Best Nationally Accredited Online Colleges & Universities
Nationally accredited online colleges are generally for-profit and offer career, technical, or vocational programs.
Be aware that there is a big difference between nationally and regionally accredited online colleges. Businesses and employment services will accept credits from regionally and nationally accredited colleges, but the same is not true when going from national accreditation to a regionally accredited college.
The Department of Education may not recognize some nationally accredited universities. If a school isn’t listed on the Department of Education’s website, you might want to avoid the school as if it had no accreditation whatsoever.
The schools listed below are all nationally accredited and their accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Schools are ranked solely on affordability according to tuition.
All data comes from school websites and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Top 10 Nationally Accredited Online Colleges
1. California Coast University
Founded in 1973, California Coast University is a private liberal arts school based out of Santa Ana, California. With around 8,000 students enrolled at any given time, the school is committed to providing an affordable education in a flexible, online format. Being designed for working professionals, CCU’s individualized programs of study can be completed at your own pace and are offered in an accelerated format so you can finish a bachelor’s or master’s degree in as little as nine months and a doctorate in three years. This online university offers multiple degree options from associates to doctorate degrees.
In addition to those features, CCU’s rolling admission means you can apply and be accepted at any time throughout the year. Committed to flexibility and ease of access, this accredited online college has no physical campus, which means they are fully committed to the distance learning experience in addition to being experts in online education. They offer programs of study in the fields of Arts and Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Criminal Justice, Education, and Administration and Management.
2. Western Governors University
Western Governors University is a mission-driven, nonprofit university known as a pioneer in online learning. The school was founded in 1997 by a group of governors concerned that the traditional model of higher education was simply not going to be adequate for the needs of 21st-century students.
Since the 1990s, WGU has recognized the value of the internet for providing education to students wherever they lived and on a schedule that worked for their busy, working lives. Even their mascot, Sage, the Night Owl, was adopted to symbolize students who need to adapt their studies to fit around their jobs, families, and lives.
WGU uses a cutting-edge, competency-based system, meaning students advance through their degrees at the pace at which they understand the material, as opposed to the traditional semester-by-semester approach. Their programs are centered around the areas of Business, Education, Information Technology, and Healthcare & Nursing. Only WGU’s teacher certificate programs are nationally accredited. CAEP will grant regional accreditations to all other programs until 2025.
In 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked WGU as #10 in the category of most innovative colleges and universities. Additionally, the United States Distance Learning Association has awarded WGU the 21st Century Award for Best Practices in Distance Learning, meaning it is a top, best nationally accredited online college.
3. Grantham University
Initially founded in 1951 in Southern California, Grantham University outgrew the traditional campus experience in the 1990s when it harnessed the power of the internet to reach students across the country. What was once a school that focused on radio and electronics for returning military and working women has evolved into an online school with programs in a broad area of studies.
Today, their curriculum features over fifty degree programs, including studies in Engineering and Computer Science, Business, Nursing, Allied Health, and Liberal Arts programs through their College of Arts and Sciences. Grantham specializes in students who don’t fit the traditional scholarly mold: first-generation students, active-duty military personnel, military veterans, and busy entrepreneurs.
Since 2006, Grantham has been recognized for numerous awards in the areas of University Excellence, Military Friendliness, and Quality Education. In 2018, Grantham was recognized in a national award for most diverse colleges as #33.
4. Columbia Southern University
Columbia Southern University’s mission since its foundation in 1993 has been to provide affordable, high-quality online learning paired with general education skills that enable life-long success in both the educational and professional worlds. A digital university based out of Orange Beach, Alabama, it values a student-first, family-oriented culture that caters to non-traditional students who have jobs and families to balance alongside their studies.
CSU has a full range of studies available at the certificate, associate, bachelor, master, doctorate levels in academic programs include occupational safety and health, fire administration, criminal justice, business administration, human resource management, health care administration, and more. As an accredited online college, they specialize in adult and non-traditional learners who are looking to balance their education with their jobs and families.
CSU was recently recognized by college ranking authority TheBestSchools.Org as #13 on a list of most popular online colleges, making it one of the top nationally accredited online colleges.
