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    Top 10 Cheapest Online PhD & Doctoral Programs in 2021 [Updated]

    August 2, 2021 | Staff Writers

    Cheapest Online PhD Programs
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    Deciding to pursue a graduate degree historically is not what a student would deal with trying to finance, especially without financial aid. For years, graduate students won scholarships or received tuition help from the school they achieved a graduate candidacy in since affordability was a big issue.

    5 Most Affordable PhD Programs

    Rank School Location
    1Texas Tech UniversityLubbock, Texas
    2New Mexico State UniversityLas Cruces, New Mexico
    3California Coast UniversitySanta Ana, California
    4Valdosta State UniversityValdosta, Georgia
    5The American College of EducationIndianapolis, Indiana

    No surprise, there were not many graduate students seeking doctorates, up until the 1990s. Then things began to change. As the effects of college education hit with generations seeking careers in the work world, higher degrees became popular. The master’s degree became the differentiator and the doctorate was the distinctive prize. That dynamic helped contribute to the rising demand for graduate studies, as well as the proliferation of new graduate programs. This demand only began to speed up and grow exponentially in the 2000s as the Internet became more and more established.

    So now, in 2021, doctorate programs are becoming well-entrenched as online programs. And competition will always breed better pricing. This list provides the cheapest online Ph.D. programs and their graduate schools as of 2021, and more are likely to come in the next few years as the education model continues to show success. To find out more about a particular school, perform a school search, keep reading about the most affordable online doctoral programs below, or contact us. We can provide options for additional in-depth research and details on request. We have also created a list of the fastest online doctoral programs.

    The Top 10 Cheapest Online PhD Programs

    1

    Texas Tech University

    • Lubbock, Texas
    • Graduation Rate: 60%
    texas tech university

    Since 1923 Texas Tech has been an institution in Lubbock, Texas. It was originally established as an institution to study and assist advancement in agriculture. Since then, the university has grown to offer multiple academic programs, among them well-established doctorate programs. Texas Tech has been well-engaged with building and offering online Ph.D. programs as well. Specifically, Texas Tech currently offers the following:

    Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Agriculture Education
    Doctor of Education in Higher Education
    Doctor of Philosophy in Systems and Engineering Management
    Doctor of Philosophy in Technical Communication and Rhetoric

    Among these programs, the Ph.D. in Education is the lowest cost, charging close to a community college price with a rate of $166.50 per credit. However, you do need to be an in-state resident. Otherwise, the cost jumps to a still affordable value of $274 per credit. The program, however, isn’t entirely online. Doctoral students do have to spend at least one week on campus a year and take an intensive phase in the program. Overall, the Ph.D. program takes 60 credits total and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Overview

    Cost: $274/credit
    In-Person Requirement: Yes, one week annually
    Program length: 60 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    2

    New Mexico State University

    • Las Cruces, New Mexico
    • Graduation Rate: 44%

    One of the oldtimers in terms of institutions created before 1900, New Mexico University has been a longtime resident of Las Cruces in the state, and it joins the modern world of digital education programs with at least four different online Ph.D. programs:

    Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership
    Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership
    Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum and Instruction
    Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing

    In terms of cost, New Mexico State offers affordable degree programs, only charging $278.60/credit as its state tuition for graduate classes. However, only state residents get the benefit of this low cost. Out of state students will have to be pay close to three times the resident cost. Regional residents who may qualify for multi-state education agreements might realize different prices as well, depending on their location.

    Similar to other schools, the doctorate programs at New Mexico State are either in the education field or in nursing. The length of the programs varies with a standard near 63 units while the Education Leadership degree is much longer totaling 78 credits. Each of the programs has some kind of in-person requirement, typically associated with the dissertation defense or orientation. New Mexico State University in general is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of College and Schools, but their education degree programs vary a bit. The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education is the basis for the Education Ph.D. program’s validity.

    School Overview

    Cost: $278.60/credit
    In-Person Requirement: Varies per program
    Program Length: Varies, 63 to 78 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    3

    California Coast University

    • Santa Ana, California

    An outlier among universities, California Coast University is a far younger institution that started in 1973. Operating its physical campus in Orange County, Southern California, the school offers three distinct online doctorate programs with a low cost of $290/credit. These programs include:

    Doctor of Education in Educational Administration
    Doctor of Education in Educational Psychology
    Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership

    All of these California Coast University Ed.D. programs focus on leadership as a common theme, whether the coursework centers on management or the organization of the educational institution. As part of this training, doctoral students will gain competency in and detailed exposure to educational thinking, measurement tools, scientific research interpretation, and analytical practice in how society and life impact education. The school’s distance learning programs are verified and accredited to graduate standards via the Distance Education Accreditation Commission.

