By BVS Staff
Welcome to our ranking of the best online colleges from a value perspective, 2016.
Once upon a time, online education was limited to students who couldn’t afford (or couldn’t get accepted to) a traditional college. Online universities earned a bad reputation as offering a subpar education at best and being nothing more than “diploma mills” at worst. But in recent years the stigma has weakened. As academic institutions come to understand the value of technology in the classroom, more and more colleges are offering distance education as a way to enhance their programs and increase accessibility. Nowadays, many of the most prestigious universities in the entire country even offer online options to nontraditional and commute-impaired students.
Distance education offers a plethora of advantages – from asynchronous classes to lower tuition rates – over traditional learning. At the same time, the academic caliber of these programs is quickly approaching the on-campus experience. In fact in many cases, universities now design their online degrees to exactly or very closely match their face-to-face counterparts. As the downsides to distance ed. diminish, the number of worthy options for online students skyrockets. The following ranking includes some of the very best, most affordable online colleges for motivated students who simply need a bit more flexibility than traditional undergrads.
After rating each school according indicators described in the methodology, which you can find at the bottom of this ranking, we combined and weighted the results to give each college a total score out of 150. You can see the 50 with the overall highest scores below, listed from #50 to #1. Enjoy!
50. Central Penn College
Central Penn College kicks off this ranking of top affordable colleges online, and it’s not a bad way to start! Reasonable tuition rates and practical degree programs entice students from all over the region, which is why nearly 40% of CPC students opt for online learning. The vast majority of Central Penn’s degrees are available both online and on-campus, granting busy professional students an unusually large selection of academic programs. Thanks to strategically located campuses in Lancaster and Summerdale, students at CPC can also attend day and/or evening classes as it suits their schedule.
Net Price: $17,992/yr
49. Wilmington University
This top online college serves both commuter and online students, with 31% taking online classes. This is easy to do through the Fusion program, which combines online and traditional learning for those who want face-to-face contact. With a main campus near Wilmington, Delaware and several satellite locations along the eastern seaboard, the university makes it easy and convenient to attend face-to-face classes every once in a while. But if that’s not feasible or appealing, you can choose from more than 90 online degrees, concentrations, and certificates. Most degrees are career-oriented, focusing on current fields like computer and network security, health information technology, and software design and development.
Net Price: $13,359/yr
48. Colorado Technical University-Online
One of the best online colleges for career-focused students, CTU understands that you want to complete your degree efficiently and affordably. The FastTrack program helps you do just that by granting credit for “the things you already know.” And if you test out of enough required classes, you could save up to 30% on tuition! You can also get credit for work and life experience. To support a student body that takes classes 100% online, CTU has invested in distance learning tools like Intellipath, an adaptive learning system, and MUSE (My Unique Student Experience), an e-learning platform. You can choose from 41 bachelor’s degrees in hot fields like business, criminal justice, cyber security, healthcare management, information technology, nursing, and psychology.
Net Price: $13,796/yr
47. Messenger College
Messenger is a Christian college offering both on-campus and online programs in business administration, counseling, and Christian ministries. But regardless of your major, you’ll acquire a foundational knowledge of the Bible through a series of required courses. The business and counseling degrees are unusually well-rounded, requiring English composition, math, a foreign language, history, psychology, government, and more in addition to business and counseling courses. 75% of students at this accredited online college are taking some or all classes online, and they can choose from 4 year-round start dates to begin their 8-week course modules.
Net Price: $17,751/yr
46. Peru State College
Although you might not guess from the name, Peru State College is Nebraska’s first and oldest college! This 150-year-old school has a picturesque campus with brick buildings and grassy green quads. But it also has an online presence through its School of Professional Studies. Degrees are available in business administration, criminal justice, and psychology, with several subspecialties to enhance your career readiness. With 92% of its graduates employed within 6 months of graduation, Peru offers a great return on your investment. And since out-of-state students pay in-state tuition, it’s also one of the most affordable online colleges.
