Top 10 Affordable Online Colleges for 2024

Author: Bambi Mamjudar / Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson / First covered: September 2021 / Updates: 5

Key Takeaways:

  • University of the People is in the #1 position on our list, followed by Palm Beach State College.
  • Finding an affordable online college involves several steps, including researching tuition costs, evaluating the quality of programs, and considering financial aid options.
  • Some suggestions to consider when finding an affordable college include considering in-state schools and community colleges, researching tuition and fees, looking at financial aid packages and scholarships offered by the schools.

If you are looking for the cheapest online college, you may find the information in this article helpful. More and more students are looking at online programs to pursue higher education. Online students appreciate the flexibility of the online format. It allows them to continue their day jobs while studying for their college degrees. 

Featured Programs

Technology advancements have led to better and easier collaboration between faculty, students, and peers. Affordable online colleges also help students earn their degrees without heavy college debt. Most colleges charge in-state tuition rates for all online students regardless of location.

Online students also have the option to qualify for many grants and scholarships, just like on-campus students. There are also several federal work-study programs that help them meet college costs. In this article, we highlighted the top 50 affordable online colleges per credit hour and tuition-free colleges. The mission of an online college is to support students in their personal and professional endeavors. They offer online programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. 

These featured best accredited online colleges have been ranked according to their undergraduate tuition cost. We have also looked at their accreditation and the programs offered. Click here to learn more about our methodology for cheap online degree programs. Tuition costs were based on in-state numbers and taken from NCES College Navigator and the colleges’ websites.

#10. Fort Hays State University

Hays, KS

Website
Points: 13
In-State Tuition: $5,430 (undergraduate); $3,729 (graduate)

Fort Hays State University is one of our most affordable online universities. It is also the fourth-largest of the six state universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents. Founded in 1902, the university has a total enrollment of approximately 15,100 students. The school aims to develop engaged global citizen-leaders through affordable, high-quality academic programs. The comprehensive regional university has a deep commitment to teaching and mentoring students. 95% of FHSU students secure higher education opportunities or employment after they graduate.

Some of the online degrees the school offers include undergraduate and graduate programs for adult learners. Bachelor’s degrees include: 

  • Liberal Arts
  • Accounting
  • Business Education
  • Computer Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Geography/GIS
  • Management
  • Marketing

Master’s degrees include:

  • Business Administration
  • Counseling
  • Education
  • Psychology 

The school is set apart by cheap online programs, plenty of experiential learning opportunities, and close faculty/student relationships. This distinction makes it one to consider when searching for a degree program. Plus, financial assistance may be available.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Pros:

  • Provides excellent support for adult online students
  • 15:1 Student-to-faculty ratio

Cons:

  • Some financial aid issues have been reported
  • Some lack of communication with advisors has been reported

#9. Florida Atlantic University

Boca Raton, FL 

Website
Points: 13
Tuition: $4,879 (undergraduate); $5,467 (graduate)

Florida Atlantic University is a public research university that doubles as a cheap online college. The school fosters a vibrant culture that encourages ingenuity and independence. Ranked as the most diverse public university in the state, it offers various tools and support to help students excel in their chosen fields. FAU offers students a transformative education via 170+ degrees. The school is rooted in the belief that creativity and dedication fuel academic excellence.

Online degrees offered by the school include both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Bachelor’s degrees include:

  • Online Bachelor of Science in Accounting
  • Anthropology B.A.
  • Architecture B.Arch

Master’s degrees include:

  • MS in Applied Mathematics and Statistics
  • MS in Biological Sciences

Through its online programs, FAU offers excellent and accessible undergraduate and graduate education. It is acclaimed globally for its expert faculty and its contributions to creativity and research. Applicants are encouraged to apply for financial aid.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges 

Pros:

  • Accepts dual and AP credits
  • Great student resources, including career counseling services

Cons:

  • TAs teach a high number of classes
  • Graduation rate is lower than the national average

#8. Brigham Young University–Idaho 

Rexburg, ID 

Website
Points: 13
In-State Tuition: $4,536

Brigham Young University-Idaho, is a private liberal arts university that was founded in 1888. It is one of the most affordable online universities on our list. Since it opened its doors, the school has expanded its reach by creating the BYU Pathway program. It now serves over 28,000 students from all 50 states and over 80 countries. BYU works to provide students worldwide with affordable online education programs. Online learning options include 159 courses and degrees. The distance education offerings spread the influence of YU-Idaho to the lives of students all over the world.

Some of the online degrees offered by the school for undergraduate students include, at the bachelor’s level: 

  • Applied Business Management
  • Applied Communication
  • Marriage and Family Studies

Associates degrees include:

  • Applied Business Management
  • Applied Communication
  • Family History Research
  • Marriage and Family Studies
  • Professional Studies

Brigham Young University is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eligible students are encouraged to apply for financial aid. U.S. News & World Report has called Brigham Young University-Idaho one of the top 15 regional colleges in the West.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities  

Pros:

  • Fantastic language education. More than 70 courses on offer
  • Nationally and internationally renowned faculty

Cons:

  • Religious requirements may not be for everyone
  • Limited diversity

#7. Aspen University

Denver, CO

Website
Points: 14
Tuition: $5,355 (undergraduate); $3,900 (graduate)

Aspen University is a private, for-profit, distance-learning university established in 1987. It ranks among the leading cheap online universities. The school has created affordable degrees and payment plans with transparent pricing. These policies help more students access higher education. It offers associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Students also have the option to enroll in several certificate programs to get the skills that employers need in their workforce.

