Another benefit of attending college online is that students can often continue to work full-time and tend to family obligations while earning their degree.
For many students, working on a degree from home is simply a better way to learn. An online degree is just as valid as a degree from a brick and mortar institution. In fact, online degrees represent some of the best values available in higher education today.
The 20 Best Cheap Online 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 undergraduate programs that have a significant online presence. This means schools that offer at least 15 bachelor’s degrees (in total), at least 10 of which are available online.
To identify the best affordable online colleges, we considered three ranking 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 evaluated each college’s focus on undergraduate education, both overall and specifically regarding online learning. To do this, we considered both the total number of online bachelor’s degrees that each school offers and the percentageof all undergraduate degrees that it offers online. High scores in both categories indicate a significant commitment – regarding both time and resources – to online undergraduate 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 best cheap online college (ranked #1) earned the maximum 100 points.
20. Saint Leo University
As one of U.S. News and World Report’s best values for regionally accredited online college degrees, it’s no surprise that Saint Leo University also earns a spot on our list. Because the school seeks to replicate the on-campus experience for online learners, you’ll have access to real-time financial information, schedules, grades, and more. You’ll also interact with classmates in discussion-based courses aimed at fostering lively debate. And if you’re a veteran or active-duty serviceperson, Saint Leo has plenty to offer, from special military scholarships to a military-friendly admissions process. In fact, the school is proud to be the sixth largest U.S. provider of higher education to military personnel.
Average Cost per Credit: $535
19. University of the Southwest
The University of the Southwest offers mostly asynchronous courses, granting you the freedom to pursue an undergraduate degree on your own time. And although you can always reach out to instructors for assistance, this top online college also provides learners with crucial web-based tutoring and e-learning resources in case they need a little extra help to succeed. Note, however, that USW doesn’t offer all its undergrad degrees online. Instead, its online selection is primarily geared towards business, psychology, and criminal justice degrees, with a particularly strong emphasis on business administration programs.
Average Cost per Credit: $522
18. Davenport University
At Davenport, providing a high-quality online learning experience is anything but an afterthought. Instead, the school makes it a priority to provide some of the best online programs for students who appreciate an immersive, community-based experience. Although most courses are self-paced, you can also opt for a few real-time classes, which allow you to interact with classmates and instructors in a more traditional (but still virtual) setting. Davenport offers degrees in numerous fields, ranging from the familiar (such as computer science and marketing) to the more specialized programs, such as sports management and cyber defense, for example.
Average Cost per Credit: $633
17. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
Look to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods if you’d like to earn an accredited affordable college degree in a Catholic environment. A strong Catholic tradition and identity is at the heart of SMWC, and all undergraduate students must take at least one theology course as part of the core curriculum. Of course, if you’re truly passionate about the subject, you should consider pursuing SMWC’s online BA in Theology. This interdisciplinary program gives students a broad look at religion throughout history, plus it includes a unique focus on the intersection of Christianity and feminism. Other fully online undergraduate programs are plentiful and run the gamut from criminology to paralegal studies to professional writing.
Average Cost per Credit: $496
16. Columbia College
Columbia College has a long history of embracing both nontraditional learners and those traditionally underserved in education. More specifically, it cites women and adult students as two of the groups it welcomed before most colleges did. It stands to reason, then, that CC would support such a robust distance education program with some of the best and most affordable bachelor’s degrees online. Undergraduates can enroll in up to six eight-week sessions per year, giving them the flexibility to choose a schedule that meets their needs. And if you happen to be located near Chico, California, you can opt for the “online plus” option, giving you in-person access to an advisor who can help with academic, financial, and technical questions.
Average Cost per Credit: $261
15. Prescott College
Arizona-based Prescott College offers some of the most unique accredited online programs on this list. The BA in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, for example, gives online learners the chance to pursue a career in a critically important field. However, the curriculum (which includes tracks in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Community Development) does require a short on-campus residency. In addition, environmental studies majors must perform hands-on work in their community as a way of acquiring invaluable real-world experience. Other popular programs include the BA in Education and Teacher Preparation, which helps enrollees earn a teaching certification in their home state.
