10 Most Affordable Accredited Online Colleges

Two decades ago, online courses were mostly limited to large state universities. Today, virtually every college and university has developed some form of an online program, including continuing professional education classes for working adults who may not be able to attend traditional courses. Online learning opens the door to flexible courses for everyone, regardless of lifestyle needs. It can be particularly helpful to older adults who want to take classes but are not able to commute or have limited childcare options.

Online learning is not new, but its success is a testament to the power of technology to improve access to and affordability of a college education. During this time of economic uncertainty, it’s important to find a college that is affordable.

Finding the cheapest online colleges can be tricky. Therefore, EDsmart has once again dug through the data trenches to find the cheapest online schools in the nation for our readers. Not only do these schools charge the cheapest tuition, but they have also been vetted for quality factors such as student-faculty ratio, freshman retention, published rankings, graduation rate, reputation with employers, financial aid, and online technology.

Studies show that most online students prioritize affordability over other factors when searching for a college to attend. The fact that you’re here on this page shows that you are a smart investor looking for an inexpensive degree in order to get the best value for your dollar. Looking at tuition is a great place to start your search. Another often overlooked factor is school accreditation.

The schools on our list of most affordable online colleges are all regionally accredited–which, in our opinion, offers the best outcomes with the greatest opportunities. These colleges also offer affordable in-state-tuitions of less than $8,000 and in-state-tuitions of less than $9,500. At the 10 colleges with affordable online degrees tuition costs come out to an average of $6,326 in-state tuition and $7,469 out-of-state tuition.

 

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.


 

Of the 10 most affordable online colleges, two are in Texas, with the eight remaining schools located in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, West Virginia, Alabama, North Dakota, Nebraska, and New Jersey.

While tuition of $9,500 may seem out of reach for some, the benefits of attaining a degree outweigh the costs when taking into account that on average, bachelor’s degree holders earn $26,000 more per year than professionals with only a high school diploma. Beyond that, bachelor’s degree holders see lower unemployment rates than those with high school diplomas and no degree.

Ranking Criteria

We gathered the most recent data from the NCES College Navigator database [2021] to narrow down four-year colleges offering extremely inexpensive online degree programs, with tuitions under $10,000 per year.

  1. Any schools charging substantially higher out-of-state tuitions were removed from our list.
  2. For-profit colleges that didn’t hold one of the six regional accreditations were also removed from our list.
  3. Only schools that offer 10+ online degree programs were added to the list.

This ranking is created and updated yearly to help online students find affordable online colleges that will give them the best chance to earn a college degree at a price they can afford.

10 Most Affordable Accredited Online Colleges


#1 GREAT BASIN COLLEGE

TUITION: $3,248

Cheapest Accredited Online Colleges - 1 great basin collegeGreat Basin College is a small community college located in Elko, Nevada. Great Basin College has a long history of serving the needs of the community and its economy. The school offers associate and bachelor’s degree programs.

Great Basin College is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. This public, state-funded school is part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, which serves over 4,000 students. GBC offers a 100% acceptance rate. In 2021, Great Basin College ranked #135 Safest College Campus in America, #302 Most Liberal College in America, and #429 Best College Campus in America by Niche.com. Great Basin offers 21 associate degrees, 10 bachelor’s degrees, and 19 certificate programs to online students.

GBC currently has about 4,000 students enrolled annually online. Popular majors include Liberal Arts, Nursing, Science Technologies, Teacher Education, and Electronics Engineering.

Fully online programs include associate degrees in Associates of Arts, Business, English, Social Science, Graphic Communications and Early Childhood Education, Associate of Applied Science degrees, and bachelor’s degrees including a BA in English, BA in Social Science, BSN in Nursing (RN to BSN), and BAS degrees in Digital Information Technology Emphasis, Human Services, Land Surveying/Geomatics Emphasis, and Management and Supervision. This school offers 19 certificate programs and fully online continuing education programs in HealthCare Training and Computing Technology. Popular majors include business, early childhood education, elementary education, nursing, and liberal arts and humanities. With the lowest tuition on our list, Great Basin College is the cheapest online college for 2021.


#2 BYU-IDAHO

TUITION: $4,300

Cheapest Online Colleges - 2 BYU-Idaho

Source: MormonHub.com

Brigham Young University-Idaho is located in Rexburg Idaho. Owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this non-profit college educates over 49,000 students in multiple locations throughout the world. 15,000+ of those students are enrolled in online classes via BYU – Pathway Worldwide. Online degree programs are offered from BYU-Idaho and Ensign college. BYU-Idaho was recently named the 16th best university in Regional Colleges West, #23 in Top Performers on Social Mobility and #75 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs by U.S. News & World Report, and #3 in Most Conservative Colleges in America by Niche.com.

