2020 Affordable Accredited Online Colleges

By Taylor Nichols | Updated November 6, 2020

Our 2020 most affordable online colleges offer degrees with annual tuition rates of $10,000 or less. These schools allow students to pursue online degrees through affordable, quality distance education programs. Our recommendation rate is based on feedback from former students through our partner site GradReports.com, the largest database of independent online college reviews. The following list of schools is a helpful starting point for students searching for online degree programs. In addition to tuition expenses, students should consider other important factors, such as accreditation, faculty, and graduation rate.

SCHOOLS BY TYPE: Affordable | Non-Profit | Military-Friendly | Popular

Highlights of Online Schools with Low Tuition

Grantham University offers more than 60 accredited, fully online programs. Students can choose from associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in fields such as humanities, business and marketing, information systems, and nursing. Several features make Grantham’s distance education convenient for adult learners. Eight-week classes start monthly for added flexibility, and the 11 certificate programs are designed to take less than a year to complete (along with two-year associate and master’s degree options). A generous credit transfer system accounts for previous education and work experience, and Career Services and a Veteran Support Team provide tailored help for students. Tuition is $295 per credit hour for undergraduates and $350 per credit hour for master’s students. These low rates and a flat resource fee keep costs predictable. One Grantham program even ranked in our 2020 Most Affordable Online Associate Paralegal Degrees list. Students can also apply for financial aid, scholarships, or one of the Heroes Programs, which offer discounts for active-duty and retired service members, first responders, civil servants, and certified patient care workers (along with their spouses)

Columbia Southern University (CSU) is an online university offering associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and certificates in a wide variety of areas, such as criminal justice, business administration, fire administration, health care administration, and many more. It also offers one doctoral program in business administration. The degree programs are offered through CSU's four academic departments, the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Business, the College of Safety & Emergency Services, and the Department for Continuing Education. Students can opt to take classes on a term-based schedule with semesters starting in fall, winter, spring, and summer. Alternatively, students who need extra scheduling flexibility can take advantage of CSU's LifePace Learning® option, which allows students to complete a course in as few as four weeks or as many as 18 weeks at their own pace. Tuition depends on the degree level and is the same across the colleges and the various specializations. Undergraduate programs cost $225 per credit hour, while graduate programs cost $300 per credit hour. Tuition for doctoral courses is $375 per credit hour.

Western Governors University (WGU) is an online university offering various bachelor's and master's degree programs. The programs are divided between four colleges, each pertaining to a different field of study: the College of Health Professions, the College of Information Technology, the Teachers College, and the College of Business. WGU offers enrollment all year round and degree programs start on the first of every month, making it easy for students to apply and enroll when it’s convenient for them. Unlike most universities, WGU charges tuition per term, not per credit hour. Each term is six months long, and students can complete as many courses as they want within that period without additional charges. Because of this, students are also able to complete their degrees at an accelerated rate without incurring extra costs. Tuition for one term starts at $3,190, but this can vary between colleges, programs, and degree levels.

With hundreds of affordable online programs across all levels, American Public University System aims to prepare the U.S. military community for careers in and out of service. The system’s two components offer a range of options: American Military University has programs relating to national security, intelligence, and cybersecurity, and American Public University hosts degrees in English and humanities, secondary and early childhood education, applied sciences, health and nursing, and information technology. American Public University System’s associate and bachelor’s degree paths both ranked on our best lists for 2021, indicating a high return on investment. An important component of this is affordable tuition ($285 per credit hour for undergraduate courses and $370 per credit hour for graduate courses). In addition, the Freedom Grant provides a cap of $250 per credit hour for active-duty military and their spouses, National Guard members, and Reservists, plus fully waived technology fees. Because the American Public University System is fully accredited, students can apply for federal financial aid.

By offering a number of regionally accredited associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs online, Minot State University creates flexible distance learning experiences. Online students can expect a mix of synchronous and asynchronous courses depending on their program, with start dates following the traditional semester schedule of Minot’s North Dakota campus. Because programs track to this schedule, bachelor’s degrees are designed for completion in four years (120–122 credit hours), with an average of two years for master’s degrees. Minot gives particular focus to educating professionals who serve people with disabilities. They offer a certificate and degrees at all levels in Human Services (with concentrations in intellectual and developmental disabilities), two certificates and a Master of Science in Special Education, and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Interpreting and Sign Language Studies. The university also participates in the Air University Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative (AU-ABC) to offer a limited number of fully online bachelor’s degrees to members of the Air Force and North Dakota Air National Guard.

