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Most Affordable Online Colleges: Top Schools with Minimal Costs

Most Affordable Online Colleges: Top Schools with Minimal Costs

Looking for the least expensive online college programs? We’ve got you covered. This page provides a detailed breakdown of the most affordable online options. Take a closer look at online college program details and get an overview of what you’ll need to apply, get in, and graduate.

Intrigued by the idea of getting your degree online—but wonder if online college is the most affordable choice? The following rankings will help you zero in on the most affordable online colleges that hold the proper accreditation. And while price is a major factor, we’ve also considered flexibility and your options to personalize your learning and match your needs.

If you’re planning to work or care for a family while you earn your degree, flexibility and personalized learning are non-negotiable. Our list includes schools with a variety of fully online degree options, so whether you’re looking to finish up your undergraduate degree or make a major career pivot, there’s something for everyone. 

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays, KSPublic

Fort Hays State University offers one of Kansas’s most affordable four-year tuitions at around $3,400 per semester for 15 credit hours. Whether you’re seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree, low tuition rates and flexible class formats make this school stand out. Over 200 online certificates and degrees are available in asynchronous, synchronous, entirely online, and hybrid formats, making it easy to find a degree that fits your unique schedule and learning style. 

Need additional support to fund your education? At Fort Hays State, you’ll find extensive scholarship opportunities for transfer students, members of the military, and military spouses and dependents. FHSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and carries various additional, program-specific accreditations.

University of Texas – Permian Basin

Odessa, TXPublic

Though it has campuses in Odessa and Midland, Texas, The University of Texas Permian Basin offers entirely online-based programs to provide students with a flexible and affordable option for earning a higher degree with tuition and fees for a 15-credit semester costing about $4,945. The 40 available online certificates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees from this school were designed to maximize flexibility for students balancing their studies with busy personal and professional lives. 

Choose from six different starting dates throughout the year, and course sessions are offered every eight weeks. UTPB has financial aid options to suit your needs regardless of your family’s income level. If your family earns less than $100k per year, you might even be eligible for free tuition through the school’s Falcon Free program. UTPB is accredited by SACSCOC, with additional program-based accreditations.

Western New Mexico University

Silver City, NMPublic

Located in Silver City, New Mexico, Western New Mexico University is one of the most affordable online colleges in the nation. This school is committed to supporting students’ financial needs through comprehensive scholarship opportunities and extended in-state tuition rates for Arizona, Colorado, and El Paso, Texas residents. Undergraduate online tuition and fees run around $5,235 per semester taking 15-credits. 

As a student, you can expect highly qualified instructors, small class sizes, and 24/7 tutor support as you earn your degree. While most programs are available via asynchronous courses, some concentrations require minimal synchronous web conferencing or on-campus activities. WNMU holds the distinction of being designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, and its student body is over 50% Hispanic. This school is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, though individual business, education, and social work programs carry additional specialty accreditations.

Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, FLPublic

Based in Boca Raton, Florida, Florida Atlantic University has expanded to six campuses and an online-based program. Not only is it a priority for FAU to keep tuition rates affordable to all students, they actively consult faculty to identify further opportunities to lower the overall student cost of online courses. As part of the statewide “Affordability Counts” initiative, the school aims to reduce the cost of course materials to a maximum of $20 per credit hour. With this in mind, tuition for a semester of 15-credit hours is around $3,049 for in-state residents. 

All of FAU’s fully online programs are designed to provide you with an identical education to on-campus students, including the same instructors, award-winning support, academic advisors, and career services. With a regional accreditation from SACSCOC and additional accreditations from twenty outside accrediting organizations, you can be confident in receiving a high-quality, affordable education.

Florida International University

Miami, FLPublic

Florida International University is based in Miami-Dade, Florida, but it’s one of the ten largest universities in the nation. It’s also one of the largest online learning providers, with over 48,000 students enrolled each year and tuition and fees running about $3,500 per 15-credit semester. You can choose from more than 100 fully online degree programs and tracks, all at one of the most affordable online colleges. 

As a student, you’ll learn from the same faculty who teach on-campus courses, complete assignments, participate in group projects, and engage in class discussions. This program was designed to give working professionals and busy students the convenience and flexibility they need to study on their own schedules and offers multiple start times throughout the year. Florida International is regionally accredited by SACSCOC but carries additional accreditations for specific degrees and areas of study. 

What Makes Online College More Affordable Than Traditional College?

If you’re looking to save on higher education costs, choosing an online program over a brick-and-mortar college can save you thousands of dollars. Without acres of land, hundreds of support staff, and dozens of buildings to maintain, online programs often cost less (and therefore charge less). Instead, an online school can direct resources toward instruction rather than amenities. 