Net Price: $11,955/yr
45. American InterContinental University-Online
Recognizing that online students rarely have traditional schedules, AIU employs a “learn anywhere, anytime” instructional model. 24/7 support and constant access to course materials will keep you moving steadily toward your degree. 100% of students attend class online, earning their bachelor’s degrees in topics like business, criminal justice, design, and education. You can also jumpstart your progress by applying for transfer credit based on coursework, military, or work experience (awarded to about 50% of students). And like some other online schools, this top online college has invested in the MUSE (My Unique Student Experience) and Intellipath e-learning platforms to create an adaptive and easy-to-use online learning environment.
Net Price: $15,495/yr
44. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide
Top-ranked by U.S. News for its online bachelor’s degree programs, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offers relevant training for recent high school grads, active duty military and veterans, working professionals, and students raising families. Embry-Riddle has a reputation for excellence in aviation, aerospace, aeronautics, and engineering, although you can also study applied science, business, and intelligence. As a tech pioneer, Embry-Riddle has been offering distance learning since 1971, and today 74% of students take classes online. Using a platform called EagleVision, online learners can access a virtual classroom environment that employs video conferencing to maximize the benefits of synchronous learning. What’s more, a 4+1 program that lets you finish a bachelor’s and master’s in 5 years makes ERAU one of the best online colleges for science lovers.
Net Price: $17,830/yr
43. Virginia Baptist College
For students who want to prepare for ministry or simply deepen their knowledge of Christianity, Virginia Baptist may be one of your best online college options. Bachelor’s students can major in Ministry or Christian Education, while enriching minors are available in such fields as English, history, music, and youth ministries. As an online student, you’ll take the same classes – with the same lectures and assignments – as on-campus students. Professors record their class sessions and post them online within 24 hours, giving you almost immediate access to VBC’s high-quality course material. And students seem to respond well to this well-organized and attentive approach; 100% return after their first year!
Net Price: $5,776/yr
42. Ohio University
Ohio University gives you the freedom to design the degree plan that works for you. Complete your entire degree online, take a few classes on the Zanesville commuter campus, or combine online learning with courses at a local community college. Ohio U will even help you find the right partner school! Online bachelor’s degree options include communications, criminal justice, operations management, and nursing, among others. Students at this affordable online college also have access to a wealth of resources, including libraries, tutoring, and advising through the “e-campus” and Student Success Center.
Net Price: $7,595/yr
41. National American University
One of the best online colleges for flexibility, NAU understands that working professionals, parents, and active military lead uniquely busy lives. Thanks to asynchronous lectures that allow students to watch recordings whenever it’s convenient for them, online learners maintain complete control over their schedules. That being said, be prepared to study hard; attendance is required and recorded at NAU to ensure that you stay on top of your academic responsibilities. National American has also pioneered the “inverted curriculum” model, which lets you take classes within your major first to make sure that it’s the right fit.
Net Price: $9,534/yr
40. Ohio Christian University
Ohio Christian University has maximized the convenience and flexibility of its degree programs. In fact, its accelerated model will allow you to finish your degree in just two years if you are highly motivated. Undergraduate degree options range from job-ready majors like Business and Criminal Justice to broad-based liberal arts programs such as English and Psychology. This top online college utilizes an asynchronous virtual learning platform that provides students with plenty of leeway to access course materials. At the same time, weekly assignments and coordinated interactions with classmates ensure that you still enjoy some benefits of a typical classroom environment.
Net Price: $16,414/yr
39. Bellevue University
Bellevue University has gladly taken on a reputation as a top destination for nontraditional students. Instead of worrying about what’s “normal” or “typical” among college students, Bellevue focuses on attracting unique learners who “aren’t afraid of hard work.” More than three quarters of Bellevue attendees take all or some of their classes online. But if you’d like to incorporate some face time into your learning experience, check out one of the university’s numerous satellite campuses across South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. And with both undergraduate and graduate programs available in everything from healthcare to the humanities, BU is without a doubt one of the best online colleges for academic diversity.
Net Price: $11,786/yr
38. Crown College
Given that only 37% of students at this school take classes through distance education, some might not consider it an online college at all. But there’s something to be said for institutions like Crown, which work hard to make their traditional programs as accessible as possible. We’re not the only ones to recognize Crown College’s excellent potential, either. MONEY Magazine, U.S. News, and Christian Colleges Online have also highlighted the value of attending this school. And because Crown is a religious school, it puts extra emphasis on cultivating a close-knit, supportive Christian community – even amongst online learners.
