Most Affordable Online Colleges 2021

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Online learning has played a major role in higher education in the 21st century, radically reshaping how and where colleges educate students. Eliminating many of the conventional boundaries of time and space, today’s affordable online college programs enable students to learn anywhere at any time. Now they can balance school with work and family obligations in ways previously impossible.

Pursuing a program at an affordable online university increases flexibility, often enabling students to complete a degree at a school hundreds of miles away without ever visiting campus. However, the open-ended nature of distance education can create additional concerns: program formatting, campus obligations, and the location of in-person obligations like clinical experiences or internships. This page offers an overview of the most affordable online colleges, including typical benefits, professional outcomes, and college accreditation.

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Recommended Online Programs

Top 10 Most Affordable Online Colleges

Rank School Location
1 Foothill College Los Altos Hills, CA
2 Bellevue University Bellevue, NE
3 Purdue University-Fort Wayne Fort Wayne, IN
4 Ohio University-Zanesville Zanesville, OH
5 Brigham Young University-Idaho Rexburg, ID
6 University of Hawaii-West Oahu Kapolei, HI
7 Indiana University-East Richmond, VA
8 University of Maine at Augusta Augusta, ME
9 Kent State University at Tuscarawas New Philadelphia, OH
10 University of Alaska Southeast Juneau, AK

FAQ


  • Is online college more affordable?

    While exact costs vary among colleges, online programs frequently offer reduced tuition rates. Online learning can also reduce associated expenses, such as transportation and childcare.


  • Are online colleges accredited?

    Online programs offered through traditional colleges typically hold the same accreditation as their campus counterparts. However, students should always research a school to ensure it holds proper regional accreditation.


  • What kinds of degrees can I earn online?

    Online colleges offer programs at all academic levels, including bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees. You can find online programs for nearly all traditional academic subjects.


  • How long does it take to earn an online degree?

    Online degrees often occur at the same pace as campus programs. Bachelor’s degrees online typically take four years to complete, while master’s degrees online usually take 1-3 years.


Most Affordable Online Colleges 2021



  1. Foothill College
    Location

    Los Altos Hills, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1957, Foothill College has a long history of providing exceptional education to thousands of satisfied, successful graduates. Located in Los Altos Hills, it has been awarded multiple recognitions, including those by the American Institute of Architects. The school currently educates over 13,000 students, many of whom choose to take advantage of the school’s small average class size–less than thirty students–in an online format.

    Program Features

    Foothill currently employs close to two hundred academic instructors, many of whom also teach online courses. Online students have access to the same community resources as their on-campus counterparts, including all libraries and learning centers, laboratories, and recreational resources. Students may choose to pursue Associates and Bachelor’s degrees such as:

    Associates and Bachelor’s degrees are both available, in fields such as:

    • Accounting, B.S.
    • Art History, B.A.
    • Engineering, B.S.
    • Dental Hygiene, B.S.
    • English, B.A.
    • Physician Education, B.S.
    • Theatre Technology, B.A.
    • Veterinary Technology, B.S.
    • Women’s Studies, B.A.

    Countless other degrees are available online as well.

    Notables

    In addition to Foothill’s outstanding affordability, it also provides convenience to busy students. There are no scheduled meet times for most online classes, though most require that students log in several times a week. Because courses are not self-paced, students benefit from maximum flexibility while at the same time can take comfort in the instruction of an experienced instructor

  2. Bellevue University
    Location

    Bellevue, NE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Bellevue University is unique in that its programs are designed specifically for older learners. Roughly eighty percent of its undergraduate students are older than twenty-five. Not only is the school affordable with its low tuition cost per semester, it also offers accelerated bachelor’s degree programs that enable students to finish classes in less time and with less expense.

    Program Features

    This fully accredited university offers bachelor’s and graduate programs entirely online. Students will benefit from small class sizes and personalized attention from dedicated professors. Students are able to choose from several different formats to customize their own online learning pathways. Available degrees include, but are not limited to:

    • Accounting, B.S.
    • Behavioral Science , B.S.
    • Communication Studies, B.A.
    • Criminal Justice, B.S.
    • Emergency Management, B.S.
    • Graphic Design, B.A.
    • Marketing, B.S.

    Notables

    Bellevue University’s online courses are offered, planned, and taught by the same faculty who teach on campus. The online degree is identical to the one offered on-campus. All degree programs, online or otherwise, receive vital feedback and input from local business partners to make sure that graduates are prepared to enter directly into the workforce.

  3. Purdue University-Fort Wayne
    Location

    Fort Wayne, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne is a powerhouse when it comes to educated online students. Because it is a member of the public university system of the state of Indiana, it offers unparalleled support and resources to its students and alumni. Classes are available entirely online that lead to an undergraduate degree, graduate degree, or simply just individual course credit.

