Earning a college education can be expensive. Luckily, there are schools all over the country that offer a host of online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at exceptionally reasonable prices. Studying online shouldn’t mean a sacrifice in terms of quality, either, as many of these colleges provide top-ranked courses and award-winning teaching. Best of all, perhaps, a lot of online programs are extremely flexible; in other words, completing a degree can be fitted around work and personal commitments, regardless of geographical location. Here we spotlight 30 of the highest rated and most affordable online colleges in the U.S.
AOS believes that students choosing a school want two things which don’t have to be mutually exclusive: quality education and affordable prices. Because of this, we set out to develop a list of the best online schools in the United States that meet both of these criteria. This was a tough article to research and pull together, largely because we were considering two quite different criteria that are often ranked separately. However, that’s what we endeavored to do – make sure that each college has received significant recognition for both a) the quality of its teaching programs and b) how reasonably priced it is.
In drawing up a shortlist of entries, we thus cross-referenced multiple other “best” and “most affordable” rankings from reputable sources, and proceeded to pick out out those colleges that repeatedly appeared on both types of rankings (affordability and academic quality). The more the any given college was referenced in other relevant rankings, the better they did in our ranking.
Before developing our final ranking, we considered other accolades, recognition from publications, praise from students, etc. that each college has received, as well as the cost of education at each school. With all of these criteria considered, we produced the final list. And we congratulate each school that made the list.
30. University of Wyoming – Laramie, Wyoming
The University of Wyoming in Laramie offers classes on campus as well as web-based programs through its Outreach School. Its distance learning courses include online bachelor’s and master’s degrees in areas such as nursing and education as well as doctorates in education administration and nursing practice. With undergraduate fees beginning at just $108 per unit for Wyoming residents, this academic institution is an affordable option for many. In particular, its online bachelor of business administration program was ranked number two on website Get Educated’s 2013 “Best Buy” list. Several scholarships for the Outreach School’s students are also available to help reduce tuition costs. All university courses – including the school’s online programs – are Higher Learning Commission certified. One student has praised the University of Wyoming’s outreach facility as “the best.”
29. Liberty University – Lynchburg, Virginia
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia holds the honor of being the biggest evangelical Christian college worldwide. It is also one of the ten best online schools in the U.S., according to Online Education Database, not least because of its impressive graduation and retention figures. Liberty offers online master’s degree courses in everything from accounting human services counseling to public health and Christian ministry, while bachelor’s programs include the likes of aeronautics, paralegal studies and nursing. Doctoral and associate programs and certificates are available, too. The school’s general tuition rates keep it financially competitive, with a graduate fee of $490 per unit for full-time students and $535 for part-timers. In addition, payment plans are obtainable, allowing students to spread the cost of a course over a year. Reflecting on his time as an undergraduate, one former bachelor’s in religion student said, “Overall, it was a good experience… 99 percent of my professors were constantly encouraging.”
28. Columbia Southern University – Orange Beach, Alabama
Alabama-based Columbia Southern University comes in at number nine on OnlineU’s latest list of the best online colleges, which is based on education statistics, course feedback and affordability. Columbia Southern students are given a helping hand when it comes to finances, as any books required for distance learning courses are included in the pricing. The online college also offers a ten percent discount on tuition and “exclusive scholarship opportunities” for employees and members of its learning partner affiliates – as well as their spouses and children. Columbia Southern’s programs include MBAs in human resource management and marketing, bachelor’s and master’s in criminal justice administration and occupational safety and health, undergraduate and postgraduate certificates, and a doctoral program in business administration. Tuition rates are an exceptionally reasonable $200 per unit for undergraduates and $265 for graduate students.
27. Bellevue University – Bellevue, Nebraska
Nebraska’s Bellevue University has received the stamp of approval from Affordable Online Colleges, which in 2013 ranked it the second best value for money online college in the country. In 2007 the school also claimed the United States Distance Learning Association’s 21st Century Best Practice Award, which is given to organizations or businesses that demonstrate “outstanding leadership in the field of distance learning.” The non-profit institution offers fully online master’s programs in subjects such as leadership and coaching, healthcare administration, technology innovation, and entrepreneurship. Undergraduate web-based programs, meanwhile, include those in graphic design and international security and intelligence studies. Plus, there are MBA and cyber security and marketing courses with online elements. At Bellevue not only will students be spoilt for choice; they’ll hopefully have a little money to spare, too. Tuition fees are competitively priced at $375 per credit for online undergraduate programs.
