Top 10 Most Affordable Online Colleges

Foothill College

Cost is one of the most significant roadblocks on a student’s path to college. With tuition doubling roughly every decade, it’s no secret that paying for higher education is getting increasingly difficult. However, earning a college degree is an incredibly rewarding experience that every student deserves regardless of their financial background.

There are many grants and scholarships that are available to aspiring college students, but that is certainly only half the battle. Finding an affordable online college is very important. It makes college feel much more attainable, and it truly is an achievable goal for any student with the necessary drive to earn a degree. Secondly, it takes a great load of stress off of students as they go through their academic career; there is less need to worry about losing a scholarship or roof over their heads. Finding an online college that is affordable lets all the student’s focus be on earning their degree and pursuing their professional goals.


All of the data used to select and subsequently rank the schools in this article was gathered from the following sources:

Each school had to meet all of the following criteria to be considered:

  • It is an accredited public institution located in the United States.
  • It offers online courses or programs to students at the undergraduate level.
  • It has tuition rates that are less than half of the most recently reported national average.

The average tuition rate for state residents at public colleges for the most recent academic year is $9,139. In order to be considered for this ranking, each school must have an in-state tuition rate of $4,570 or less.

These standards were used to ensure that first-time college students, as well as returning college students, would have an opportunity to affordably obtain a degree online from an institution that was qualified to confer degrees. Accreditation is imperative because, without it, a school can not guarantee that their degrees will transfer or be viable to an employer in the future. Colleges and universities overseas may have different accreditation processes, which could pose a similar problem.

Only public schools were considered because it is generally true that tuition rates are higher at private non-profit and private for-profit schools.

The ranking criteria for this article is as follows:

  • Each school was ranked purely based on its in-state tuition cost per academic year.

There are many ways to compare the affordability of a college; however, the most straightforward cost associated with pursuing higher education is tuition. Additionally, the cost of fees, supplies, and room and board drastically differ when you’re not going to school in a traditional manner, or attending a physical campus. Excluding as many variables as possible paints a clear picture of what the cost is going to be for online students.

In-state tuition rates were used to rank the schools because many institutions will charge the same amount or lower to distance-learners regardless of residency.

The prices listed are current as of Fall 2017, and are subject to change.

10. Surry Community College

Surry Community College

Surry Community CollegeSurry Community College is one of North Carolina’s 58 community college. It is located in the city of Dobson. The school has an open door admissions policy, which means that 100% of students that apply will be accepted. There are still fees associated with the application, but you’re guaranteed acceptance. Surry Community College, or just Surry, was founded in 1964. It is a two-year college, which means that they offer degrees at the undergraduate level, as well as many professional certifications. The online certification programs do carry a different tuition rate than the traditional programs which lead to a degree, with a maximum cost of $180. There are also maximum costs associated with the degree-granting programs in order to maintain the lowest prices possible.

There are currently 3,379 students who attend Surry, and 64% of them are part-time. Almost half of the student body participate in distance education programs to some degree. Surry offers 14 different options for online students, all of which are available fully online. They don’t require any on-campus meetings, labs, or lectures. Students can earn an Associate in Arts, a certification in Early Childhood Administration, and they can choose between an associates degree or certification in the following fields: Accounting, Advertising and Graphic Design Technology, Business Administration, Criminal Justice Technology, Early Childhood Education, Medical Office Administration, or Office Administration. Students who attend Surry Community College online will have access to the same financial aid and academic advisement as traditional students. Most of the courses encompassed in the online options are presented in an asynchronous format, which means that there are no set times to log in and that all your course materials will be accessible 24 hours a day. The classes are taught by the same faculty as their traditional counterparts so that students will have access to dedicated and experienced professors with just the click of a button. All distance courses carry an additional fee of just $10.

Surry Community College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $2,540

9. Eastern New Mexico University Roswell

Eastern New Mexico University Roswell

Eastern New Mexico University RoswellEastern New Mexico University is a public state university, and it is the youngest in the state. It opened in 1934, and its main campus is in Portales, New Mexico. It was first accredited in 1947 by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, which was absorbed by the Higher Learning Commission in 1971. The university has maintained this accreditation ever since. The Roswell branch was established in 1958 with the goal of destroying the idea that quality and affordability had to be mutually exclusive in terms of education. Roswell is a two-year college, which means that they only offer associates degrees, certificates, and diplomas. There is an open enrollment policy, meaning that acceptance is not merit-based or competitive. They have a high freshman retention rate as well, with 56% of students returning for their sophomore year. Roswell has a student body of about 3,000 students, and half of them take their classes online.

Roswell boasts over 150 online courses offered each semester, and they have degree programs in almost 50 different areas-of-study. The online degrees that Eastern New Mexico University offers in Business and Education are the most affordable in the entire country. At Roswell specifically, they offer a myriad of programs in hybrid formats, and a few entirely online. Aside from General Studies, their most popular online programs include a certificate of completion in Computer and Network Cyber Security and an associates degree in Criminal Justice.