Net Price: $21,840/yr
37. Nazarene Bible College
Online colleges sometimes earn a bad reputation for lacking a concrete mission statement. They focus on quickly churning out degrees without trying to instill a sense of purpose in their students. But Nazarene Bible College is different. Nearly all (86%) of NBC’s students opt for online delivery, but the school maintains a traditional campus in Colorado Springs as well. Associated with the Church of the Nazarene, this affordable online college is dedicated to supporting its students and spreading a message of faith above all. NBC takes a “personal interest” in every student. Tutoring, counseling resources, and chapel services (available through steaming video!) support a holistic approach to learning that extends far beyond academics.
Net Price: $15,969/yr
36. Concordia University-Saint Paul
About a third of students at Concordia University – Saint Paul take at least some of their classes online. Although this puts CUSP near the bottom of the list in terms of distance education enrollment, that’s the only time you’ll find it on the low end of our ranking. A first-year retention rate of nearly 70% and a graduation rate of 46% – a seriously impressive figure among even the best online colleges – demonstrate just how much Concordia has to offer. Take, for example, the unique “adult undergraduate” programs. These accelerated degrees are very accommodating of both transfer credits and credit for life experience. They are specifically designed to help professional adult students earn their diploma and get back into the workforce as quickly as possible.
Net Price: $18,677/yr
35. Chadron State College
Residents of Northwest Nebraska have long understood the value in attending a school like Chadron State College. The beautiful rural landscape, friendly townspeople, and cheap cost of living make CSC the quintessential small Midwestern college. But what if you don’t live in Nebraska? You’re in luck! Chadron State proudly offers distance education courses, of which a full 30% of its students take advantage. As one of the most affordable online colleges around, Chadron its accredited academic programs – including degrees in Counseling, Geoscience, and Organizational Management – to students across the country. It even offers flat, in-state tuition rates to all admits, regardless of residency!
Net Price: $11,344/yr
33. Great Basin College
With a net price that barely surpasses $10k, it’s immediately apparent that Great Basin College is one of the best online colleges for the budget-conscious. Just over 50% of GBC students take online classes, suggesting that the school has struck an ideal balance between traditional and distance learning methods. Although the main “residential” campus is located in Elko, Nevada, Great Basin’s reach – with the help of multiple regional centers – extends across most of the state. And GBC’s accredited online college is growing quickly. Interactive web-based platforms like WebCampus and MyGBC, which provide resources to help you enroll in classes, contact your advisor, and learn about financial aid options, make online learning at this school extra convenient.
Net Price: $10,436/yr
32. Davenport University
Davenport University’s online learning department targets adult learners seeking career-oriented majors. In other words, Davenport offers exactly what most online learners want! Distance education programs are available through four of Davenport’s academic divisions: the College of Business, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Technology, and College of Health. You can major in Sport Management, Computer Gaming and Simulation, Nursing, Security and Information Assurance…the list goes on! Davenport also makes it easy to maximize the impact of your past experience. “Prior Learning Assessment Portfolios,” certified examinations, and professional training and/or certification programs can all earn you credit toward your current degree.
Net Price: $15,841/yr
31. Mayville State University
Mayville State University’s powerful mission statement says it all. Every day, MSU is “turning students who want a chance into citizens who get things done.” Affordable tuition rates and flexible, individualized learning options push Mayville solidly into the ranks of the best online colleges in the country. Online students (which represent over 40% of those enrolled) take classes from the same qualified professors who teach on campus and often enjoy courses with just 20 classmates or fewer. And while some universities are stagnating in their use of technology, MSU is clearly looking to the future. The school has established an Office of Instructional Design and Technology for the express purpose of identifying innovative new technologies for academic use.
Net Price: $11,735/yr
30. Central Christian College of Kansas
Central Christian College has a long history that dates back to the 1800s, but that doesn’t mean it’s stuck in the past! The small, private college – which is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church of North America – seems completely traditional at first glance. The intimate campus, cozy town, and fun collegiate environment is everything that young students could want. But CCC also abides by the Christian principle of inclusion, and its School of Professional and Distance Education offers all the unique delivery options that nontraditional learners need. With practical, career-relevant degrees such as Healthcare Administration, Psychology, and Criminal Justice, it’s no wonder more than 50% of students at Central Christian enroll in these accredited online college courses.