26. Colorado State University – Fort Collins, Colorado
Computer science, applied statistics and tourism management are just three of the online master’s programs offered at Colorado State University, whose central campus is located in Fort Collins. Bachelor’s options, meanwhile, include courses in liberal arts, psychology and anthropology. And the institution’s organizational leadership course was ranked number six on GetEducated.com’s 2013 list of most affordable online leadership master’s programs. One online student at Colorado State’s graduate school of business praised the program as “excellent” while also acknowledging the “top-notch teachers.” Tuition fees depend on the course taken but range from $524 per credit for master’s students – even non-residents – making education very affordable for those who want to study at the school.
25. Stony Brook University – Stony Brook, New York
Online undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and nursing are available at Stony Brook University, but it’s the New York-based institution’s web-based master’s programs that have garnered it particular acclaim. U.S. News & World Report ranked the school’s online graduate nursing courses on its 2014 list of top 20 national programs in this category and its online education master’s within the top 25. Stony Brook postgraduate students can also choose online master’s in liberal studies and human resource management, while advanced graduate certificates in coaching and higher education administration are available, too. In 2014 the school as a whole was named the 20th most affordable public college or university in the U.S. for New York non-residents by business publisher Kiplinger. Meanwhile, Stony Brook’s online graduate program fees for residents offer value for money at $455.45 per credit hour.
24. Lamar University – Beaumont, Texas
Lamar University figures highly on U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 Best Online Graduate Nursing Program list, which places the university’s classes within the top 20 in the nation. The Beaumont, Texas-based school offers an entirely online bachelor’s in communication and an web-based bachelor’s completion program in applied arts and sciences. Meanwhile, online master’s courses feature such fields of study as clinical mental health counseling, teacher leadership and health promotion. Preparation programs are also available in areas such as ESL and counseling and development, as is a doctorate in education leadership. One of the major plusses of studying at the university is the price point of its fees, which are an exceptionally low $223 per unit for most undergraduate courses and only $250 for Texas residents in postgraduate programs. Financial aid, flexible payment plans and third-party billing help keep Lamar’s courses accessible to all, regardless of income.
23. Old Dominion University – Norfolk, Virginia
OnlineU rated Old Dominion University’s remote master’s in counseling program at number 13 on its 2014 list of most affordable online counseling degrees in the nation. This is down to the school’s annual tuition cost of just $12,360. Elsewhere, U.S. News & World Report ranks the Norfolk, Virginia-based school’s online graduate nursing courses as being within the top 25 in the country as well. Old Dominion’s extensive list of online degree options includes bachelor’s in medical technology, computer science and psychology, while business administration, public administration and sport management count among its online master’s courses. A Ph.D in English is also entirely web-based, as are certificates in global health and cyber security. Per credit costs demonstrate that Old Dominion is a good choice when it comes to a quality education for less, with undergraduate distance learners paying as low as $285, and postgraduate students $412, per course credit.
22. University of North Dakota – Grand Forks, North Dakota
According to website OnlineU, the University of North Dakota’s online master’s degree in social work is the most reasonably priced of its kind in the country, costing only $4,969 annually. The Grand Forks-based school’s online master’s in public health also places at number one for affordability in the U.S., the website states. The college’s policy of keeping all online courses priced at residents’ rates means that its programs offer real value for money, with web-based undergraduate tuition coming in at approximately $362.82 per credit. The University of North Dakota also boasts one of the top 40 graduate business programs nationwide, as ranked by the U.S. News & World Report for 2014. Online bachelor’s courses at the school include general studies and social science, while master’s options feature varied degrees such as social work, forensic psychology and space studies. Doctorates in nursing are also available.
21. Sam Houston State University – Huntsville, Texas
In its 2014 rankings, U.S. News & World Report placed Sam Houston State University’s offering seventh amongst the top online graduate information technology programs in the nation. What’s more, the school’s online graduate education courses also fall within the top 20 in the U.S. The university – which is based in Huntsville, Texas – has a wide variety of online degrees at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, including undergraduate programs in general studies and general business administration. Library science, victim services management and digital forensics are just some of the options available at master’s level, while online students may also pursue a doctorate in developmental education administration. Those taking wholly online programs can benefit from the university’s waiver for out-of-state tuition fees, whilst its web-based master’s degrees are offered at $505 per credit, inclusive of all charges.
