The Most Affordable Online Colleges of 2022

Looking for the most affordable colleges? Use this ranking of the cheapest online colleges to learn more about tuition costs, admission eligibility, and program requirements.

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Published on January 24, 2022 · Updated on June 15, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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The number of students pursuing their college education online continues to grow. Advances in technology offer more opportunities for collaboration, and busy schedules demand increased flexibility. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 36% of all undergraduate students took at least one class online in fall 2019. Fifteen percent had enrolled exclusively in online courses.

In addition to increased flexibility, online colleges offer potential cost savings. For example, some schools do not charge additional tuition for out-of-state residents. Students can also save on on-campus fees like room and board. Online students also may find it easier to continue working full- or part-time than their on-campus counterparts.

Despite these savings, the cost of college — whether online or on campus — represents a significant investment, and students should weigh the costs against their financial means and the likely return on investment. Online students may qualify for numerous grants, scholarships, and federal work-study programs that can help ease the financial burden of higher education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Affordable Online Colleges

Is online college more affordable?

Online programs aren't always more affordable than programs on campus. In fact, according to a 2020 report from Quality Matters and Eduventures Research, most schools charge about the same tuition for online and campus-based programs. Not only that, but 16% of schools' online programs generally cost more.

If you're deciding between an online and on-campus program, check to see if the costs differ for out-of-state residents. Find out whether the school calculates costs annually or by academic term, program, or credit hour. Financial aid, tuition reimbursement, and scholarships can also affect how much money you spend.

What is the cheapest online college?

The cheapest online college on our list is Florida Atlantic University. Undergraduates who are state residents pay an average of $105 per credit in tuition. However, the cost per credit can vary widely based on residency status. Out-of-state undergraduate students at Florida Atlantic University must pay an additional $494 per-credit non-resident fee.

What is the average cost for online college?

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of an online bachelor's degree was $51,091 in August 2021. Tuition for in-state undergraduate students averaged $38,496, and out-of-state tuition averaged $54,183. The cost was higher for private online colleges, which charged an average of $60,593 in tuition.

Prices can vary significantly for tuition, depending on the institution, degree, program, and a student's previous education. Additionally, most colleges have program-specific fees. However, students at properly accredited online and in-person programs can take advantage of federal financial aid.

Is online college worth it?

An online degree from an accredited college is worth it for many students. Online programs offer flexibility, making college more accessible to a larger population than traditional on-campus programs. Students can earn an online undergraduate or graduate degree while working, raising a family, and taking care of other commitments.

Online colleges remove students' need to commute, allowing them to save money on gas and parking. But, keep in mind that online learning may not suit everyone, especially if you struggle to stay motivated on your own. Whether you complete your degree online or on-campus, student support services can help you succeed.

How can online students avoid out-of-state tuition costs?

The easiest way to avoid out-of-state tuition costs as an online student is to attend a college in your state. Students who attend an out-of-state public college typically pay more than in-state students.

That said, there are some colleges, like Mayville State University, that charge the same tuition for online students regardless of residency. Additionally, some colleges reduce tuition costs with waivers for children of alumni or military members. Some students may qualify for in-state tuition because of strong academic credentials.

How Much Does Online College Cost?

Online vs. On-Campus Colleges

Schools vary significantly in terms of the costs for online programs. Many online and on-campus programs at a school charge similar tuition rates. However, some schools charge more for online programs, while others charge less.

No Out-of-State Resident Fees for Online Students

As an example, Mayville State University in Mayville, North Dakota, charges all online undergraduates $326 per credit. In-state and out-of-state learners pay the same price. Considering most undergraduate programs require 120 credits, this amounts to about $39,000 in total tuition over four years. The cost for on-campus undergraduate programs typically ranges from $30,000-$50,000, depending on where a student lives.

Out-of-State Resident Fees for Online Students

The University of Central Florida in Orlando, for example, charges $212 per credit for tuition and fees for online in-state students, while remote out-of-state students pay $749.

For a 120-credit undergraduate program, this amounts to about $25,440 and $89,880, respectively. That is a difference of $64,440 in total tuition over four years between online in-state and out-of-state residents at the University of Central Florida.

Reduced Tuition for Online Students

Online students at the University of Florida in Gainesville pay $129 and $553 per credit for in-state and out-of-state tuition, respectively. In comparison, their on-campus peers pay $213 and $955, respectively.

Keep in mind that, in addition to room and board, online students often save on other expenses like commuting and relocation costs, digital versus physical textbooks, and on-campus fees.

Hidden Fees for Online Students

While online students save on some on-campus fees, most schools charge distance learning fees. These fees can add up. Some schools charge on a per-credit or per-course basis. These fees may include the following:

Some colleges offer optional fee packages for local online students who want to use campus services, including student athletics, recreation facilities, and the health center.

