By BVS Staff
Online colleges have become popular in the 21st century, a time when even thousands of miles can’t keep someone from getting the education of their dreams. Over the past few decades, schools offering distance education programs have sprung up all around the country, opening their virtual doors to students in all 50 states and many other countries. These schools make use of the best that technology has to offer – such as video lectures, group chats, multimedia presentations, and interactive software – to provide distance education students with a quality of education that mirrors the traditional experience. If you’re looking for a list of the best affordable online colleges in the U.S. as of 2018, you’ve found it! Scroll down to learn more.
Featured Online Schools
The 30 Best Colleges Online Ranking Methodology
For this ranking, we looked at public and non-profit private schools that offer college degrees online. To qualify for consideration as an online college, a school must offer at least five comprehensive, four-year bachelor’s degree programs entirely through distance education. Because the focus of this list is on affordability, we also only considered colleges with average* tuition rates of $20,000/year or less.
*For public schools, we calculated the average value of their in-state and out-of-state rates.
After compiling a list of all the colleges that meet the above criteria, we then collected data in six categories:
- Number of Online Programs: How many bachelor’s degrees does the school offer through distance education? Weight: 15%
- Online Program Breadth: In how many different subjects (e.g. business, education, healthcare, history, criminal justice, etc.) does the school offer online programs? Weight: 15%
- Student-Faculty Ratio: Across the entire school (both online and traditional students) what is the ratio of undergrads to faculty members? Weight: 20%
- Graduation Rate: What percentage of students (both online and traditional) graduate in at least 150% of their expected time frame (i.e. six years for a four-year degree)? Weight: 25%
- Retention Rate: What percentage of freshmen (both online and traditional) return to the school as sophomores? Weight: 20%
- Affordability: What is the average annual cost of attendance? Weight: 5%
Note that the category for affordability carries a relatively small weight in our ranking. This is because the methodology already includes a $20,000/year tuition cap. In other words, you can trust that all the colleges on this ranking are affordable, and the order in which they are ranked is a greater reflection of their quality rather than cost-related factors.
After collecting and sorting all the information, we ranked the candidates according to their performance in each area. Finally, we summed up the results and gave each school a final score using a curve so that the top online college earned an even 100 points.
Read more below to learn where you’ll find the best cheap college degrees online!
Best Affordable Online College Programs Ranking
30. Wilberforce University
For more than 150 years, Wilberforce University has provided high-quality educational opportunities to students of color. Today, this Episcopalian-associated HBCU is also one of the top online colleges in the country. With more than 20 online programs, a noteworthy student-faculty ratio of 9:1, and eminently affordable tuition, Wilberforce has plenty to offer distance learners. It’s also a great choice if you want to escape the primarily white and Western canon in your field. That is, the school is deeply committed to addressing non-Western “intellectual, cultural, and artistic traditions” in its coursework.
Average Tuition & Fees: $13,250/yr
29. SUNY College of Technology at Canton
SUNY College of Technology at Canton earns a spot on this online college program ranking thanks in part to its 85% retention rate. And it’s easy to see why students choose to stick around. For starters, the global campus offers 13 degrees, from the common (e.g., Management, Legal Studies) to the unusual (like Homeland Security and Agribusiness Management). Plus, online learners can access all the same resources as their on-campus peers, including career services, tutoring, and a robust first-year advising program. You can even take advantage of the broader SUNY system’s many study abroad programs, whether you want to explore public administration in Peru or business in Belgium.
Average Tuition & Fees: 11542.5/yr
28. Ohio University
Given that Ohio University maintains an extensive eCampus website just for distance learners, it’s no surprise that many of its online degrees rank among the best in the country (according to U.S. News and World Report). When you enroll in one of OU’s accredited college programs online, you’ll find support not only through the eCampus, but also through a dedicated Office of Instructional Innovation. Some of those innovative initiatives include a strong experiential learning program, which awards college credit based on life experiences, and a Success Center that lets you consult with staff online or by phone.
