9 Affordable Online Colleges with the Best Value for Non-Traditional Students 2024

Online Colleges with the Best Value for Non-Traditional Students - featured image

Author: Rai Antonio / Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson, MS.Ed. / Reading Level: Grade 10

Key Takeaways:

  • Non-traditional students benefit from colleges like Western Governors University, which offers competency-based learning and strong student support services.
  • Southern New Hampshire University provides affordable education for non-traditional students and focuses on graduate satisfaction and cost-effectiveness.
  • Value in a college education entails quality education, positive learning experiences, reasonable costs, and excellent instructors.

Are you a non-traditional student? You’re in good company! According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 74% of colleges students are “non-traditional.” At least 420 colleges and universities have non-traditional students.

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Non-traditional students are often working professionals. They are older than the usual college-age students. They may already have kids. They may attend classes in ways that are different from other students. Their circumstances are different, but they still want to earn a degree. Earning a bachelor’s degree can take anywhere from 2-4 years depending on various factors. We have an entire article on how long it takes to earn a bachelors degree that goes into more detail.

Online Colleges with the Best Value for Non-Traditional Students - fact

When we say “best value in college education,” we mean the following:

  • quality education
  • positive learning experience
  • reasonable cost
  • excellent teachers
  • superior resources and facilities
  • personal or professional development programs

Affordable Online Colleges with the Best Value for Non-Traditional Students

Western Governors University

Salt Lake City, UT 


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $8,010

Graduate Satisfaction Rate: 85%

WGU is the best choice for non-traditional students. Here, professionals enroll in the competency-based learning model. Students complete the requirements to gain the right skills. Then, they take test-based assessments to measure their knowledge.

WGU gives the best value because of its strong student support services. There are also one-on-one consultation with experts. The services include:

  • A program mentor for every student
  • A primary course instructor who is a subject matter expert
  • An evaluator who conducts an objective assessment of the student’s progress 

Students, graduates, and third-party organizations recognize WGU for its top-value academic services! Employers also report that WGU graduates are ready for the workplace.


  • Affordability
  • Higher-than-average ROI


  • Larger class sizes

Southern New Hampshire University

Manchester, NH


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $16,450

Graduate Satisfaction Rate: 85%

SNHU’s non-traditional students earn their college degrees for less. They can finish the program at their pace. SNHU has more than 200 programs in:

  • Art and Design
  • Business
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Engineering 

You can save on tuition and fees at SNHU. Ask about financial aid, transfer credits, and military tuition. Do you already have an associate degree and professional certifications? You can transfer up to 90 credits.

Employers prefer SNHU graduates. Students often get jobs within six months of graduation. The Community Partners program helps non-traditional learners easily enroll.


  • High acceptance rate
  • Smaller class sizes


  • Less diverse

University of Maryland Global Campus

Adelphi, MD 


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $7,704 (in-state); $12,336 (out-of-state) 

Graduate Satisfaction Rate: 85%

UMGC is known for its open-access policy and non-traditional student body. Enrollees include:

  • working adults
  • active-duty military
  • veterans
  • transfer students

The average age of undergraduate students is 31 years. The majority are full-time employees. Many already have children. 

UMGC is recognized by Newsweek as a top online learning school. It offers more than 125 degree and certification programs in:

  • Business and Management
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Analytics
  • Education and Teaching
  • Healthcare and Science
  • IT and Computer Science
  • Liberal Arts and Communication
  • Public Safety

Students and graduates get lifetime access to UMGC’s career development services. Graduates also enjoy career advancement opportunities.


  • Top-rated public school
  • More diverse


  • Low graduation rate

Fort Hays State University

Hays, KS


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $5,430 (in-state); $15,870 (out-of-state)

Undergraduate Employment Success Rate: 94%

FHSU Online has 200 degree and certificate programs for non-traditional students. Learners have easy access to student support services and resources. The learning materials for the online courses are very accessible. The class schedules are customizable as well. As a result, nontraditional students can still meet family and work obligations.

Online students can choose from these degree programs:

  • Communication Studies
  • Criminal Justice
  • Political Science
  • Business Education
  • Agriculture

FHSU is popular across Kansas and the United States. Graduates report a 94% employment rate. The freshman retention rate is an impressive 76.6%, too. FHSU offers excellent value through quality education, affordable cost, and positive college experiences.


  • Top public school
  • High admissions rate
  • Smaller class sizes


  • Less diverse
  • Lower graduation rate

University of Massachusetts Global

Irvine, California 


Tuition and Fees: $500/credit 

Eight-year Graduation Rate: 72% 

UMass Global graduates enjoy career advancement opportunities. Most enrolled students are adult learners. They seek quality education for less, and they want to earn a degree while fulfilling their obligations.

A UMass Global degree offers flexible schedules. Students enjoy a self-paced study schedule. They can also conveniently access course materials.

Students choose from two online formats:

  • Instructor-led courses, session-based courses
  • Competency-based, self-paced courses

All courses are designed with workplace-ready knowledge and skills in mind. UMass Global has an outstanding referral rate of 91%. This means that alumni recommend it to their family and friends.


  • Nationally ranked online bachelor’s programs
  • Better-than-average ROI


  • Less diverse

Liberty University

Lynchburg, VA 


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $25,040

Graduation Rate: 62%

LU offers more than 600 online programs. These programs accept non-traditional students. Active-duty military personnel and veterans can enroll. Working professionals and adult learners can also earn their college degrees at LU. Liberty is a recognized university that employers trust.

