Updated: August 1, 2017
Spirited football fans, faithful Christian scholars, and civil war history buffs have all been drawn to South Carolina’s colleges and universities for decades. With the help of distance learning tools, however, many of these premier institutions can now extend their expertise to students far beyond the Savannah River.
Military service members are studying at the Citadel from the other side of the world and busy moms are being trained in tourism without ever setting foot near Myrtle Beach. With so many options and so much flexibility available, it can be hard to decide on which program in the Palmetto State is the best fit. This list helps answer the question:
What are the 15 best online colleges in South Carolina?
To determine the rankings for these programs, a variety of factors were taken into account, including institutional excellence, student satisfaction, and student success (or return on investment). Institutional excellence is based on reputation, test scores, student-to-faculty ratio, graduation rate, and total endowment. Satisfaction comes from a variety of student and alumni reviews published online and in-print. Success and ROI are based on graduating debt, alumni salaries, financial aid availability, and tuition costs. Data sources for this information include the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS database, Payscale, individual college websites, and US News & World Report.
College Choice Score: 100
Average Net Price: $16,622
Clemson University is among the top public schools in the U.S., ranking 40th in Forbes as of 2017. Founder Thomas Green Clemson first settled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the mid-nineteenth century, dedicating his beautiful estate to the teaching of South Carolinians when he died. The school is comprised of seven colleges, including from Education and Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences, and is attended by just over 20,000 students.
Ranging from certifications to doctoral degrees, Clemson’s distance learning programs include both online and blended options, which may require online meetings, independent studies, or some in-person classes. The university maintains the highest standards for online curricula by having faculty who are experienced in using distance learning technology. Degree-granting programs are mostly in business and science fields:
- M.S. in Athletic Leadership
- M.S. in Biological Sciences
- MHRD in Human Resource Development
- Ph.D. in Healthcare Genetics
- M.S. in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management
- M.Eng. in Industrial Engineering
- Master of Public Administration
- M.S. in Youth Development Leadership
Beyond the famous Clemson Tigers football team, the university is also known for being a large land-grant institution, meaning it conducts research targeted at improving the community. Because of the school’s dramatic impact on the economy, it is estimated that the State government netted nearly $115 in revenue in 2010. Clemson is also the alma mater of some major players in politics, including current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, former U.S. Senator of North Carolina, John Edwards, and the longest serving U.S. Senator ever, Strom Thurmond.
Citadel Military College of South Carolina
College Choice Score: 96.31
Average Net Price: $17,162
One of the six senior military colleges in the U.S., the Citadel was founded in 1842 under the motto of “Duty, Honor, Respect.” Today, about half of the enrollment is from South Carolina. At a high level, students of the state-sponsored college are divided into two groups – Cadets of the South Carolina Corps pursuing bachelor’s degrees, and civilians enrolled in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. Studies are divided across five departments, including business, education, engineering, mathematics, and humanities and social sciences.
The Citadel’s online learning programs are designed to meet the needs of working adult students as well as active military personnel. The ability of students to complete their coursework from almost anywhere in the world is especially useful for career service members who are seeking an undergraduate degree as a requirement for military promotion. Due to certain laws regulating online degrees, The Citadel’s distance learning courses are available to people living in 38 states. A total of eight degrees can be earned entirely online:
- M.A. in Intelligence and Security Studies
- M.A. in International Politics and Military Affairs
- M.A. in Social Science
- Master of Business Administration
- M.Ed. in Interdisciplinary STEM Education
- M.S. in Leadership
- B.A. in Criminal Justice
- B.S. in Business Administration
Graduates of The Citadel have fought in every American conflict since the Mexican War, and today, about 29% of cadets are commissioned directly into the military as officers. With a special program that allows veterans to attend classes with cadets reinstated in 2007, U.S. News & World Report ranks the school #1 for “Best College for Veterans in the South.”
