There are hundreds of colleges that offer accredited online degrees, but finding the least expensive option can be tricky. In this article we list the 9 least expensive online options for getting an accredited college degree online in the United States plus an even less expensive option for earning a college degree from a school with no on-campus programs that is accepted all over the world. But before you go too far in your search for the cheapest online college degrees, take our quiz to make sure you are someone who is ready for learning online.
Is Online Learning Really for You?
Online learning isn’t for everyone. Some students get better outcomes — they get better grades, they graduate sooner, and they get better job offers — if they take most or all of their college coursework in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms.
If you can answer six or more of these questions with a “yes,” then you should do well in an online degree program. But if you answer “yes” to five questions or fewer, maybe you should look for in-person options for a low-cost degree.
Do you have a compelling reason to take a college class online?
The most common reason for taking a college course online is very simple: There wasn’t enough room in the class when your time came to register. Thousands of college students all over the country have to delay graduation or take heavy course loads later because they couldn’t get a class that they needed. Not being able to register for a face-to-face class experience is a compelling reason to take a college class online.
A close second in the list of best reasons for taking a college class online is geography. As you go down the list of colleges we recommend a little later in this article, you will notice that many of them are located in the American West. It’s not unusual for students in the West to live 100, 200, or 300 or more miles from the physical classroom where their college course is being taught.
Colleges teach remote classes synchronously, over closed circuit TV (CCTV) or by Skype and Zoom. If you sign up for a synchronous online course, you have to be present and ready to participate in class with everyone else who is taking it, even if you are taking the course online.
When you sign up for an asynchronous course, you can listen to lectures and do your assignments whenever you like, although the college is likely to have firm dates for starting and finishing the course and for taking exams.
Do you have enough self-discipline to do your assignments on time?
Self-discipline is a key to success in a remote learning environment. To succeed with online coursework for your online college degree, you need to be able to motivate yourself to complete assignments and take tests on time. Or you need to find a pod of fellow students to help you stay motivated.
Do you like learning alone?
Many students like the social component of taking face-to-face classes. If learning alone leaves you feeling socially deprived, you need to find other ways to get your fix of human interaction so you will be emotionally ready to complete your classwork.
Are you an active learner?
When you are taking a synchronous course online, you attend lectures with everybody else in your class and you can ask questions with everyone else in your class. When you are taking an asynchronous class online, you will need to expend extra effort to get the answers you need to master the course. Active learners get better results than passive learners in an online environment. But if your style of learning is to soak up information like a sponge, you can learn how and when to interact with professors and fellow students even in an online class.
Are you ready to spend four to seven hours of work on your own for every credit hour you earn online?
Smart students sometimes get shocking results the first time they take an exam in their online classes. When you take an online course in college, you have to put in the time to learn the subject. For some courses, you only need to put in about four hours for every hour of class. Some online courses will take a lot more of your time.
Are you comfortable reading and following instructions? Are you OK with written interaction with your professors and classmates?
With very few exceptions (such as when you are practice-teaching for your teaching certificate if you choose to work on a degree in education), you won’t have any face-to-face interaction with professors when you work on your degree online. To succeed with online learning, you need to be OK with feedback by chat and email.
Are you willing to participate in discussions online?
Class participation is important to your success even in online courses. You need to be ready to participate in class even if the people with whom you are interacting are in a different place and even if they are responding to you hours, days, or weeks later. But if you participate in social media, you shouldn’t have a lot of trouble with this online learning requirement.
Will you take the initiative to contact your professors when you have a question?
Teachers aren’t psychics. They will not answer questions you don’t ask. You need to get into the habit, if you aren’t already, of getting your professor’s attention — politely — when you have a question.
And can you deal with delays when you contact your professors?
The answers to your course questions may not be immediate. You will often have to wait a few hours to a few days to hear back from your professors after you ask a question or make a request.
Can you cope with electronic glitches?
Every online course system occasionally displays a few bugs. And it’s not unheard of for online learning systems to be hacked. The ability to keep your cool when your online connection goes down is part of the basic requirements for online learning success.
How We Ranked Online Degree Programs
We gathered data from the 2020-2021 version of the College Navigator Database to look at college characteristics such as annual tuition charges and whether tuition costs more for out-of-state students, financial aid, graduation rates, freshman retention, online technology, and reputation with employers. Then we double-checked that information against the websites of the colleges to look for the absolutely, positively least expensive online degree programs, none of which charges more than $11,000 a year.
And then we narrowed down our list some more:
- We only list schools that are regionally accredited. There’s no point in spending lots of time and lots of money getting a degree that won’t get you a job.
- We only list schools that offer 10 or more options for your major (although our really, really inexpensive option #10, a school with $0 tuition, only offers two majors).
- We only list schools that charge all students, no matter where they live, less than $12,500 per year.
We don’t list some of the best-known online degree programs because they are prohibitively expensive, and most of them don’t do a great job of helping their students succeed. These programs are run by real universities with a track record of helping their students find new careers at higher pay with greater job stability. These programs work for their students.
We’ll start with the cheapest online degree option in the USA and work up our list of great schools that charge low tuition.
1 Great Basin College
- In-State Tuition for 2020: $3,248 per year.
- Out-of-State Tuition for 2020: $10,603 per year.
- Number of Students Enrolled: 4,000
If you happen to be a Nevada resident, there is no cheaper online degree than the program at Great Basin College. But even if you aren’t a Nevada resident, it’s still a great deal.
Online classes are nothing unusual at Great Basin College.