Alternatively, some schools may make it mandatory for all students to pay all standard fees. These may include student activities fees — for services that an online student may never use. In this case, you can try and contact the school to find out if they offer alternatives or exemptions.

Other Costs to Consider

Students should also consider several additional factors when calculating the out-of-pocket cost of affordable online colleges, including state residency, living expenses, and school supplies.

Scholarship and Financial Aid

Online students qualify for many of the same financial aid and funding opportunities as their on-campus peers. This aid can significantly reduce the cost of college. According to NCES, in 2018-2019, 90% of undergraduate students received financial aid at private nonprofit schools, while 84% received aid at public institutions.

State Residency

The online tuition costs for in-state and out-of-state students vary dramatically at many colleges. Some charge all online learners the same price, while other institutions charge nonresidents four times as much. Some online programs also require on-campus orientations or residencies. Students should consider the cost of travel involved with these requirements.

Living Expenses

Be sure to include living expenses when budgeting for college. While online learners don't have to pay for on-campus room and board, they still need to pay for food and housing unless they live with parents, guardians, or someone else who provides this type of support. Additional living expenses to consider include costs related to transportation, utilities, and entertainment.

Books and Course Material

Like on-campus students, online learners need textbooks and other course materials that can cost hundreds of dollars each semester. Distance learners may be able to reduce these costs by purchasing digital books.

Why Is Accreditation Important for Online College?

Proper online college accreditation can affect credit transfer, financial aid eligibility, and even employment prospects. Without adequate accreditation, there's no way to ensure the quality of a school's academics or student support services. Only schools that hold accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation can offer federal financial aid.

There used to be two distinct types of institutional accreditation, regional and national. Traditionally, regional accreditation was the most robust form of accreditation and considered the standard in higher education. However, in the wake of ED repealing both national and regional accreditation, institutional and programmatic accreditation have become the two main forms.

Consequently, fake agencies are accrediting some online colleges. However, students can use ED's database to check any college's accreditation status. If you can't find the accreditor on the website, the organization likely isn't legitimate.

What Are the Job and Salary Outlooks for Online College Graduates?

Bachelor's degree-holders tend to earn more than their peers with associate degrees or high school diplomas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2020, bachelor's degree-holders made a median salary of $1,305 per week — $367 more than associate degree-holders and $524 more than high school graduates with no postsecondary education.

A bachelor's degree may provide increased employment opportunities in numerous industries and positions. Below are the 10 highest-paying fields for bachelor's degree-holders.

TOP 10 HIGHEST-PAYING BACHELOR'S DEGREES
RANK MAJOR EARLY CAREER PAY MIDCAREER PAY
1 Petroleum Engineering $93,200 $187,300
2 Operations Research and Industrial Engineering $84,800 $170,400
3 Electrical Engineering and Computer Science $108,500 $159,300
4 Interaction Design $68,300 $155,800
5 Public Accounting $59,800 $147,700
6 Operations Research $83,500 $147,400
7 Applied Economics and Management $66,100 $146,400
8 Business Computing $73,000 $143,600
9 Actuarial Mathematics $64,300 $143,400
10 Electrical Power Engineering $76,100 $142,600

Source: Payscale, 2021

What Are The Most Affordable Online Bachelor's Degree Programs?

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

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#1 Online College in Florida

University of Florida-Online

School Information
Location Gainesville, Florida
Admission Rate 32%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

 100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $112

Out of State | $500

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | No

Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

UF Online offers 25 undergraduate majors, 79 master's degrees, and eight doctoral degrees. Applicants for undergraduate programs must submit high school or GED transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Each major establishes a minimum prerequisite GPA for admission.

Online learners may qualify for federal, state, and institutional financial aid, including a few privately-funded scholarships. UF Online Onestop provides distance learners with a centralized hub to access payment and financial aid information, registration services, and technological support. 

#2 Online College in Florida

Florida International University

School Information
Location Miami, Florida
Admission Rate 58%
Graduation Rate 63%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 68% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $147

Out of State | $264

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | No

Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

With over 20 years of experience in distance learning, FIU has become one of the largest providers of online learning in the United States. Students may choose from 130 undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates in engineering, education, speech and physical therapy, law, and healthcare, among other disciplines. 

First-time college applicants must submit official transcripts and SAT or ACT test scores. All online students participate in a specialized student orientation that introduces them to the FIU learning management system, financial aid resources, advising support, and other services.

#3 Online College in Florida

Florida Atlantic University

School Information
Location Boca Raton, Florida
Admission Rate 63%
Graduation Rate 50%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $105

Out of State | $105

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

FAU Online offers 12 bachelor's degrees, 27 master's degrees, and two doctorates. Applicants for undergraduate programs must submit high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. Some majors require additional materials for admission.