University of South Carolina-Columbia
College Choice Score: 91.39
Average Net Price: $19,434
Founded in 1801, the University of South Carolina is the second oldest college in the state. Home to nearly 35,000 students, the main campus’ location in downtown Columbia is ranked 56th in the “Top 100 Best Places to Live in the USA” by U.S. News and World Report based on factors such as quality of life and job market prospects. Like many large public universities, USC Columbia’s appeal is in its diversity, offering undergraduate majors in 85 subjects, peers from 100 foreign countries, and student activities across 400 groups.
USC Columbia’s online opportunities include graduate degrees in education, engineering, public health, health, and information technology. Additionally, bachelor’s degrees can be completed through Palmetto College, which was founded in 2012 by the State government and enrolls distance learning students from various USC campuses. While USC Columbia’s online nursing programs are especially renowned, other high-quality graduate programs are:
- M.Ed. in Teaching Online
- MPH (Master’s of Public Health)
- MHIT (Master’s of Health Information Technology)
Both USC Columbia’s undergraduate and graduate international business programs have been ranked among the top in the nation for several years running. In 2016, the school announced a collaboration with IBM around predictive analytics and maintenance, which included the grand opening of the Center for Applied Innovation as a site for university and private sector researchers to work together on real-world applications.
University of South Carolina-Upstate
College Choice Score: 86.24
Average Net Price: $14,123
Formerly known as USC Spartanburg, USC Upstate is one of the state university’s seven satellite campuses. Only 50 years old, the location started out as a two-year college in 1967, but today has transformed into the fastest growing university in South Carolina. Approximately 6,000 students are in attendance, making it the largest campus outside Columbia, with the vast majority being undergrads.
USC Upstate’s online programs are based on the principles of good practice outlined by the South Carolina Regional Education Board. Fees for on-campus and online students are the same, as well as access to financial aid and student services. To gauge fit for distance learning, the university’s website offers a quiz for prospective students. The following degree programs are available, which can be completed in less than two years, though non-degree certifications also exist:
- RN to BSN (Undergraduate Nursing)
- B.A. in Criminal Justice
- B.A. in Information Management and Systems
- M.S. in Informatics
- M.Ed. in Early Childhood
- M.Ed. in Elementary
- M.Ed. in Visual Impairment
A major component of USC Upstate’s mission is dedication to the local community. According to the university, over 80% of living alumni still reside and work in the area, and a mural to commemorate the school’s 50th anniversary was painted in the middle of downtown Spartanburg last spring. The school’s distance learning options do not necessarily accommodate those living in different time zones – online classes may require synchronization at the professor’s discretion, meaning that students need to be logged on in real-time to participate.
University of South Carolina-Aiken
College Choice Score: 85.87
Average Net Price: $13,318
Located in a town of 30,000 named after the president of the South Carolina Railroad, USC Aiken is the second largest of the university’s satellite campuses, with an enrollment of just over 3,500. The school started in a southern mansion with 139 students and three professors in 1961, eventually relocating to its current campus about ten years later. Due to its small class sizes and intimate feel, combined with access to a large statewide system, USC Aiken calls itself “The University of Choice.”
USC Aiken’s online degrees are facilitated via Palmetto College, though the majority of the university’s distance learning options are certifications or non-degree courses. Unique to the school are a collection of 26 online equestrian classes, ranging from Equine Massage to Health and Disease Management to Training Performance Horses. The more conventional degrees offered are at the undergraduate level through Palmetto only, and include:
- B.S. in Business Administration, Accounting
- B.S. in Business Administration, Management
- B.A. in Special Education
Unlike some distance learning programs that do not charge different tuition based on state residency, Palmetto College is about half as costly for South Carolinians. To be eligible to apply for any of the degree programs at USC Aiken, students need to have already completed at least 45-60 credit hours, with a GPA of at least 2.0 for business and 2.75 for special education. The estimated time to complete the programs is between two and three years, depending on transfer credits.
College Choice Score: 85.70
Average Net Price: $13,038
Originally founded by Methodists as a private women’s college in 1872, Lander University became public in 1898 and first admitted men in 1943. Today, the campus in the town of Greenwood is home to just under 3,000 students, making it the second-smallest of South Carolina’s state-funded institutions. Despite its size, Lander has more than 60 areas of undergraduate study, as well as various master’s degrees.