Avoid Certain On-Campus Fees

While in-person schools provide support and a robust social network for students in their late teens and early 20s, many of these offerings aren’t as useful to older students or those working while taking classes. Traditional schools also budget for sports teams, common spaces, and extracurricular activities. These extras all cost money, and those fees are ultimately passed down to students. If you won’t derive a lot of value from these amenities, an online degree allows you to pay for the education and skip the extras.

Save on Living and Dining on Campus

Another way you’ll save money with an online college is by skipping the school’s dining and housing plan. At in-person schools, students are often required to live on campus and pay for a meal plan. Sure, this is convenient, but it also comes at a steep price. Whether you’re living with your parents or have had your own place for years, managing your own housing and food can be a lot cheaper.

Save on Transportation and Parking

If you take courses online, you’ll also benefit by saving on transportation and parking costs. With rising gas prices, logging in to class from home can be a real economic benefit. And if the weather is bad, you won’t have to worry about battling icy or rainy conditions. Plus, you’ll save on the cost of a parking permit, which can add up to hundreds of dollars per year.

Unique Financing and Scholarship Opportunities

One thing to keep in mind with online colleges is that they may not offer as much institutional financial aid as in-person schools. However, students are eligible for a variety of other financing choices. Federal and state financial aid options such as grants and loans are a good place to start. Students may also be eligible for private scholarships based on income or course of study. If you’ve taken higher education classes in the past, be sure to ask about credit transfer options. And finally, if you’ll be working while taking classes, ask your employer about tuition credits. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for tuition reimbursement from your employer or a discounted tuition rate.

Potential to Avoid Out-of-State Residency Status

Have your heart set on a specific program or school? For example, if you’ve always dreamed about being a Penn State alum but don’t live in Pennsylvania, that could end up costing you thousands of dollars more in out-of-state tuition. But some schools (including Penn State) offer online courses for the same tuition rate, regardless of residency. This is a great way to get the name-brand diploma at a much more affordable cost.

Comparing the Costs of Online College vs. Traditional College

Weighing the pros and cons of online vs. in-person instruction? We’ve done the research for you. We investigated five popular schools and itemized the average in-state and out-of-state costs for both traditional and online courses. Before you decide on a program, look at our table and let the numbers guide you to the best decision. Keep in mind that costs may vary based on housing and dining options as well as costs for software and books. Even with fluctuations, you’ll see that online colleges are one of the cheapest ways to earn a degree.

School NameTraditional In-StateTraditional Out-of-StateOnline In-StateOnline Out-of-State

University of Florida
$16,780 (tuition/fees, housing, food)$39,028 (tuition/fees, housing, food)$3,876 (tuition only)$22,192 (tuition only)

Southern New Hampshire University
$21,213-$34,346 (depending on major and dining/housing plan)$21,213-$34,346 (depending on major and dining/housing plan)$9,600 (tuition only)$9,600 (tuition only)

Penn State
$32,270 (tuition/fees, housing, food)$51,635 (tuition/fees, housing, food)$7,527(tuition only)$7,527 (tuition only)

The California State University
$26,728 (housing, dining, books, and transportation for Chico campus)$36,232 (housing, dining, books, and transportation for Chico campus)$5,742 (tuition only)$5,742 plus $362 per credit unit ($362 x 30 credits = additional $10, 860 per year for full time study, tuition only)

University of Massachusetts 
$31,728 (tuition/fees, housing, food)$52,948 (tuition/fees, housing, food)$14,460 (tuition only)$14,460 (tuition only)

8 Simple Ways to Make Online College More Affordable Without Loans

While higher education is an investment, it doesn’t need to break the bank. If you’re hoping to avoid loans (and their accompanying interest!), there are plenty of ways to finance your degree. The flexibility of online learning also means you may be able to work full-time while you take classes, further decreasing your need for outside funding.

  • Want to receive grants and scholarships—also known as free money? Don’t forget to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many students are eligible for federal and state grants but miss out on that money because they don’t apply. While you’re waiting on federal and state aid, start researching and applying for scholarships. Your school’s financial aid office is a good place to start, but you may also want to inquire with your department head for program-based scholarships as well as private and community-based organizations.

  • Another benefit to filling out the FAFSA is to receive a federal work-study job. This can help you earn extra cash for books and living expenses, without the downsides of a loan.

  • If you’ll be working off campus (not work-study) while you earn your degree, check in with your HR department and ask about employer tuition reimbursement programs. Many large corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon offer tuition assistance to their employees. This is a great way to earn a regular paycheck and get your degree in an affordable way.