Net Price: $13,622/yr
29. Warner University
“Warner Online” offers a comprehensive range of degree programs for associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s students. Along with this, Warner also provides an extensive list of financial aid options to help students save money – even though their tuition rates are already very reasonable. Veterans and military members at this affordable online college earn special discounts and can enroll in the Yellow Ribbon GI Enhancement Program. Religious workers, including ministers and ministry associates, can also save on tuition thanks to targeted Church Service Grants. And the list goes on: public service officials (such as fire fighters), in-state Florida residents, and Florida hospital workers all benefit from scholarship initiatives just for them.
Net Price: $15,545/yr
28. Regis University
To be fair, Regis University is one of the priciest selections in our ranking. So how does it earn a spot on this list of “best value” colleges? The statistics say it all. Regis boasts a first-year retention rate of nearly 80%, plus a graduation rate of almost 60% – one of the highest recorded in distance education circles. Fueling this performance is a strong Jesuit heritage that lauds “values-centered education” and “intelligent decision-making” as crucial to the didactic process. Regis also establishes itself as one of the best online colleges through its smart selection of virtual programs – many of which are available in an accelerated format. The school’s online degrees – like Nursing and Healthcare Administration – focus on training students for the country’s most in-demand career fields.
Net Price: $26,226/yr
27. Mary Baldwin College
Mary Baldwin College is a little different from the other accredited online colleges we’ve mentioned so far – and we’re not just saying that! Although it’s technically a women’s college, MBC offers coed options exclusively through its distance education division. Students of all genders – and all locations – can benefit from Mary Baldwin’s superior academics. In fact, the school enjoys the distinct honor of being an approved “State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement” (SARA) institution. This means that a national council has affirmed the high quality of MBC’s online programs and approved their curriculum as meeting the academic standards across multiple states. Currently, just shy of half of students at Mary Baldwin take classes online, but we wouldn’t be surprised if this figure grows significantly in the coming years!
Net Price: $18,728/yr
26. Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale
Because of Keiser University’s focus on convenient adult programs, you might mistake it for one of the many for-profit colleges of similar design. But not to worry – Keiser is completely non-profit! It’s also a respected member of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. And yet, attending Keiser allows you to benefit from career-focused education and flexible scheduling – major selling points for nontraditional students! If you’re looking for accessibility, Keiser is definitely one of the best online colleges around. It also supports more than a dozen satellite campuses around Florida, each of which offer both daytime and evening classes.
Net Price: $21,129/yr
24. Saint Leo University
Sunny skies and warm weather may be some of the main attractions at Saint Leo University (located in Tampa) but they certainly aren’t the only ones. In fact, for the 56% of SLU students who take classes online, the temperature is irrelevant! A traditional Catholic university on the “cutting edge” of education, Saint Leo gladly opens its doors to students of all faiths, ages, and aspirations. U.S. News and Military Advanced Education both recognize SLU as one of the best online colleges in the country, and for good reason. The “highly interactive” virtual programs are “identical” to courses on campus in Florida. In addition, e-campus students enjoy tutoring services, peer mentoring, student clubs, and library access – just like traditional learners.
Net Price: $19,466/yr
23. Southern New Hampshire University
If you’re looking for a college where online students are in the majority, SNHU more than fits the bill. While the campus supports around 3,000 students, there are more than 60,000 who take classes online. And with this sizeable body of online students comes a vast array of degree programs – over 200, to be exact. Real-world, practical skills are at your fingertips through majors like Accounting, Data Analytics, Graphic Design, Health Sciences, and Retailing. Southern New Hampshire also brings you a gamut of useful online resources. Features like the writing center, 24-hour technical services, and wellness initiatives put this top online college ahead of the pack when it comes to student support.
Net Price: $29,144/yr
22. Hope International University
Why is it that more than 80% of students at Hope International University return for a second year? And why is it that a full 43% of those attending HIU enroll in at least one online class? Unlike some traditional schools, which offer primarily “hybrid” virtual courses, HIU delivers 100% distance education options without sacrificing quality of instruction or individualized attention. But don’t take our word for it that Hope International is one of the best online colleges. Attend online information sessions, interact with professors, and even sample a course or two before committing to Hope for the long haul.