In terms of distance learning, Lander offers graduate degrees in education, including specializations in topics like diverse learners, instructional technology, and exercise and sports studies. While these programs do require a combination of on-campus sessions and online learning, past students have gone on to become South Carolina Teacher of the Year and National Distinguished Principal of the Year. Lander also offers a fully online RN to BSN nursing degree, as well as a certification in health care management. The degree has a generous transfer credits policy – to earn a BSN, only 32 of 126 semester hours need to be earned at Lander.
In 2015, the website “Best Master of Science in Nursing” completed a review of RN to BSN degrees, ranking those that offered a combination of quality and affordability. Lander’s online program came in 35th, with the school’s tuition being just over $10,000 per year. U.S. News and World Report also puts Lander at #64 on its list of regional colleges in the South.
Francis Marion University
College Choice Score: 83.22
Average Net Price: $11,194
Known as Francis Marion College until 1992, FMU is a public school named after a general who fought in the American Revolution. With an enrollment of 4,200 students, the university offers five undergraduate degrees, including bachelor’s of arts, business, science, nursing, and general studies, along with a variety of master’s courses and a new physician assistant program. The campus is located just outside of the city of Florence, which is known for being a major hob of industry and infrastructure in the region.
FMU does not offer undergraduate degrees online, and the majority of graduate programs that have online courses also require in-person instruction. However, a Master’s of Education in Instructional Accommodation can be completed entirely through distance learning, providing graduates with a thorough understanding of non-traditional learners. FMU also offers an RN to BSN online degree with full-time and part-time options. The school partners with the South Carolina Area Health Education Center (AHEC) so that students can engage in clinical experiences in their local community.
Along with consistent rankings as one of the best regional schools in the South, Francis Marion University has also graduated some impressive alumni, including Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina Yancey McGill and New York Mets pitcher Josh Edgin.
Coastal Carolina University
College Choice Score: 82.77
Average Net Price: $14,654
With its enjoyable setting in the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area, Coastal Carolina University is often referred to simply as Coastal. Founded in 1954, the school used to be a junior college under the College of Charleston, but became independent in 1993. Coastal is a national sea-grant institution, owning a natural laboratory on Waties Island to conduct oceanic research. Today, the enrollment is just over 10,000, with nearly half coming from out of state.
CCU offers a total of three undergraduate and five graduate degrees, mostly related to education and business. To navigate the academic planning process, the university promises its online students the same type of academic advising that campus-based students receive. Coastal also emphasizes that distance learning courses meet the same standards for rigor and quality, meaning that online students should estimate investing up to six hours per course credit each week. Available degrees are:
- M.S. Information Systems Technology
- Ed.S. Instructional Technology (Educational Specialist)
- M.Ed Instructional Technology
- M.Ed. Literacy
- M.Ed. Special Education
- B.S.B.A. Hospitality, Resort, and Tourism Management
- B.S.B.A. Marketing
- B.S. Health Administration
Special perks and requirements for online programs at CCU vary by degree. For example, full-time teachers employed in South Carolina public schools may be eligible for a 30% tuition discount for the Ed.S. program and a 50% discount for the M.Ed. versions. The undergraduate degree in hospitality, resort, and tourism management can be completed online, but also requires internship experience, though it can be completed in a location convenient for the student.
Columbia International University
College Choice Score: 79.13
Average Net Price: $17,942
Formerly Columbia Bible College, Columbia International University is multi-denominational Christian school located in the capital city. About 1,200 are in attendance, with an approximately even split of undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom attend the CIU Seminary. Founded in 1923 under the motto “To know Him and to make Him known,” the school maintains a strong emphasis on faith today, expecting students to uphold doctrinal affirmations and lifestyle standards. Students pursuing non-theological degrees, such as bachelor’s in communications, English, or philosophy, are still required to complete a core education in biblical studies.