20. American InterContinental University – Schaumburg, Illinois
American InterContinental University-Online has locations in Atlanta and Texas, but its online campus hub is situated in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Illinois. Its facilities have caught the eye of the Computerworld Honors Program, which recognized the college’s web-based virtual campus as its “Best of the Best” in 2009. American InterContinental’s online learning services include My Unique Student Experience (MUSE), which allows students to work through course content “in a way that suits their individual learning style best.” This program earned a CCA Innovation Award from the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in 2010. An MBA and master’s in healthcare management, information technology and education can all be pursued online at American InterContinental, with bachelor’s options also available in accounting, fine arts and criminal justice. The fee for undergraduate courses is a very reasonable $302 per unit.
19. Colorado Technical University – Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Technical University received the seal of approval from CEO magazine in 2012, with the publication naming its online MBA program among the best ten of its kind across the globe. The college’s principal campus is situated in Colorado Springs, although it also has local in-state branches in Pueblo and Denver as well as out-of-state locations in Missouri and South Dakota. In addition to its acclaimed MBA, Colorado Technical offers online master’s courses in subjects such as homeland security, information technology and criminal justice. Bachelor’s in healthcare management, nursing and psychology are also available, as are doctorates in computer science and management and associate degrees in the likes of accounting and general studies. All online bachelor’s and associate programs are priced at the very reasonable fee of $325 a unit, while all web-based master’s cost $585 per credit hour.
18. Kaplan University – Country-wide
Kaplan University has 15 campuses throughout the U.S., and its online programs are available nationwide. Distance learning undergraduate and graduate courses at Kaplan include those in nursing, psychology and criminal justice, and the university also offers MBAs. In 2014 SuperScholar.org included the school on its global 25 Best Online Colleges list. What’s more, that same year OnlineU rated the school’s online public health master’s course as the ninth most affordable degree of its kind in the country, with its annual tuition cost coming in at $11,550. Kaplan additionally placed 13th on OnlineU’s 2014 Most Affordable Colleges for Online Education Degrees list, tuition for a master’s program costing just $7,700. Surveys suggest that an impressive 91 percent of the university’s graduates were more than satisfied with their education, saying that their academic experience exceeded expectations.
17. East Carolina University – Greenville, North Carolina
Greenville’s East Carolina University can be proud of its online graduate programs in nursing, with U.S. News & World Report ranking them number five in the country for 2014. One distance education student praised the professors on her course as being “helpful” and “willing to assist” those in their classes, while another said that his program has “created an opportunity for [him] to learn and grow.” East Carolina’s online tuition rates are another distinct bonus, as they total just $149 per unit for resident undergraduates and $220 for resident graduate students. Options on hand to potential distance learners at the college include bachelor’s completion degrees in health services management, communication and industrial technology. And English, software engineering and occupational safety are just a few of East Carolina’s master’s programs. The college curriculum also features an impressive 28 graduate certificates, while post-master’s nursing certificates and supplementary teacher licensing courses are available, too.
16. Ball State University – Muncie, Indiana
According to U.S. News & World Report, Ball State University holds the honor of having not one but three of its online master’s programs in the top 20 of their kind in the country for 2014. The ranking magazine rates the Muncie, Indiana-based college at number 11 for its online master’s in education, while its web-based graduate business and nursing programs place at 17th and 19th, respectively. The school’s online division also received the University Professional & Continuing Education Association’s Strategic Innovation in Online Education Award in 2014. Ball State additionally offers bachelor’s completion programs in business administration, nursing and general studies, partially online doctorates in education and nursing, graduate and undergraduate certificates, and teacher licensing. Its tuition fees cost an affordable $277 per unit for inhabitants of Indiana taking most undergraduate online courses and $307 for in-state grad students.
15. University of Northern Colorado – Greeley, Colorado
The University of Northern Colorado boasts a top-ranked online master’s program in education, with U.S. News & World Report rating its offering eighth in the nation for 2014 – one place higher than its ranking the previous year. The school runs a main campus in Greely and other facilities in Colorado Springs, Loveland and Denver. Its online bachelor’s programs include nursing, American Sign Language and a completion degree in sociology, while further online options feature the likes of master’s degrees in sports coaching and criminal justice. Graduate certificates in geography, gerontology and teacher leadership are also available. The university’s fees for online master’s courses start at the reasonable rate of $458 per unit for residents, while resident undergraduates pay $306.78 including all fees.
14. University of Florida – Gainesville, Florida
The University of Florida’s Internet MBA program claimed the number three spot on U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 list of the best graduate online business courses in the country. This highly regarded program is just one of the Gainesville-based college’s many master’s options, which range from aerospace engineering to fisheries and aquatic science. There are also bachelor’s degrees offered in sport management, geology and biology, along with doctoral and specialist education options. Tuition fees for online graduate students are set at $520.89 per credit, regardless of the field of study, and the fees are even cheaper for Florida residents, who pay $486.38. However, as the university also states, “Financial factors should not deny any student the opportunity to attend… and successfully pursue their degree objectives.” So to keep learning affordable, it offers loans, grants, scholarships and help finding employment.
