The 20 schools featured in this list offer a variety of online and hybrid graduate programs at a reasonable cost. As is the case with most institutions that venture into distance learning, virtually every school here features business degrees with specializations in fields such as accounting, finance, management, and marketing. Other areas of graduate study you’ll frequently come across are those related to technology, education, and healthcare. That said, some programs within this compilation may surprise you. See for example, the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s master of occupational therapy, which boasts a near-perfect graduation rate, and Prescott College’s MA in education with a concentration in equine-assisted learning. Largely targeting working adults, these 20 master’s programs are designed to be flexible, accessible, and most importantly, affordable.
20 Best Cheap Online Master’s Programs
|Ranking||Institution||Cost per Credit|
|1||Southern New Hampshire University||$627|
|2||Pennsylvania State University-World Campus||$805|
|3||Nova Southeastern University||$931|
|4||Indiana Wesleyan University||$515|
|6||Western Governors University||$276|
|7||New England College||$565|
|8||Concordia University-Saint Paul||$420|
|9||University of Maryland-University College||$559|
|10||Saint Leo University||$485|
|14||University of the Southwest||$580|
|15||Wayland Baptist University||$540|
|16||University of the Cumberlands||$315|
|20||University of Louisiana at Monroe||$451|
Many individuals, however, don’t pursue a master’s degree because these programs can be expensive. In fact, people coming out of graduate school with a master’s degree hold an average of $30,000-$120,000 of debt. However, affordable options do exist. In particular, online graduate programs are becoming more attractive because they grant students the flexibility to continue working while they are in school.
If you’re thinking about going to grad school but want to avoid serious debt, these 20 colleges can help you do just that!
The 20 Top Cheap Online Graduate Degrees Ranking Methodology
For the purposes of this ranking, qualifying schools are defined as public or private non-profit/not-for-profit colleges and universities with well-developed graduate programs that have a significant online presence. This means schools that offer at least 15 master’s degrees (in total), at least 10 of which are available online.
To identify the colleges with the best cheap online master’s degrees, we primarily considered three factors. First, we calculated eligible schools’ average tuition cost per credit using in-state and out-of-state tuition data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). This measure of affordability accounted for 30% of each school’s final score.
We also considered each college’s focus on graduate education, both overall and specifically regarding online learning. To do this, we looked at the number of master’s degrees and the percentage of master’s degrees available online at each school. High scores in both categories indicate a significant dedication of time, attention, and resources to online graduate education. These measures accounted for 60% of each school’s final score (30% x 2).
Lastly, we paid attention to “extra” features that enhance the online learning experience for students. Specifically, we looked at whether or not each school offers course credit for past experience and/or evening and weekend classes. These measures accounted for 10% of each school’s final score (5% x 2).
Note that after we had tallied all the results, we rated the final scores on a curve so that the college with the best cheap online master’s degrees (ranked #1) earned the maximum 100 points.
20. University of Louisiana at Monroe
Based in north Louisiana, the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) features graduate degrees in the humanities (e.g., history and English), education, communication, criminal justice, and healthcare (e.g., nursing, exercise science, counseling). The only online master’s degree labeled as “hybrid” is the master of occupational therapy (MOT), which consists of six academic semesters and 24 full-time weeks of fieldwork. Impressively, since 2015, the graduation rate for the MOT program has held steady at 100%. Before applying to master’s programs at ULM, students must have earned a bachelor’s degree and taken the GRE.
19. Prescott College
Prescott College welcomes students of diverse ages, backgrounds, and experiences, which is why it offers several online and hybrid programs to working adults. Perhaps Prescott’s most unique master’s degree is its MA in education with a concentration in equine-assisted learning. In this line of study, students take courses online and participate in a four-day workshop at a local equine facility. Other, more traditional degrees include an MA in social justice and community organizing, an MA in education, and an MA in arts and humanities.
18. Faulkner University
A private, Christian university located in Montgomery, Alabama (and in regional centers across the state), Faulkner University offers 11 master’s degrees, all of which students may complete online. Options available include several ministry-based degrees (MA’s in biblical studies, ministry, and Christian counseling and family ministry), a handful of master’s of education degrees, an MBA, and a master’s in justice administration. To support its assertion that “higher education isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution,” Faulkner University’s distance learning programs feature accelerated schedules, competitive tuition rates, and benefits for military and veterans.