Students can choose from two dozen accredited online bachelor’s and master’s programs at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Options for undergraduate degrees include a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities (with concentrations in art, English, history, and more), a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, and an RN to BSN to help registered nurses advance their careers. Graduate students have a number of choices, including several master’s degrees focusing on education: two in special education (one with a concentration on students with autism), one in bilingual/ESL education, and one in educational leadership (plus two graduate certificates for school administrators). Online programs are designed for the needs of adult learners, with eight-week courses starting on six dates during the year, pay-as-you go tuition, and up to 90 previous credits transferable toward a 120-hour bachelor’s degree. Depending on the student’s schedule, they can complete some master’s degrees in as little as 12 months. Given the relatively low tuition and high alumni salaries, University of Texas of the Permian Basin ranked on our 2021 Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees list.

Delta State University offers accredited distance education with a focus on graduate study. Undergraduates have a few fully online options, but master’s and doctoral students can earn graduate degrees in a variety of disciplines: business administration, commercial aviation, elementary and secondary education, and sport and human performance. Many of the master’s programs are designed to be completed in one year (30 credit hours). The school’s standout Geospatial Information Technologies Center educates students in geography and spatial analysis, providing a highly ranked bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a certificate online. The Robert E. Smith School of Nursing also offers a wealth of programs from the undergraduate to doctoral levels, including RN to BSN, RN to DNP, and FNP to DNP tracks for working nurses who want to further their careers. Nursing faculty work with online students to approve clinical experience opportunities in each student’s community. To offset tuition costs, students can pursue select scholarships and graduate assistantships in addition to federal financial aid.

Abraham Lincoln University (ALU) offers affordable online degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, and doctoral levels. At $30,000, the total tuition for four-year bachelor's degree programs completed entirely online is comparable with many universities' single term tuition. An associate degree is available at half that cost and time, and a master's degree even less. There are five distinct master's programs, each designed to be completed within three semesters by students who are also working professionals. ALU has strong schools of law and business across degree levels. In addition, there are degrees available in information technology, and for undergraduates, an option to study more generally and design a liberal arts education toward their specific interests. A special feature of the online law school is the Juris Doctor program. With a total tuition of $36,400, the degree fully prepares students to take the Bar Exam and practice law upon its completion.

Based out of Forest City, Iowa, Waldorf University offers online associate and bachelor's degrees in 12 disciplines, and master's degrees in eight. Many of these fields have several distinct degree programs. For example, students interested in fire science can choose between an associate program, six specific bachelor's degrees, and a master's degree. Tuition is $290 per credit hour for undergraduates and $365 per graduate credit hour, with discounts available for members of the military. Program offerings include business, criminal justice, homeland security, human resources, psychology, and safety. Committed to its mission as a liberal arts university and founded on the beliefs of its Norwegian Lutheran founders, Waldorf strives to bring its academic excellence to those seeking a degree that fits their needs in an online forum.

Utilizing a model of completely online education with specific application to active military students, Trident University International offers fully-online degrees and certificates across all academic levels. Degrees offered include a professional studies associate degree, eight bachelor's degrees, eight master's degrees, and five doctoral degrees. The university emphasizes building strong leadership skills in all its online programs, including education, information technology, business, health, and homeland security. With undergraduate tuition rates as low as $250 per credit for military students and their family members, graduate tuition as low as $325 per credit, and doctoral tuition as low as $625 per credit, Trident makes its degrees financially accessible to working adults. For students seeking particularly affordable, efficient programs, Trident offers certificates in the fields of business and health sciences. To provide flexibility and ensure student success, courses are available in various durations, from four to twelve weeks, and study can begin during any of these sessions.

Founded in 1932, the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is a private, nonprofit university offering over 200 online degree programs. There are currently over 80,000 students enrolled in these online programs. Applicants will find options at both the undergraduate and graduate levels with SNHU's online associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in subjects such as accounting, business, liberal arts, art & design, social science, and information technology. Students can also enroll in one of SNHU's many online certificate programs. Tuition is charged per credit hour at a rate of $320 for online undergraduate degrees and $627 for online graduate programs. At SNHU, most associate degree programs require 60 credit hours, while most bachelor's degree programs require 120 credit hours, and most master's degree programs require between 30 and 45 credit hours for completion.