CIU does not place a strong emphasis on physical sciences in either its on-campus or online curricula, instead focuses on the liberal arts and humanities. Degree programs can be completed entirely online, as long as students are able to reliably access the online platform Canvas and have a webcam. The faith-based approach to all aspects of education that Columbia International University is known for remains prevalent in online degree options, which include:
- M.A. in Bible Exposition
- M.A. in Intercultural Studies
- M.A. in Muslim Studies
- M.A. in Theological Studies
- M.Div. (Master of Divinity)
- B.S. in Business
While CIU is heavily Christian, the school is known for being very multi-denominational, with over 20 affiliations represented on campus. All faculty, however, are required to belong to a local Protestant church and to affirm the teachings of Premillennialism. As a part of their lifestyle standards commitment, students are required to complete a Spiritual Growth and Self Assessment to document their spiritual journey during the academic year.
Charleston Southern University
College Choice Score: 78.14
Average Net Price: $17,417
Charleston Southern University was founded in 1964 as Baptist College, and remains affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention today. The school’s home city of North Charleston is famous for being a hub for Boeing Aircraft, and one of the only places in the world where wide-body long-distance commercial aircrafts are manufactured. With about 3,600 students, Charleston Southern University offers over 50 undergraduate majors with a strong liberal arts emphasis, as well as a variety of graduate degrees.
Despite the school’s Baptist roots, only one of the 17 degree programs offered by Charleston Southern Online are theological in nature. CSU prides itself on helping students develop problem-solving abilities and useful technical skills as a part of its mission to integrate faith in learning, leading, and serving. Some programs, like the undergraduate computer systems degree, are designed for individuals who already have a relevant associate’s degree. Others give students the opportunity to explore new fields, including:
- M.S. in Management
- M.A. in Christian Studies
- M.S. in Project Management
- M.S. in Supply Chain Management
- Master of Business Administration
- B.S. in Healthcare Administration
- B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism Management
- B.S. in Human Resource Management
In terms of cost, it is worth noting that Charleston Southern University’s tuition per credit hour is actually a bit more expensive for online students. On-campus MBA students pay $500, for example, while distance learners pay $625.
College Choice Score: 77.67
Average Net Price: $17,322
Located in Spartanburg, Converse College is comprised of an undergraduate women’s college and a co-educational graduate school. Founded in 1889 with the mission of preparing students “to see clearly, decide wisely and act justly,” the school was named after a textile pioneer of the industrial revolution. It remains relatively small today, enrolling under 1,400 students, but is ranked in the top 10% of colleges in the country for enriching educational experiences by the National Survey of Student Engagement.
Converse College prides itself on having an Office of Distance Education that works to train faculty who teach online in the most effective methods. The school also encourages professors to develop new online courses through incentive programs. While on-campus undergraduate students are exclusively women, online degree programs can be completed by anyone, especially individuals who began their degree but never got the chance to finish it. Distance learning programs at Converse include:
- Ed. in Advanced Studies
- Ed. in Art Education
- Ed. in Gifted Education
- S. in Literacy (Education Specialist)
To be eligible for Converse’s master’s in education programs, prospective students need to have certification in some area of teaching and a 2.75 GPA. Successful graduates of the college include Phyllis Harris, who serves as both the senior vice president and general legal counsel for Walmart.
College Choice Score: 77.10
Average Net Price: $22,324
The oldest women’s college in South Carolina and one of the oldest in the country, Limestone College was founded in 1845 and became co-educational in the 1960’s. While the campus in the town of Gaffney is home to only about 1,100 traditional students, the total enrollment is approximately 3,500 when counting distance and evening learners. Limestone has expanded in recent years with satellite campuses in seven South Carolina cities. The school boasts a very low student to faculty ratio and special programs to accommodate learning disabilities.