13. University of West Georgia – Carrollton, Georgia
According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 rankings, the University of West Georgia in Carrollton can lay claim to the fourth-best online master’s in business degree in the nation. The magazine also placed the school’s program at number 12 on its 2014 list of the top online information technology graduate courses in the country. Elsewhere, the Princeton Review praised the university for being “one of the best overall bargains, based on cost and financial aid,” and its tuition fee per unit confirms that statement, coming in at only $282 for online graduate courses. The University of West Georgia also offers online master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees in education, a web-based bachelor of science with a criminology major, and online certificates and endorsements.
12. Florida State University – Tallahassee, Florida
Both USA Today and The Princeton Review rated Florida State University the fourth-best valued public college in the country in 2010. The Tallahassee-based school brings affordability to the table with its online courses, too: its web-based bachelor’s in computer science, for example, only costs $270.49 per unit for Florida residents. In addition, the school’s online graduate nursing classes have been acclaimed by U.S. News & World Report, securing a place among the publication’s top ten national distance learning programs for 2014. Florida State’s online bachelor’s courses also include those in interdisciplinary social science and criminology, while an MBA and degrees in social work and library and information studies are among the university’s master’s options, as are nurse leader and educator programs. For those not seeking a degree, however, there are also online-study certificates available in subjects such as event management and information architecture.
11. University of Massachusetts – Massachusetts (State-wide)
The University of Massachusetts offers online master’s degrees in many areas, including computer science, business administration, mental health counseling and criminal justice. Online bachelor’s in subjects such as English, liberal arts and global affairs are also available, as is an associate degree in information technology and a doctoral program in nursing practice. The college’s online nursing program was placed as the third best in the country in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 rankings, while its Lowell campus picked up the Sloan Consortium’s Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education in 2011. Tuition fees at the University of Massachusetts differ by campus and course but are around $465 per unit for a master’s program – meaning students can complete an online scheme for less than $1,500.
10. Fort Hays State University – Hays, Kansas
U.S. News & World Report rates the online master’s in education program at Fort Hays State as one of the top 20 in the U.S. for 2014. The Kansas-based institution also ranks as the second most affordable college for an online counseling master’s program, according to website OnlineU’s 2014 ratings. Dennis King, director of the school’s “Virtual College,” says that Fort Hays is “in the lowest one percent nationally, in terms of online tuition” and that its students receive “a top-tier education at the most affordable price.” Tuition rates are amazingly low at $182 per unit for undergraduates and $246.90 for graduate students. Fort Hays State also offers educational specialist degrees, endorsement programs, and online bachelor’s options in political science, psychology and marketing. Some on-campus courses are available as well.
9. Southern New Hampshire University – Manchester/Hooksett, New Hampshire
Southern New Hampshire University – which is located between Hooksett and Manchester – is well regarded by SuperScholar.org, ranking eighth on the website’s list of the best online colleges in the world. In 2013 GetEducation.com rated the school’s online master’s in organizational leadership course 14th among the most affordable remote master’s programs in the country. Southern New Hampshire offers over 40 specialized MBA courses online as well as web-based bachelor’s and master’s programs in history, psychology, nursing and sport management. Tuition fees are low, too, coming in at $320 per unit for undergraduates and $960 for a full course. Plus, the college assists students by providing tuition reimbursement or financial aid if necessary.
8. Oregon State University – Corvallis, Oregon
Located in Corvallis, Oregon State University comes in at number ten on website Affordable College Online’s 2013 list of the best U.S. public online colleges. SuperScholar.org also frequently selects it as one of the world’s top 25 online colleges and universities. Programs can be taken through Oregon State’s Extended Campus (Ecampus) facility, with remote learning options including bachelor’s programs in German, political science and anthropology. The school also offers master’s in education, natural resources, and fisheries and wildlife administration, as well as MBAs and counseling and adult education master’s with online elements. Its tuition fees are reasonable, with most of its undergraduate-level online courses priced at $271 per unit. Thanks to the university’s enviable reputation and initiatives such as Ecampus, studying online at Oregon State has become very popular. Interestingly, a recent estimate pointed to a 24 percent increase in distance learning students at the university in 2013
7. North Carolina State University at Raleigh – Raleigh, North Carolina
In its 2014 rankings, U.S. News & World Report listed North Carolina State University at Raleigh as a provider of one of the top 20 best online education master’s programs in the nation. The college ranks number nine for its online master’s course in engineering and number four for its web-based information technology master’s. Despite these high ratings, however, the Raleigh-based college won’t necessarily break the bank when it comes to tuition fees: the cost for some of its online bachelor’s programs is as low as $218 per credit for North Carolina residents. The facility’s commended online section also offers remote MBAs and master’s courses in subjects like animal science and sports management, plus undergraduate and graduate certificates, doctoral programs and teacher licensing.
