Finding information about a college program is a minefield if bad information, sponsored searches and contact forms that demand information you may not want to give, before a single result is shown. With such an atmosphere, it’s understandably difficult to find valuable information. Everything is compounded when you’re searching for an online degree program. It’s long past time for a good resource for college information.
By now you’ve decided to search for an online Information Technology degree. This is a good choice, but the field of possible options is distressingly limited. Online degrees as a whole are struggling to gain traction as legitimate educational programs. Today, however, learning via the Internet is not only possible, it’s a valuable resource for many busy part-time students without the availability necessary for physical classes. With the rising expense of modern school, it’s important to choose an online degree that will help guarantee work without breaking the bank. That’s what this list of ten affordable online colleges is for.
Featured IT Programs
Why an IT Program?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, predictions for the IT field show it growing by 22 percent over the next six years. Offshore outsourcing is hurting programming-focused degree holders, but IT jobs contain many more options. Even today, virtually every field is touched by IT. Every company needs an IT department or, at the very least, a talented SEO professional or social media manager. Software developers have it good, with an expected growth of as much as 31 percent, much faster than average for the economy. IT jobs are also reasonably high paying, making them an ideal target for an online degree program. Median income, for example:
- Software developers: $94K
- Database administrators: $73K
- Network administrators: $69K
- Computer systems analysts: $77K
- Computer support specialists: $46K
Many of these positions over the coming years will be found in the healthcare industry, so any school with a reputation in healthcare or with a double major in a health-related field alongside the tech field will be an ideal choice. Particularly, healthcare records are becoming increasingly digitized and networked, requiring as many as 18 percent more employees by 2020.
One thing is certain; computers will continue to evolve, the Internet will grow more and more ubiquitous and people will always be needed to manage these evolving technologies.
Why an Online Degree?
Now that you know you want an IT degree, why should you pursue an online degree rather than a traditional campus-based degree? There are a number of excellent reasons.
- Schedule balance: Most online degree programs do not have set schedules. Those that do still benefit you by not requiring length commutes. For working adults, busy students, parents and other busy individuals, an online degree offers the flexibility of timing that a campus degree lacks.
- Flexible studying: Virtually every online degree program records and archives their courses. This can be an invaluable study aid for students. In a campus course, you would need to schedule time to contact a teacher for a question about the lecture. For an online course, you can simply watch it again.
- Accelerated learning: Some online courses pack much more content into individual sessions. This allows the course to last as little as half of a standard-length semester. Not every college offers accelerated learning, so be certain to ask if you count on faster courses.
- Lower costs: Online degree programs generally have tuition on par with in-state tuition prices, even for out-of-state students. Even if tuition is higher than campus tuition, you still save money on commutes, room and board, meals and other college-related expenses.
Online degrees have a few drawbacks, most notably in student protection. There are a large number of fake schools and diploma mills that will put you through expensive courses with little actual content. When you pass, they mail you a diploma, which you will find is unlikely to do you any good. Such degree mill schools are not accredited and exist only to waste your time and money.
How to Afford an Online Degree
As a student, no matter how old or busy you are with an ongoing career, affording college is tough. Financial aid will help matters. The application process is the same as that for campus courses. There are four different sources of funds for a student pursuing an online degree.
- Grants: Grants are free money given as a gift for education. Grants are difficult to earn but do not need to be repaid barring extreme circumstances. You will likely need to maintain certain standards of GPA and conduct to maintain eligibility for a grant.
- Loans: Loans are the most common form of paying for college, both campus and online. Federal loans can be found through the FAFSA system. Your chosen college admissions and financial offices can assist with the application process. Loans come in three flavors; subsidized, unsubsidized and private. Sub and unsub loans are government backed, while private loans generally come from banks. Federal loans are more beneficial, in terms of lenience with repayments, but they have harsher limitations on the money you are disbursed. The difference between subsidized and unsubsidized comes down to how you are required to pay back the loan and how interest applies.
- Scholarships: Scholarships are contests you can apply to for extra money. These can range from a few hundred dollars to a full ride for a semester, depending on the fund backing the scholarship. Contests range from eligibility according to race and nationality, to essay or multimedia contests, to grade performance and exceptional invention scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships available, but finding ones you are eligible for is a job of its own.
- Work-study: A work-study program allows a potential student to work part time and study part time, with some of your earnings contributing to education.
When it comes to financial aid, study your chosen university well. Some will offer their own tuition assistance, while others rely on students funding their own way through federal loans.