Average Tuition & Fees: 15863.5/yr
27. Mid-America Christian University
Christian students in particular will want to consider Mid-America Christian University for their online learning needs. Not only does this Oklahoma school incorporate Wesleyan principles and encourage students to serve others, but it also offers a completely online B.S. in Christian Ministries. This could be a strong choice for students who want to pursue a career in ministry or who want to go on to further theological studies. MACU also offers some of the best college degrees online for veterans. Plus, it provides dedicated veteran specialists, flexible scheduling, and generous tuition discounts exclusively for service members.
Average Tuition & Fees: $17,132/yr
26. Arizona State University
If you think that attending an accredited college online will limit your options, Arizona State University stands ready to prove you wrong. With over 30 undergraduate distance education programs, ASU has something to offer every potential student. Whether you want to pursue a traditional liberal arts-focused degree (such as a B.A. in Global Studies) or a more career-focused option (like a B.S. in Information Technology) you can do so completely online at ASU. And your studies will pay off: According to the school’s surveys, 87% of its graduates receive a job offer within three months of graduation.
Average Tuition & Fees: 11779.5/yr
25. Fort Hays State University
The students attending Fort Hays State University’s virtual campus come from more than 20 countries, and they all benefit from the school’s strong support network. As you pursue an affordable online college degree from this Kansas institution, you can take advantage of advising, tutoring, a career center, and more. Before enrolling, you can even attend a demo course that introduces you to online learning and the Fort Hays experience more broadly. And once you’ve enrolled, you’ll have access to a wider social network of online learners who can provide support and encouragement as you earn your degree.
Average Tuition & Fees: $9,655/yr
24. Dickinson State University
Dickinson State University offers a whole suite of tools to enhance your online learning experience. In addition to common platforms like Moodle and Blackboard, you’ll also have access to NetTutor (a live online tutoring system that supplements the school’s own Tutoring center), Tegrity (which records live classes for you to view later), and more. You’ll also benefit from a fantastic 10:1 student-faculty ratio, a broad array of programs, and affordable tuition as you attend this top college online. DSU even encourages distance ed grads to walk in their graduation ceremony – if you can make it to the school’s North Dakota campus, of course.
Average Tuition & Fees: $7,633/yr
23. Minot State University
If cost is important to you, you’ll want to consider Minot State University. However, the trade-off for attending this immensely affordable school is that it has offers a relatively small selection of cheap online college degrees, most of which focus on business. And yet, MSU also provides quite a few minors and concentration options to sharpen your expertise in select areas. Plus, the highly customizable Bachelor of General Studies degree lets you design a course of study that meets the needs of nearly any career goal, from practicing law to entering the real estate market. As a BGS student, you’ll work with a dedicated advisor to plan a laser-focused curriculum that both meets your needs and satisfies the school’s graduation requirements.
Average Tuition & Fees: $6,557/yr
22. University of Memphis
Believe it or not, the University of Memphis has an entire webpage devoted to awards for its distance education services. Indeed, the school boasts dozens of accredited online college programs that earn accolades for both their price and their quality. That’s because the school has thoughtfully designed its web-based degrees to meet non-traditional students’ needs, including a strong reliance on flexible, asynchronous classes. The university also maintains a wide variety of online programs for undergrads, from career-focused business degrees to an impressive selection of less common social science and humanities options. For example, you can earn a B.A. in Political Science, English, or even Philosophy entirely online.
Average Tuition & Fees: $14,981/yr
21. Central Washington University
Central Washington University is so committed to online learning that it developed a Multimodal Education Center specifically to provide “instructional and multimedia technologies, support, and training” for distance ed students and staff. This facility underscores the level of dedication it takes to earn a spot on this college program online ranking. At this center, prospective students will find a detailed list of resources, including a quiz that helps you evaluate whether you’re ready for online classes. If you are, be sure to check out some of CWU’s more unusual degree options, such as the B.S. in Aviation Management and B.S. in Paramedicine (note: the latter program requires some in-person training).