Frequently Asked Questions About Affordable Online Degrees

How do school rankings take cost into account?

When considering how much it will cost to earn a degree, most people factor in tuition and fees, as well as room and board. For online students and others who do not plan to live on campus, tuition is the primary factor in understanding how much a degree will cost. Our school rankings at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels include manually-researched tuition rates. These rates are taken directly from individual school websites. Our methodology uses rates based on what a full-time student can expect to pay at their degree level to help students narrow down choices during their school search. The only additional fees we include in tuition rates are distance education and program-specific fees. This way, students can get an accurate picture of what they will likely pay per year for their degree if they enroll as a full-time online student. Our list of affordable online colleges, found at the top of this page, includes tuition data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the 2018-2019 school year.

Are there financial aid resources for online students?

With the rising price of college, affordability is a key factor for many students. Online students qualify for the same financial aid opportunities as on-campus students. There are also online-specific funds and resources available to distance education students. Our resource guide to financial aid has information on how to apply for aid, the different types available, and how to determine if a student qualifies. It also has information on student loans, scholarships, and the types of financial aid available for online and international students.

One of the best financial aid options available, aside from federal and state grants, is scholarships. With the growth of online courses, more scholarships are being offered specifically for students enrolled in online learning. There are also scholarships for students who are parents, working adults, low-income students, and many other demographic groups. Optimal, our parent company, also offers annual scholarships for undergraduates, graduates, community college students, and veterans or active members of the military.

Are online programs worth it?

Whether or not an online degree will be worth it may vary depending on a student’s personal and professional goals, but online programs are often worth the cost and time investment. The quality of distance education programs is usually the same as in-person ones, but online students typically save money and time by enrolling virtually. In fact, we looked at tuition rates of 100 schools offering both online and in-person programs. Of those schools, a majority offered online programs at a more affordable cost: 80% of public schools had reduced tuition rates for out-of-state students and 96% of private schools were cheaper for all online students. Students may be concerned that online degrees are taken less seriously by employers, but diplomas do not indicate whether a degree was earned online or in person, with the exception of schools that are known for being predominantly online. Employers will only know the name of the school a student attended and what they studied. The value of a degree remains the same and coursework is often similar, regardless of the format, and research indicates that earning a degree is likely to significantly impact one’s career. According to research done by The College Board, those who hold a bachelor’s degree make $24,900 more per year on average than those with a high school diploma. College graduates are also less likely to be unemployed and are more likely to have access to benefits such as healthcare and retirement funds from their employers.

Is the tuition rate what I will actually pay?

Usually, no. The vast majority of students receive federal financial aid in the form of grants and student loans, and rarely end up paying the full “sticker price” of tuition and fees. After grant funding, first-year full-time students at in-state universities paid $3,230 on average for the 2020-21 school year. How much a student will actually pay for a college degree will depend on many factors, such as their income and whether or not they already hold a degree. Students who don’t receive enough grants to cover the cost of tuition can apply for scholarships before taking out loans, although this can sometimes affect how much aid a school awards. While many students do qualify for grants and other forms of aid, tuition is still a significant factor in selecting which school to attend. Americans currently owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, and even those who receive enough aid to cover education expenses often still need to take out loans to pay for living expenses. Our school rankings lists allow students to compare tuition rates and find a school that best fits their budget and needs. Our rankings pages use out-of-state tuition, which means a student may qualify for a lower tuition rate if they live in the same state as the school they are considering.

What is the importance of choosing a school with accreditation?

Choosing a school that is accredited is one of the most important things for a student to keep in mind during their school search. Accreditation is a mark of academic excellence that ensures a student is receiving a quality education that will benefit them in the future. The institution, administration, faculty, and programs themselves are all evaluated to make sure they meet high educational standards. Earning a degree from an accredited school ensures an academic program meets licensure and certification requirements as well as requirements for further education. It also ensures future employers will know that a candidate has received a quality education. If a student gets a degree from a school that is not accredited, they may not be eligible for certain jobs, earn licensure or certification, transfer credits to another institution, or be accepted to an advanced degree program. Click here for more information about accreditation, including what it is and why it matters.