Average Cost per Credit: $1,087
14. Ottawa University
All of Ottawa University’s affordable online college degrees are available 100% online, with absolutely no face-time required. This makes the school a great fit for students with fixed schedules or no ability to commute. And rest assured, you won’t sacrifice quality for this luxury of convenience. In fact, Ottawa goes above and beyond to make sure each student gets plenty of individual attention. Not only does the school maintain a 4:1 student-faculty ratio for online courses, but it also provides dedicated academic advisors who can answer any questions you might have. And your first question might even be about which major to choose, as Ottawa maintains a diverse selection of programs across nearly every academic department.
Average Cost per Credit: $490
13. Southern New Hampshire University
With more than 40 undergraduate programs available online, it’s no surprise that Southern New Hampshire University is one of the absolute best online colleges. But size isn’t the school’s only hallmark – it’s also a favorite among transfer students, who can apply up to 90 undergraduate credits towards their bachelor’s degree. The sheer range of available programs means there’s something for every student, even those with highly specific interests in fields like Technical Management or Fashion Merchandising. Plus, many of those 40-some programs come with various sub-tracks and emphasis options to maximize customizability for students with extremely focused career goals.
Average Cost per Credit: $1,250
12. Colorado State University-Global Campus
CSU – Global has some pretty inspiring reasons for offering affordable bachelor’s degrees online. Not only does the university want to improve the economy (both locally and worldwide) and reduce student debt, but it also aims to elevate the importance of critical thinking skills in our society. The school works towards those goals by providing flexible, convenient, asynchronous online programs designed to meet each student’s individual needs. CSU – Global also stands alone in its commitment to taking the stress and challenge out of planning for college. For example, you can request a free one-on-one tuition planning session with a professional advisor, during which they’ll evaluate your finances and suggest various financial aid options.
Average Cost per Credit: $350
11. Central Methodist University
With an average cost of just over $200 per credit, Central Methodist University shines as one of the best schools for earning a cheap online degree. Another appealing attribute is the school’s modest – but diverse – range of online academic programs, which includes specialized degrees (Child Development and Applied Behavior Analysis, for example) that are hard to find elsewhere. But no matter which degree you pursue, you’ll have access to a robust set of student resources, including a Veteran Services office, a Writing Center, and a Career Development Center to provide guidance as graduation approaches.
Average Cost per Credit: $210
10. National University
If you’re looking for a very specific accredited online college degree, National University might be your best bet. In any game of “Can I major in…?” this school readily outperforms even the fiercest competition. For example, you won’t find a BA in Digital Journalism or a BS in Construction Management at most online colleges, but you will at National! And because the university has agreements in place with most community colleges in the state of Colorado, transfer students will find it relatively simple to get credit for classes they’ve taken previously. But no matter what your background is or what degree you want to pursue, you’ll enjoy a strong sense of community and support from the school’s dedicated instructors.
Average Cost per Credit: $354
9. Thomas Edison State University
For more than 40 years, Thomas Edison State University has been fulfilling its mission of providing a quality education to busy adults. And by offering extremely affordable online programs, the school extends its reach to as many students as possible. Of course, like all the best online colleges, TESU provides a diverse list of degree options in all the most popular subjects. But of all its programs, perhaps the most notable is the Bachelor of Science in Applied Science and Technology (BSAST). Most suitable for mid-career adults, the BSAST is available in seven unique tracks, including Nuclear Energy Engineering Technology, Electrical Technology, and the more general Technical Studies.
Average Cost per Credit: $215
8. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
In the name of convenience, all of Penn State’s accredited online college degrees utilize an asynchronous course format. However, online instructors also want to make sure their students have plenty of opportunities to interact with classmates. To accomplish this goal, many professors incorporate video conferences, online chats, and graded discussions into their coursework. But if that’s not enough interaction for you, don’t worry; Penn State has plenty of academic societies and student clubs that you can participate in – even as an online learner! And as an added bonus, the university provides a carefully curated set of FAQs to help alleviate any doubts you might have about distance education.