Average Tuition & Fees: 14620.5/yr
20. Piedmont International University
At Piedmont, you’ll find one of the best online colleges for students who want a biblically-centered education. While you certainly can pursue a more secular program, Christian students will appreciate the myriad faith-based options on offer. For example, you can pair a B.A. in the Bible with one of more than ten minors, including North American Church Planting, Children’s Ministry, and Church Education. And ambitious students might want to explore the five-year bachelor’s and master’s in Christian Ministry, which will prepare you for work with the church and includes an internship within your community. Plus, all Piedmont’s programs are a great value: the school boasts an average annual tuition under $10k!
Average Tuition & Fees: $9,650/yr
19. Davenport University
Like many similar schools on this college degree online ranking Davenport University offers primarily career-focused programs. This includes a sizeable distance education component within the College of Business, where you could earn anything from a B.B.A. in Accounting to a B.S. in Leadership and Organizational Performance. But the school really shines for its healthcare programs. In addition to a B.S. in Nursing (completion option), you can earn degrees in Health Information Management, Medical Case Management, and similar programs that will leave you well-placed for a role in the burgeoning field of electronic health records.
Average Tuition & Fees: $16,726/yr
18. Old Dominion University
For more than 30 years, Old Dominion University has offered quality education to distance learners, and this commitment manifests in the school’s numerous top online college programs. Not only will you find ample resources that cater to nontraditional students (such as tips to help you mesh your studies with a full-time career) but you’ll also appreciate the school’s efforts to engage online learners with the larger undergraduate community. For example, you can read a fun primer on the school’s traditions or join a live course to interact with your peers in real-time. This dedication pays off: ODU reports that 96% of its students are satisfied with their experience.
Average Tuition & Fees: $18,240/yr
17. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
While Penn State developed its World Campus to help adult learners continue their education, students of all stripes will find plenty to love about this top online college. Not only does it offer bachelor’s degrees in myriad fields, but the school also runs a free nine-week course to help working professionals transition back into the learning environment. If you qualify, you’ll also get access to special resources for financial aid and general college planning. Plus, the school has a chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for adult undergrads, letting you network with your peers and join a community of like-minded learners.
Average Tuition & Fees: $13,678/yr
16. Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Although Colorado State University – Fort Collins offers only a handful of affordable college program online, it more than makes up for its sparse quantity with superb quality. For example, the B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies is a versatile option that incorporates multiple disciplines and will prepare you for success in a variety of occupations. It even includes in-person field experiences and professional skill development courses. Plus, you can customize your studies by adding a minor in Gerontology or pursuing a credential as a family life educator or director. This thoughtfully designed program embodies the trait that helps CSU stand out: a true commitment to providing online learners with strong programs that lead to successful careers.
Average Tuition & Fees: $19,699/yr
15. Washington State University
Washington State University might be the only institution on this list to facilitate a student government dedicated solely to online learners. As you attend this top college online, you can seek a position in the Global Senate, join a committee, or simply attend the Senate’s events. It’s a unique way to get involved outside of the classroom and help shape your experience as a distance learner. Beyond the Global Senate, WSU shines for its robust career support services. The office provides interview help, one-on-one advising sessions and will even help arrange an internship if you want to incorporate hands-on learning into your degree.
Average Tuition & Fees: $18,357/yr
14. University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati understands that you likely chose to enroll in an accredited college program online because you don’t have time to attend traditional courses. As such, UC’s instructors and advisors will go out of their way to help accommodate your schedule – no matter how busy. These efforts pay off, as graduates speak to this support in glowing testimonials. Of course, these commendations would be meaningless without solid academic programs, but rest assured: UC’s degrees earn top spots on various online rankings. Whether you want to study Fire Service Technology, Substance Abuse Counseling, Information Technology, or one of many other disciplines, UC likely has a program that fits the bill.
