Searching for an affordable online college can be tricky. In an interview, Devon Putnam, (Manager, Student Success and Retention), who works for American Sentinel University, tells LoveToKnow to look for transparency: "You should be able to easily find tuition and fees on the school website as well as accreditation information, and admissions advisors should openly answer questions regarding accreditation and any fees required when you're thinking about enrolling."
Five Affordable Online Colleges for Bachelor Degrees
The following five accredited online schools have tuition and fees below $12,000 per academic year, according to their 2013-2014 published tuition and fees for undergraduates enrolled full-time. These numbers do not include books and supplies, which can vary per student. Each school is fully-accredited, offers one or more bachelor degrees, and has been recognized in at least one reputable ranking online.
Cal State Dominguez Hills
- Applied Studies (with Minor options in Communications and Public Administration)
- B.S. in Nursing for registered nurses
- B.S. in Quality Assurance
The school has garnered national recognition for its dedication to diversity, and it is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). It has been featured in Affordable Colleges Online Top 54 List for Affordability.
Westfield State University
Besides being thrifty, Westfield State University has a quality reputation: U.S. News and World Report ranked this school at number 4 on its 2013 list of the Top Online Bachelor Degrees. At $260 per credit, a full-time credit load would cost approximately $6240 per academic year. It offers six online bachelor degree programs:
- Liberal Studies
- Criminal Justice
The school is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (CIHE) of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Best College Reviews ranked WSU number 1 in its top 25 online schools list, and it noted the school's affordability as a big factor for its high ranking. In addition, the school made College Calc's list of the most affordable in-state schools.
Ranging from $8,240 to $10,560 per year, depending on your payment plan, Penn Foster offers bachelor degrees in Business Management and Criminal Justice. It graduates 25,000 students a year from its degree and certificate programs and it is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), among others. BestColleges.org ranked it among the top 10 online medical programs, noting its affordability. In 2009, it made College Crunch's Top 25 list of online schools.
Sam Houston University
At $8896 per year in tuition and fees, this award-winning, low-cost school offers bachelor degrees in:
- Criminal Justice
- General Business Administration
- General Studies.
The school has achieved doctoral research status as granted by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, and it has won an Innovation Technology Award from the Wall St. Journal. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In its Cappex review, its tuition cost and "bang for the buck," as reviewed by actual students, received 5 out of 5 stars from a majority of reviewers.
Starting at $11,625 per year, Bellevue University offers 44 online bachelor degree programs, including unique programs like International Security and Intelligence Studies, Advanced Manufacturing in the Business Enterprise, and Emergency Management. The school is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS). Superscholar.org, GetEducated.com, and Collegestats.org all ranked Bellevue among the most affordable online schools.
A Final Tip for Finding Online Bachelor Degrees
As you begin applying to schools and contacting their Admissions Departments, Putnam advises students to be on the alert for pushy schools: "if you feel like you are being rushed to enroll immediately or if your advisor is pushing you to use financial aid, you may want to reconsider your options." It's better to take your time making a decision and not be rushed along, especially when pursuing a valuable bachelor degree.
Five Affordable Online Colleges for Associate Degrees
Associate degrees can be obtained at very affordable prices because they require fewer credits (60 on average) to complete than a bachelor degree. Associate degree programs tend to vary in length, therefore the figures below will look at the total cost of the program instead of the yearly cost. The following five schools have associate degrees that cost less than $15,000 to obtain, according to their 2013-2014 published tuition and fees (or per credit hour rates). These numbers only look at tuition and fees and not books and supplies:
Clovis Community College
- Criminal Justice
- Business Administration
- Web Technology
- Microcomputer Applications
- Computer Information
It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Broward College costs $6,540 for a 60 credit associate degree, and the US Department of Education ranked it among the top 15 most affordable four-year schools. It offers nine online programs, including ones like Accounting, Nursing, and Aviation Operation. It is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Western Nebraska College
A typical associate degree (60 credits) costs $6,840, and the school offers 13 associate degrees, including programs like Business Administration, Executive Assistant, IT, and Retail Management. In 2011, Military Times EDGE ranked the school the number one "Best for Vets Two-Year College." It is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Houston Community College
Houston Community College costs approximately $9,360 and offers seven degrees including programs like Creative Writing, Engineering Science, and Anthropology. It is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and it has 21 specialty accreditations, including fields like nuclear medicine and child development. It has also been featured on Community College Review as the most affordable colleges for international students, which credits its low cost as the primary factor.
Ranked number one on SuperScholar's list of affordable associate degrees and number 12 in TheBestColleges.org's most affordable online schools for 2013, Baker Online charges $215 per credit hour, which totals approximately $13,000 for the total cost of the average associate degree. The school offers 12 associate degrees including programs such as Accounting, Human Resources Management, and IT. The school is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Although a school's cost can fluctuate from year to year, the schools mentioned above will likely stay on the lower end of the college cost spectrum for years to come. That being said, it's helpful to have a general sense of what constitutes an inexpensive or expensive school.
How to Know if a School's Tuition is High or Low
According to a report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average cost of college of all types was $18,000 per year in 2010-2011. Since then, tuition costs have increased across the board. If you can obtain a quality college education for less than the 2010-2011 mark of $18,000 per year, you're getting a good deal. Although many of the more expensive online schools come with fantastic features that might be well worth it, there are plenty of decent economic options if you have a tight budget.
Finding a School that Fits
Once you've found schools that fit your budget, the next step is to apply and make contact with their admissions departments. As you dive into this stage of the process, it helps to know the right questions to ask an admissions counselor. In Devon Putnam's interview with LoveToKnow, she recommends asking the following questions:
- What are the flexibility of your courses?
- How long is each course?
- Will I be able to finish the program in a timeframe that works for me?
- When are assignments due?
- What is the curriculum like?
- What percentage of the students who enroll actually earn their degree?
With these questions in mind, you will be prepared to get an accurate feel for each school. Although it takes hard work and extra time to thoroughly examine what each school offers, your efforts will be more than worth it when you're able to hang that framed degree on your wall and know that you've accomplished your goals.