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Top 10 Low Cost Colleges Online

By BVS Staff

Below you will find our ranking of the absolute top 10 low cost online colleges in America.

What are the absolute cheapest online colleges in the United States? There are no doubt many hardworking but financially limited students across the country asking themselves this question. Just as importantly, they may also be wondering if any of the extremely low cost online colleges actually have anything to offer in the way of quality. The short answer is "yes," but you'll have to keep reading to find out more!

Ranking Methodology

In this ranking, we wanted to hone in on the absolute best, most affordable online colleges in the United States. To start, we turned to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) college database, known as College Navigator. We searched specifically within the 50 states for four-year, public and private non-profit colleges and universities. On top of this, we limited our search only to schools that offer weekend and evening classes as well as credit for life experience. While these services are technically distinct from distance learning, we recognize that many online students would prefer to have access to other flexible study opportunities as well. We further limited our search to colleges with maximum tuition rates that do not exceed $20,000 a year.

Even with all of these restrictions on our search results, our request still produced upwards of 250 eligible schools! From this point, we continued to filter the list of eligible candidates by eliminating community colleges (and other schools that offer primarily associate's degrees) as well as specialty institutions, such as seminaries. We also eliminated extremely small schools (fewer than 100 students) that lacked accessibility.

These filters were successful at cutting our list down to approximately 150 colleges and universities. Of course, we were only looking for the top 10! To zero in directly on the most prominent online programs, we collected data from College Navigator on the percentage of undergraduates enrolled exclusively in distance education. To make sure we were also selecting the schools with the most successful students, we also gathered information on the colleges' six-year graduation rates for bachelor's degree students.

With this data in hand, we were able to cut right to the chase. We eliminated all the remaining colleges except for those that enroll at least 30% of undergraduates exclusively in distance education AND maintain a graduation rate of at least 20%. Of course, these measures dealt a huge blow to our list! Ultimately, we were left with just over 20 online colleges to consider.

For the remaining schools, we continued to look for those with the highest levels of online enrollment and the best graduation rates. However, we noticed that, taken in isolation, a university's graduation rate can be misleading. Colleges with very few students may have an easier time maintaining high graduation rates, while large universities may post lower percentages, despite working hard to keep thousands of undergraduates on track. Therefore, we graded schools both on their "raw" graduation rate and an "adjusted" one, which we calculated by scaling the rates in accordance with the size of the undergraduate student body.

Lastly, we compared each institution's average annual tuition rates, awarding the highest grades to programs with the lowest costs.

In summary, our methodology considered four metrics, each of which specifically pertain to undergraduate students:

  1. Online enrollment
  2. Graduation rate
  3. Size-adjusted graduation rate
  4. Average tuition costs

The schools with the top 10 final scores made our ranking. Their annual costs range from $16,000 to just $6,000 per year. In other words, there's no denying that these are some of the best affordable online colleges around!

10. Troy University

Troy, AL


For the past 20 years, Troy University has been "setting the online standard" for distance education. Of course, distance learners can expect to enjoy all the basic benefits of earning their degree at Troy, including affordable tuition, flexible scheduling, and convenient course delivery. And while it's practically a given that all online colleges today share these common features, the fact that Troy has been doing so for two decades makes it a pioneer of higher education. Nowadays, the university's most popular online degrees include career-oriented majors like Psychology, Criminal Justice, Business, and Computer Science.

Tuition & Fees: $11,368/yr
Score: 52

9. Chadron State College

Chadron, NE


Among even the best affordable online colleges, few offer a selection like Chadron State. Whether you're looking to complete your bachelor's degree, earn a teacher certification, or hone your expertise in a graduate program, CSC has it covered. Accelerated, 8-week courses and 24/7 online assistance help keep students on track as they progress through their courses. You won't have any trouble keeping your budget on track, either, thanks to Chadron State's special in-state tuition rates for all distance learners - regardless of residency! Undergraduate students in particular can benefit from the college's many thoughtfully designed programs, which include unique options Geoscience, Child and Family Studies, and Agribusiness.

Tuition & Fees: $6,235/yr
Score: 54

8. Central Christian College of Kansas

McPherson, KS


Central Christian College of Kansas boasts an "online Christ-centered education for the whole person." As a school affiliated with the Free Methodist Church of North America, CCC understands that college is about much more than career training. Core values like community, prayer, integrity, and spiritual formation take equal importance to those of truth, excellence, and comprehensive education. This attitude extends to every corner of the college's campus - including its virtual programs. CCC's low cost online degrees cover healthcare administration, criminal justice, business, psychology, organizational management, and interdisciplinary studies - all programs that give you the opportunity to expand your knowledge while strengthening your ability to help others.

