Online Higher Education in Virginia
Over 420,000 students enrolled in Virginia's four-year public and private institutions during the 2020-21 school year. Overall, approximately four out of 10 Virginia residents hold a bachelor's degree or higher, which is more than the national average. Meanwhile, enrollment in distance education has been steadily rising in Virginia over the last 15 years. Nearly 40% of Virginia's college students enrolled in online coursework in 2018 at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. The number of online students in Virginia outpaced the national average of 35%.
Enrollment in distance education has been steadily rising in Virginia over the last 15 years.
An online program can prepare students for a diverse array of careers in Virginia and offers greater flexibility than a traditional in-person degree. Students juggling obligations may fit an online degree program into their busy schedules to increase future job opportunities. An online program with an asynchronous format can allow students to learn anytime and from anywhere, as long as they have a strong broadband connection.
The Importance of Accreditation
Online students can trust the integrity of accredited schools and programs because accreditation ensures a school consistently meets high academic standards. For example, this process guarantees instructors and courses are thoroughly vetted. Additionally, by attending regionally accredited schools, students are able to obtain financial aid and transfer credits.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education recognize 19 national and seven regional accreditation boards. Regional accreditation is often preferred over national accreditation because it has more regulations in place to ensure high academic standards and quality. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges regionally accredits Virginia's non-profit colleges and universities. The Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs can be used to verify a school's accreditation status.
Tuition in Virginia: Ways to Make College More Affordable
College tuition rates and fees in Virginia diverge from the national average for higher education. The average resident’s tuition and fees average at $13,655 to attend Virginia's public university system in the 2019-20 school year, which is significantly higher than the national average of $9,349. Attending Virginia's public school system also costs more than those in neighboring West Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. In contrast, Virginia's private universities charge an annual average of $23,493 for tuition and fees, which is lower than the yearly national average of $32,769.
In Virginia, it may be worthwhile to gain in-state residency before attending college if cost is a major concern.
Online tuition and fees vary by school, though many institutions charge students based on residency. Tuition and fees for out-of-state students in Virginia averaged $35,831 from 2019-20, as compared to the national average of $27,023. In Virginia, it may be worthwhile to gain in-state residency before attending college if cost is a major concern. To help pay in-state tuition costs, Virginia's governor approved legislation to provide free community college tuition for low- and middle-income students in 2021. This program would allow some students to start earning college credits for free before transferring to four-year degree programs. This could help make it more affordable to earn a degree in high-demand fields, such as healthcare and computer science.
Below are several other ways prospective students may be able to save money on tuition in Virginia's higher education system:
Apply for a Virginia two-year college transfer grant (CTG).
Virginia's CTG program is an incentive for low-income students to complete their first two years of higher education at a Virginia community college. By reducing the costs of attending community college, students can save money, easing their path to graduation with minimized financial burden.
Establish Virginia state residency.
Non-residents can establish residency by living in Virginia for 12 consecutive months before classes begin.
Participate in the Southern Regional Education Board's (SREB) Academic Common Market (ACM) program.
The ACM helps students in fifteen SREB states pursue online college degrees that are not offered in their home state. Students pay in-state tuition and fees at participating colleges.
Start saving early for college.
Parents and students can save for college through the Virginia529 program. Participants may deduct up to $4,000 in savings contributions from their taxes, which can also help save for college.
Utilize state reciprocity agreements.
Funding an Online Degree in Virginia
The first step when it comes to applying for financial aid involves completing the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students may qualify for federal grants, scholarships, work-study programs, or low-interest federal loans. Scholarships and grants are the best ways to pay for college because they function as free money that students don't have to repay.
In addition to federal aid, several private scholarships and grants are available to online college students in Virginia:
Students living in Eastern Virginia and Southern Maryland can apply to the Colonial Farm Credit Foundation for scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $6,500. Colonial Farm Credit awards scholarships to students studying agriculture, forestry, environmental sciences, and life sciences. However, some scholarships they offer are open to any major.
The Community Foundation awards more than 65 scholarships each year, from $500 to $5,000. Students living in Virginia's central region are eligible to apply. Scholarship criteria may vary by field of study, ethnicity, residency, and school. Eligibility may be contingent upon a student’s GPA, standardized test scores, community service experience, and financial need.
Students can apply for $2,000 grants to help pay for their online undergraduate degree programs or $1,100 grants if they are in graduate degree programs. Students may request to have their grants renewed annually. Eligibility is limited to enrollment in participating private universities. Students apply through their school's financial aid office.
This program awards scholarships to high school seniors and second-year community college students transitioning to an accredited four-year STEM program. Eligible students must live within the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Scholarship amounts vary, and students who are veterans or have family members on active military duty are encouraged to apply.
Students who are immigrants or children of immigrants living in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. can apply for the Esperanza Education Fund scholarship. Eligible students must have an annual household income of less than $100,000 and plan to enroll full-time at an accredited public college, university, or community college. Scholarship awards vary.
Careers and Cost of Living in Virginia
Virginia can be an affordable place to live and work, depending on location. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in Virginia is $74,222, which is higher than the national median of $69,560. Cost of living measures how far this income will go towards living expenses, such as food, rent, healthcare, and utilities. The average cost of living in Virginia is 103.7, which is slightly higher than the U.S. average of 100. The Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area has the highest cost of living at 149.9, while the Roanoke metro area has a significantly lower cost of living at 89. The Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro area is almost on par with the national cost of living at 101.4.
Virginia has a relatively low unemployment rate of 3.6% — which is less than the national rate of 4.6% — and the state expects to gain over 275,000 jobs through 2028. Virginia industries poised for future growth include corporate services, information technology, life sciences, manufacturing, and supply chain management. The following list includes occupations within these high-growth industries that require the completion of a bachelor's program. The roles below are in high demand compared to the national average job growth of 8% across all occupations.
Median Annual Salary: $111,030
Job Outlook: 24%
Actuaries analyze the rates of mortality, accident, sickness, and disability to forecast liability and risk. They often work for insurance companies to ensure the future payment of benefits and stability of cash reserves.
Information Security Analysts
Median Annual Salary: $103,590
Job Outlook: 33%
Information security analysts protect an organization's computer networks and information. They assess vulnerabilities and implement strategies to mitigate risk.
Operations Research Analysts
Median Annual Salary: $86,200
Job Outlook: 25%
Operations research analysts develop methods of data interpretation for decision-making. They apply mathematical modeling and other methods when collecting and analyzing data.
Median Annual Salary: $110,140
Job Outlook: 22%
Software developers create network software and specialized programs. They analyze user needs and develop solutions. They work to integrate software and hardware systems.