In any case, filling out your FAFSA application is the first step to obtaining any form of financial aid, so be sure to file the paperwork as soon as possible when you have chosen your school.
Navigating the Online Degree Waters
As mentioned above, it’s a treacherous sea to navigate searching for a valid, valuable online degree program. In a field as rich in growth as IT, it’s difficult to locate any valuable information on the subject.
Here are some warnings a school might not be legit as you investigate various colleges:
- There is little to no admissions process; the only information a diploma mill requires is a valid credit card. Accredited schools require personal information, financial information and other identifying information, including transcripts for past education.
- The time to graduate is very short, perhaps 30 days or less. Real universities take their time with education. Even the most accelerated program will still take at least two months to complete.
- The diploma mill reviews your application and, based on your credentials and work history, awards you a degree immediately. No real university will bypass education in such a way. You can test out of individual classes, but you can never test into an immediate degree.
- Faculty listings are fake. Diploma mills do not hire teachers for their content; they do not have any content to teach. They are essentially selling you an expensive piece of meaningless paper. Occasionally a diploma mill will attempt to fake accreditation, so look up their information with the Department of Education.
Schools come in two flavors; for profit and non-profit. Non-profits offer a wider range of degree programs, but are harder to recognize. For-profit organizations, such as the oft-mentioned University of Phoenix, spend much more time and money on advertising. The trouble is that non-profit universities often have strict limits to the number of students they will accept for an online program. If you want to enroll in a non-profit school, do so as soon as possible.
The primary signpost for whether or not a school is valid is accreditation. Never enroll in a school that is not accredited. In order to determine whether or not a school is accredited, look that school up on the website for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, as well as the United States Department of Education. If you are looking to attend a school outside of the United Stats, CHEA maintains a list of contact information for accredited schools around the world.
School Judgment Criteria
U.S. News and World Report ranks schools throughout the United States each year. It rates bachelor’s programs, graduate programs and now online programs. As one of the few publications with reliable, objective information, this list is largely based on their rankings.
The online bachelor’s programs are ranked according to these metrics:
- Student Engagement – A full 40 percent of the judgment comes from this metric. Students must be able to interact with their instructors and classmates as though they were in a classroom. Instructors in turn must be accessible and responsive, to foster a good environment for learning. New techniques for this interaction are always being developed and tested, and the universities that score highly tend to have responsive faculty for online classes.
- Faculty Credentials – Weighted at 20 percent of the overall scoring, these universities must offer instructors with the credentials and experience necessary to teach.
- Peer Reputation – A new metric rated at a 20 percent weighting, U.S. News has begun polling other universities about their peers. Schools with positive reputations for quality rank highly.
- Technology and Student Services – Universities that rank highly have high quality technologies powering their online programs. Additionally, these schools offer other forms of external support for distance students, putting their online programs on par with their physical programs.
Of course, any school on this list must have an available distance learning major in an Information Technology field. As always, contact the school in question before you enroll to make sure they have the degree program you desire.
Note that the schools on this list offer 100 percent online IT degrees. There are other schools with potentially better degrees or better overall quality of education, but they do not offer completely online courses.
#10 – Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA
#10 – Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA
The second largest school on this list is ranked number 141 on the overall online degree program search and number 13 among schools an IT degree online. The school has just over 39,000 students between its physical and online campuses, and was founded in the 2002-2003 school year.
Liberty University application deadlines are rolling, so students can apply at any time of the year for an upcoming semester of education. This makes Liberty University extremely flexible with scheduling for new and returning students. The cost per credit for an online degree program through Liberty is $340, among the lowest available for affordable online colleges.
#9 – Concordia University Chicago in River Forest, IL
One of the newest online schools in the United States, Concordia University Chicago is ranked number 97 among online degree programs and number 11 among schools offering IT degrees. It is also on of the smallest schools, with an enrollment of only 65 students. The school was founded in the 2012-2013 school year.
Concordia University applications are rolling, and the school focuses on online degrees. Every course is taught in real time, recorded and archived for later access by students and faculty for review and study purposes. The average cost per credit is $475.
#8 – Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA
Drexel University, based in Pennsylvania, has a reported enrollment of just under 2,400 students. It is a private institution that has been offering bachelor’s degree programs since 2003. Like Concordia, all online classes are recorded and archived for students to review at their leisure. The deadline for applications is September 5.
Drexel University is ranked number 37 among schools offering online degree programs, and ranked number four among schools offering IT degrees online. This rise in quality above the previous two schools comes with a price. The cost per credit for tuition for online students is $707, making it one of the most expensive schools on this list.
