offered online degree programs for over 30 years. Since launching ODUOnline, this top online school has conferred over 11,000 degrees through its distance learning programs. ODU also maintains partnerships with the Virginia Community College System and other higher education institutions and military bases across the state.

    Most online courses follow the same semester schedule on campus, though some (including the school’s MBA program) use an accelerated eight-week format. Programs include both synchronous and asynchronous courses, which are delivered through Blackboard. Most exams are available right on Blackboard; occasionally, professors will require you to take a test under supervision from a proctor.

  23. Rank
    22
    School

    Clarkson College

    Location
    Omaha, NE
    Tuition
    $12,880 annually
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    101 S 42nd St
    Omaha, NE 68131-2739
    (402) 552-3100

    School Description

    With nearly 90% of Clarkson College students enrolled in at least one online course each semester, the quality of online education at Clarkson is rarely in question. Bachelor's in nursing, medical imaging, healthcare management and healthcare administration can be completed through Clarkson’s Online Education. However, some online programs require periodic campus visits in order to conduct skills assessments.

    Since 1998, Clarkson online students have used a learning management system to complete their online courses. Once students register for the Clarkson Online Campus, they have access to resources such as the Success Center, which offers tutoring, study skill materials, counseling, tutorials, and writing aids. Using webmail, the Online Campus, virtual classrooms and discussion boards, faculty members convey coursework, assignments, projects and tests to their online students.

  24. Rank
    23
    School

    Pennsylvania State University

    Location
    University Park, PA
    Tuition
    $16,992 in state;
    $29,566 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    201 Old Main
    University Park, PA 16802
    (814) 865-4700

    School Description

    From correspondence courses in 1892 to over 100 online undergraduate and graduate degree programs today, Penn State has provided distance education to those without the time to attend classes on campus for over 120 years. The courses and programs are developed and taught by the same experienced and knowledgeable instructors that are found on campus, so online students can be certain they are receiving a high quality education.

    Penn State and its World Campus use Blackboard's ANGEL course management system. From its interface, students can take proctored exams, submit homework assignments and keep in touch with professors and classmates. The school is currently working on finding a new CMS as ANGEL will no longer be in service after October 2016. Online students have access to the same support system and services that can be found on-campus, including academic advising, tutoring, counseling and library access.

    Top Three Programs by Enrollment

    • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
    • BA/BS in Psychology
    • BS in Business
  25. Rank
    24
    School

    University of Memphis

    Location
    Memphis, TN
    Tuition
    $8,312 in state;
    $23,024 out of state
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    Southern Avenue
    Memphis, TN 38152
    (901) 678-2000

    School Description

    Memphis offers distance learners a unique opportunity to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree by participating in the Regents Online Campus Collaborative. The collaborative is a statewide partnership between six universities and other higher education institutions that allows students to choose a “home campus” through which to earn their degree. Students can pursue degrees in a variety of subjects, including information technology, health administration, and interdisciplinary studies. Master’s programs are available in strategic leadership, nursing, and and several other subjects.

    Online courses are available through the D2L learning management system, which hosts all class materials and communication forums. Some course exams require students to arrange for a proctor at an approved testing site. Distance learners also have access to a virtual bookstore, library, and tutoring services through Smarthinking.

  26. Rank
    25
    School

    Florida Institute of Technology - Online

    Location
    Melbourne, FL
    Tuition
    $520 per credit hour online
    +

    Websites

    School Profile

    Address

    150 West University Blvd
    Melbourne, FL 32901
    (321) 674-8000

    School Description

    Florida Tech offers working professionals the opportunity to earn their degree from a top technical college. Students can choose from associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in business, computer information systems, liberal arts, and several other disciplines. Students can enroll at any time, with six start times offered throughout the year.

    Distance learners are assigned an adviser, who helps students choose and register for courses. All online courses are taught entirely online and delivered through either a dedicated campus learning management system or, for the College of Aeronautics, the Angel learning management system. Each course is structured in eight-week terms, and all major courses can be taken in any order.

Online Colleges by State

Most online students take classes from a university within 100 miles of where they live. Despite the flexibility of online programs, there are some benefits to studying close to home. In-state tuition, access to campus resources, and the option of enrolling in a hybrid program are just some of the reasons to consider a school within your state. Select from the map below to learn about online degree programs where you live.

Online Colleges by State All states in the U.S. Hawaii HI Alaska AK Florida FL New Hampshire NH Michigan MI Vermont VT Maine ME Rhode Island RI New York NY Pennsylvania PA New Jersey NJ Delaware DE Maryland MD Virginia VA West Virginia WV Ohio OH Indiana IN Illinois IL Connecticut CT Wisconsin WI North Carolina NC Massachusetts MA Tennessee TN Arkansas AR Missouri MO Georgia GA South Carolina SC Kentucky KY Alabama AL Louisiana LA Mississippi MS Iowa IA Minnesota MN Oklahoma OK Texas TX New Mexico NM Kansas KS Nebraska NE South Dakota SD North Dakota ND Wyoming WY Montana MT Colorado CO Idaho ID Utah UT Arizona AZ Nevada NV Oregon OR Washington WA California CA

Information & Data

Why Online Education?

