Most Affordable Online Community Colleges of 2022
Our higher education experts have gathered information pertaining to the most affordable online community colleges out there. Read on to learn more about what these schools offer and how students can save money on their education.
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For many students, particularly those who struggle to meet the financial and academic demands of four-year colleges and universities, online community colleges provide an affordable alternative. Community colleges typically offer more accessible programs, often with accommodating admission requirements, smaller class sizes, and supportive student services.
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Programs at online community colleges often feature practical training that helps students enter the workforce after graduation. Moreover, the transferability of credits received at these schools creates opportunities for further training. Due to lower community college costs, transferring can also be a useful strategy for reducing student debt.
Accredited online community colleges cost less than traditional schools and programs in many areas. Online students can save on travel and room and board, and many programs feature standard online rates for learners across the country.
In this guide, we examine the cheapest online community colleges and provide insight into choosing the best program and saving money along the way.
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Most Affordable Online Community Colleges of 2022
How Much Is Online Community College?
A student's choice of school and delivery method make a big impact on the price they pay. Many of the best accredited online colleges feature lower tuition rates than on-campus programs because of the limited space required to host students in classrooms.
In general, credits at community colleges usually cost less than at most four-year schools. In the sections below, we explore these price differences in greater detail, highlighting what kind of savings students can expect and what they may need to consider when comparing schools.
Two-Year vs. Four-Year Colleges
Compared to four-year colleges, tuition at two-year community colleges costs less in most cases. Community colleges can offer lower prices by featuring fewer extracurricular opportunities and facilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost at four-year schools exceeded two-year college costs in 2019-2020 by more than $17,000.
Online community colleges also offer flexible scheduling options to accommodate a diverse student body, many of whom work while studying. Through asynchronous, evening, and weekend courses, these schools help learners maintain their current jobs while preparing them for new careers after graduation.
|Tuition Costs||Public Two-Year In-District||Public Four-Year In-State|
Online vs. On-Campus Community Colleges
Students need to consider multiple factors when choosing between online and on-campus programs, though they can typically find reduced prices at accredited online colleges. Online training uses virtual classrooms with much lower overhead costs, which usually results in lower tuition prices. Students can find savings in other areas as well.
Online students can save on travel and transportation costs, such as vehicle wear and tear and parking. They can reduce room and board costs without attending classes on campus, and some online classes offer less expensive digital textbooks. As an example of how online community colleges compare to the alternatives, the following table examines tuition prices at Shoreline Community College.
|2020-2021 Estimated Tuition and Fees||WA Resident||Online (Nonresident)||On Campus (Nonresident)|
|12 credits (full time)||$1,359||$1,510||$2,284|
Related Programs That Might Interest You
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
Accredited Online Community Colleges
Students should only consider accredited online colleges when choosing schools. Regionally accredited online colleges go through the same process as traditional institutions. An accrediting organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) must review the school's programs and practices and ensure it meets or exceeds the educational standards for that area.
Students attending regionally accredited online colleges gain access to federal financial aid, transfer credits, and employment opportunities after graduation. They also get the assurance that their school compares favorably to others in that region. When in doubt, degree-seekers can search the list of regionally accredited online colleges from the Department of Education.
National vs. Regional Accreditation
Online community colleges may hold regional or national accreditation. Typically, the best accredited online colleges hold regional accreditation, which is the most widely accepted and prestigious accreditation available. Regionally accredited online colleges may feature more rigid admission requirements, but credits earned at these institutions transfer almost everywhere.
Nationally accredited online colleges, conversely, are usually for-profit career and technical schools. These institutions often have a similar focus across all programs, such as business or nursing. Furthermore, admission tends to be more accessible, and credits may not transfer to regionally accredited online colleges.
In addition to accredited online colleges, students should be mindful of programmatic accreditation. Like regional and national accreditation, programmatic accreditation involves an organization reviewing a school's programs to ensure it properly prepares students and meets the standards of that industry. Unlike regional accreditation, however, programmatic accreditation may not be mandatory.
Nevertheless, some fields do require programmatic accreditation, such as heavily regulated disciplines, such as healthcare, education, and human services. In fields like business and management, programmatic accreditation may be preferred or recommended. CHEA provides a list of reputable programmatic accrediting organizations for further review.
