Online degrees offer a variety of benefits to college students, regardless of location. One of the primary advantages of attending school online rather than on campus is affordability. Online programs tend to require fewer resources than traditional degree programs and are therefore more cost effective. Many of the most affordable online colleges are able to charge online students lower tuition rates by cutting back on classroom use and teaching materials, which makes online degrees especially affordable and allows greater access to students for whom traditional higher education may not be feasible.
Student Debt is on the Rise
Further driving the increase of affordable online colleges is the upward swing of tuition prices at many schools. It may not be surprising that college tuition is both expensive and can incur years of debt post-graduation, reaching an all-time high in recent years. As of 2015, nearly 70% of college graduates faced a debt of at least $30,000, compared to less than half of students with debt among their predecessors’ generation in 1993.
In 2016, the average amount of student debt for college undergraduates continued its steady climb, totaling $1.3 trillion in the U.S. alone. The majority of students can expect to owe at least $300 per month for ten years just to repay the funds they borrowed to put toward a college education.
The largest number of college students who graduate with debt enter into what is called a Level Student Loan Repayment Plan, to be paid off in less than ten years. While admirable, this type of repayment plan is overly ambitious for many students, who struggle to meet minimum monthly payments and repay their loans while also starting their careers in the first ten years post-graduation. The second-most concentrated borrower group enroll in Income-Based Repayment (RBI), a type of plan that caps monthly payments at 15% of the student’s discretionary income over the course of 25 years, at which point any remaining debt is forgiven. Though 10 to 25 years may seem like a lifetime to owe payments on college loans, it is the reality for most college students who did not graduate from cheap online schools.
Saving Money With Cheap Online Colleges
The term “cheap” can sometimes be interpreted as negative, though in this case, we view it as being interchangeable with “affordable.” Just because cheap online colleges cost less than an expensive, Ivy League, private school, it does not necessarily make them any less reputable or effective in providing a high-quality education experience.
With skyrocketing tuition costs and campus-based fees, students in traditional programs are subject to countless additional charges, for everything from using the library, to living on campus, to maintaining the rec center facilities. This is where online programs can help save students from excessive fees and expenses. Degrees are available at many cheap online schools for a fraction of the cost of traditional programs offered on campus. Many have a price tag similar to in-state tuition, which tends to be more affordable than out-of-state tuition. In some cases, even online programs that verge on the pricier side still cost less than traditional programs for students from out of state.
Source: Online Learning Consortium
Attending the cheapest online college that offers your program of choice also provides additional benefits apart from the financial. Online learning allows extra flexibility beyond traditional programs for students who have full-time or part-time jobs. Completing online coursework from a distance can help the many college students who are working, allowing them to continue earning money to pay for living expenses for themselves and/or their family while going to school, versus having to work around strict classroom hours and commuting to and from campus.
In addition, many programs offered by cheap online colleges can be completed in an accelerated format, allowing students to complete a full course load and earn a degree in a shorter amount of time. Students may also be eligible to test out of basic prerequisite courses, thus reducing the number of courses — and cost of tuition per unit — required to complete their degree.
Because affordability plays such an important role in deciding to pursue online education, we have assembled a list for prospective college students of the cheapest online colleges and universities. Keep in mind that even the cheapest online college can offer a high-quality education.
Find Affordable Online Colleges
We have rounded up online colleges with tuition that is less than $500 per credit hour.
*The schools listed above are sponsored. Sponsored school listings are distinct paid advertisements and are clearly marked with a “SPONSORED” or “FEATURED” tag to distinguish them from editorially ranked schools. Learn more about how rank schools or contact us with questions.