Net Price: $22,275/yr
21. Minot State University
If Minot State University had to excel in just one area, it would definitely be affordability. Its low net price of just over $11,000 establishes MSU as an unequivocal leader in affordable online college education. Luckily, Minot State succeeds in plenty of other ways, too! Even if you don’t want to travel to North Dakota to take advantage of the incredibly low cost of living, you can join the crew of MSU students (about 30% of those enrolled) who take classes online. And if you’re looking to fast track your future, Minot is the place to do it. In addition to transfer credits and credit for life experience, independent study is available for students who have schedule conflicts that risk impeding their on-time graduation.
Net Price: $11,047/yr
20. LeTourneau University
LeTourneau University’s reasonable tuition rates, stellar retention rate (83%) and above par graduation rate (51%) prove that “value” is an everyday experience here. LeTourneau, or “LETU” as the students call it, was founded specifically to meet the needs of working adults. The school’s accredited online college courses include accelerated majors, stand-alone classes, and 100% distance education options. Both full-time professors and part-time faculty serve as instructors. And while some see it drawback, online education at LETU actually takes advantage of the unique benefits of hiring part-time instructors. These teachers’ perspectives – and approach to learning – are informed by their extensive experience in real-world industries. Overall, LeTourneau’s contemporary approach to academics will boost your prospects in nearly any field, including Psychology, Education, and even Aviation Studies!
Net Price: $21,434/yr
19. University of Maine at Machias
It’s pretty rare to see one of the main public universities in a state included on any list of best online colleges. Small schools, private colleges, and for-profit institutions have traditionally cornered the market. However, state-sponsored universities are entering the distance education sphere in increasing numbers, and the University of Maine at Machias is one great example. With fewer than 1,000 enrolled students, Machias is the smallest campus within the state system. In order to increase its impact, the university has made several of its degree programs accessible via online portals. UMM offers four-year bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Community Studies and Business and Entrepreneurial Studies, plus a “College Studies” degree completion option and a handful of certification programs.
Net Price: $9,791/yr
18. University of Minnesota-Crookston
Much like UM at Machias, the University of Minnesota Crookston is forging an identity as a small state school with a big name in online education. And in fact, UMC’s accredited online college is one of the most decorated on the internet. Awards and top rankings from U.S. News, The Princeton Review, Affordable Colleges Online, and many others fill the university’s virtual trophy case. And students seem to agree that this regional Minnesota campus is worth the fuss: of the roughly 2,500 enrolled at Crookston, 33% take at least some online classes. Bachelor’s programs cover some of the most popular majors among degree-seekers, including Accounting, IT, Health Management, International Business, and Manufacturing.
Net Price: $13,055/yr
17. Liberty University
As a religious college, Liberty University is in the business of “training champions for Christ.” Students at this accredited online college earn an education that is both intellectually wholesome and spiritually grounded. Messages of faith and service to others underlie all of its 500+ academic degrees, from Aeronautics to Social Work. And simply because of the sheer number of programs it offers, Liberty is able to include some truly unique options for students with atypical learning interests. Green and Sustainable Management, Crisis Counseling, Crime Scene Investigation, and even Mobile Programming are among the choices available to online learners.
Net Price: $23,367/yr
16. Heritage Christian University
You won’t find an excess of degree programs at Heritage Christian University. In fact, you’ll only find one! HCU offers a singular Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies, which includes intensive study of Christian theology and scripture. B.A. students at Heritage Christian also complete several mission practicums and other field experiences to prepare for a life of “real world” ministry. How does this translate to distance learning? HCU has crafted a top online college experience for the 40% of its students who engage in distance learning. Digitally recorded lectures, pre-prepared notes, and downloadable assignments make for an interactive virtual environment that closely mirrors traditional instruction.
Net Price: $9,929/yr
15. Troy University
Nearly 40% of students at Troy University take classes online – but given the way the school advertises its distance education programs, you’d think that figure was 100%! Troy is undoubtedly one of the best online colleges out there, and we’re not the only ones who think so. The university’s website is practically a slideshow of its accomplishments, which include top rankings from Get Educated, The Princeton Review, College Choice, and Military Advanced Education, among others. Troy has also been named one of the “best college towns.” That might not matter much to the online students of “eTroy,” but they enjoy plenty of their own perks, including shortened nine-week term lengths and regional satellite campuses across the Southeast United States.
