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Affordable Online Colleges

Since the COVID pandemic, many colleges and universities are now offering more online courses i than ever. Students can now pursue their degree or upskill wherever they are with the growing number of affordable and accessible online colleges. Without the need for costs associated with housing, meal plans, and transportation, an online program may seem like an affordable route. Some online programs may require you to pay additional technology fees, but with the added flexibility and accessibility of studying from anywhere, it may be a worthwhile pursuit. 

If you are looking for an affordable online option for a bachelor’s program, it would be wise to check with your local college to see what online degrees and courses are offered. Receiving in-state tuition, even for an online education, can knock dollars off your overall cost. Take the University of Florida for example. For online programs, the tuition is $112 per credit hour for Florida residents, whereas if you are an out-of-state student, you will be paying $500 per credit hour. 

We identified some affordable colleges with online programs offering certificates, associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees below. Tuition may be dependent on your residency status, your status as a student (full-time, part-time, or less than part-time), and what financial aid may be available to you.

Options for Affordable Online Colleges

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, UA Little Rock offers many degrees that are 100% online, perfect for the working, non-traditional student. With many award-winning instructors and more than 450 online courses help you to complete your degree in a timely manner. With new online programs being continually developed, you can feel confident knowing you are attending a school dedicated to online learning.

Completely online programs cost undergraduate students as of May 2022 are $280 per credit hour, while graduate courses cost $383 per credit hour and distance learners pay in-state tuition. Military and veteran rates are available with a waived application fee. Note that additional fees such as a technology fee may also be included in the cost of your program. 

Great Basin College

A comprehensive community college out of Elko, Nevada, Great Basin College is accredited by the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities. Its online degrees and programs offer over 25 associate degree programs, 15 bachelor’s degrees, and over 20 career-training programs. With a strong online course catalogue, popular majors include Liberal Arts, Nursing, Science Technologies, Teacher Education, and Electronics Engineering. 

For a non-resident online only student, lower division courses (100 and 200 level) as of May 2022 are $176.75 a credit, while upper division courses (300 and 400 level) are $285.00 a credit. These prices include your registration fee, technology fee, and distance education non-resident fee. Fees not included are your application fees, lab fees, differential fees, books, and other specific degree or program costs. 

University of Phoenix

With more than 100 different online programs available, the University of Phoenix has over 30 years helping busy students who are looking to advance their education. They have and institutional accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission, with many programmatic accreditations that apply to specific programs. Available degrees range from certificates and Associate’s to Doctoral degrees.

An interesting point is while the costs of education have increased by an average of 2.6% per year, when you enroll with the University of Phoenix, your cost of tuition is locked in until you graduate. Current costs as of May 2022 for undergraduate credits are $398 per credit, Master’s program credits are $698 per credit, and doctoral program credits are $810 per credit. (Certain license programs and coursework many have additional fees, so check with your academic advisor for more information.)

Why Get an Online Education

As technology has developed, learning has become more flexible, efficient, and accessible through online learning. Where there once was a level of uncertainty toward online degrees and programs, credibility has grown and degrees, whether earned in a traditional format or in an online one, are being given equal respect. Earning a degree online is becoming more popular and with the benefits below, it is a perfect fit for some students who may not want to be an on-campus student.   

  1. Flexibility
    Class and study time can be easily adapted to fit busy schedules. The convenience of an online degree program allows you the ability to manage your classes as well as continue to maintain your other obligations. 
  2. Accessibility
    Along with the many obligations you have along with being a student, studying online can allow you to access your classes and coursework wherever you are. All you need is an internet connection. No longer do you need to live in the same city as your university or have a lengthy commute to campus. If you need to relocate during the time you are taking classes, you can still attend your college without the worry of transferring credits.
  3. Affordability
    Online degrees may be more affordable than face-to-face, in-person classes. You may not be charged for the on-campus amenities, and you may be able to continue with your current living situation. You can also save with the costs usually associated with commuting (such as gas, parking passes, or bus passes to access campus).
  4. Developing New Skills
    Not only are you developing the needed skills taught by your program, but by taking online courses, you are choosing to take control of your education. You learn to manage your time and schedule, become disciplined and motivated, are able to balance multiple tasks, can stay abreast on the newest online learning tools, and become a stronger communicator to stay connected to your studies. All these skills are needed and practiced in an online learning environment. 
  5. Career Advancement
    While you are working, you have the flexibility to attend classes and apply what you are learning into your current career. You may want to use your new knowledge to help you switch careers. Many workers are taking courses to upskill themselves, which is proving to be a benefit to themselves and their employment. The connections you make can also be useful networking opportunities. 

What are the Costs of an Online College?

Online vs. On-Campus Colleges

Some college tuition is similar no matter if you are attending online or in person, while other schools may have different costs associated with online or distance learning. Your tuition will vary depending on the institution you are attending and it is important to note that some colleges will also have per-credit distance learning fees. Your institution may also require you to pay the student services fees. This may mean you are paying for programs and events that are on-campus and these fees may not be able to be waived. 
While the table below shows the average costs as of the 2021-2022 school year, realize that your institution may be more or less than the listed cost. Check on your school’s website to find their listed cost of attendance (COA). 