In a recent survey conducted by BestColleges.com, 1,055 online learners nationwide share their reasons for taking courses online. An overwhelming 65% of respondents cite flexibility as the top reason for pursuing a digital classroom experience, and report less concern about curriculum specifics or access to on-campus activities. While traditional factors such as affordability, academic excellence and delivery format remain major determining factors, survey results suggest a majority of students choose to take courses online because they are more convenient.

Online courses eliminate the need to commute to a campus and tend to offer more flexible class schedules than comparable on-campus courses. There are several costs associated with this type of long-term campus commute, and as 29% of respondents report a household income of less than $50,000 a year, affordability matters. In addition, 46% of online students cite choosing the convenience of an online course due to a lack of a local campus or an inability to regularly commute to one.

About 81% of online students are also employed, so the convenience of distance education works in their favor, allowing them to complete classes around their employment schedule. While almost 63% of students say that the courses they took were to further their career, only 17% claim that taking courses was due to a desire to change careers. These responses may suggest that many online students are looking to expand their current professional skills, including the skills needed for a job promotion, rather than shift career paths entirely.

But full- or part-time employment is not the only hurdle to completing higher education; nearly 34% of respondents say they chose online classes due to flexibility surrounding their family’s scheduling demands. In fact, 33% of those surveyed had dependent children living with them when they took courses, offering some insight into what types of external factors students may have to consider when selecting a learning format, such as childcare arrangements.

Types of Online Colleges Available

  • Community colleges: At a community college, you can pursue your associate degree online, either to qualify for introductory positions in your chosen field or as preparation for a four-year program down the line. Tuition at two-year schools is lower than at most colleges, and for students just starting college, it might make sense for you to begin here.
  • Professional and career colleges: If you want to attend school and prepare for a specific career, you can develop industry-specific skills in a career college. Whether you’re interested in nursing, secretarial work, or anything else, a professional college can help you take the next step in your career.
  • Public colleges: These are the traditional four-year state schools. As a general matter, public colleges are usually cheaper than private schools. Some online schools offer reduced tuition rates to in-state students, while others are able to offer in-state tuition to students throughout the country.
  • Private not-for-profit colleges: Many, though not all, of the private schools offering online programs are religious schools. Some of these schools incorporate scripture into their online program, though others do not, and have no religious requirements for distance learners. Private non-profit schools are often more expensive than other four-year options, so be sure to do your research and find a school that fits with your budget.
  • Private for-profit colleges: There are a number of reputable private for-profit colleges as well. When researching for-profit schools, it is vital that you research their accreditation and reputation, as there are a number of diploma mills in this category.

What Defines the Best Online Colleges?

Just like with campus-based colleges, the best online schools offer rigorous coursework. When evaluating an online college, there are a couple of indicators of quality that you should pay attention to. The first is accreditation. Any school that isn’t accredited by either a reputable national or regional accrediting body should be avoided. It should be noted that all schools featured in our list of the best online universities are accredited. If you choose to complete coursework somewhere other than at one of the top online schools listed here, you will also want to make sure that your school is not certified by a bogus or phony agency.

Beyond accreditation, you should evaluate the curriculum at each school under consideration. Be sure to look around at a few colleges to get an idea of what to expect from a general curriculum in a particular subject. All schools will have their differences, of course, but you should be wary of any curriculum that looks easy, or one expressly designed to be completed quickly. Strong student support services are important as well: if you can’t reliably gather information about a program of interest, you should not feel comfortable attending that school. Finally, if you have some college experience, you ought to make sure you find a school that will accept an acceptable number of your transfer credits.

How the Best Online Colleges of 2016 Stack Up

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Our rankings of the best online colleges are a jumping off point to help you build your own list of prospective programs that meet your needs. Remember, many factors that contribute to the quality of a degree program are intangible. You won’t find data points here or elsewhere that fully capture the level of faculty support, peer networking or academic and professional stimulation found in one program versus another. Please contact your schools directly for more information.

Finding the Best Online College For You

As with a residential college, finding the right school is a difficult and perhaps ultimately subjective exercise. Even among students interested in non-traditional subjects, it is easy to find a variety of colleges that can accommodate your academic interests and professional ambitions. For many, that means that finding a school with a quality curriculum and a flexible schedule at the right price is paramount.