Tuition & Fees: $14,501/yr
Score: 56

7. Regent University

Virginia Beach, VA


Like Central Christian College, Regent promotes a faith-based curriculum for students who want to grow spiritually as well as professionally. And as Regent points out, the two are often linked; companies value workers who possess a sense of personal integrity and practice ethical decision making. From this point of view, Regent presents itself as a true gem among low cost online colleges. With more than 70 accredited programs, convenient 8-week classes, and courses that are accessible from anywhere in the world, this university leaves no excuse for you not to pursue your career goals.

Tuition & Fees: $16,478/yr
Score: 57

6. Mid-America Christian University

Oklahoma City, OK


At Mid-America Christian University, there's no need to hunt for an online degree program that will fit your needs. That's because flexibility comes standard at this cheap accredited online college, where degree programs across all four divisions - Arts & Sciences, Christian Ministries, Business Sciences, and Psychology & Behavioral Science - are available 100% online. Transfer students perhaps stand to benefit the most from this school's distance learning system, which emphasizes degree completion programs. Undergraduates can even earn course credit for prior learning, certificates, vocational work, and/or CLEP (College Level Examination Program) test results. By minimizing their required classes and streamlining their studies (5- and 10-week course options are available), students at MACU can earn their diploma quickly and efficiently.

Tuition & Fees: $16,798/yr
Score: 60

5. Grace Bible College

Wyoming, MI


Even among the most innovative online programs, Grace Bible College stands out for its ability to blend traditional, Christian-themed education with non-traditional learning for adult students. GBC's Adult and Online Education division offers degree programs at three levels of study, including bachelor's degrees in Leadership and Ministry, Human Services, and Business. After enrolling in one of these programs, you can adapt the curriculum to your personal interests by selecting a 12-credit concentration. Options include religious subjects, such as Women's Ministry and Church Planting, as well as secular topics like Criminal Justice.

Tuition & Fees: $12,268/yr
Score: 65

4. National University

La Jolla, CA


If variety is what you're after, National University may be your best bet. That's because few universities can compete with the range and coverage of low cost online degrees that this top school has to offer. In addition to all the typical programs - including education, general studies, management, and psychology - National University also hosts a selection of less common options that are rare at other online colleges. Included on this unique list are the B.A. degrees in Digital Journalism and Film Arts as well as the B.S. degrees in Clinical Laboratory Science and Construction Engineering Technology.

Tuition & Fees: $12,744/yr
Score: 68

3. Park University

Parkville, MO


As an institution that has been in operation for over 140 years, one might expect Park University to have trouble keeping up with the modern pace of education. And yet, that couldn't be further from the truth! Park's foray into online education - which began 20 years ago, long before many colleges had even considered such a move - has proven critical to its success in the 21st century. Well over half the student body, including 52% of undergrads, is enrolled exclusively in distance coursework. This figure is particularly impressive given that, at 11,000 students, Park claims the second highest undergraduate enrollment on this cheap accredited online colleges ranking.

Tuition & Fees: $11,470/yr
Score: 74

2. Embry Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide

Daytona Beach, FL


Embry Riddle Aeronautical University is not your average online college, and that reputation holds true in more ways than one. Unlike liberal arts colleges, ERAU takes a more focused approach to academics, although students aren't limited to degrees in aeronautics! Rather, distance learners at Embry Riddle choose from an impressive selection of technology and engineering programs, from Homeland Security to Technical Management to Aviation Maintenance Science (and yes, there is a B.S. in Aeronautics, too!). To access your coursework, you'll utilize ERAU's modern online portal, known as EagleVision, which supports both synchronous and asynchronous learning methods through live video conferencing, webcam integration, lesson playbacks, chat rooms, and more.

Tuition & Fees: $8,520/yr
Score: 94

1. Averett University

Danville, VA


Narrowly beating out Embry Riddle for the top spot on this low cost online colleges ranking, Averett University stands tall with an unparalleled track record of student success - including an almost unbelievable 100% graduation rate for members of "non-traditional" programs. A small, liberal arts school with Baptist roots, Averett maintains an intimate classroom environment and an impressive 12:1 student-faculty ratio. This cozy atmosphere extends to distance coursework, which Averett provides through its IDEAL (Individually Designed Education for Adult Learners) Program. IDEAL students work closely with faculty advisors to pick a course of study that matches their personal interests, customizing bachelor's degrees in popular fields like business, sports administration, criminal justice, and applied science.

Tuition & Fees: $10,325/yr
Score: 100

This concludes our ranking of the best cheap online colleges you will find anywhere in the U.S.

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