Distance learners have 24/7 access to Canvas, FAU's online management system. FAU provides all online students with an eLearning Success Coordinator to offer assistance, advising, and coaching as they progress through their degree. Online courses are not self-paced; students must respect academic deadlines for each class and, depending on the format, participate in group sessions at scheduled times. 

#4 Online College in North Dakota

University of Mary

School Information
Location Bismarck, North Dakota
Admission Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 60%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 45% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Online and Hybrid | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $460

Out of State | $460

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | No

Program Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

This private Catholic institution, sponsored by the Benedictine religious order, welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds. Students can enroll in over 50 online and evening programs, including popular options in business, addiction counseling, education, and health sciences. 

Over the past 20 years, Mary has become a leader in online education for Catholic professionals. Mary offers a Family Legacy Scholarship for parents of current students and graduates to enroll in one free class for eligible online degrees.  

#5 Online College in California

Golden Gate University-San Francisco

School Information
Location San Francisco, California
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 67% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $462

Out of State | $462

Credits to Graduate

120

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Founded in 1901 in San Francisco, GGU focuses on undergraduate and graduate professional programs in the fields of business, management, law, taxation, and accounting. In addition to weekend and evening class options, most degrees are offered entirely online. 

Distance learners may take courses in on-demand formats or in real-time through Zoom web conferencing. Online students can also choose a tuition installment payment plan. Active duty service members qualify for significant tuition discounts.

#6 Online College in Louisiana

University of Louisiana at Monroe

School Information
Location Monroe, Louisiana
Admission Rate 80%
Graduation Rate 47%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 43% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 100% Online | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $400

Out of State | $400

Credits to Graduate

120-125

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

ULM enrolls over 8,400 students in campus-based and online degree programs. Distance learners may choose from over 35 fully online degrees. Accelerated undergraduate classes run for eight weeks, enabling students to earn their degree within two years. 

First-time college applicants must submit official transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Some degrees ask for supplemental requirements for admission. ULM offers several Prior Learning Assessment options to receive course credit for previous educational or professional experiences.

#7 Online College in Indiana

Purdue University-Main Campus

School Information
Location West Lafayette, Indiana
Admission Rate 60%
Graduation Rate 82%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Online and Hybrid | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $280

Out of State | $371

Credits to Graduate

Depends on program

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | No

Program Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

Purdue University Online provides access to over 175 online and hybrid programs from across the Purdue University system, from the campuses at Purdue West Lafayette, Purdue Fort Wayne, and Purdue Northwest, to Purdue Global. Popular areas of study include business, education, engineering, and healthcare. 

Admission requirements vary for each program and each school within the Purdue University System. Military-aligned transfer credits and military benefits provide an affordable degree path for service members, veterans, and their spouses.

#8 Online College in Illinois

University of Illinois at Springfield

School Information
Location Springfield, Illinois
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 54%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 70% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Online and Hybrid | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $179

Out of State | $179

Credits to Graduate

Varies by program

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Higher Learning Commission

One of the most affordable online colleges, UIS administers over 50 undergraduate, graduate, and degree programs for distance learners. Prospective first-time students must submit official transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. Some degree programs have additional application requirements.

All online learners pay the same per-credit tuition, including those residing outside Illinois, far below the rate for traditional out-of-state students attending UIS. Online Program Coordinators provide an array of support services to distant learners, including advising, student advocacy, and problem-solving. 

#9 Online College in Massachusetts

Northeastern University Lifelong Learning Network

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 52% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Online and Hybrid | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $541

Out of State | $541

Credits to Graduate

Depends on program

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | New England Commission on Higher Education

Distance learners at Northeastern can choose from over 80 programs at the certificate, bachelor's completion, master's, and professional doctorate level. These online degrees, delivered either entirely online or mostly online with in-campus components, represent some of the most-popular and in-demand disciplines in professional and emerging fields, including accounting, project management, computer science, and healthcare administration. 

As a leader in experiential learning, Northeastern builds practical experience into most online offerings through short-term virtual projects with leading companies.

#10 Online College in Florida

The University of West Florida

School Information
Location Pensacola, Florida
Admission Rate 31%
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

 Online and Hybrid | Self-Paced and Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit

In State | $219

Out of State | $648

Credits to Graduate

Depends on program

Program Information

Degree Completion Program | Yes

Program Accreditation | Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Based in Pensacola, Florida, UWF has introduced a variety of online degree programs at the bachelor's, master's, certificate, and doctoral level. Online programs feature multiple start dates, which vary by type of degree. Distance learners have full access to library services, tutoring support, writing labs, and technical assistance. 

This affordable online college provides several financial aid options for online students, including loans, scholarships, and grants. As a Military Friendly® school, UWF offers tuition waivers and discounts to members of the military, veterans, and their dependents.

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