Net Price: $10,112/yr
14. University of Maine at Fort Kent
Somewhat surprisingly, there is more than one University of Maine campus represented in our best online college ranking! The Fort Kent location, which enrolls just over 1,000 students each year, provides a select number of career-oriented programs through its virtual education portal. Degrees such as Accounting, Cybersecurity, and Rural Public Safety Administration offer a solid foundation for students looking to give back to the local economy. And even if you don’t want to transfer your education entirely online, UMFK’s distance ed classes can still offer “a cool way to get ahead.” Enroll in the December to January “Winter Session” to earn a few extra credits without sacrificing your break.
Net Price: $12,965/yr
13. Rasmussen College-North Dakota
Although this ranking officially recognizes Rasmussen’s Fargo location as a top affordable online college, the school’s presence extends far beyond North Dakota. Campuses in Minnesota, Kansas, Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin bring high-quality, career-oriented academics to the students who need it most. And given that 78% of students attend class online, it’s safe to say that Rasmussen’s useful degree programs are easily accessible across all fifty U.S. states. If you’re hesitant about transitioning to distance learning, try out the school’s “demo” experience first. It will introduce you to Rasmussen’s virtual classroom environment and allow you to familiarize yourself with its software platform before making a long-term commitment.
Net Price: $18,780/yr
12. Indiana Wesleyan University
Putting your education in someone else’s hands – let alone entrusting it to an unfamiliar institution – might seem daunting at times. How do you know you’re making the right decision? Just as you might read the online reviews for a product before making a purchase, you can learn a lot about a school by asking its previous “customers.” At Indiana Wesleyan University, the answer is evident. Its 84% first-year retention rate indicates that IWU students are more than satisfied with their choice. For online students, the decision is even more obvious. With nearly $150 million in annual financial aid, over 80 degree programs, and seven levels of study, this affordable online college is long on value in more ways than one.
Net Price: $23,721/yr
11. Ohio University-Eastern Campus
Even if you didn’t know anything else about Ohio University, its extremely low net price – only $8,500 year – should be enough to entice you. But in case it’s not, consider a few additional highlights at this accredited online college. Distance education students can earn substantial transfer credits for previous college classes as well as past work/life experience. They can also take advantage of Ohio’s partnerships with local community colleges to enroll in some traditional courses and save even more money. And the undergraduate programs that OU offers – such as Applied Communication and Customer Service – are designed to give you a leg up in the job market. This combination of assets makes Ohio University a force to be reckoned with in the growing online education industry – and an affordable force at that!
Net Price: $8,516/yr
10. New England College
Henniker, New Hampshire (the home of New England College) is a small town of a mere 5,000 residents. You’d think that the diminutive size of the population would limit attendance at NEC. On the contrary! This top online college is serious about providing comprehensive distance education options, including 100% online degrees. As such, it boasts a worldly student body of over 2,000 – almost half the size of Henniker itself! You can choose from practically focused majors like Business Administration, Human Services, and Psychology. Alternatively, take the Liberal Studies track to secure a broad-based education with applications in numerous industries.
Net Price: $9,563/yr
9. Grace Bible College
Online education comes in a variety of forms, from auxiliary options for “regular” undergrads to comprehensive programs for the commute-impaired. At Grace Bible College, their focus is clear. The Adult and Online Education Division at GBC emphasizes accelerated, convenient coursework that meets the needs of busy professionals. GBC’s virtual platform facilitates easy-access online education, while a campus in Grand Rapids provides once weekly evening classes. 100% distance ed bachelor’s degrees include Human Services, Business, and Leadership and Ministry. An additional concentration in Criminal Justice will let you further specialize your academic path. Plus, the college’s low net price makes adult friendly education more affordable than ever.
Net Price: $13,324/yr
8. Regent University
Regent University is another great choice for nontraditional students. Well over half of the study body attends part-time and the average attendee is 35 years old. Whether you’re a working adult, a busy parent, or simply had to delay your education, you’ll fit right in at Regent. And while we maintain that there’s probably not one absolute best online college for everyone, Regent is certainly one of the most highly decorated. Accolades for its business and education degrees, services for veterans, law school, film studies program, and more all demonstrate a serious commitment to superior quality.