    Program Features

    Over one hundred online degrees are offered at Indiana University. These classes are flexible and high quality, allowing adult or working students to earn a degree quickly and easily. The long list of available programs includes:

    • Business Administration, M.B.A.
    • Business Analytics, M.S.
    • Data Science, M.S.
    • Parks and Recreation, Master of Public Health
    • Philanthropic Studies, MA
    • Product Stewardship, MS
    • Public Affairs, M.P.A.

    Notables

    One of the greatest highlights of Indiana University’s programs is that they can’t be beat in regards to affordability. Tuition and fees vary based on number of credits, not semester, so students won’t pay for credits they aren’t taking. Discounts are available for Indiana residents. Scholarships, grants, and other types of financial aid are available as well.

  4. Ohio University-Zanesville
    Location

    Zanesville, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Ohio University’s Zanesville online campus allows students to enroll in one of five associate’s degree programs or nine bachelor’s degree programs without ever leaving home. The school makes attending affordable, as it allows students to maximize credits earned at other institutions. Students can finish courses more quickly and enter directly into the workforce.

    Program Features

    Associate degrees are offered in flexible formats. Students have the option of choosing between print-based classes, independent classes, or fully online work. Programs are offered in the arts, humanities, social sciences, individualized studies, science, or business management technology. Available Bachelor’s programs include:

    • Applied Communication
    • Applied Management
    • Criminal Justice
    • Customer Service
    • Integrated Healthcare Studies
    • Psychology
    • RN to BSN
    • Technical and Applied Studies
    • Technical Operations Management

    Notables

    Ohio University also has partnerships with many community colleges in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. This allows students to transfer coursework and take courses from multiple universities. This optimizes convenience and enables students to earn credits for already attempted work. Students will learn from over fifty full=time faculty who engage in constant personal research and education.

  5. Brigham Young University-Idaho
    Location

    Rexburg, ID

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Brigham Young focuses on undergraduate education with a superior dedication to character and behavioral education. Its programs emphasize the importance of the liberal arts, with available degrees in sciences, engineering, performing arts, agriculture, management, and more. The school offers a “fast grad” program which enables students to accelerate their paths to graduation by attending all semesters at once.

    Program Features

    Students can partake in what’s known as a “stackable degree” at Brigham Young. This allows students to earn a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree all at once, improving skill-building and overall employability. Bachelor degrees are available in:

    • Business Management
    • Computer Information Technology
    • Interdisciplinary Studies
    • Marriage & Family Studies
    • Nursing RN to BSN
    • Software Engineering
    • University Studies
    • Web Design & Development

    Notables

    Students may choose to pursue Brigham Young’s exclusive PathwayConnect program. This is a low-cost program that combines online classes with local meetings. Students will not only earn valuable skills, they will also receive the spiritual benefits of a traditional education at Brigham Young.

  6. University of Hawaii-West Oahu
    Location

    Kapolei, HI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Hawaii at West Oahu offers baccalaureate degrees in liberal arts and professional studies. Although it is relatively new, founded only in 1976, the university has rapidly risen to the top of the list of most affordable online schools. In fact, it hosts one of the lowest university tuition rates in the nation.

    Program Features

    It should be noted that lower division coursework is necessary to complete a fully online degree with the University of Hawaii. Once this coursework has been completed, students may complete bachelor’s degrees in one of the following areas:

    • Business Administration
    • Public Administration
    • Early Childhood Education
    • Political Science
    • Psychology

    Notables

    The university is not only a wise choice for busy working adults, but it also has been ranked as one of the most military friendly schools. For students who have completed two years of coursework from a neighboring community college, automatic credit transfer options are available as well. Many classes are taught through interactive television programs, in which students can either take the classes via a personal computer or use classroom facilities provided by local community colleges or educational centers.

  7. Indiana University-East
    Location

    Richmond, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Offering master’s, bachelor’s, and associates degrees, Indiana University-East knows exactly what it takes to produce successful, satisfied graduates. Since 1969, the university has demonstrated a commitment to helping students learn at home, extending this dedication to its exceptional online programs. Today, over fifty degree programs are offered in total, most of which are also offered online.

    Program Features

    Any credits or diplomas earned at Indiana University’s online campus are identically equivalent to those received on campus. Bachelor’s degrees and certificates are available in the following disciplines, among others:

    • Applied Health Science
    • Communication Studies
    • Criminal Justice
    • English, Technical and Professional Writing
    • Informatics
    • Mathematics
    • Natural Science and Mathematics (Mathematics Concentration)

    Notables

    All students receive an online advisor who works closely to help each individual tailor his or her plan of study. Tis sort of dedicated, one-on-one attention can’t be beat, especially at Indiana’s rock-bottom price of just $215 per credit hour for undergraduate resident students.