    School Overview

    Cost: $290/credit
    In-Person Requirement: No
    Program Length: 66 Units
    Visit School Website
    4

    Valdosta State University

    • Valdosta, Georgia
    • Graduation Rate: 36%

    Situated in, aptly named, Valdosta, Georgia, the same-named State University has been teaching students since it opened in 1906. In a different path than the usual education-oriented programs, Valdosta provides a Ph.D. in Public Administration instead. This program will run a student $293/credit for attending and completion. The program itself uses coursework to train graduates on four core areas of public policy administration: analysis, leadership, communication, and management. Much of the program assumes the candidate already has a significant amount of experience in public administration and focuses on the specialization and enhancement of that experience with graduate-level training. Overall, students will spend 54 credit hours before completing the program, which includes a capstone project. There are residency seminars for in-person training which involve a one-week period each semester on campus.

    Enrollment requires prospective students to have a master’s degree from a prior university and is the baseline requirement for acceptance into the doctorate program.  GRE scores and an acceptable GPA are also necessary. Applicants can also expect to need to show their work experience on a robust resume, provide a statement of why the program is chosen and what will be done with the training in terms of goals, and three recommendation letters. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), including the online doctorate.

    School Overview

    Cost: $293/credit
    In-Person Requirement: Yes, one week per semester
    Program Length: 54 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    5

    The American College of Education

    • Indianapolis, Indiana

    The American College has been an aggressive player in distance learning higher education for quite a few years now, even though the institution was only established in 2005. With a restricted focus to just education programs, the American College offers both master’s degree and doctorate level training for students, providing multiple paths for advancement in education leadership roles. The cost of attendance in the Ph.D. program is currently $336/credit.

    Similar to other schools, the online doctoral degree in Education assumes a working experience and knowledge of the field. An ideal applicant already has a master’s degree of some type in organizational strategy, preferably education but an MBA or a master’s of science are viable. In addition, work at other schools can be transferred in, up to 18 credit hours. The program itself is entirely online with the use of virtual training and collaboration tools. Students are geared towards being on the frontline of pushing radical shifts in education with the newest and latest research. The entire doctorate path and program for the American College of Education is reviewed regularly and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

    School Overview

    Cost: $306/credit
    In-Person Requirement: No
    Program Length: 64 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    6

    University of West Georgia

    • Carrollton, Georgia
    • Graduation Rate: 39%

    Also in Georgia and situated in Carrolton since 1906, the University of West Georgia currently offers a doctorate in Education with three different flavors under the same degree:

    Nursing Education
    Professional Counselling and Supervision
    School Improvement

    The cost for attendance is approximately $312/credit, not including administrative fees per semester. Designed with a standard 60 credit program length for an accepted student, the West Georgia doctorate program allows a student 11 semester periods to complete the degree path, which includes 15 credits associated with successful completion of a dissertation. An adjustment is made reducing the program length to 39 credits for those who already have an Ed.S degree prior to entry. The ideal student will graduate with robust training in executive education leadership skills or be prepared to take on a higher education leadership position as part of the senior faculty. In general, the University of West Georgia is regularly reviewed and accredited like many institutions in the south by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC).

    School Overview

    Cost: $312/credit
    In-Person Requirement: No
    Program Length: Varies, 39 to 60 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    7

    University of Nevada

    • Reno, Nevada
    • Graduation Rate: 53%

    Established in 1864 and located in Reno, Nevada, the University of Nevada prides itself at an affordable $269/credit that beats out many schools offering bachelor’s degrees for three or four times as much. As an online college and educator as well, the University of Nevada offers the online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) as well as the Doctor in Judicial Studies. The nursing path is not the most high-demand degree, often being available for just a select group of advanced nursing professionals, like those already with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), who are seeking training for higher management or teaching positions themselves in nursing and healthcare. Rooted in evidence-based practice theory, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at the university allows two paths for candidates: either a master’s degree succession or a bachelor’s degree going direct to a doctorate level. Within the program, doctoral students get to choose from either the management-oriented Executive Nurse path or the Advanced Practice Nurse. If, however, a student comes via the bachelor’s degree in nursing path, then the student can choose from three different practice paths. Students have to attend at least two days for orientation and one day for defending a dissertation.

    The Judicial Studies degree is a restricted program in which only sitting judges can attend. The student must already have a master’s degree (usually a law degree by default) and three letters of recommendation.

    School Overview

    Cost: $314.25/credit
    In-Person Requirement: Yes, three days
    Program Length: Varies by program and degree status at entry
    Visit School Website
    8

    The University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    • Lincoln, Nebraska
    • Graduation Rate: 67%

    Right in the middle of the education doctorate (Ed.D.) market, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides on-campus classes in Lincoln, Nebraska, but offers an online Ph.D. program in Education with a cost of $326/credit. The school has been in operation since 1869, and the current doctorate program provides three different degrees to choose from:

    Doctor of Education in Educational Administration
    Doctor of Education in Educational Studies
    Doctor of Philosophy in Education Studies

    While Nebraska-Lincoln does service the general market for students seeking credentials to move to executive positions and leadership, the school’s doctorate program also focuses on education research with the Doctor of Philosophy in Education Studies. Designed more for the true academic, this doctorate degree level path can specialize in three additional areas from special education to teacher training to institutional administration.

