Affordable Schools Online

The latest in affordable online degrees, careers, and higher education.

Your educational journey need not follow a conventional path. Find the academic track you need to preserve your legacy, despite the obstacles. Find out which online colleges have the most affordable programs, how the programs rank, and how you can pay for them.


Distance education has changed significantly since the 1800s when students took correspondence courses through the U.S. mail service. 

Today, technology enables students to pursue an online education from anywhere in the world.

More affordable programs are becoming available as an increasing number of high school graduates choose to enroll in online college programs. These programs provide an alternative to a conventional college education.

In 2020, approximately 75% of over 14 million college students were enrolled in distance education classes at degree-granting colleges and universities.

Information was requested from institutions that award associate degrees or higher in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C. These colleges also accept federal aid.

These affordable online schools will help you save money while giving you the freedom to go to school while managing a job, a family, or any other obligations you might have.

Is College Affordable for Me?

Most likely, you are aware of how difficult it may be to succeed in this country without a bachelor’s degree if you’re reading this.

A 2016 Georgetown University survey found that those with college degrees held 95% of the new employment created after the Great Recession. Therefore, a college degree is a requirement for success in today’s labor market.

It’s no surprise that attending college can be very costly. 62% of Americans say college costs prevent them from taking the plunge. However, there are several things you can do to lower the cost of college.

According to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data, the average tuition and fees for undergraduate programs at public institutions in the United States for the 2020-2021 academic year were $10,560 for in-state students and $26,820 for out-of-state students. The average tuition and fees for undergraduate programs at private nonprofit institutions were $37,650, while the average for private for-profit institutions was $15,660.

The average cost of attendance (tuition and fees, room and board, and other expenses) for full-time undergraduate students at public institutions in the United States for the 2020-2021 academic year was $21,950 for in-state students and $41,470 for out-of-state students. The average cost of attendance at private nonprofit institutions was $52,510, while the average cost of attendance at private for-profit institutions was $30,410.

The average net price for full-time undergraduate students at public institutions in the United States for the 2018–2019 academic year was $9,716. The average net price for full-time undergraduate students at private nonprofit institutions was $24,657, while the average for full-time undergraduate students at private for-profit institutions was $14,778.

It is important to note that these figures are averages, and the actual cost of tuition and fees may vary significantly depending on the institution and program. Some factors that can affect the cost of tuition and fees include the type of institution (public or private), the institution’s location, and the program level (undergraduate, graduate, etc.).

Make College More Affordable

  • Apply for financial aid: Many colleges and universities offer financial aid through grants, scholarships, and loans to help students pay for their education. You can apply for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Enroll in a community college: Community colleges often have lower tuition rates than four-year colleges and universities, and credits earned at a community college can often be transferred to a four-year institution.
  • Consider attending a public college or university: Public colleges and universities often have lower tuition rates than private institutions, especially for in-state students.
  • Take advantage of tax credits and deductions: The American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit are two tax credits that can help reduce the cost of tuition. You may also be able to deduct student loan interest on your taxes.
  • Work part-time while in school: Working part-time while in school can help offset the cost of tuition and other expenses.
  • Research tuition reimbursement programs: Some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs for employees pursuing a degree related to their job.
  • Consider attending college online: Online colleges and universities often have lower tuition rates than traditional institutions, and many offer the same quality of education.

But what is the single most effective way to reduce the cost of college? Select a cheap online school.

We can guide you there.

The online bachelor’s degree programs on our list provide the best value on the market.

Create the future you deserve on your own terms and without going bankrupt.

Affordable Schools Online Ranking

Citing tuition data compiled by Niche.com, Best Universities identified six affordable online colleges ($16,000 and under) that will net you a salary higher than the median income in the U.S. within six years of graduating.

University of Wisconsin (UW)

#1 Cheapest Online College in America

Most Affordable Online College - University of Wisconsin

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

  • Net Price: $14,030
  • Median Earnings 6 Years After Graduation: $56,200
  • Acceptance Rate – 57%
  • SAT Range – 1260-1460
  • Employed 2 Years After Graduation: 95%

Most Popular Majors

  • Information Science
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Mathematics

UW – Madison is a large university with 30,063 undergraduate students enrolled. Given that Wisconsin’s acceptance rate is 57%, admissions are moderately competitive. Alumni from Wisconsin graduate 88% of students and make a starting income of $45,000 within two years of graduating.