What Are the Job and Salary Outlooks for Online Community College Graduates?
An associate degree from an accredited online college can make a big difference in employment outcomes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for associate degree-holders exceeds that of high school graduates by more than $150 per week.
In terms of finding work, associate degree-holders perform much better than those with only a high school diploma. The 7.1% unemployment rate for associate degree-holders equals the national average, whereas 9% of high school diploma-holders experience unemployment.
The examples below show some of the highest-paying professions available to associate degree-holders, along with the salaries from different experience levels.
|Major||Early-Career Pay||Mid-Career Pay|
|Advertising and Marketing Communications||$36,400||$90,000|
|Computer Science and Mathematics||$41,300||$85,900|
|Instrumentation and Control Engineering||$54,000||$85,400|
|Applied Computer Science||$41,800||$84,500|
Hidden Fees for Online Students
Students can save money attending online community college, but they should be aware of costs outside of tuition that may not be as visible. While online learning considerably reduces travel costs, learners may still need to commute to complete practica or internships. They should also prepare for textbook and registration costs, along with these additional fees.
Distance Learning Fees
Many online schools include a distance learning fee or technology fee on top of tuition to cover costs associated with managing virtual classrooms, including maintaining online learning software and platforms and providing technical support.
Assessment fees can cover an assortment of school costs, including transcript and transfer credit evaluation, online testing software, and exam proctoring services. Some schools also lump assessment and registration fees together.
Graduation fees typically cover the cost of creating diploma packages and running the commencement ceremony. Distance learners may have the option of attending the ceremony online, which could reduce the cost.
Some programs feature residencies for online students, which can add to their overall cost. Learners may need to pay for room and board, food, and travel if they attend these events.
How Do I Cut Online Community College Costs?
Even at the cheapest community college, paying for tuition can be difficult. Financial aid helps immensely but rarely covers everything. Online community college students can reduce their financial burdens further by using the following strategies.
Develop Healthy Spending Habits
When paying for school, students need to be more careful with their spending. Downloading an app like Spending Tracker or recording purchases manually can help learners manage their buying behavior and avoid overspending. It can also help to develop a budget that works out how much money they have available after all their expenses.
Community college costs a lot, but learners can find savings if they look hard enough. Many local organizations offer student discounts, and learners can either rent textbooks or look for used textbooks and school equipment. Joining student and professional organizations may also lead to discounts on materials, events, and resources.
Fast-track Your Studies
Some schools offer accelerated study options, which can help reduce costs. Fast-tracking a degree can result in less tuition and a shorter pathway to the workforce. Students might save on tuition at schools that charge by semester or overall time in the program.
Apply Transfer Credits
Transfer credits save students both time and money by reducing their course load and degree requirements. Experienced learners may also apply for prior learning assessments, which provide transfer credit for previous professional experience, training, and military or community service.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Most Affordable Online Community Colleges
Is online college more affordable?
Online college often costs less than on-campus schools and programs. Many accredited online colleges offer reduced tuition prices if learners study entirely online, even after accounting for distance learning fees and other potential hidden costs. Out-of-state online learners can often access in-state tuition rates.
Are online degrees worth it?
A degree from regionally accredited online colleges provides the same value as a traditional degree. These programs offer more flexible training schedules and reduced costs in some cases. Completing an online degree can bypass any travel or work restrictions that may otherwise limit a student's educational pursuits.
Does community college look bad on a resume?
An online community college can provide very comparable training to a degree from a four-year school. Some employers may value an education from one school over another, but most treat degrees from community colleges and four-year schools equally.
Is online community college easier?
Students should not expect online community college to be easier than an on-campus program. Online learning demands commitment and dedication and may even require students to spend more time on their independent studies than normal. While many community colleges offer open admission requirements, coursework can be just as intensive as that of four-year schools.
How can online students avoid out-of-state tuition costs?
Typically, out-of-state students pay significantly higher tuition prices than in-state learners. Some online community colleges, however, offer standard online or in-state tuition rates to out-of-state students.
Best Online Community Colleges 2022
The 10 Cheapest and Most Affordable Online Colleges
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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