    Even though the majority of the Nebraska-Lincoln doctorate path is online and can be taken anywhere with an Internet connection, each attending student has to participate in at least six hours of research meetings and seminars. The overall program will take 90 credit hours to complete, even though much of the content assumes a working knowledge of the education field in students. For accreditation, the university regularly reviewed and rated by the Higher Learning Commission.

    School Overview

    Cost: $357/credit
    In-Person Requirement: Yes
    Program Length: 90 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    9

    The University of the Cumberlands

    • Williamsburg, Kentucky
    • Graduation Rate: 78%

    Being one of the most diverse in doctoral online programs, the University of the Cumberlands offers online courses for graduate degrees that cover business, education, and psychology. No surprise, the program gets a lot of attention from different industries versus just the typical education market. The University of the Cumberlands offers five different programs online :

    Doctor in Leadership (Business and Education),
    Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Counselor Education & Supervision
    Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership
    Doctor in Clinical Psychology (hybrid attendance)
    Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (hybrid attendance)

    Unlike many of the competitors, the University of the Cumberlands is a private institution. The cost currently runs approximately $375/credit for a doctoral program student. However, the psychology doctoral degree is a higher price point at $550/credit. The leadership path primarily trains a student to perform an executive role in education but it could be applied in business environments as well. The psychology doctoral program is a bit longer than the others (73 credit hours versus 60), and it operates in a hybrid format. Students attend a weekend session in person and then perform other hours online. A clinical training requirement also necessitates in-person attendance as well, which will offer online students an advanced, personal look into mental health training. Overall, the university is accredited and validated regularly by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Overview

    Cost: $375/credit
    In-Person Requirement: yes, weekends
    Program Length: 73 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    10

    Delta State University

    • Cleveland, Mississippi
    • Graduation Rate: 43%

    Specific to the medical field, a student can obtain an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) via Delta State University. The school was originally established in 1924, and today it provides multiple nursing programs for a variety of student levels. For the online graduate, the doctoral program can be entered by either a bachelor’s degree in nursing or with a master’s degree in the same field. Both are sizable programs with hefty expectations for aspiring healthcare professionals. The bachelor’s path will require 114 credit hours to complete (about 9 semesters). The master’s degree or traditional path will take 31 to 83 credit hours to finish, depending on which doctoral path the student chooses. The fastest is the Family Nurse Practitioner Doctor in Nursing. The longest is the Non-Family Nurse Practitioner path. Every program also expects at least 420 hours of clinical work, but the Non-Family Nurse Practitioner degree requires 1,020 hours in the clinic. Despite being medically-oriented, Delta State University’s doctorate programs fall under the school’s general accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    School Overview

    Cost: $417/credit full time
    In-Person Requirement: Yes
    Program Length: Varies, 31 to 114 credit hours
    Visit School Website
    11

    Columbia Southern University

    • Orange Beach, Alabama
    • Graduation Rate: 22%

    Columbia Southern University offers a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree online which will provide an in-depth application of theory and research to students pursuing online learning. The graduate program will also help students sharpen their decision-making and leadership skills in a business setting as well as discover and use methods to solve industry problems. The doctorate degree requires 61 total credit hours, 9 of which may be accepted as transfer credits. A dissertation and defense are required of doctoral students, but this can be done from a distance using audio/visual technology.

    Two online learning options are available to students, which are helpful for those wanting to study part-time. CSU’s Lifepace Learning option doesn’t have start/end dates and allows students to complete courses at their own pace, which is anywhere from 4- to 18-weeks. The Term Enrollment option lets students complete assignments at their own pace but does have a course start and end date that can keep students on track. The Term Enrollment option is also open to federal financial aid for qualifying students. Students who take one class every term (usually 9 weeks) can expect to graduate in about three years.

    CSU is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

    Cost: $420/credit
    In-Person Requirement: No
    Program Length: 61 credits
    Visit School Website

    While there are dozens of more programs offering online doctoral degrees in 2021, they easily get beyond the $400/credit cost range, putting them much higher on the spectrum of tuition costs. That means they are nowhere close to being the cheapest online Ph.D. programs available. And one still has to remember the cost in most cases doesn’t include the typical administrative fees added on every semester for every student in addition to the base tuition rate. In terms of methodology, the above 10 schools have been rated based on cost, but they all have recognized programs, accreditation by recognized agencies in the rating field, and offer well-established doctoral paths for graduate students. Especially now, as advanced studies are also being moved online and the need to take advantage of digital tools has grown tremendously, online doctoral programs will likely become far more popular. However, the cost tends to be prohibitive for many. These programs listed side-step that problem and make it possible for students to achieve a doctor’s degree in their respective fields without a lifetime of school debt attached to it as well.

    The information in this article has been gathered with the current online research available. No company or program can pay us to adjust school rankings. If you have additional questions about a particular school or a concern with the information provided, please contact us directly. You can email us, and we would be happy to discuss further.

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