UW will net you a median yearly income of $56,200. They offer more than 60 online bachelor’s degrees–including an accelerated online nursing program, business administration, liberal studies, data science, applied computer science, sustainable management, and RN to BSN programs.

Bellevue University

#2 Cheapest Online College in America

Location: Bellevue, Nebraska

  • Net Price: $15,629
  • Median Earnings 6 Years After Graduation: $53,600
  • Acceptance Rate – 100%
  • SAT Range – N/A
  • Employed 2 Years After Graduation: 92%

Most Popular Majors

  • Business
  • Business Support Services
  • Computer and Information Systems Security
  • Social Science Research Methods
  • Management Sciences and Information Systems

Bellevue University will net you a median yearly income of $53,600. They offer online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. Bellevue also has accelerated online degrees for business, criminal justice, psychology, and healthcare majors and computer science, business, and business administration.

Columbia Southern University

#3 Cheapest Online College in America

Location: Orange Beach, Alabama

  • Net Price: $11,241
  • Median Earnings 6 Years After Graduation: $74,398*
  • Acceptance Rate – 100%
  • SAT Range – N/A
  • Employed 2 Years After Graduation: 92%

Most Popular Majors

  • Business
  • Occupational Safety and Health Technician
  • Fire Science and Fire Fighting
  • Police and Criminal Science
  • Fire Protection and Prevention

UW will net you a median yearly income of $74,398.

CSU has assisted diverse learners in achieving their academic goals for more than 25 years by offering the best online degree programs at an affordable price. CSU’s courses combine real-world experience with the most recent industry best practices to give students the edge they need in a competitive job market. Courses are designed and taught by experts in their respective fields.

Their mission is to provide students with the flexibility they need to fit education into their busy schedules. Our courses are designed to accommodate working professionals, parents, and anyone juggling school with other obligations.

*Niche did not provide median earnings for UW, so we used 10-yr Median Earnings from CollegeScorecard.

West Coast University – Texas

#4 Cheapest Online College in America

Location: Richardson, Texas

  • Net Price: $15,468
  • Median Earnings 6 Years After Graduation: $54,900
  • Acceptance Rate – 100%
  • SAT Range – N/A
  • Employed 2 Years After Graduation: 94%

Most Popular Majors

  • Nursing
  • Business Administration
  • Health Administration
  • Public Health
  • Speech-Language Pathology

West Coast University in Richardson, TX, will net you a median yearly income of $54,900. They offer four online bachelor’s degrees focusing on nursing, healthcare, and business administration. They offer seven online degrees at the master’s level. WCU-TX also offers seven online post-master certificates.

Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, West Coast University – Texas has shifted most of its on-campus courses to distance learning. As soon as the COVID-19 circumstances change, however, students will be required to return to campus to complete their program onsite using the regular learning modality approved by WSCUC and outlined in the University catalog. Learn More

Mercy College of Ohio

#5 Cheapest Online College in America

Location: Toledo, Ohio

  • Net Price: $13,856
  • Median Earnings 6 Years After Graduation: $51,100
  • Acceptance Rate – 40%
  • SAT Range – 790-1060
  • Employed 2 Years After Graduation: 94%

Most Popular Majors

  • Nursing
  • Health Service Preparatory Studies
  • Radiologic Technician
  • Healthcare Management
  • Health Professions

Toledo, Ohio’s Mercy College of Ohio, is a private Catholic university. There are 358 undergraduate students enrolled at this small institution. The acceptance rate at Mercy Ohio is 40%, which is relatively competitive. Nursing, Health Service Preparatory Studies, and Radiologic Technology are popular majors. 49% of graduates from Mercy College of Ohio earn a starting salary of $49,000.

Allen College

#6 Cheapest Online College in America

Location: Waterloo, Iowa

  • Net Price: $6,953
  • Median Earnings 6 Years After Graduation: $50,800
  • Acceptance Rate – N/A
  • SAT Range – N/A
  • Employed 2 Years After Graduation: 97%

Most Popular Majors

  • Nursing
  • Radiologic Technician
  • Public Health
  • Medical Laboratory Technician
  • Sonographer and Ultrasound Technician

Allen College is a private college that was established in 1989. It has a total enrollment of 374 undergraduates (fall 2020). The academic calendar is based on semesters. Tuition and fees amount to $19,718.

Questions and Answers Regarding Affordable Online Colleges

Is online learning more cost-effective?