  8. University of Maine at Augusta
    Location

    Augusta, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Maine delivers baccalaureate and associate degrees online for recent high school graduates, working adults, and active duty military members. Comprised of two academic colleges (the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Professional Studies), the university is nationally recognized for its programs in information and library sciences. It has also been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top public comprehensive college sin the northeast.

    Program Features

    The university cites environmental sustainability as one of its primary academic themes. This carries through to many of its online majors, though a wide range of unrelated programs are offered as well. Sample disciplines offered by the University of Maine include:

    • Business Administration
    • Computer Information Systems
    • Cybersecurity
    • Interdisciplinary Studies
    • Justice Studies
    • Mental Health and Human Services
    • Music: Contemporary and Popular
    • Public Administration
    • Social Science

    Notables

    Each degree program at the university utilizes a unique combination of online, video conference, and ITV learning options. These options can be pursued at students’ homes or at learning centers throughout the state. This dynamite combination has resulted in the university’s repeated selection as a top affordable, high-quality online institution.

  9. Kent State University at Tuscarawas
    Location

    New Philadelphia, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Kent State at Tuscarawas hosts a booming population of nearly 2,100 students, both online and on-campus. Students will engage in a variety of opportunities outside of core academic studies. The university offers students the exclusive opportunity to engage in funded research projects, all of which are eligible for research awards and colloquium attendance.

    Program Features

    Over eleven bachelor’s and sixteen associate degrees are available. In addition to these complete programs, attendance at Kent State often enables students to continue education elsewhere later on, including in 280 different partner programs within the university system. Students may choose from the following programs, among many others:

    • Business
    • Computer Applications
    • Design and Composition
    • Healthcare and Medical
    • Language and Arts
    • Law and Legal
    • Personal Development
    • Teaching and Education
    • Technology

    Notables

    Not only does Kent State host an affordable baseline tuition price, they also have ways to drop that price even more. Over $310,000 in scholarships are awarded each year to qualified students. All courses are taught by highly qualified instructors, many of whom are successful authors in their fields.

  10. University of Alaska Southeast
    Location

    Juneau, AK

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Alaska hosts several campuses in Sitka, Ketchikan, and Juneau (main campus). These unique, scenic campuses extend to a fully online classroom that offers e-learning opportunities in academic and vocational programs. Because all coursework online meets the standards of the university’s academic departments and accreditation, there is no difference between a degree earned online and one earned on campus.

    Program Features

    Both certificate and degree programs are available online through the university .Programs are technical and needs-based by nature. Although the list of available programs is extensive, some of the most popular programs include:

    • Fisheries Technology
    • Healthcare Information
    • Marine Transportation
    • Elementary Education
    • Social Science
    • Alaskan Native Languages and Studies
    • Nursing

    Notables

    All programs offered at the University of Alaska Southeast are highly in-demand and sought after by employers both regionally and nationally. Most programs are offered to out-of-state students at comparable rates of tuition, making it a viable choice for any student looking to continue his or her education after high school.

Why Study Online?

Online education offers flexible scheduling. Many programs occur primarily or totally asynchronously, allowing students to complete coursework at any time of day. With fewer scheduled class sessions, online learners can more easily attend to responsibilities outside of school. Online students often maintain full-time employment while pursuing a degree. Many online programs also offer more flexible pacing through both full-time and part-time enrollment options.

The online format also creates geographic flexibility, enabling students to attend a program regardless of where they live. Eliminating the need to visit campus can also reduce many of the non-academic expenses of higher education, such as transportation, parking, childcare, and relocation. Students also benefit financially through the ability to maintain their current career.

Career and Salary Outlook



Whether online or on campus, earning a college degree dramatically increases lifetime earning potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports increases in weekly earnings and decreases in unemployment rates directly proportional to educational achievement. The most-educated workers find employment at the highest rates and earn the highest annual salaries. For instance, bachelor’s degree-holders earn a median weekly salary of $1,248, while high school graduates earn a median weekly salary of $746.

While salary generally increases with educational attainment, many high-paying careers require only a bachelor’s or associate degree. Some of the top careers for associate degree-holders enjoy higher annual median wages: air traffic controller ($124,540), radiation therapist ($80,570), and nuclear technician ($80,370). At the bachelor’s level, careers with higher annual median wages include petroleum engineer ($132,280) and financial manager ($124,080).

Accreditation



When researching online programs, students should always determine that a school holds proper regional accreditation. Accreditation is the process colleges and universities use to regulate and evaluate themselves, ensuring that schools meet academic and administrative standards. Without proper accreditation, students may not receive adequate academic and professional preparation. Regional accreditation serves traditional four-year colleges, with six different agencies overseeing different regions of the country.

Learn more about accreditation and why it matters in our accreditation guide.

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