BYU-Idaho’s Pathway WorldWide offers nearly 52 online certificates and degrees; 7 associate degrees, 6 bachelor’s degrees, and 39 certificate programs at a very affordable price. Some popular online programs include a bachelor’s degree in Business Management (entrepreneurship, marketing, supply chain and operations management, and more), Public Health, and Marriage & Family Studies, and an associate’s in Family History Research, Web Design & Development, and a variety of other online class offerings. Popular majors include liberal arts and humanities, nursing, information science, business, and public health education BYU-Idaho provides a 20-year Net ROI of $534,000, according to Payscale.com in 2021.

PathwayConnect students can qualify for admission into BYU-Idaho’s online degree programs by successfully earning a “B” average in PathwayConnect and completing the first course of their chosen BYU-Idaho certificate.

Visit Brigham Young University – Idaho’s Accredited Online Programs

 


#3 UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS PERMIAN BASIN

TUITION: $4,837

Cheapest Accredited Online Colleges - 4 University of Texas Permian BasinUT Permian Basin is a fast-growing, public research institution established by oil enthusiast Bill Noël in 1973. This school is home to over 5,000 students on the Odessa campus and online school. The University of Texas Permian Basin was recently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the West’s 64th best college, 30th best public school, and 55th in Top Performers in Social Mobility in the nation in 2022. The University of Texas Online Consortium (UTOC), of which UTPB is a part, offers some of the cheapest online degrees and certificate programs (6 bachelor’s, 5 master’s, and 3 certificate and endorsement programs), some of which only last 8 weeks. Students can earn an online master’s degree, online bachelor’s program, and/or online certificate in programs such as Psychology, Business Administration, Communications, Sociology, Criminal Justice, Kinesiology, Special Education, and more.

As of 2022, this school received an overall grade of B- at Niche, UT Permian Basin was ranked #1 in our 2018 Most Affordable Online Colleges ranking.


#4 WESTERN GOVERNORS UNIVERSITY

TUITION: $6,670

Cheap Online Colleges - 3 Western Governors UniversityWGU is a private, non-profit NWCCU-accredited college that offers online degree programs for over 72,000 students. This institution is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah with six affiliated schools offering over 60-degree programs. For the 2022 year, WGU offers six bachelor’s and five master’s programs in business, four bachelor’s and eight master’s in health profession programs, seven bachelor’s and three masters in information technology programs, 10 bachelor’s and 19 master’s in education programs.

For many of WGU’s cheap online programs, many companies’ tuition reimbursement programs cover most or all educational costs for students. WGU offers a 100 percent admission rate and very low tuition.

Western Governors was recently awarded the Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education by Sloan Consortium and named the #5 Best Value College in Utah in 2022, #812 of 1,572 Best Value College in America, #57 Best College for Nursing in America, and #3 Best College for Nursing in Utah by Niche.com. According to GradReports.com, 78 percent of students reported an improvement in career prospects after earning an online degree from Western Governors and 73 percent said they would recommend this school to others. Some of the more popular majors at Western Governors are nursing, business administration and management, elementary education, information technology, and computer information systems.

Visit Western Governors University’s Accredited Online Programs

 

#5 AMRIDGE UNIVERSITY

TUITION: $6,950

Cheapest Online Colleges - 6 Amridge UniversityAmridge University, located in Montgomery, Alabama, is “where traditional and online education merges.” This co-educational, private liberal arts college is affiliated with the Church of Christ and enrolls around 800 students in traditional and online degree programs. AU is Amridge University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees. According to StartClass, the most popular majors at Amridge are Biblical Studies, Human Development and Family Studies, Business Administration & Management, Criminal Justice & Corrections, and Human Resource Management. This school offers both very affordable tuition and a great net price with a 100% admissions acceptance rate.