5. American Public University System
Recognized as a top university for professionals in the military, national security, and public safety sectors, the American Public University System bridges the classroom to the workplace with online education. The school was founded in 1991 by a former Marine Corps officer who wanted to offer career-focused, distance education for military students who were always on the move and unable to learn at a traditional, brick-and-mortar campus.
APUS’s specialty is professional, working adults looking to launch their careers in the fields of business, healthcare, education, and government. They offer over 200 academic programs in accredited areas related to Nursing, Public Health, Fire Service, and Cyber Defense Education. APUS has a particular focus on members of the military community, including active-duty personnel, veterans, national guard, reserve, and military spouses.
American Public University was listed as Unranked in Regional Universities South by U.S. News and World Report. APUS has also been recognized as a “Best for Vets College” by Military Times and a Top-Five Value Choice in the Washington Monthly College Rankings.
6. Abraham Lincoln University
Founded in 1996 by a Los Angeles attorney, Abraham Lincoln University is a law-focused school that offers in programs in business administration, general studies, criminal justice & legal studies. Named after Abraham Lincoln, ALU’s founder wanted the school’s mission to reflect Lincoln’s legacy as a self-taught lawyer who understood the importance of flexible, practical education and the need to develop the governing bodies of the U.S. through advancements in law.
ALU offers studies at all degree levels, including certificate programs, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. Graduates of their J.D. program become eligible to sit for the California bar exam after completing their studies. Known for its focus on preparing lawyers for future practice, ALU’s faculty are primarily practicing lawyers from institutions like Stanford University, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Loyola. Students can attend class in-person at ALU’s Los Angeles campus, online, or a mixed model of online and in-person classes.
7. Rasmussen College Online
Rasmussen College was founded in 1900 in Stillwater, Minnesota, as a school to educate America’s next skilled labor class. Since then, Rasmussen has expanded to physical campuses in Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Kansas as well as operating a robust digital school for distance learners. Rasmussen offers more than 30 online degree programs in the fields of Business, Design, Education, Health Sciences, Justice Studies, Nursing, and Technology. Credentials are available at the diploma, associate, and bachelor’s degree levels.
For each program, Rasmussen offers Flex Choice options like credit for prior learning, self-directed assessments, and competency-based education, which allow students to earn course credits without taking a class in the traditional format. For digital students, the school offers multiple innovative learning modalities, including online simulations and virtual labs, live interactive sessions, and practical, real-world experience to connect your education with your career.
8. Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Southwestern Oklahoma State University has a long reputation for high-quality academic programs and friendly staff and faculty. As a best nationally accredited online college, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Nursing & Allied Health, Education, Business, and Psychology.
With flexibility in mind for adult learners, their programs are offered in a variety of distance education formats, including online degree programs, interactive television (ITV), webinars, and blended programs that combine in-person classes with any of the distance options. Unlike universities that rely on the large lecture hall format, SOSU has an average class size of twenty students, so students can expect lots of undivided attention from faculty and staff.
Southwestern Oklahoma State University was ranked #96 in Regional Universities West by U.S. News & World Report.
9. American National University
ANU understands that the 21st-century student needs the flexibility to balance their studies with other aspects of their life, whether that’s employment, family, or military. An accredited online college for over 60 years, their areas of study are clustered around healthcare & nursing, information technology, and cybersecurity.
Their programs are available at all levels, including diploma & certificate programs, associates, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. Each program of study is structured in a convenient pathway, meaning you could begin by obtaining a certificate and work your way through the ranks to achieve higher degrees as you move through your career. Plus, their instructors are career professionals with hands-on experience in their academic fields.
ANU offers classes in a variety of formats, including fully online, on-campus, or blended degree programs that combine in-person instruction with online coursework. For maximum flexibility, on-campus classes are offered during both the day and evening, in addition to only being held once a week for maximum scheduling efficiency. If you’re local to one of their campuses, you can attend in-person at any of their locations in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In February 2018, ANU gained accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
10. ECPI University Online
Accreditation: ABHES, ACCET, and ACCSC
East Coast Polytechnic Institute was founded in 1966 with a focus on the areas of STEM and Healthcare. The school provides a student-centered, hands-on education that supports your success every step of the way with student services to employer partnerships. With a strong career focus and an eye on technology, they earned the nickname “America’s Mobile University” and even have an exclusive app for students on-the-go. If you prefer face-to-face instruction, you could attend class at any one of their physical campuses in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Florida.