Net Price: $16,880/yr
7. Western International University
As a university “built specifically for working adults,” Western International provides a “unique and proven learning experience” for students who need something a little different. Over the past four decades, WIU has perfected its approach to online education. Virtual classes feature recorded video sessions, interactive exercises, and opportunities to network with classmates. You might also have noticed that WIU has a net price so low, it’s almost unbelievable. And as if that’s not enough, this affordable college online offers a trial initiative that will let you take your first class for free! After a year of career-relevant classes and serious cost savings, it’s not surprising that 100% of full-time students return for a second round.
Net Price: $2,280/yr
6. Columbia Southern University
Columbia Southern University represents everything you’d expect from a completely online college. From open enrollment to frequent start dates throughout the semester, CSU is the epitome of convenience. Having fully embraced the distance education mentality, Columbia Southern offers an array of academic majors designed specifically to boost career potential. Programs in Hospitality and Tourism, Environmental Management, and Homeland Security – among others – will not only enhance your knowledge, but increase your desirability among employers. Students of CSU overwhelming agree that this approach pays off. 96% say they are satisfied with their experience at the college, and 97% they’d recommend the classes to family and friends.
Net Price: $10,054/yr
5. Peirce College
After a certain point, it’s difficult to find an online college that really offers something different. Affordability, convenience, flexibility – these are words you’ll see advertised on most schools’ websites. Meanwhile, Peirce is busy being a pioneer in distance ed. Enter “Peirce Fit,” an adaptable learning model that allows you to switch between online and on-campus classes whenever you want. You can study at home one week and in a classroom the next! This “life friendly” initiative is designed to accommodate even the busiest schedules and most unexpected events. Peirce is also known for its intensive course formats. Take an extra course each term, get ahead over winter break, or set aside a few weekends for in-depth study.
Net Price: $9,302/yr
4. University of Illinois at Springfield
One of three regional campuses associated with the University of Illinois, UI Springfield is eager to distinguish itself. And it already has! With 5,000 students and a substantial international population, this university offers a global experience in an intimate environment. Almost a third of students take classes online, but it’s not because they want to avoid campus. Unlike some schools, which offer virtual programs as a kind of “side project,” UI Springfield puts distance education front and center. Accredited online college programs include more than a dozen options ranging from Computer Science to Philosophy, and the school has earned top rankings for both its bachelor’s and graduate degrees.
Net Price: $9,049/yr
3. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is deeply devoted to learning in its purest form. A Catholic school, SMWC pushes each student to indulge their intellectual side while getting in touch with their spiritual side. The school’s distance education division, dubbed “Woods Online,” shares this commitment to genuine academic growth. Woods Online students benefit from four different ways to earn credit, such as transfer courses, exam scores, and prior learning and experience. You can even take classes concurrently at another institution and transfer them to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods when you’re done! Plus, the financial aid and scholarship opportunities (82% of students receive some sort of monetary help) make SMWC as cost-effective as it is convenient.
Net Price: $15,214/yr
2. Bryant & Stratton College-Online
Forget traditional online learning. Bryant and Stratton College offers a self-described “integrative multimedia experience” that includes recorded lectures, interactive class discussions, on-demand tutoring, and regular progress reports. Bryant and Stratton is also taking steps to cultivate a supportive community of classmates – a feature that is still lacking in many distance education programs. You’ll find ways to connect with B&S students and alumni on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube – even Pinterest! Additional initiatives, such as the targeted first-year seminars on how to be a successful student (also known as First-Year Experiences or FYE), prove that Bryant and Stratton is dedicated to maintaining its status as a top online college. Unsurprisingly, 100% of students return for a second year.
Net Price: $13,172/yr
1. American Public University
American Public University consistently places in the top 10 of best online college rankings. Why? Beyond the fact that this university is 100% online – thus catering exclusively to nontraditional learners – it also boasts an impressive track record of student success. Its retention and graduation rates are 76% and 46%, respectively, and both of these figures are well above the average in the distance ed. industry. APU’s affiliate, American Military University, specializes in education for military members and veterans. Offering credit for life experience and time spent in the armed services, steep military-friendly discounts, and career assistance that can ease the transition to working in the private sector, the APU System makes a strong case for its standing as the top online college.
