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Best Affordable Online Colleges

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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., you’ve found it! Scroll down to learn more.

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Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

The 30 Best Colleges Online Ranking Methodology

Selection Criteria

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.

Ranking Factors

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!

  1. University of Florida
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 100

  2. The Baptist College of Florida
    Location

    Graceville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 95.2

  3. Hobe Sound Bible College
    Location

    Hobe Sound, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 94

  4. East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 93

  5. Northern Arizona University
    Location

    Flagstaff, AZ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 92.2

  6. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 91

  7. Oregon State University
    Location

    Corvallis, OR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 90.6

  8. National University
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 88.5

  9. Missouri State University-Springfield
    Location

    Springfield, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 88.2

  10. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    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
    Score: 87.9

Thanks for reading our ranking of the 30 best affordable colleges online!

Sources:
IPEDS Data Center
College Navigator

See Also:
The Most Affordable Online Colleges

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