Pursuing a graduate degree comes with significant costs in both time and money. People generally pursue such a degree because of a passion for the subject matter, for the vocational or financial opportunities it can bring, or both. Given the rapid change and innovation in the field of computers and information technology, pursuing graduate work in the discipline has great promise to provide an intellectual challenge as well as increased employment opportunities. Those with a master’s degree in the field make as much as $20,000 more than their peers with an undergraduate degree. Forbes has even named computer science as the second best field in which to earn a master’s degree. For those hoping to improve their value and employability while spending the least in tuition, the following programs rank highest in affordability.
Columbus State University
The most affordable option for a Master’s of Science in Computer Science goes to Columbus State University, a public university located in the city of Columbus and a member of the University System of Georgia. Columbus State is also the only school on the list who has its own separate school of computer science, the TSYS School of Computer Science. Like National University, CSU offers three different specializations; one in Information Assurance, one in Modeling and Simulation, and one in Software Development.
For students hoping to specialize in Information Assurance, CSU’s MSCS has been accredited by the National Security Agency as a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. Their program also gives students two options for the completion of their degree, a traditional thesis option and a non-thesis option that requires more coursework and examinations. Columbus State University has been regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges.
Georgia Southern University
Georgia Southern University is a public doctoral-research university and member school of the University System of Georgia. It is located in Statesboro in the Southern part of the state. GSU’s programs have won a number of awards for affordability and the university was also named in the 2011 US News and World Report as the fourth most popular university in the country. GSU’s MS in Computer Science is one of only a handful of computer science degrees in the country that specialize in data and knowledge systems, a subfield of computer science that includes speech and visual recognition, search engines, data mining, and data warehousing.
Those applying should know that GSU’s online MSCS has the fifth highest rated program in terms of admissions selectivity, so those hoping to apply there would be wise to have a backup school in case they are not accepted into GSU’s program. Georgia Southern has been regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges.
Old Dominion University
Old Dominion is a large public research university, one of the largest in the state of Virginia. In the 1990’s Old Dominion pioneered an innovative distance learning program that broadcast course content by satellite to partnering community colleges in Virginia, Arizona, and Washington state as well as to large military bases throughout the world. These partner institutions also allowed Old Dominion distance learning students to have access to their library and other education resources.
While content is now delivered online, students still have access to these resources, making OD’s Masters of Science in Computer Science especially attractive to students in those three states as well as to military service members and their families. Another attractive feature of their MSCS is that it offers three options for completion of the degree: the coursework-only option that ends with a final comprehensive exam, an option for a final project, or a more traditional Master’s thesis option. Old Dominion is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges.
University of Massachusetts Online
The University of Massachusetts is the public university system of the state of Massachusetts with five campuses, the oldest and largest of which is in Amherst. It is recognized in the 2015 Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings as being among the top 100 universities worldwide. It is also one of the country’s best funded universities, which allows it to spend generously on research and development.
UMass Online’s MS in Computer Science is an outgrowth of the research of their faculty and its electives focus primarily on software systems and development. It is designed to be completed in four semesters. Like the University of Bridgeport listed above, the program presents students with the best and most current content while also enabling students to be self-learners, an invaluable skill in a field marked by rapid and constant change. UMass’ online programs are unavailable to people residing in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, and Minnesota because of legislation particular to those states. The UMass system is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Capitol Technology University
Capitol Technology University is a very small university in Laurel, Maryland. The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning classifies CTU as a special focus institution and their educational scope encompasses the fields of engineering, computer science, information technology, and business. In spite of its small size, CTU has earned recognition for its online degree programs from US News and World Report, ranking #15 for student engagement and #43 in student services and technology in their 2011 rankings.
Their online platform combines synchronous learning in which students participate in live lectures and also asynchronous programs that allow students to participate whenever it is convenient. The synchronous content is recorded and stored for students who cannot attend the lectures at the time they are offered. Their MS in Computer Science is broken into 10 classes (30 credits in total): 4 required courses, 4 electives, and 2 courses focusing on a capstone project. Capitol Technology University has been regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
National University is a private nonprofit university that was founded in 1971 to serve the needs of people requiring non-traditional educational formats. National soon spread throughout the state of California and now boasts 28 California campuses and one in Henderson NV. NU began offering online education in 1996 and now offers 70 different completely online degrees, including a Masters of Science in Computer Science. National University’s MSCS requires 67.5 quarter units spread out over 10 classes.
The degree offers three different specializations, one in advanced computing, one in software engineering, and one in database engineering. Each student is also required to do two master’s project classes in which they will work with an actual client to solve a computer related problem within a set timeline, giving them excellent practical experience that looks attractive to potential employers. National University is regionally accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Franklin University is a small university located in Columbus, Ohio. Since its founding under the auspices of the YMCA, which it is no longer affiliated with, Franklin’s chief aim has been to expand resources to adults without access to higher education. It is not surprising then that Franklin has embraced online education and now offers 46 different online degree programs, a very generous number for such a small university.
Also in line with this aim of expanded access, Franklin has developed a program called the Community College Alliance Program in which Franklin has partnered with 265 community colleges, ensuring the maximum possible credit transfer when students transition from community college to undergraduate or graduate programs at Franklin. This makes Franklin an attractive option for those entering a degree program from a participating community college. Franklin’s Master’s in Computer Science requires 40 credit hours to complete, which are broken into five trimesters. The core curriculum emphasizes the fundamentals of computer science while a catalogue of electives allow students to specialize in skills such as artificial intelligence and computer security. Franklin’s degree programs have been regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Bridgeport
The University of Bridgeport is a small private college located in the South End neighborhood of Bridgeport, Connecticut. UB’s online programs have won several awards, including a #13 rating by US News and World Report for its Information Technology program, which includes their Master’s of Computer Science degree. Because of the rapid pace of change in the industry, UB’s program emphasizes skills that allow for learning and adapting to new systems and problems.
The program helps prepare its graduates for positions in fields such as computer and systems analysis, information technology, programming, and web administration. The degree consists of 34 credits consisting of six core courses, five electives, and a final capstone project in which students demonstrate their competence by applying what they have learned to creatively solve a practical problem related to computing. The University of Bridgeport has been regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
East Carolina University
Also located in the state of North Carolina, East Carolina University is a public research university and the third largest college in the state after NCSU and UNC at Chapel Hill. Also noted for its high quality research, East Carolina’s Masters of Computer Science is designed to appeal both to those hoping to advance within the industry and also those who want to pursue a career in academia as a computer science educator. It should be noted that because of recent changes in higher education regulations, ECU’s online programs are not available to students in Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maryland, and Ohio.
For those who qualify, however, ECU offers a degree program that emphasizes both software design and hardware construction as well as competence in the many industry standard programming languages and design tools. ECU has also been regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
North Carolina State University is a large public research university and forms one part of North Carolina’s “research triangle”, which includes Duke and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to its reputation for high quality research, NCSU has also been named among the 50 best value schools by both Kiplingers Personal Finance and US News and World Report.
Among the 68 degrees offered through NCSU’s Distance Learning is their online Master’s in Computer Science. Though this degree program is not offered to students outside the United States, for those residing in the US NCSU’s Master’s program allows students to access a distinguished computer science faculty who have won several awards from IBM, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academy of Engineering. The degree program is non-thesis, making it an attractive choice for those interested in a program centered on coursework and unencumbered by required thesis hours. NCSU has been regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.