If none of Limestone’s extended campus locations fit student needs, the college also offers a variety of online courses that can be completed at any time of day. According to the school’s website, 58% of Limestone’s living alumni completed their degrees away from the Gaffney campus. All of the available degrees are at the undergraduate level and include:
- B.S. in Healthcare Administration
- B.S. in Psychology
- B.A. in Liberal Studies
- BSW (Bachelor of Social Work)
- Various associate degrees
Limestone prides itself on having partnerships with technical colleges throughout South Carolina, allowing the school to easily accept transfer credits. Additionally, the college is a Military-Friendly School and a member of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, and states that it will take extra steps to help military and veteran students figure out how to achieve their academic goals.
College Choice Score: 75.31
Average Net Price: $15,426
Winthrop University was established in 1886 for the purpose of training women teachers, but changed its name to Winthrop Normal and Industrial College of South Carolina about a decade later. It took almost a century for men to begin attending the public school in Rock Hill, but today, the enrollment has grown to over 6,000. The university consistently receives high rankings for inclusion, with nearly half of the faculty being women.
Winthrop uses the platform Blackboard to deliver its online learning content, and has a dedicated Office of Online Learning to help faculty and students use the available tools most effectively. Students can use the school’s website to see what courses are available via distance learning or a blended approach, including what percentage of class time needs to occur in-person. According to The Herald, Winthrop will be launching four graduate programs that can be completed entirely remotely in the fall of 2018:
- MSW (Master of Social Work)
- Master of Business Administration
- M.Ed. in Special Education Intervention
- M.A. in Arts Administration
Despite the fact that the university did not admit men or minorities for many years after its establishment, today, it has achieved many remarkable rankings related to community impact. In 2011, Winthrop was recognized as one of 32 schools that helps students statistically prone to dropping out “beat the odds” and complete their degrees. The Department of Veterans Affairs also granted the university Yellow Ribbon status because of its commitment to helping veterans pay for their education. About 90% of undergraduate students receive some form of financial aid.
North Greenville University
College Choice Score: 75.20
Average Net Price: $15,422
Coming in at #27 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 list of Best Regional Colleges in the South, North Greenville University is a private school affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The university was founded in 1891 in Tigerville, which remains a tiny rural town in the Appalachian foothills to this day. About 2,300 students have access to eight different degree programs, including the College of Science and Math, the College of Humanities, and the College of Christian Studies.
North Greenville offers a combination of graduate and undergraduate degrees online, though students must be 22 or older to be eligible. Courses promise to combine practical application and biblical principles, and distance learners receive the same access to career services and faculty advisors as on-campus students. Some accelerated courses are available, which can be completed in eight weeks. Fully online program options include:
- Master of Business Administration
- M.A. in Christian Ministry
- M.Ed. (General)
- B.A. in General Studies
- B.A. in Elementary Educational Studies
- B.A. in Christian Ministries
Students at North Greenville are required to sign an agreement called “The Enlightener,” which outlines the university’s rules. Religion is a very central part of both the mission and operations at NGU, with the Office of Student Conduct working to provide a proper Christian environment on campus and help students develop personal values through faith.
College Choice Score: 74.69
Average Net Price: $21,537
Founded just over a century ago with the motto “To nourish humanity through the cross,” Anderson University is a school of 3,000 affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Although it was only a junior college until the 1990s, Anderson earned its status as a university in 2006, today offering degrees in 60 fields. When the university launched an initiative in 2011 to provides every traditional student with an Apple iPad during enrollment, Apple acknowledged Anderson as one of its Distinguished Schools because of its commitment to excellence in technology and learning.
Anderson University’s dedication to mobile learning opportunities is also demonstrated in the variety of fully online undergraduate and graduate degrees offered. Faculty members are distinguished for being experts in their chosen field and models of Christian faith. Using the platform Canvas, the school offers:
- Master of Ministry
- M.Ed. in Music Education
- Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Leadership
- Master of Business Administration in Human Resources
- Master of Business Administration in Marketing
- RN to BSN
- B.A. in Criminal Justice
- B.A. in Liberal Studies
- B.A. in Christian Studies
Anderson granted Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy and his son Dan Cathy honorary degrees for demonstrating the exemplary character of Christian businessmen. The school has also had its fair share of notable alumni, including Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, and James Lee Barrett, a Tony Award-winning writer.