If you take into account the following factors, attending an online college may be more affordable than pursuing a traditional four-year degree:

  • No lost income: The ability to work and study simultaneously is one of the most significant advantages of online education. You won’t experience any income gaps while pursuing a degree.
  • Zero commute: When you walk from your bedroom to the dining room table, the cost of gas won’t bother you.
  • Less on-campus fees: Fees for on-campus amenities and services may not apply to online learners.

Online programs aren’t always more affordable if you only factor in out-of-pocket expenses. The majority of institutions charge roughly the same tuition for campus-based and online programs, according to a 2020 report from Quality Matters and Eduventures Research.

How Much Debt Should I Expect from College?

According to 2020 data from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), the average student debt at graduation varied from $18,350 in Utah to $39,950 in New Hampshire, and the likelihood that new graduates would have debt varied from 39% in Utah to 73% in South Dakota. The average debt was over $30,000 in 19 states and over $35,000 in 6 states. This figure includes both federal and private student loans.

It is important to note that this figure is an average, and the actual amount of student debt may vary significantly depending on the individual student’s circumstances. Some factors that can affect the amount of student debt include the type of institution attended, the program of study, and the time it takes to complete the degree.

Online Colleges

Finding the right college program or school for you can be challenging and rewarding. It takes a lot of effort and time to compare schools, prepare for standardized tests, and get an idea of what you want to study.

According to National Center for Education Statistics data, 11.8 million people enrolled in at least one online course in 2020. This number continues to increase today, especially as access to massively open online courses (MOOCs) grows. But why do people take courses online? The general perception is that these classes are convenient and less expensive, but is this true?

As it turns out, online degrees and courses are not necessarily any less expensive than if you were to attend an on-campus class. For example, if you want to take a class at New York University online, you will be paying the exact cost per credit hour as a student who sits in class to listen to a professor. However, you will not have to commute to class, which saves you transportation expenses. You will not have to live on campus, saving you thousands of dollars a year. Also, courses and degree programs designed to be completed online often have digital content, which means no textbooks.

Online education is a unique and financially viable option for people who want quality education on a budget. You save on the satellite expenses (books, room, and board, travel), and you can tailor courses around your schedule. This opens up more comprehensive options for taking just a few classes at a time, for instance, while you hold a part-time job to fund your schooling.

For the average American student, money is one of the top priorities in this decision. Nearly 55% of graduates in 2021 left school with debt, averaging $37,787 ($26,000 ten years earlier in 2011). This debt puts pressure on graduates to find work quickly and pay back loans, sometimes leading them to compete for jobs for which they are overqualified.

Smart budgeting and careful financial planning can significantly offset the cost of going to school; this directory of affordable colleges is designed to help you with that planning. For example, did you know that a state resident can pay less for college if they attend a public school within their state? Also, going to school close to home means you don’t have to pay for room and board, which can be as much as 20% of your tuition bill.

Cost of Online College vs. Traditional College

  • Private institutions, on average, charge $58,560 for an online degree vs. $148,800 for an in-person degree.
  • Students who commute to college for in-person classes pay $3,400 per year in transportation costs an online student wouldn’t have to pay. 
  • Students who attend in-person classes pay $1,380 dollars more for a campus meal plan than meals made at home.   
  • The cost of an online degree based on tuition from a public university is roughly $37,920 vs. $37,320 for the same degree in in-person. 

Source: https://educationdata.org/cost-of-online-education-vs-traditional-education

Are the Cheapest Colleges of Good Quality?

Many affordable colleges in the United States are recognized for academic excellence.

One significant thing to consider when shopping for schools is their accreditation. If the school you want to attend has neither programmatic nor institutional accreditation, you may worry that “cheap” means “bad.”

Local colleges in your area may also know about alumni-based scholarships for locals that you can use to cut down on your overall college costs. Sometimes, colleges create special programs for residents, like paying for a percentage of their total tuition if they maintain a specific grade point average in high school.

Are Cheap Online Colleges Diploma Mills?

Any institution that attempts to offer you a degree for free or at a suspiciously low rate should be handled with caution. Online schools should also be held to the same standards and scrutiny that you would apply to a traditional school search. Do research on accreditation. Look at the professors–do they hold graduate degrees? Have they done research or significant work in the area you want to study?

Online classes can supplement an on-campus education as well. If you are interested in studying a practical discipline that requires laboratory work, you should contact local schools to see if they have hybrid options. In a hybrid program, you can take lab courses on-campus and finish your theoretical coursework online. This mixing and matching of learning options is one of the best ways to personalize your learning experience and save a lot of money simultaneously.