  • If you have your heart set on a specific (and perhaps pricey) college, consider first enrolling at a community college for a year or two and taking as many undergraduate classes as you can. Once you’ve earned those credits, transfer them to your dream school. Freshman English or Biology 101 at a community college will likely cover the same course material at a much cheaper price. Be sure to double-check credit transfer requirements and limits at both schools before you enroll.

  • If you’re still in high school, one of the easiest ways to save money on college is by enrolling in AP classes and then taking the exams. These courses are often free to high school students and integrated into the district’s curriculum. If your school doesn’t offer a specific AP course, it’s worth asking if you can enroll at a nearby high school that offers it or enroll online through an approved provider. Check with your prospective college to ask about requirements; many offer credit for scores of 4 and above.

  • A little-known way to save on out-of-state tuition is through regional tuition exchange programs. These programs allow you to take advantage of discounted tuition rates for schools in neighboring states. For example, the New England Board of Higher Education’s Tuition Break program offers students residing in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine discounted tuition rates at any of the region’s public colleges and universities. 

  • If you’re a highly motivated student (or simply looking for maximum flexibility), you may benefit from a program that follows a self-paced format. In these courses, there are no scheduled lectures or set deadlines. Instead, you’re given a block of time to work through the course materials. This allows you to do reading, watch videos, and submit assignments at your convenience. Some learners can finish a course in the matter of a few weeks, while others do the work when they have a spare minute over several months. 

  • Look for textbooks in good used condition; it’s a much cheaper alternative to brand-new copies. Numerous websites offer used books at a discount, often with free and fast shipping. Did the previous owner highlight some text? That actually might save you some time. Just be sure you’re getting the right edition, especially if your professor assigns specific pages for reading.

FAQs About Online College Costs

Understandably, prospective students have lots of questions about online colleges, from the application process to employment prospects. We get it; pursuing a college degree is a big step, both financially and personally. Before you dive in, take a look at our FAQs. We compiled the seven most pressing questions our readers have and provided the answers below.

  • Are some online degrees more affordable than others?

    The short answer is yes. Some schools charge a set fee per credit while others charge different amounts depending on department. For example, at Arizona State University for fall 2022, you’ll pay $9,250 for 15 credits if you’re taking classes in the College of Nursing and Health Education. That price jumps to $10,135 if you’re taking the same number of credits in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Other colleges, such as Southern New Hampshire University, offer a discount for select majors.

  • Do I still qualify for financial aid if I only apply to online colleges?

    Yes! As long as your school is accredited, you’ll be eligible for federal and state financial aid. This means you can put together a package of loans, grants, and scholarships to pay for your education. But remember, you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA to determine eligibility and receive aid.

  • Are there scholarships available for online-only programs?

    Yes. While online colleges often offer less institutional aid, you’re still eligible for scholarships. Check in with your department head to inquire about scholarships in your specific major. Some may be merit-based, while others are dependent on financial need. Take a few minutes to peruse online scholarship databases; there you’ll find lists of scholarships specifically for distance learners.

  • Will the state my college is located in impact the cost of my online degree?

    It depends. Some schools charge the same online tuition regardless of your residency (e.g., Penn State). Others charge different rates for in-state and out-of-state students (e.g., The California State University system).

  • How can I ensure that an affordable online college is high-quality?

    An important piece of data to look at is a school’s accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation has approved 19 accrediting organizations that vet the quality and consistency of a school’s programs. Making sure your school has been accredited by one of those entities is a good starting point. Within those 19 accrediting organizations, a school can be regionally accredited or nationally accredited. In general, regional accreditation is more prestigious; schools receiving this level of accreditation often have more rigorous admission and academic standards. Nationally accredited schools are often for-profit colleges and tend to offer more vocational programs. These are generalizations, but if you enroll in a regionally accredited online school you’ll have some peace of mind regarding its quality and your ability to transfer credits.

  • Is attending an online college worth it?

    If you’re looking for a more affordable way to advance your education, then an online college is a great option. The flexibility of distance learning is especially convenient for working professionals or students with family obligations.

  • What is the average cost for an online college degree?

    According to recent data from U.S. News and World Report, the cost of an online bachelor’s degree can range from roughly $38,000 to $60,000. That’s not an insignificant chunk of change, but it’s still thousands of dollars cheaper than a traditional college degree.

  • Which is more expensive, public or private online colleges?

    Most public colleges and universities are significantly cheaper than private schools. This is often due to the amount of government funding they receive. In-state tuition at a public university is one of the least expensive ways to get a degree. And if you take your classes online, you can skip the cost of transportation, dining hall plans, and other extras. However, thanks to large endowments, many private colleges offer significant institutional aid. For example, Princeton University offers free tuition for any student from a family earning $100,000 or less per year. Of course, you must be admitted first! If you’re interested in a specific college, do your research and ask about scholarships and other aid options.