6. American Public University – Charles Town, West Virginia
American Public University – which is part of the American Public University System, along with the American Military University – boasts, “Among the ten U.S. leading providers of online education, we are on average 42 percent lower for undergraduates and 33 percent lower for graduate students.” Costs are indeed low: students can receive teaching for just $250 per unit if they’re studying an undergraduate program and $325 a unit if they’re graduates. Online bachelor’s and master’s course options at the college include military history, transportation and logistics management, and sports and health sciences. American Public University is also well regarded in the working world: according to its website, 93 percent of those who have employed alumni of the West Virginia-based school say they would consider taking on its graduates again.
5. Capella University – Minneapolis, Minnesota
An impressive 95 percent of Capella University alumni have said that they were “satisfied or highly satisfied” with their time spent at the Minneapolis institution. Students have also commended Capella’s course content and teachers, with one saying that the master’s degree program in counseling was “fantastic.” Among the college’s various accolades is the National University Telecommunications Network’s Distance Education Innovation Award, which it won in 2006. The school’s courses are mostly online, but it does offer distance learning bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D programs in subjects such as nursing, public safety and psychology. Tuition fees for Capella University bachelor’s degrees are no more than $360 per credit – with scholarships, grants and financial aid also available to help assist with education costs. This compares favorably with the University of Minnesota Duluth’s undergraduate program, which is priced at $450.77 per credit for residents and $591.74 for non-residents.
4. Central Michigan University – Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Potential online undergraduate students should put Central Michigan University at the top of their list of colleges, as U.S. News & World Report ranked it as having the best online bachelor’s courses in the country for 2014. Its online graduate education program is acclaimed, too, with the magazine rating it number three nationwide. The Mount Pleasant-based college also has that all-important affordability factor, with its standard credit rate for bachelor’s-level online courses priced at $370. Among the school’s further distance learning options are undergraduate programs in administration, political science and psychology, while master’s choices include programs in nutrition and dietetics and teacher leadership. Graduate certificates in a variety of subjects are also part of the university’s web-based options.
3. Arizona State University – Tempe, Arizona
Arizona State University in Tempe boasts the second-best online graduate business program in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2014 rankings. The publication also rated Arizona State’s options ninth among the best U.S. online bachelor’s courses that year. Online master’s programs at the college include American media and popular culture, English as a second language, and information management. Arizona State’s online bachelor’s courses are equally varied – including religious studies, justice studies and history – while online certificates are available as well. A competitive price structure means that some remote graduate courses can cost as little as $482 per unit with no further fees, regardless of whether students are residents. One Arizona State online undergraduate student said, “I have been very impressed by the quality of the faculty and the ability to have my questions regarding financial aid answered by individuals who know what they are talking about.”
2. Walden University – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minnesota’s Walden University describes itself as a “global leader in online education” and is well rated by the bulk of its international students: more than 90 percent say they are either “satisfied or highly satisfied” with the school, it claims. Employers like the college, too, as it’s reported that an amazing 97 percent say they would offer a Walden graduate a job. The university offers bachelor’s and master’s courses in subjects ranging from business administration to nursing, information technology and criminal justice, as well as doctoral programs and certificates. According to several of those taking its entirely online courses, the college provides value for money as well, with one remarking, “The tuition is cheap compared to other online schools and the accreditation is on point.” Teaching costs for its master’s programs can be as little as $525 per semester credit hour, which includes textbooks and other study materials.
1. Western Governors University – Salt Lake City, Utah
According to Washington Monthly magazine, Western Governors University in Salt Lake City is “one of the most unassuming but revolutionary institutions in American higher education.” Among its programs are a host of bachelor’s and master’s options in education, information technology, nursing and business. Western Governors also offers online post-baccalaureate licensing programs for teachers. One of the chief advantages of this non-profit institution is the affordability of its tuition costs, with fees for its undergraduate business and information technology programs priced at under $6,000 per year. The school’s credentials are impressive, too, as it has become the first wholly online college to offer teacher training with National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education certification. Besides which, it was recently honored with the 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning for the fourth time since 2008 and received the Sloan Consortium’s Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education.