Amridge University offers 40 total degrees and 22 undergraduate and graduate degree programs online. Affordable online college degrees are offered through the Turner School of Theology, School of Human Services, School of Continuing Ed, College of Business & Leadership as well as College of General Studies. This school is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Visit Amridge University’s Accredited Online Programs

 

#6 THOMAS EDISON STATE UNIVERSITY

TUITION: $7,182

Affordable Online Colleges - 9 Thomas Edison State UniversityTESU is a public, state-funded higher education institution educating more than 17,200 students online and on-campus. In 2011, Thomas Edison earned the National University Technology Distance Education Innovation Award. This school offers a 100% admissions acceptance rate and 64 undergraduate and graduate online degrees in multiple areas of study, including Liberal Arts and Humanities, Accounting, Medical Assisting, Nursing, and Business Administration and Management, to name a few. Some popular programs at Thomas Edison State University are the associate’s in Nuclear Engineering Technology, Bachelor’s in Homeland Security, Master’s in Hospitality Management, and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

TESU offers 13 online associate degree programs, 34 bachelor’s degree programs online, 17 online graduate degree programs, and multiple undergraduate and graduate certificate programs online. This cheap online college is accredited by MSCHE. TESU has an open admissions policy. TESU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

 


#7 AMERICAN PUBLIC UNIVERSITY

TUITION: $7,360

Cheapest Online schools - 8 American Public University
APU is a private, for-profit online college located in Charles Town, West Virginia, with six academic schools. American Public University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and received the Sloan Consortium Effective Practice Award. Home to more than 98,400 students, CollegeFactual places APU as the #1 Best Colleges in West Virginia, and #227 Best College in the Nation. 76 percent of graduates reported an improved career after earning a degree from APU, according to GradReports.org, while 69 percent of students said they’d recommend this school to others. Niche.com ranked the school #29 in Best Colleges for Information Technology in America, #203 in Best Colleges for Business in America, and #263 in Best Colleges for Criminal Justice in America.

American Public University offers 190+ cheap online degrees and certificate programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels including Military history, Reverse Logistics Management, Space Studies, Electric Engineering, Business, Criminal Justice, Health Sciences, Sports Management, and more. APU offers an open admissions policy and a 93% freshman retention rate.

 


#8 CHADRON STATE COLLEGE

TUITION: $7,634

Cheapest Online Schools - 8 Chadron State CollegeChadron State educates over 2,500 students on-campus and online. This public, co-educational college was founded in 1911 and is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of North Central Association of Colleges and Schools with specialized accreditation for some of its programs. This college is ranked as the #10 Best Value College in Nebraska, #183 in Most Conservative Colleges in America, and #458 in Best Colleges for Education in America according to Niche.com. Along with the rankings, Niche.com gave Chadron State College an overall grade rating of B-.

U.S. News ranks Chadron State at #75 in Top Performers on Social Mobility and #40-52 in Top Public Schools. This affordable online school offers 8 online degrees with no out-of-state tuition or add-ons. Popular degrees at Chadron State include bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration, Family and Consumer Sciences, and a Master of Organizational Management. Five Popular majors with the most graduates include Business, Elementary Education, Liberal Arts and Humanities, Criminal Justice Corrections, and Crop and Soil Sciences. Chadron State offers flat-rate tuition so in-state and out-of-state students pay the same tuition.

Visit Chadron State College’s Accredited Online Program

 

#9 MINOT STATE UNIVERSITY

TUITION: $7,896

Cheapest Online schools - 7 Minot State UniversityMSU is North Dakota’s 3rd largest public, co-educational Master’s I Institution. This school offers a 12:1 student-faculty ratio in an online and on-campus setting with over 2,832 undergraduate program students. U.S. News and World Report rank Minot State at #33 in Top Public Schools, #104 in Regional Universities West, and #155 in Top Performers on Social Mobility in 2022. Niche.com ranks MSU as the #182 in Top Public Universities in America, #211 Best Small College in America, #3 Top Public Universities in North Dakota, and #8 Best Value Colleges in North Dakota.

This school was ranked 1321st in-state and 1322nd out-of-state on the 2020-2021 PayScale College ROI Report with a $139,000 return on investment. MSU is fully accredited by HLC-NCA. MSU online offers 20 inexpensive online degree programs with popular programs in Business Administration & Management, Social Work, Special Education, Nursing, and Teacher Education.

Visit Minot State University’s Accredited Online Programs

 


#10 WEST TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY

TUITION: $8,456

Cheapest Online Colleges - 10 West Texas A&M UniversityWest Texas A&M University is a public, co-educational research institution with an enrollment of over 9,400 students in the Amarillo, Texas Metro area, satellite campuses, and online. WTAMU has received many prestigious rankings including U.S. News and World Report Best Online Programs Rankings at #21 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs, #67 Best Online MBA Programs, #13 Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans, #17 Best Online Master’s in Education Programs for Veterans, #15 Best Online Master’s in Computer Information Technology Programs, to name a few. Niche.com ranks this school as the #38 Best Hispanic-Serving Institutions in America, #20 Best College in Texas, and #7 Top Public University in Texas.