The majority of Great Basin College’s 4,000 students take some classes online because of the considerable distances away from campus, often hundreds of miles, they live in small communities throughout Nevada and in neighboring states. Many courses at Great Basin College are “Internet-enhanced,” meaning they are taught over the Internet but at fixed times and dates so students throughout the West can take them.
Great Basin College offers 7 bachelor’s degrees, 13 associate degrees, and 10 certificate programs online. There are fully online associate degree programs in business, early childhood education, English, graphic communications, and social sciences. There BA programs for English and social science majors, an RN to BSN program, and BAS degree programs for digital information technology, human services, land surveying and geomatics, and management. There are fully-online continuing education programs in computing and healthcare training.
2 Brigham Young University — Idaho
- Tuition (no matter where you live): $4,118 per year.
- Number of Students Enrolled: 19,300
Brigham Young University in Idaho is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. LDS institutions tend to have very low tuition charges, and BYU — Idaho states that most students will spend less money on tuition for their entire online than they would for a single year at almost any other brick-and-mortar public, private, or community college.
As an LDS institution, it offers some online degrees that you can’t find at most other places, such as associate’s degrees in family history research and marriage and family studies and a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. BYU — Idaho offers an online Bachelor of Applied Business Management in accounting, finance, marketing, or management. There is a Bachelor of Applied Technology degree for network administrators, a Bachelor of Applied Health for careers with public health departments, occupational safety departments, and church wellness centers, and a Bachelor of Professional Studies degree for which students can earn up to three certificates in fields ranging from accounting to hospitality management to agribusiness. Certificates can be (and usually are) earned separately from degrees so students can have tangible evidence of their progress early in their college career.
4 Thomas Edison State University
- Tuition (no matter where you live, but you have to get a tuition waiver): $6,384 per year
- Number of Students Enrolled: 10,900
Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey offers an astonishing range of majors in its online bachelor’s program. We list them below. And if you struggled with your SATs or ACTs, there’s good news for you. Thomas Edison University has an open admissions policy. If you apply, you will be admitted. With recent changes in tuition policy giving out-of-state students a chance to pay in-state rates, many online students will find Thomas Edison State University worth careful investigation.
5 Chadron State College
- Tuition (no matter where you live): $7,384 per year
- Number of Students Enrolled: 1600
Nebraska-based Chadron State College offers some majors you don’t find at every online school. There are bachelor’s programs in agribusiness, mathematics, geoscience (summer attendance at field camps is required), and consumer and family sciences. Your transcript from Chadron State won’t list whether courses were taken online or in traditional classrooms, and the college emphasizes working with you to complete your degree in the least time possible.
6 Minot State University
- Tuition (no matter where you live): $7,895 per year if you take 12 hours a semester
- Number of Students Enrolled: 1600 (including students who take some courses on campus)
What’s the CCAF AU-ABC program?
Minot University is a partner of the Air University. Their online programs are a great way for Airmen who have an associate’s degree from Air University to finish a bachelor’s degree with just 60 more semester hours. But if you need to study a programming language to complete your degree (as with the Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Business Information Technology program), you will have to take it at a collaborating institution.
7 Ambridge University
- Tuition (no matter where you live): $7,500
- Number of Students Enrolled: 175
Tiny Ambridge university is a college associated with the Churches of Christ in northern Alabama. What it lacks in size it makes up in just enough personal attention for working adults seeking degrees in business administration, general studies, or theology. Discounted tuition is possible for those in active military service and first responders.
8 American Public University
- Tuition (no matter where you live): $8,550
- Number of Students Enrolled: 36,000
You can’t find an online degree program with more majors than American Public University. This publicly traded, for-profit college offers degrees in over 200 fields. There are degree programs in business, criminal justice, data science, electrical engineering, reverse logistics management, military history, nursing, retail management, and even religion. American Public University is part of the American Public University System (APUS), which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. You earn a real degree at American Public University, but you need to be highly self-motivated to succeed in your job search after you graduate.
9 University of Texas Permian Basin
- Tuition (no matter where you live): $9,570
- Number of Students Enrolled: 5,000
UT Permian Basin offers online degree programs for in-demand jobs you can’t find at other schools. For instance, it has a well-regarded Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science – Industrial Technology (BAAS-IT) degree in supply chain management. Supply chain managers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us, earn on average $74,750 per year. The program offers an online Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology for managing production in factories and in the oil field. Ten percent of established professionals in this field earn $134,000 per year.
UTPB offers online BBA degrees in marketing and management and online BA degrees in communication, political science, psychology, sociology, and humanities. There are also certificate programs that can be completed in as little as eight weeks.
There is an “86% to 99%” online program at West Texas A & M University that offers accredited degrees in business administration, criminal justice and emergency management. Because they are not completely online, we don’t include them in our list.
And let’s not overlook a program with $0 tuition.
University of the People, based in California, offers accredited online bachelor’s degrees in computer science, business administration, and health science. Tuition is free. But you do pay an “assessment fee” of $120 to get a grade in each course, or $4,860 for your entire degree program.
There are just a few more quick things you need to know about online degree programs.
The Pell Grant is a federally funded scholarship based on need. You can use your Pell Grant to pay for tuition for online degree programs.
College textbooks cost money. Choosing a program that uses ebooks provided by the school can save you several thousand dollars over the course of your undergraduate online studies.
And if these cheapest online degree institutions are still too expensive for you, you may be able to get your basics out of the way at an affordable community college.
Help us out!
We have made an effort to make sure we are giving you the very latest information about each school, but schools raise tuition, add majors, discontinue majors, and change their admission policies. We appreciate your updates of this information.
We’d also love to know about your personal experiences.
Have you graduated from one of these programs? Is there a great program we need to know more about? We welcome your comments below, and invite any updates on the information we provide for each school.