Eastern New Mexico University Roswell Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,944

8. Cochise College

Cochise College

Cochise CollegeCochise College was founded in 1964 and has five locations throughout Arizona. The main campus is located in Douglas, Arizona. Cochise, as the school is often called, is a community college that provides programs through which their students can earn certificates and associates degrees. This college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and some programs feature specialized accreditation from agencies relevant to the corresponding field. Cochise has an open admission policy, and there is no application fee for United States residents. In addition to having no application fee, Cochise also has one of the lowest tuition rates in Arizona, 77% below the average. Cochise currently serves a little over 4,000 students, and 47% of them take part in the online learning opportunities offered at the college.

Cochise College offers one certificate of completion in a hybrid format, and they offer ten different associates degree programs online. Most of them are also available for university transfer! Those include degrees in popular fields such as Economics, Education, and Business Administration among many others. If you’d like to transition directly into your professional life after completing your degree, you can check out their programs in Computer Programming and Intelligence Operations.

Cochise College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,848

7. Foothill College

Foothill College

Foothill CollegeFoothill College is a community college based in Los Altos Hills, California. It was created in 1956, but it wasn’t officially established until the following year. Its inaugural classes began in the fall of 1958. Foothill College was the first school in California to achieve accreditation just six months after opening its doors. Today, it is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The programs offered in the fields of Dentistry and Radiology also carry individualized endorsement from the related national agencies. Foothill, similar to other institutions in this article, does have an open admission policy. There is no application fee for US students. In total, the fees that students are expected to pay are less than $100, and many of them can be waived. Foothill College offers degrees at the undergraduate level, and many different certificates as well. There are currently over 15,000 students enrolled at the college. The majority of them are part-time, and more than a quarter of them are distance-learners.

One thing that sets Foothill College apart on this list is that they do not offer any of their online programs asynchronously. All of the programs follow the same schedule as the traditional courses. There are mandatory login times, and the courses are not self-paced in any way. Aspiring students have their choice of 37 different certificates, at a few different levels and in a diverse array of fields. There are also 15 different associates degrees that distance-learners can pursue. These include an Associate in Arts in the following fields: Accounting, Anthropology, Art History, Business Administration, Economics, English, Socal Science, Graphic & Interactive Design, History, Humanities, Music, Music Technology, Psychology, and Sociology; there is one Associate in Science degree offered online, in Geography.

Foothill College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,551

6. Allan Hancock College

Allan Hancock College

Allan Hancock CollegeAllan Hancock College started out in 1920 as Santa Maria Junior College. In 1954 when the campus was moved to its current location, the school was also renamed to its present title of Allan Hancock College, which is sometimes shortened to Hancock or AHC. The main campus of this community college is in Santa Maria, California. This college has been accredited since 1952 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The school currently offers a variety of certificates and associates degrees to its 12,012 students. Although a massive 73% of them are part-time students, only 29% of them take advantage of the extensive distance learning opportunities that AHC has to offer. AHC also has an open admissions policy; however, there is a current fee of about $250 per unit to enroll. These fees are subject to change each semester, and there are waivers available for some students.

AHC has an incredibly impressive freshman retention rate of 74%, while this is equivalent to the national average this is exceptionally high for community colleges. 84% of their first-year first time students receive financial aid. Allan Hancock College offers almost 50 different distance-learning programs, but only 13 of them are fully-online. Their online courses run in tandem with the traditional ones, and they follow the same schedule. While there aren’t many classes that require set login times for lectures, your instructors will be setting deadlines for you. The programs that can be completed without any on-campus visits include certificates in Human Services; and associates degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Business: Management, Business: Marketing, Computer Business Information Systems, Computer Business Office Technology, English, Fire Technology, Liberal Arts, Social Science, and Spanish.

Allan Hancock College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,346

5. Diablo Valley College

Diablo Valley College

Diablo Valley CollegeDiablo Valley College is a community college with two campuses in California, in San Ramon and Pleasant Hill. It was established in 1949, and it is one of the largest schools on this list with a student body just shy of 20,000 students. This college has been accredited since only a few years after opening by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges; the American Dental Association has also accredited both of the programs offered in dentistry. The freshman retention rate is well above the national average at 79%, and almost half of their students earn a degree in the acceptable timeframe. Only a small percentage of students, 36%, are distance-learners. Diablo Valley, or just DVC, also has an open enrollment policy. There are no fees associated with applying, but some enrollment fees will be charged to students based on residency.

While DVC doesn’t actively advertise any of their programs as being entirely online, the college has courses in over 70 different fields, and many of them are available online. Also, the school wants students to be aware that there are many of their associates degree programs that can be completed entirely online, and that interested students can contact a counselor to help make that goal into a reality. One of the most popular fields that students enroll in from a distance is Business, in which DVC offers a variety of different programs. In 2016, the college awarded just over 100 certificates and degrees to online students studying business.