Average Tuition & Fees: $18,667/yr
13. Florida International University
To ensure that distance learners have a college experience that mirrors that of their on-campus peers, Florida International University has created several thoughtful initiatives. First, an online orientation introduces you to the tools you’ll use to connect to the web and explains how the school’s curriculum connects to the broader global community. You’ll also benefit from “high-impact opportunities” that nurture your leadership skills, and you might even consider joining the school’s honors college. Apart from those extracurricular opportunities, FIU shines for its breadth of affordable online college degrees, including hard-to-find options such as a B.A. in Asian Studies, a B.A. in Religious Studies, and a group of targeted B.S. programs in Hospitality Management.
Average Tuition & Fees: $12,755/yr
12. York College
York College stands out as another strong option for Christian students. This Nebraska institution lets you earn an accredited college degree online while taking courses from professors who share your faith. You can focus all your attention on a single subject (e.g. criminal justice, psychology) or build your own program with a B.A. in General Studies. With the latter option, you’ll work with an advisor to select two content area concentrations and a series of electives that create a well-rounded degree. But regardless of their path, all undergrads will benefit from the school’s flexible scheduling and impressive 12:1 student-faculty ratio.
Average Tuition & Fees: $17,700/yr
11. Westfield State University
With its 88% student retention rate, affordable tuition, and award-winning programs, Westfield State University rightly deserves its spot on this online college program ranking. However, it’s worth noting that WSU primarily offers bachelor’s degree completion programs, so you’ll need to have a fair number of undergraduate credits under your belt before transferring. But don’t expect this process to be a hassle; the university’s partnerships with several Massachusetts community colleges offers local students a seamless shift over to Westfield to finish their degrees in History, Liberal Studies, Criminal Justice, and more. Nurses with some flexibility might also appreciate the RN to BSN degree, which Westfield offers in hybrid form.
Average Tuition & Fees: $12,315/yr
10. University of Central Florida
Even as online learning becomes more popular, some students still worry about the stigma associated with distance education. Fortunately, UCF is working hard to overcome these preconceived notions by developing accredited online college programs that meet the same high-quality standards as their traditional courses. Already this effort has paid off, as U.S. News has rated UCF as one of the “best online undergraduate degree experiences.” The university also stands out for its range of online options, which includes more than a dozen bachelor’s degrees in nearly as many subjects. Whether you want to earn your B.A. in Creative Writing or Anthropology or your B.S. in Health Informatics or Criminal Justice, the University of Central Florida has you covered.
Average Tuition & Fees: 14417.5/yr
9. Missouri State University-Springfield
If you’re looking for resources and support, note that few schools can match the strength of Missouri State University’s impressive online infrastructure. Distance education student services include career counseling and degree exploration, off-campus test proctoring, an online learning self-assessment, library navigation assistance, and more. And to ensure that faculty provides the best online college experience possible, MSU also provides instructor-specific resources like a computer services help desk and a specialized distance educator handbook. Unsurprisingly, the university’s selection of undergraduate programs is similarly robust. In addition to nearly a dozen bachelor’s degrees in fields like criminology and finance, MSU also offers a handful of 100% online certificates and minors to complement your studies.
Average Tuition & Fees: $10,585/yr
8. National University
Indecisive students, beware: National University is home to more than 70 online college degrees spanning numerous areas of study. Teaching and education, engineering and technology, arts and humanities – this school has it all. Of course, this is exactly what you should expect from a university whose primary mission is to “provide accessible, achievable higher education to adult learners.” Over the two-plus decades that National has been developing its online campus, the school has consistently worked to improve the distance education experience. Today, it offers interactive classes and tools that are accessible 24/7 to ensure that you get the most out of your studies.