If you already know what you want to study, you can hone in on specific programs by looking at our lists of the best online colleges by degree type. Whether you’re interested in studying nursing, engineering, or computer science, our rankings have identified the best online schools in more than 60 subjects. If you haven’t chosen a major, you can also use our state guides to search for schools in your region.

We also have resources to help students who are looking at programs outside of a traditional four-year degree structure. If you want to earn an associate degree, or are looking to begin at a two-year school, you can check our list of the top community colleges across the country. Similarly, if you have your associate or have knocked out most of a bachelor’s degree, we also have compiled a list of top degree completion programs. Finally, for students considering graduate study, we have rankings and reviews for the top graduate degree programs in a variety of fields. From engineering to theology, our ranked lists will help you find the top online schools that match best with your academic interests.

Why Accreditation is Key

For any list featuring the best online colleges, accreditation status should be the first and most important criteria used to evaluate prospective schools. An unaccredited degree can cost graduates more than job offers — graduates of diploma mills risk leaving school tens of thousands of dollars in debt with nothing to show for it but a degree that isn’t recognized by employers, graduate schools or professional certifying agencies of any kind.

Of course, after confirming accreditation, it can still be difficult to weigh the value and quality of one online degree over another. It’s good to keep in mind that whether a program is offered online or on campus, all accredited programs in the U.S. are held to the same academic and professional standards. These standards also extend to the full-time faculty and adjunct professors that these schools hire. Schools that fail to meet program and faculty quality requirements risk losing accreditation.

Due to the rapid evolution and development of online coursework, online programs are quickly becoming some of the most high-quality degree options available. Consider how the average admissions, enrollment, retention and graduation rates of the 25 four-year schools on our list of the top online schools compare to rates of all four-year colleges and universities nationwide.

Growing Popularity of Online Programs

One in three U.S. college students is now taking at least one class online, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Many leaders in education predict digital learning will become even more of an everyday experience for college students and recommend that high schools require students to take one online course before graduation, a requirement many high schools have already adopted.

In terms of total enrollments nationwide, growth rates of online enrollment have exceeded traditional enrollments since 2002, when fewer than 10% of new students were enrolled in at least one online class.

Growth of Online College Enrollment

Source: Sloan Consortium Annual Survey of Online Education

Digital learning is easily the most dramatic change to sweep higher education in more than a century. Colleges are under pressure to expand their online program offerings to meet the rising demand for distance learning options across the country. Learners can choose to take individual courses online, or to pursue a formal certificate or degree program. In fact, 63% of the students responding to our survey were working towards a degree, with the majority of them working towards a four-year bachelor’s degree. The rest were enrolled in online classes for personal learning and growth rather than college credit.

Recent declines in online enrollment can be attributed to an overall, post-recession decline in college enrollment as well as a significant decline in enrollment at online for-profit colleges. Overall, enrollment in online degree programs is growing at a faster pace than general college enrollment.

Growth of Available Online Degree Programs

This is great news for prospective students. Academia, once synonymous with tradition and the slow and careful adoption of all things new, is changing more quickly than ever and for the better. There have never been more opportunities for a more diverse group of degree-seekers.

Consider the rapid growth in the number of online degree programs available between 2012 and 2014. Over the last three academic years, we’ve seen a 45% increase in the number of online programs offered across the United States, for a total of 13,092 in 2014-2015. You can choose from over 550 individual degree programs alone that are offered by the 4-year colleges featured within our list of the best online universities.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Financing Your Online Degree

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.

Scholarships for Single Parents

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for single parents looking for a more secure financial future for their children. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships for these hard-working parents.

Scholarships for Military Dependents

Military spouses and children are often faced with uncertainty, making online education a good option for those on the move. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships specifically for military dependents.

Resources to Help You Succeed

Are you considering a return to school? Do you feel uncertain about your ability to pick up where you left off? Browse our collection of student resources for a little peace of mind. Our guides are designed to help students at any level enter the classroom with confidence. Whether at home or on campus, find the help you need to get the most out of your education. Below you’ll find some of our more popular resources.

Guide to Online Research

There’s a lot of misinformation circulating online for inexperienced researchers. With the help of our online research guide, you can learn how to find reputable sources and discern fact from fiction.

Guide to Academic Writing

For those returning to school, the thought of academic writing can feel intimidating. From research papers to essay exams, our guide provides a high-level overview of how to tackle the usual suspects.

Information on Choosing a Major

Choosing a major can feel overwhelming, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Let us walk you through the process of narrowing your choice and take the next step with confidence.

Understanding Stress

Returning to college? Know that stress comes with the territory, especially if you’re trying to also balance the demands of work and family. Let us help you better understand stress and how to manage it.

Living on a Student Budget

Whether it’s your first time away from home or you’re returning to school, paying for college means living on a tighter budget. Our guide walks you through tracking expenses, establishing a budget, and saving money.

Original Research