WTAMU’s distance education division offers 14 undergraduate, 19 graduate, and 1 Doctoral program and hybrid program through the SREB Electronic Campus. A few of the most affordable online degree programs include Economics, Criminal Justice, a Healthcare MBA, and Finance from associate to bachelor degrees. WTAMU is part of the Texas A&M University System.


Make Online College More Affordable

1. Earn credits or an associates degree at a local two-year college – The College Board found that tuition and fees for public in-district two-year colleges (community and/or junior colleges) were $3,800 during the 2021-2022 school year – compared to $10,740 at a public four-year universities. This means taking your first two years of college at an inexpensive local junior or technical institute could actually save you some money.

2. Earn credits while in high school through IB programsAdvanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (IB) coursework is an excellent way for students of all levels to earn college credits. Public high schools only charge a small fee when it comes time to take the associated AP/IB tests, which means that these exams won’t break your budget.

3. Establish residency in another state – It’s worth noting that in-state tuition varies. Sometimes, it may make sense to establish residency in a different state so you can pay less for your education by paying in-state instead of out-of-state tuition.

4. Apply for the FAFSA – The U.S Department of Education provides an estimated $46 billion annually in grants and scholarships, or approximately $8,390 per student–that’s well enough to cover the cost of two-year college tuition and almost enough to cover the average cost for tuition at public universities. Funds are given on a rolling basis, so students should complete their FAFSA as quickly as possible. From StudentAid.gov, “Most colleges send out financial aid award letters around the same time as admission offer letters. However, the timing can vary from college to college depending on factors such as the date that you submitted your FAFSA form and the number of FAFSA forms the college received.”

5. Take 12-18 credits per semester – Some four-year institutions offer flat tuition rates for students who take 12 to 18 credits per term. This means that by taking the maximum amount of classes, you can get a lower cost and graduate more quickly. For Example, Michigan residents are able and eligible to receive scholarship funds from Michigan Higher Education Aid (MHEA) if they meet certain criteria like earning an annual income below $65K; providing proof of adequate financial aid award such as Pell Grants or loans each year; enrolling full-time status during semesters when courses are offered which covers fees associated with lab space/equipment usage).

How to Pay for Your Online Degree

For any prospective student, finding the right degree program can be difficult. This is especially true of those whose top priority is maintaining a budget. If you’re looking for ways to minimize college costs, simplify your postsecondary educational experience, and make the most of your time and money, you’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This determines your eligibility for scholarships, loans, grants, and work-study. Federal scholarships and field-specific or merit-based scholarships are also available on an individual basis.

Current State of Online Learning

Because of COVID-19, many colleges shifted to offering online courses in 2020. Experts say that the shift will accelerate schools’ adaptation to and offerings of online degree programs. This growth is being seen across the nation.

cheap_online_colleges_school_offerings

“COVID-19 has been a paradigm-shifting moment for higher education, throwing online education into the spotlight like never before—but the need for accessible, affordable, blended, relevant, and high-quality online learning will extend far beyond the pandemic,” Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of the online higher education company 2U, wrote in an email to USNews.

More schools offering online or hybrid programs may drive down the cost, increasing affordable online college programs for students. Some online programs do not charge out-of-state tuitions, which can be significantly higher at some colleges and universities.

According to InsideHigherEd, there was a 93% increase in students that were enrolled in some type of online course between Fall 2019 and Fall 2020 from 3,016,944 to 5,825,723.

According to a BestColleges.com survey, the biggest challenges prospective students faced while searching for a college were estimating actual costs of enrolling in a program, finding a program that meets their needs and interests and applying for financial aid and identifying sufficient funding sources.

The survey also noted that the two main reasons for choosing online learning instead of campus-based programs were the COVID-19 pandemic and the convenience and flexibility that online programs can offer.

How to Make Online College More Affordable

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Many online students are using an employer tuition reimbursement to pay for their education. In a 2018 survey by Aslanian Market Research and Learning House, 23% of all past or current online undergraduate program student respondents and 32% of online graduate student respondents said they used tuition reimbursement from their employer to pay for their online degree. Experts recommend students ask their company’s HR for tuition reimbursement opportunities.

Scholarships & Grants for Online Students

Scholarships that are available for on-campus students are often available to online students.

Here are some resources for finding scholarships for online students.

Scholarships.com: Distance Learning Scholarships

Scholarships.com offers a list of over 40 scholarships for online students. This site offers information on each scholarship including amounts and deadlines.