  Online Bachelor's Degree Traditional Bachelor's Degree (on-campus) Tuition Only Traditional bachelor's Degree (on-campus) + COA
In-State Tuition   $38,496 $37,396 $101,048
Out-of-State Tuition  $54,183 $64,552 $172,664
Private Colleges $60,593 $101,528 $176,684


How to Pay for Online College

Scholarships & Grants

With online degrees being more and more recognized, many online students can qualify for the same grants and scholarships as their on-campus peers. You can apply for available grants and scholarships, as well as scholarships specifically geared to online and distance learners. By filing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), you can access federal gift-aid or even state-or school-funded gift aid. You can use your scholarships and grants to help pay school tuition, fees, books and supplies, and other school related costs. This useful Edvisors’ FAFSA Guide can help you apply for aid. You should apply as soon as possible to apply for federal-, school-, and state-based aid as some gift-aid is awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis. 

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Federal and Private Student Loans

When attending an accredited online school, most will accept the same federal financial aid that you would receive at a traditional school. If you have questions whether or not your school accepts federal financial aid, check out the financial aid page for your college of choice. You can also call the financial aid department and ask them directly. 

Many online schools, just like traditional schools, will generally accept the FAFSA. However, if you need financial aid to attend, you want to make sure your school offers federal student aid by checking your school’s website or seeing if they have a federal school code. You may also want to double-check that your program is eligible for financial aid, it may be best to reach out to your prospective school and ask. 

If you reached point where you have used up all your gift-aid (e.g., grants, scholarships), it may be a good idea to look at federal student loans. Federal student loans come with a number of benefits to borrowers, such as deferment and forbearance options, many different repayment plans, and student loan forgiveness programs upon eligibility. 
If after scholarships, grants, and federal loans you find you are still coming up financially short, you may have to take out a private student loan. Private student loan lenders are known for offering competitive interest rates and typically do not charge origination fees. It’s important to do your research to find the best student loan option for you and your circumstance.

Learn more about the different types of student loans

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Online College Accreditation 

When it comes to receiving a degree online, you should do your research. Check to see if the school you want to attend is accredited, and it doesn’t hurt to look for online reviews, or if the school has been in the media for negative reasons. Choosing a school is an investment of both time and money, so you want to make sure you choose a reputable school and program.  You can check your school’s website or contact the institution and ask them for their accreditation status. Your university may have specialized or programmatic accreditation for specific degrees, departments or schools, while an institutional accreditation applies to the entire college or university. Once you know the accreditor, you can look up the school on the accreditor’s website to see if there are any flagged concerns with the institution. 

If you are looking to subsidize your online program with financial aid, check to see if your intended school has a federal school code for federal student aid eligibility. If your school does have a federal school code, ask the financial aid office about your eligibility for federal student aid for your intended program of study. While accreditation does not ensure a quality education, it does help ensure your program or school is maintaining an acceptable academic standards of an accrediting agency.

With the number of fraudulent “degree mills” on the internet, be careful. If something seems too good to be true, such as quickly earning a traditional four-year degree in a matter of months, or extremely low tuition costs, it probably is too good to be true. 

Reducing your Online College Costs

If you are looking to keep the cost of receiving an education low, there may be some other available options to reduce the cost of an online education: 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Many schools are offering MOOCs through companies such as edX and Coursera. You may be able to audit these courses for free or pay a nominal fee to receive a completion certificate or college credit. MOOCs allow students to stack smaller credentials into a larger one, such as a bachelor’s degree or MBA. EdX has partnered with over 160 universities such as MIT, Harvard, and Berkley just to name a few, to deliver high-quality content to students all over the world. Udacity and Coursera also have a variety of different MOOCs to choose from to further your learning.

Community College Courses

Your local community college may prove to be a cost-effective option when it comes to receiving your education on a budget. Community colleges have traditionally offered 2-year associate degrees and certificates. These credits typically cost less and if you receive the appropriate grades, your credits may transfer to a four-year institution. If you decide to begin your studies at a community college with the intent to transfer to a larger school, it is a good idea to know what degree you ultimately want and where you want to graduate from. Talk with your community college and university advisors to make sure your credits will correctly transfer between schools. 

Open Education Resources (OERs) 

OERs are education resources with open licenses. They can be textbooks, media, or other digital assets that are freely accessible. Some online instructors are beginning to use OERs instead of textbooks, such as the OER Commons. These free course readings can be used to replace your need for textbooks in a class and are made available to the public. Not all classes have OERs available, but if you have the option to use one, it can help cut back on your educational costs.

Accelerated Courses

Some colleges or online programs may offer accelerated courses. This takes the traditional 15–17 week, semester-long course and allows you to get the same college credits in 8 weeks or less. Your workload may be similar to a traditional length course with the expectation of completing it more quickly, but you can complete the class in half the time. Check the course catalogue and discuss your options for completing your degree faster with your academic advisor. 





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