Average Cost per Credit: $535
7. Western Governors University
Over the years, WGU has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the country’s top online colleges – especially for experienced adults and hard workers. These students will appreciate WGU’s unique approach to education, which provides the biggest rewards to those who take learning seriously. For one, the school bases its degrees on real-world competencies instead of credit hours, awarding progress for actual knowledge gained rather than time spent in a classroom. And instead of charging tuition per credit, its charges a flat rate every six months – no matter how many courses you complete – which could save you a lot of money if you work quickly and competently!
Average Cost per Credit: $276
6. University of Maryland-University College
Because the University of Maryland – University College recognizes that not all students test well, it doesn’t rely on traditional exams to measure learning. Instead, you’ll likely complete a paper or a project in most classes as you earn your accredited cheap online degree. The school also offers rolling admission, frequent session start dates, and a unique hybrid option to meet individual needs. This hybrid option (in which you take some classes online and some in person) could be a particularly good fit for active military, as many of UMUC’s satellite locations are located on military bases around the country.
Average Cost per Credit: $389
5. Franklin University
Understandably, many students cite convenience as a major factor in choosing to earn an affordable bachelor’s degree online. Franklin University contends that there are plenty of other benefits to attending its online college. For example, the school sees the flexibility of online learning as an opportunity to adapt instruction to a wide variety learning styles. Plus, asynchronous courses are ideal for motivated students who want to move quickly. But regardless of your reason for pursuing an online degree, Franklin likely has a program that will meet your needs. From nursing to management to public relations, this online college offers undergraduate degrees in nearly every field.
Average Cost per Credit: $484
4. Mary Baldwin University
For students with previous college courses under their belt, Mary Baldwin University could be a great option. At this top online college, not only can you transfer in up to 90 semester hours, but you can also get credit for professional experience by filling out a Prior Learning Portfolio or taking a CLEP test. And if you’re concerned about costs, you’ll appreciate the dedicated scholarships available to both adult and online learners. These include merit-based awards (which should be particularly helpful to students who excel in their online courses) as well as program-specific scholarships. You could even get funding to study abroad in another country!
Average Cost per Credit: $450
3. Excelsior College
With more than 30 affordable online degrees, Excelsior College has something to offer every student, including those with unique interests. For example, the school offers an impressive range of public service degrees, from a BS in National Security to one in Military Leadership. These programs in particular might appeal to active military and veterans, and Excelsior is proud to serve those populations. In fact, a dedicated Center for Military and Veteran Education hosts a wealth of resources designed to help members of the armed forces and their families afford higher education and find military-friendly programs.
Average Cost per Credit: $490
2. Granite State College
As a primarily online school, Granite State College employs instructors who know how to deliver top-notch content from a distance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate face-to-face learning as you pursue your accredited bachelor’s degree online. With both hybrid and blended class options available, you can balance your online courses with visits to the school’s Concord, New Hampshire, campus (if you’d like). Some classes even incorporate field-based learning, blending virtual sessions with hands-on lessons and face-to-face activities. But those details aside, all of GSU’s bachelor’s degrees culminate in either a capstone or teaching experience, where you’ll have the opportunity to both apply your learning and prepare yourself for the next step in your career.
Average Cost per Credit: $309
1. Bellevue University
Flexibility is the name of the game at Bellevue University, where students can tweak the any of the top online programs to meet their individual needs and learning styles. For example, you can choose between a cohort-based model (in which you take most of your classes with the same students) and a more traditional format, where participants differ from class to class. What’s more, Bellevue provides supplementary videos and tutorials to augment your learning, plus online tutoring for those who need extra help. And these options come on top of an extremely diverse list of available programs: Bellevue’s comprehensive selection of nearly 40 online bachelor’s degrees is one of the largest on this list.
Average Cost per Credit: $275