17. Mercy College
An online degree from Mercy College “carries the same value, recognition and accreditation as [its] traditional degree programs.” With that in mind, prospective students may choose from nearly 20 online graduate degrees at Mercy College, whose brick-and-mortar campuses are based in New York. Options range from an MS degree focused on adolescents, literacy, or bilingualism to an MBA in finance, human resources, or organizational leadership. (Note: the online counseling program requires a two-week summer residency.) To apply to graduate programs at Mercy College, students must submit a nonrefundable $40 application fee, transcripts, and supporting documents such as recommendation letters or test scores.
16. University of the Cumberlands
Located in the Appalachian mountain region, University of the Cumberlands offers more than 20 master’s programs in eight areas of study: business, counseling, criminal justice, education, health science, information technology, ministry, and executive/international. Only one of these programs, the MS in physician assistant studies, must be completed in residence at a campus in either Williamsburg, Kentucky or Florence, Kentucky. The school seems especially proud of its original supporters like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, as well as the state governors, military generals, ministers, missionaries, legislators it has produced.
15. Wayland Baptist University
While Wayland Baptist University (WBU) is physically based in Plainview, Texas, it operates campuses throughout the states of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii. Notably, the school also offers a BA in religion in Kenya, Africa, and 11 online graduate programs. As expected, WBU features master’s degrees in Christian ministry and divinity; but it also offers several MA programs in the humanities, an MBA, and education and public administration degrees. To see if online learning is right for you, WBU offers a preview class for free.
14. University of the Southwest
All graduate programs at the University of the Southwest (USW) — an MBA with 10 specializations and an MS in education with 9 specializations — are fully online. A private, Christian university located in Hobbs, New Mexico, USW includes textbooks and technology fees with its tuition; the school even provides graduate students with laptops. Additionally, those with work or military experience may earn credits towards their MBA. USW’s newest online program is a master of science in education with an emphasis in exercise science, which students may earn in one year, on a 33-hour fast-track.
13. Tiffin University
Tiffin University offers master’s degrees in five fields: business administration, education, humanities, science, and criminal justice. While students may complete several of Tiffin’s graduate programs completely online, most MBA programs require students to be on-campus for two 7-week terms per semester. Programs have multiple start dates in January, March, May, July, August and October. Classes are small, roughly 10-15 students, and 90% of Tiffin students receive financial aid.
12. Concordia University-Wisconsin
Concordia University-Wisconsin & Ann Arbor offers accelerated master’s programs. Like other schools on this list, Concordia specializes in education and business degrees. The school’s MS degrees in education center on teaching and learning, secondary education, counseling, literacy, and special education, while its MBA programs concern accounting, finance, healthcare administration, international business, and risk assessment and management. Each student at Concordia is matched with an online student success adviser.
11. Bellevue University
Claiming more than 50,000 graduates worldwide, Bellevue University serves students online and at its main campus in Bellevue, Nebraska. Most of Bellevue’s graduate programs center on business, social science, and technology. For instance, students can earn an MS in accounting, business analytics, clinical counseling, cybersecurity, industrial and organizational psychology, or security management. Benefits to enrolling in a master’s program at Bellevue are small class sizes, 24/7 tech and library support, online tutorials, and cohort formats. What’s more, when awarding diplomas, the institution does not distinguish between on-campus and online degrees.
10. Saint Leo University
A long-standing Catholic institution, Saint Leo University creates online programs specifically for adult learners. Providing relevant coursework, constructive feedback, and a respect for real-world experiences, the school’s graduate programs prepare students for careers in business, accounting, criminal justice, and healthcare management. Saint Leo also offers online MA’s degrees in creative writing and theology, along with several education degrees. Since admission requirements differ for graduate programs, students should pay attention to the process for the program in which they are interested. Also, students should submit their applications at least 60 days before the term begins.
9. University of Maryland-University College
The University of Maryland-University College (UMUC) offers online and hybrid courses in more than 90 programs and specializations. Serving primarily working adults and servicemembers, the 70-year-old school provides its students with no-cost, open educational resources, i.e., digital resources such as textbooks, websites, and bookmarking platforms. UMUC features 18 master’s degrees and 26 specializations, most of which center on business, management, and technology. Prospective students concerned about cost and program length might employ the school’s easy-to-use Time and Tuition Estimator.