Net Price: $9,572/yr
The first step in creating this ranking was to generate a list of all the online colleges we wanted to consider. To do so, we used the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, or IPEDS, to search for schools that met the following criteria for the 2014-15 school year:
- Are academic institutions of degree-granting status
- Have confirmed that distance learning opportunities are available for students
- Offer bachelor’s degrees and specifically undergraduate programs via distance education
Our next step was to filter this list in order to eliminate bad fits. This meant cutting out online colleges that are closing imminently and/or have stopped admitting new students as well as schools with very low numbers of online student enrollment. In the latter case, we specifically set the threshold at 30%; in order to be considered, a school had to have nearly a third or more of its student body involved in online learning. On the one hand, this means that there may be some top-notch traditional universities with small online education departments that we did include from the outset. On the other hand, it also means that we included many colleges that are not entirely online, but nonetheless have established what we consider to be a “significant” online presence that qualifies them for consideration.
With this modified list in hand, we then assessed each college and university against six strategically chosen factors*:
Net Price (Weighted 20%): Unlike tuition, “net price” represents an approximate annual cost of attendance that takes a variety of financial factors into account. Each school’s net price is the result of a formula that takes the total cost of attendance (published in-state tuition costs + required fees + books and supplies + weighted average for room and board + miscellaneous expenses) and subtracts the average financial aid package (federal + state/local + institutional grants + scholarship aid) at each university. Net price is only an approximation of cost and does not represent an exact amount that any one student might be expected to pay. However, it is an ideal figure to use for ranking colleges because it is helpful in accurately assessing an institutions’ affordability relative to each other.
Retention Rate (Weighted 25%): Retention rate represents the percentage of full-time, undergraduate students who returned to the university for a second year. As such, it is an early indication of student satisfaction. Schools with high retention rates provide the resources, student support services, and early academic experiences that make students eager to come back for more.
Graduation Rate (Weighted 25%): Graduation rate represents the percentage of full-time students who complete their degree within 150% of “normal time,” or six years for a bachelor’s degree that “typically” takes four. People who transfer out are included in this figure, which means that the percentage of those not graduating in six years refers specifically to students who drop out and do not earn a degree at all in this period of time. Schools with high graduation rates demonstrate a commitment to their students’ long-term success. They are also generally superior at maintaining an academic environment that is simultaneously challenging, engaging, and rewarding.
Distance Education Enrollment (Weighted 15%): DE Enrollment refers to the percentage of students at a college enrolled exclusively/primarily in online courses. Although we already used this category to establish a minimum threshold for consideration (as explained above) we included it again in our methodology (but gave it less weight than some other categories) in order to give preference to colleges with very high percentages of online enrollment.
Credit for Life Experience (Weighted 10%): Many online students are working adults and busy parents who want to take advantage of any possible avenue by which to accelerate their degree path. Most schools offer transfer credits to students who have attended college in the past, but they don’t all offer credit for “life experience.” And yet adult students typically have a wealth of personal and professional experiences that put them ahead of traditional learners in terms of overall knowledge. As such, we gave additional points to schools that offer credit for life experience, limiting the need for online students to take classes that – although they may not officially have studied in an academic environment – they would nonetheless find redundant.
Technology Resources (Weighted 5%): Not all distance education programs are created equal. Some offer live video lectures and smart phone apps while others post recorded audio and utilize interactive online labs. The more online features a school offers, the better. Here, “technology resources” refers to 10 specific offerings for which online colleges could earn points, including live streaming video, live streaming audio, software-based readers, bulletin boards, simulations, and online labs.
After compiling this data, we combined and weighted the results to give each college a total score out of 150. The highest scoring school is listed at #1 in our ranking.
*Data for the first five categories came from College Navigator, an online resource maintained by the National Center for Education Statistics. We used the most recent data available, which in most cases was for the 2013-2014 school year. The data for graduation rate came from students who began their studies in 2008 and – if successfully finishing within 150% of normal time – would have graduated by 2014. Data for “Technology Resources” came from U.S. News. This information is listed under the “Technology & Support” tab on each online college’s profile and is based on the most recent data published on the website. Because U.S. News does not collect information from all distance education programs, published information was not available for a large number of the schools we considered. We chose to weight this category less than the others to adjust for the lack of data.
By Iris Stone