ECPI’s academic programs have a strong spotlight on Engineering Technology, Information Technology, Business, Criminal Justice, Nursing, and Health & Clinical Sciences. Designed for career-learners, they offer programs in accelerated formats so students can finish their associate’s degrees in 1.5 years and bachelor’s degrees in 2.5 years. To best accommodate working professionals, classes are offered in a multitude of formats for maximum flexibility, like day, evening, and weekend classes on campus, in addition to fully online courses for students who don’t live near campus.ECPI has received numerous awards for its student-focused curriculum, including U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 rankings of America’s best colleges and universities, Top School by Military Advanced Education, and the National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
See the full list of rankings below, including Bible colleges. If you’re wondering what online colleges are nationally accredited, this will show you the best accredited online colleges.
Full List of the Top 41 Nationally Accredited Online Colleges
|California Coast University||DEAC||$4,725|
|Western Governors University||DEAC||$6,070|
|Columbia Southern University||DEAC||$6,600|
|American Public University System||DEAC||$6,880|
|Abraham Lincoln University||DEAC||$7,500|
|Rasmussen College Online||ABHES||$10,935|
|Southwestern Oklahoma State University||ABHES||$13,905|
|American National University||DEAC||$14,886|
|ECPI University Online||ABHES, ACCET, and ACCSC||$16,039|
|Independence University||ACCSC, CCNE, and CoARC||$16,968|
|The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division||ACICS||$17,014|
|Eastern Kentucky University||ACCET||$18,250|
|Keiser University eCampus||ABHES||$18,488|
|Southwestern Assemblies of God University||ABHE||$19,994|
|California Institute of Advanced Management||ACICS||$20,000|
|Ohio Christian University||ABHE||$20,240|
|Toccoa Falls College||ABHE||$22,104|
|Columbia International University||ABHE||$22,390|
|Virginia College Online||ACICS||$22,600|
|Full Sail University||ACCSC||$23,694|
|LA Film School – Online||ACCET and ACCSC||$29,500|
|San Diego Christian College||TRACS||$30,438|
|Miller-Motte College Online||ACICS|
$10,800 – $11,740
$11,581 – $16,246
|Purdue University Global||DEAC|
$11,581 – $16,246
|Carrington College||ABHES and ACCSC|
$13,975 – $54,125
|Brookline College Online||ABHES and ACICS|
$14,500 – $15,515
|Bryan University Online||ACCSC|
$15,400 – $15,447
|Ultimate Medical Academy||ABHES|
$15,500 – $15,550
|Pinnacle Career Institute Online||ACCSC and ACICS|
$15,765 – $20,465
|Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts Online||ACCET|
$23,900 – $23,982
|Kansas Christian College||ABHE||$5,460 – $7,640|
|Miller-Motte Technical College Online||ACICS||$9,500 – $12,420|
Thanks to technological advances like the internet, it is easier than ever to attend college. What once required four or more years of moving to a new city and living away from home can now be achieved from your computer wherever you are in the world.
Quite a few schools have entered the online education arena, but some of them are much more reputable than others. Nationally accredited online colleges have official recognition as schools that provide a high-quality education for an affordable price with measurable career outcomes for their graduates.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best accredited online colleges?
The best nationally accredited online colleges are
- California Coast University
- Western Governors University
- Grantham University
- Columbia Southern University
- American Public University System
- Abraham Lincoln University
- Rasmussen College Online
- Southwestern Oklahoma State University
- American National University
- ECPI University Online
How do I know if an online college is legitimate?
Read this article on accreditation to help you decide.
Is SNHU Online Nationally Accredited?
No. SNHU is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, Inc. (NECHE). See: https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/faqs