Diablo Valley College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,298

4. Clovis Community College

Clovis Community College

Clovis Community CollegeClovis Community College in this article refers to the community college located in Clovis, New Mexico, not to be confused with the institution in Fresno, California with the same name. Clovis Community College, or just CCC, was founded in 1991. It is the youngest school on this list. It was initially a branch of Eastern New Mexico University that opened in 1961 but gained its independence after a local vote in 1990. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and has received special programmatic endorsement by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission and the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. The college offers its 3,317 students the opportunity to pursue certificates and associates degrees in 22 different areas of study. 77% of those students do so part-time, and 45% of them do so online.

CCC features an open enrollment policy with no associated fee, and also has very minimal fees for online students! There are 8 different online programs, through which students can earn 12 different certificates, and 12 different associates degrees. The programs are fully-online and they are self-paced. Some of the courses you’ll need to complete your degree may require a proctored exam. If this is the case, you will be able to take your exam at an approved testing site that is closer to where you are located. The eight different areas of study provided to online students are Behavioral Science, Business Administration, Computer Information Systems, Criminal Justice, Early Childhood Education, General Studies, Legal Assistant Studies, and Liberal Arts.

Clovis Community College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,248

3. West Valley College

West Valley College

West Valley CollegeWest Valley College is part of the California Community College System and has its main campus in Saratoga, California. It was founded as West Valley Junior college in 1963. The school is often referred to as just WVC by students and faculty. The college is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. It was first accredited in 1966. There are currently 58 standalone associates degrees offered, and 22 for transfer. Students can also choose from 91 different professional certificate programs. There are roughly 9,000 students enrolled at WVC, with 68% of them attending on a part-time basis. WVC has an open admissions policy, and there are no application fees. There are incredibly reasonable fees associated with enrollment and distance-learning. Online students are eligible for financial aid assistance as well.

West Valley College graduates most commonly transfer to universities in the state of California. In the most recent information provided by the school, in the 2014-2015 academic year 598 students transferred to schools within the University of California and the California State University systems. Certain restrictions set forth by the United States Department of Education are cited in a disclaimer on the website. To attend online courses, you do not have to be a legal resident of the state of California, but anyone outside of active duty military personnel must currently live in California. West Valley College does not advertise any degree programs entirely online, but 16% of their students are pursuing a degree entirely online. Some of their online offerings include Accounting, Administration of Justice, Anthropology, and more.

West Valley College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,186

2. Coastline Community College

Coastline Community College

Coastline Community CollegeCoastline Community College has three campuses in California, but it is headquartered in Fountain Valley, California. It was founded in 1976 and received its accreditation in 1978. Today, it is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Coastline, as the school is often called, is one of 114 schools that make up the California Community College System. It serves over 10,000 students, and an astounding 77% of them are earning their degrees entirely through the distance-learning options at Coastline. Only 14% of enrolled students are pursuing their education in a wholly traditional manner. There are higher fees associated with distance-learning through Coastline; however, they’re not very expensive, and the school offers a payment plan for its students to ensure that it remains accessible.

Coastline is unique on this list, with the majority of its students being completely online. This is because the Coast Community College District originally founded this college as a distance-education facility. While it has grown to include in-person courses, it still has a robust selection of online degrees. All of them are present as transfer degrees because there is a public speaking requirement that can not be fulfilled at a distance, but counselors can help you find an alternative. There may be proctored exams, but Coastline will even allow you to take the exams at an approved test-site that is closer to where you live. There are 19 associates degree programs and 22 certificate programs to choose from. Their distance courses are offered in three different formats: Telecourses, which are presented on DVD and assignments are turned in by mail; Independent Study, which is given online and through CD-ROM, you have the option to complete assignments online or by mail and; Using Coastline’s Canvas system, which is presented in the most common format entirely online. Through this opportunity, all courses are synchronous and are not self-paced in any way.

Coastline Community College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $1,136

1. Diné College

Diné College

Diné CollegeDiné College is a tribal community college that is in Tsaile, Arizona. There are five other campuses in Arizona and New Mexico. It primarily serves the Navajo Nation, with 99% of the student body being Native American. It was founded in 1968 under the name Navajo Community College. It is the first college that was ever established by Native Americans with the goal of making education a possibility for other Native Americans. The name was changed in 1997 to portray the school’s mission of serving the Diné/Navajo people more adequately. Despite the heavy focus on Native American people, anyone can apply. The school has an open enrollment policy, with a current application fee of only $20. The college primarily grants associates degrees, but also offers certificates and even a few bachelors degree options. Diné is a high transfer school, but there are many programs that prepare students to enter a career.

There are currently 1,396 students enrolled at the college. Most of them are full-time and are taking courses in the traditional face-to-face format. Diné is the only college on this list that actually offers on-campus housing to students, which could be a factor in the high percentage. 41% of the students are enrolled in some form of distance education. The college doesn’t advertise any degrees to be completed entirely online; however, 8% of their students are earning their degree that way. Students can choose from 23 different associate degree programs in a broad range of fields. Web course, as Diné refers to them, are available in subjects like Biology, Business, Education, Psychology, and more. They are presented in a self-paced format via Blackboard.

Diné College Website
Tuition Per Academic Year: $725



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