#7 – DePaul University in Chicago, IL
DePaul University is ranked number five among schools offering affordable online IT degrees, while it is ranked number 48 among schools offering IT degrees in general. Enrollment is only 235 students, and tuition per credit is $550. The school has been offering online programs since 2001, with a rolling deadline for applications.
Among individual metrics, DePaul University has a high student engagement score, meaning that students are often fully aware and involved in individual classes. With a faculty of 133 and a class size of 26 at maximum, there are always faculty members available to address student needs. Six percent of students pursue IT degrees through DePaul University.
#6 – Limestone College in Gaffney, SC
Limestone College is rated number 93 among online degree-offering universities in the United States. Among those offering an IT degree, it is ranked number nine. Based in South Carolina, the school has just under 1,300 students and a rolling deadline for applications.
Limestone College began offering online courses in 1996, making it one of the most experienced universities when it comes to online education. Unfortunately, this experience has led to some instances of dated technology and teaching methods. Tuition is relatively cheap, at $376 pr credit for an online degree.
#5 – Pierce College in Philadelphia, PA
Pierce College is ranked number 81 among universities with online degree programs, according to the U.S. News and World Report Survey for 2014. Among schools that offer IT programs, it comes in at number eight. It has a student population of around 1,300, and tuition for a credit hour costs $533 for online programs.
Pierce College began offering online courses in 1999 and has expanded its online program over the last decade. 18 percent of the student body is pursuing an information technology degree of some form or another, making IT on of the top five most popular majors at the school. Average student age is 34, with a 72 percent female population.
#4 – Granite State College in Concord, NH
Concord-based Granite State College has a student population of 1,800+ and is one of the few colleges offering IT degrees that has different tuition numbers for in-state and out-of-state students. Thankfully for online students, both tuition numbers are low. In-state students pay $285 per credit, while out-of-state students pay $305.
Granite State College has been offering online courses since 2005 and has a rolling deadline for applications. IT is not a focus, and student engagement is 13th among online degree programs. The college itself ranks sixth among schools with online IT programs, and 48th among schools with any online program.
#3 – California Baptist University in Riverside, CA
As a private institution, California Baptist has been offering online courses since 2011. The school has a population of 1,600 with 74 full time online teachers. The school has high scores for student engagement and faculty training. The admissions deadline is rolling.
California Baptist University charges $495 per credit for online degrees. For this tuition, students enroll in the third best school to offer an online IT program. Among all schools offering online programs, it comes in at number 37.
#2 – American Public University System in Charles Town, WV
Originally founded to serve the educational needs of military personnel, American Public University System is a for-profit private school that has offered online courses since 1995. This long experience contributes to the high enrollment of the school, which has over 61,000 students and over 400 full-time staff for online education. Tuition is $250 pr credit.
American Public University System is ranked number 34 among all schools offering online programs. The school is ranked second among those offering IT degrees.
#1 – Colorado State University in Greenwood Village, CO
Holding the distinction of the number one spot among schools offering online IT degree programs, Colorado State University’s Global Campus is a branch of the state school. The school enrolls just under 6,000 students and is ranked number 16 among all schools offering online classes.
Colorado State University has been offering online bachelor’s degree programs since 2008. All classes are, of course, archived for later access by students and faculty. With a rolling deadline, students are free to apply at any time. Tuition for online students, both in and out of state, is $350.
Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI
Lawrence Technological University is an IT-focused school with online degree programs available. The school has only 62 students as of the 2014 report and is ranked number 81 among schools with online degree programs. Among those offering IT programs, it is ranked number seven.
With high stats and low enrollment, students are guaranteed plenty of exposure to faculty. Why, then, is Lawrence Technological University only an honorable mention? The school has the dubious honor of having the highest tuition among schools on this list, with a cost of $944 per credit.
Additional Resources for Extracurricular Learning
Many top schools offer free online courses. Unfortunately, no degree program is associated with these courses, nor is enrollment tracked, meaning that you cannot earn an online IT degree through these courses. However, students can benefit from viewing these courses as additional extracurricular learning. Learning some information from Harvard or Stanford, for example, may be of benefit regardless of degree program. Here are four good sources of online education without degree programs attached.
https://www.coursera.org/ – the Coursera online learning center, offering over 550 courses
http://www.harvard.edu/resources-offices/online-learning – The Harvard University open online learning initiative
http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm – MIT’s Open Courseware program
http://online.stanford.edu/courses – Stanford Online’s course directory