8. Concordia University-Saint Paul
Founded in 1893 as a Christian liberal arts school, Concordia University-Saint Paul emphasizes an experiential learning environment, allowing its online students to apply their learning to real-world settings. Differing from most schools on this list, which center on business-related fields, Concordia University-Saint Paul offers several online MA degrees. For example, prospective students may earn an MA in curriculum instruction, differentiated instruction, education, or family science as well as an MFA in creative writing. Touting its competitively priced programs and financial aid packages, the school claims it’s “one of the most affordable private colleges in Minnesota.”
7. New England College
Based in Henniker, New Hampshire, New England College (NEC) offers 12 master’s degree programs to more than 900 graduate students from across the globe. Most of NEC’s online graduate programs center on business or education. For example, prospective students may earn an MBA in digital marketing, healthcare management, nonprofit leadership, or sport and recreation management. Similarly, those pursuing education degrees may earn an MEd in alternative education, digital and media literacy, special education, STEM, or storytelling. Rounding out NEC’s graduate programs are an MS in clinical mental health counseling, an MS in higher education administration, and an MA in professional writing.
6. Western Governors University
A fully online school, Western Governors University (WGU) offers master’s degrees in four colleges: teaching, nursing, information technology (IT), and business. WGU claims it’s the first university to feature competency-based bachelor’s and master’s degrees, or those in which students progress through coursework after they have mastered the material, instead of moving forward at the end of a term. These programs, WGU submits, have been designed in partnership with leading employers. One perk of attending an IT program at WGU is that certifications are included in most programs, at no extra cost.
5. National University
National University (NU), the “largest private nonprofit university in San Diego,” mainly serves military personnel and their dependents. Available online or at locations in California and Nevada, NU’s master’s programs center on teaching and education, business and marketing, healthcare and nursing, psychology (and other social sciences), engineering and technology, criminal justice and law, science and math, and the arts and humanities. Because of the school’s regular enrollment cycles and monthly start dates, prospective students at NU may enroll at any time. As well, academic advisers are assigned to all NU students to guide them through their programs.
4. Indiana Wesleyan University
An evangelical Christian institution, Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) offers master’s degrees online and onsite (at regional centers in Indiana, Kentucky, or Ohio). IWU features master’s programs in business, counseling, criminal justice, education, leadership, nursing, and psychology. Distance learning students earn the same degree as those taking on-campus courses; the only difference, the school reports, “is where you hold your class discussions and where you submit your assignments.” IWU also encourages its students to apply for grants, scholarships, loans, and benefit programs.
3. Nova Southeastern University
While physically based in Ft. Lauderdale and in regional campuses across Florida, Nova Southeastern University offers several fully online programs. Most of the school’s master’s programs cater to students interested in business or medical degrees: finance, human resources, management, marketing, nursing, medical education, and health sciences, for example. But Nova Southeastern also offers master’s programs in law, cross-disciplinary studies, and computer science. Indeed, with the proper internet connection and flexible class schedules and formats, students at Nova Southeastern can “participate in online courses from any location in the world.”
2. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
Enrolling almost 20,000 students, Penn State World Campus claims it’s the second-largest campus in The Pennsylvania State University system. It’s no surprise, then, that the school offers more than 50 online master’s degrees in topics as varied as art education, criminal justice, data analytics, educational leadership, geodesign, homeland security, nursing, and turfgrass management. Penn State World Campus touts that its online courses resemble the same ones offered on-campus; therefore, online students’ diplomas will “look no different from the one earned by students on our physical campus.”
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers more than 200 online programs. The predominately online institution boasts more than 50 specialized master’s of business administration degrees in fields such as finance, international business, project management, and business analytics. Also featured among SNHU’s hybrid and online graduate programs are an MS in teaching English as a foreign language, an MS in clinical medical health counseling, and a low-residency MFA in fiction or nonfiction. Because SNHU “respects your need for an education that is accessible and affordable,” it offers credit transfers, multiple term start dates, accelerated degree programs, financial aid, and U.S. service member discounts.
Thanks for reading our ranking of the 20 best cheap online master’s degrees!
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