Visit: https://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-type/distance-learning-scholarships/

Unigo: Online College Scholarships

Unigo.com offers a list of 58 scholarships for online students that includes information about each scholarship including award amounts, deadlines and links for applying.

Visit: https://www.unigo.com/scholarships/by-type/online-college-scholarships

GetEducated: Grants for Online College

GetEducated.com introduces the different types of grants for online college students and links to available grants. Types of grants include federal/public, state, private, institutional, need-based, merit-based, academic departmental, corporate and professional association grants. This site offers great information on grants for online students.

Visit: https://www.geteducated.com/free-college-scholarships/308-online-college-grant-and-free-money/

Cheapest Online Colleges FAQ

How much does an online college degree cost?

Tuition is one of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether or not an online bachelor’s degree program is right for you. Depending on a student’s residency status, living expenses, and other various costs, community colleges and in-state public institutions are your best bet.

Is online schooling a cheaper option?

If you decide to enroll in online schooling, any typical traditional college costs such as housing, transportation, and fees won’t be a concern. For out-of-state individuals, online schooling is not only generally cheaper than on-campus but convenient as well. The wide variety of online degrees can make enrolling in an online program cheaper than on-campus.

Can you use Pell Grants to pay for online schooling?

The Pell Grant Program is a federally-funded scholarship awarded to individuals in financial need that meet additional academic and annual income requirements. Any accredited college that awards federally recognized degrees will accept Pell Grant money to pay for any online course.

Where can I purchase cheap college textbooks online?

It’s no surprise that pinching pennies and pursuing an undergraduate degree go hand-in-hand for the majority of young, aspiring individuals. A smart student is one who knows how to allocate their resources and find the best deals on school supplies like textbooks. Buying secondhand, renting, reselling, and even getting a library card are all great ways to save yourself a couple of bucks.

Which affordable online college is the best?

In many cases, the best way to obtain affordable education is to start locally. Community colleges are highly likely to offer a variety of different options when it comes to foundational coursework in your field of interest, and at such a low cost, they are no doubt worth looking into. According to EDsmart’s 2021 cheapest online colleges ranking, Great Basin College is the best, affordable online college to offer a cheap online degree.

How do I minimize my overall costs?

A lot of college costs are the result of lifestyle choices, so really, it’s up to you. Depending on your housing situation, everyday expenses, and level of budget maintenance, you can minimize your college expenses by a significant amount.

What are the specific types of federal financial aid available to undergraduates?

Specifically, you can apply for federal grants, federal loans, work-study programs, and education tax credits or deductions. Grants and scholarships are the preferred mode of financial aid for the majority of college students because they don’t require a long-term repayment plan as federal loans do. Work-study programs enable students to actively pay for their college education through work with an organization, government agency, or on-campus position. The majority of students also qualify for education-related tax returns.

How do I complete a FAFSA?

To complete the FAFSA, you’ll need specific financial documents, create a federal student ID, follow all instructions on the FAFSA website, and submit your application for the designated year. More info can be found at studentaid.gov.

What does it mean when a school is “accredited”?

An accredited school provides its students with career-building opportunities and high-quality programs. Depending on whether a school’s accreditation is regional or national, the opportunities a school provides and the quality of its programs vary. Accredited degree programs are often more valuable to employers than non-accredited degrees.

Top 10 Cheapest Online Colleges

Rank School In-State Tuition
1 Great Basin College $3,248
2 BYU-Idaho $4,300
3 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin $4,837
4 Western Governors University $6,670
5 Amridge University $6,950
6 Thomas Edison State University $7,182
7 American Public University System $7,360
8 Chadron State College $7,634
9 Minot State University $7,896
10 West Texas A & M University $8,456

 

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

 

Further Resources

Best Online Colleges
Most Affordable Colleges
Accelerated Online Degree Programs (Associates, Bachelors. Masters)
Cheapest Online PHD Programs and Online Doctoral Programs
Cheapest Online Master’s Degree Programs
Best Nationally Accredited Online Colleges
Cheapest Affordable Online MBA Programs
Online Medical Assistant Programs

Sources

http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/
http://colleges.usnews.com/
http://www.niche.com/
Visit Great Basin College’s accredited online programs
Visit the University of Texas at Permian Basin’s Accredited Online Programs
Visit Thomas Edison State University’s Accredited Online Programs
Visit West Texas A&M University’s Accredited Online Programs
Visit American Public University’s Accredited Online Programs

Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.