Average Tuition & Fees: $13,016/yr
7. Oregon State University
Oregon State’s eCampus counts more than 21,000 students worldwide – a clear testament to the enduring quality and popularity of its online programs. Undergraduates in particular have access to an uncommonly broad yet unique set of cheap online college degree options. For example, you could choose a traditional major in liberal studies, business administration, or psychology, or opt for the atypical – such as a B.S. in Agricultural Sciences or Environmental Economics and Policy. Indeed, OSU is known for its dedication to environmental issues; other online programs in this area include horticulture, fisheries and wildlife science, natural resources, and sustainability.
Average Tuition & Fees: $19,606/yr
6. Appalachian State University
Given that it’s located in a tiny town up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian State has extra motivation to expand accessibility to its programs through distance learning. In fact, ASU doesn’t just offer online courses. It also provides face-to-face classes at satellite campuses throughout the state – including one located just an hour outside Charlotte (a major city). But if you’re only interested in a 100% online college program that requires absolutely no travel, fear not. ASU can meet your needs in three primary areas: education (e.g. child development, special education), healthcare (nursing), and professional studies (such as communication and social work).
Average Tuition & Fees: $14,394/yr
5. Northern Arizona University
With dozens of 100% online degrees plus hybrid programs coordinated through more than 20 campuses across Arizona, NAU is redefining accessibility in education. Especially for in-state students, the university’s network of campuses makes it easy and convenient to earn your degree without sacrificing face-to-face learning. But even if travel isn’t an option, NAU’s array of web-based support services – including online tutoring, technical support, and library access – makes for a uniquely engaging virtual classroom environment. As one of the top colleges online, Northern Arizona University also prides itself on “personalized learning.” Using this approach, you’ll be able to work through your degree at your own pace while getting credit for your real-world experience.
Average Tuition & Fees: 12830.5/yr
4. East Carolina University
Like some other state schools on this online college programs ranking, East Carolina University focuses on providing degree completion pathways for students from nearby community colleges. In fact, all of ECU’s undergraduate options (of which there are nearly two dozen) require applicants to have already completed two years’ worth of transfer credits. But that doesn’t mean you can’t attend ECU if you live outside of North Carolina; rather, you’ll simply need to work with an online advisor to make sure your prior coursework meets the requirements for your desired bachelor’s degree program.
Average Tuition & Fees: $14,976/yr
3. Hobe Sound Bible College
Admittedly, Hobe Sound Bible College won’t win any awards for the breadth or variety of its online degrees. But if you’re looking for a Christian institution with a strong track record for quality (including average retention and graduation rates of around 75%), HSBC is likely the way to go. Not to mention, it’s sub-$6,500 annual price tag makes it one of the most affordable colleges online! When it comes to academic options, Hobe focuses on two main areas of study: religion and education. More specifically, you can earn your BA in General Christian Studies (with several minor options), Ministerial Studies, or Elementary/Secondary Education.
Average Tuition & Fees: $6,320/yr
2. The Baptist College of Florida
Although its name suggests that it might focus entirely on Christian education, The Baptist College of Florida supports a surprisingly wide range of secular undergraduate programs. To be sure, BA degrees are available in Biblical, Christian, and Ministry Studies, but you can also major in a liberal arts field such as History/Social Studies, Psychology, and English. BCF also offers accredited online college degrees in career-focused subjects like Business Leadership and Education, plus several minors that let you mix and match areas of expertise. And through its membership in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), BCF ensures that its distance education coursework is accessible to undergrads all across the nation.
Average Tuition & Fees: $10,800/yr
1. University of Florida
The University of Florida rises to the top of this affordable online colleges ranking for a number of reasons. In addition to its satisfied students (who maintain graduation and retention rates of nearly 90%!), UF also boasts an affordable tuition rate and a robust selection of online programs. This includes over two dozen majors and minors across in-demand fields like Computer Science, Environmental Management, Health Education, and Telecommunication Media. And on top of all that, the university has created UF OneStop, a dedicated support team that exists solely to answer questions from distance learners about everything from registration to financial aid.
Average Tuition & Fees: $17,520/yr
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 30 best affordable colleges online!
The Most Affordable Online Colleges