The online degree programs are in a wide range of disciplines, too, including:

  • Aviation
  • Business Administration
  • Criminal Justice
  • Elementary Education
  • Religion

Don’t worry about the tuition and fees. LU offers generous financial aid for non-traditional students. Students also learn from a world-class faculty. Learners enjoy admission-to-graduation support. They also get career development services. No wonder that the job placement rate for LU graduates can be as high as 91%!


  • Nationally recognized online programs
  • High acceptance rate


  • Less diverse

Miami Dade College

Miami, FL 


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $3,727 (in-state); $14,437 (out-of-state)

Employment Outcomes: 97% are employed right after graduation

Miami Dade has at least 100,000 students. Many of them are non-traditional learners who can choose from at least 70 academic disciplines. They must meet rigorous academic standards, though. Once enrolled, they enjoy low tuition and generous transfer policies. MDC also offers non-credit courses. 

These popular majors offer value for non-traditional students:

  • Liberal arts
  • Nursing
  • Computer information systems
  • Business
  • Allied health professions

Online students receive high-quality instruction. They also get personalized attention and student support. They even receive the same diploma as on-campus students. Employers acknowledge MDC students’ skills for the workplace.


  • Affordability
  • Higher-than-average ROI
  • More diverse


  • Larger class sizes

Purdue University Global

West Lafayette, IN


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $10,134 (in-state); $14,445 (out-of-state)

Career Outcome Rate: 92%

Student Satisfaction Rate: 94%

Purdue Global is Purdue University’s online college is ideal for working adults. Every aspect of its online degree and certificate programs is for non-traditional learners. These include:

  • Online delivery of course content and classes
  • Multiple start dates/monthly term starts
  • Open admissions
  • Standardized test scores not required
  • Credits from prior courses, associate degrees, professional work, or military experience are transferable

Purdue Global offers competency-based programs suitable for working professionals. The academic programs cover many disciplines. The programs offered are:

  • Aviation
  • Business
  • Health Sciences
  • Nursing
  • Education 

Not sure if Purdue Global is right for you? You can try the free 3-week trial period!


  • More diverse


  • Low graduation rate
  • Larger class sizes

Herzing University

Milwaukee, WI


Annual Average Tuition and Fees: $12,750

Employer Satisfaction Rate: 90%

Non-traditional students who want a private college education at a reasonable cost and with excellent employment outcomes should check out Herzing University. Here, you will find numerous academic degrees and certificate programs in these diverse disciplines: 

  • Nursing
  • Healthcare
  • Behavioral Health
  • Business
  • Technology
  • Legal Studies
  • Public Safety

You can meet employers even before you have earned your Herzing degree, thanks to the university’s clever employment matching plan. You can access the on-campus and online job boards, attend workshops and presentations, and create a pathway to career success.

Once you’ve earned your degree, you can follow up with prospective employers. With the stellar Herzing reputation, you will likely find numerous employers who will want to hire you, too.


  • High acceptance rate
  • More diverse


  • Low graduation rate

Frequently Asked Questions

What is non-traditional learning?

Non-traditional learning refers to alternative learning environments and methods that diverge from traditional classroom-based instruction. Examples include:

  • Online learning – Education delivered through the Internet, such as through learning management systems in online colleges and MOOCs like Coursera
  • Self-directed learning or self-paced study – Students are in control of their learning process, speed and progress through the curriculum
  • Blended learning – Students attend both in-person and virtual classes, as well as engage in self-paced study 

Non-traditional learning acknowledges the diversity of learning needs, styles and preferences. It provides learners with alternatives to meet these needs.

What is a defining characteristic of non-traditional students?

While there’s no single defining characteristic, non-traditional students possess one or more of these characteristics, according to the NCES:

  • Older than the typical age for college students
  • Independent of their parents
  • Attending school on a part-time basis
  • Maintaining full-time employment while enrolled
  • Having dependents, such as children or elderly parents
  • Being a single parent
  • Received a high school completion certificate or GED

Non-traditional learners have often taken a break from their studies to assume personal or professional responsibilities or pursue other non-academic interests.

What keeps a non-traditional student motivated in college?

Non-traditional students maintain their motivation while in college by:

  • Setting clear goals and visualizing success
  • Building a strong support network
  • Getting student support and career development services
  • Taking advantage of flexible learning options
  • Adopting effective time management skills
  • Recognizing progress and getting a reward for it
  • Maintaining sustained interest in their field
  • Prioritizing self-care and maintaining good health

What strengths do non-traditional students have that traditional learners may not possess?

Non-traditional students possess unique strengths like: 

  • Wisdom from life experiences 
  • Extensive professional networks 
  • Strong purpose and motivation 
  • Resilience, resourcefulness and adaptability 
  • Diverse viewpoints 
  • Problem-solving skills 
  • Self-awareness and maturity

Do Ivy League schools accept non-traditional students?

Yes, Ivy League schools admit non-traditional students! Examples include:

  • Columbia University’s School of General Studies was established specifically for returning and non-traditional students who want to earn an Ivy League degree.
  • Yale University’s Eli Whitney Students Program offers non-traditional students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree on either a part-time or full-time enrolment.
  • Princeton University offers its Transfer, Veteran, and Non-Traditional Student Programs for transfer students from community colleges and four-year universities, military-affiliated students, and other non-traditional students.


  • National Center for Education Statistics
  • US News & World Report