Some of the online degrees offered by the school include several online bachelor’s degree programs: 

  • Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Pre-Licensure)
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Studies
  • Online Bachelor of Science in Business Administration

The college offers motivated students the opportunity to receive a high-quality education via online schooling without worrying about high tuition rates. The goal is to help them achieve career success in the future. Federal student aid is available.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Distance Education Accrediting Commission 

Pros:

  • Supportive faculty
  • Challenging curriculum

Cons:

  • Some issues with the admissions process have been reported
  • A lack of communication with advisors has been reported

#6. Dalton State College

Dalton, GA

Website
Points: 14
In-State Tuition: $3,283 (undergraduate)

Dalton State College is a public college and part of the University System of Georgia. The school provides broad access to quality higher education for the population of Northwest Georgia and beyond. Founded in 1963 as a junior college, it became a two-year institution in 1998. Today, the university enhances the region’s economic vitality and quality of life. It offers a full range of associate’s degrees, targeted bachelor’s degrees, and career certificate programs. Various public service activities are also available.

Some of the online bachelor’s degrees offered by the school include: 

  • Liberal Arts
  • English
  • Environmental and Sustainability Studies
  • History
  • Information Technology
  • Interdisciplinary Studies

Associates degrees include:

  • Psychology
  • Finance and Applied Economics
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Communication Studies

The college offers a transformational education to diverse student bodies. It engages unique perspectives and creates sustainable solutions to improve student success rates. Financial aid may be available.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Pros:

  • Supportive faculty and staff
  • 100% acceptance rate

Cons:

  • Student to faculty ratio is higher than the national average
  • Full-time student retention rate is lower than the national average

#5. Great Basin College  

Elko, Nevada 

Website
Points: 14
Tuition: $3,773

Great Basin College provides student-centered post-secondary education serving the rural Nevada region. Students get the opportunity to learn and grow in a friendly, supportive environment. The college offers associate and bachelor’s degrees in career, academic, and technical education areas.

Some of the online bachelor’s degrees offered by the school include: 

  • Bachelor’s Degree Program in English (BA)
  • BA in Social Science
  • BSN in Nursing (RN to BS in Nursing Program)

Associates degrees include:

  • AA in Business (Pattern of Study)
  • AA in Early Childhood Education (Pattern of Study)

GBC provides outstanding academic programs to about 4000 students nationwide, including adult learners. This includes online programs, and main and satellite campuses. U.S. News & World Report has called Great Basin College one of the leading regional colleges in the West. Federal student aid may be available to fund online schooling for out-of-state students.

Degree types include:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) 
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) 

Students enjoy smaller class sizes and learn from an excellent faculty who provide individual attention to each student. 

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities 

Pros: 

  • Offers a variety of vocational programs
  • Focus on Technology

Cons:

  • Limited graduate programs
  • Lack of diversity

#4. St. Petersburg College 

St. Petersburg, FL

Website
Points:  15
Tuition: $2,682 (undergraduate)  

SPC is a public college and part of the Florida College System. It offers more bachelor’s degrees than traditional community colleges. Because of this, it is designated as a “state college.” The college alumni rank first in the state for earning the highest entry wages among Florida community college graduates. Founded in 1927, it offers more than 180 degrees and certificate programs at affordable rates per credit hour. The latter include industry-recognized, high-demand, and high-skill workforce certifications.

Some of the online undergraduate degree types offered by the school include the following online bachelor’s programs: 

  • Biology B.S. 
  • Business Administration B.S. 
  • Cybersecurity B.A.S. 
  • Elementary Education B.S. 
  • Health Services Administration B.A.S. 
  • Nursing B.S. 

The college is known for its access, excellence, student support, and career-focused curriculum. Federal financial aid is also available to help students enroll in an online program.

Pros:

  • Affordability
  • Wide range of degree program offerings

Cons:

  • Some issues at the administrative level have been reported
  • A lack of communication among some faculty has been reported

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#3. Eastern Florida State College

Cocoa, FL

Website
Points: 15
 In-State Tuition: $2,496 

Eastern Florida State College is a public college in Brevard County and a member of the Florida College System. The college engages a diverse population in accessible, high-quality learning opportunities. These opportunities are designed to successfully meet individual and community needs. Eastern Florida State offers on-campus and online options for the prospective student. Associates degrees include:

  • Associate in Science Degrees (A.S. Degree)
  • Associate in Arts Degree (A.A. Degree)College Credit Certificates (C.C.C.)
  • Advanced Technical Certificates (A.T.C.)

Some of the online bachelor’s programs offered by the school include: 

  • RN to BSN: Bachelor of Science in Nursing 
  • Science Teacher Education: Bachelor of Science
  • Applied Health Sciences BAS
  • Computer Information Systems Technology BAS
  • Organizational Management BAS

The school was one of the first community colleges in the country to offer the A.A. degree online. It is also one of the leading state colleges for quality instruction, organization, and innovative, leading-edge programs. Applicants are encouraged to apply for financial aid.

Pros:

  • Supportive faculty
  • Wide range of online academic programming

Cons:

  • Some issues with advising have been reported
  • A lack of communication and information availability from admissions/financial aid has been reported

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2.  Palm Beach State College

Palm Beach Gardens, FL 

Website
Points: 15
Tuition: $3,050

Palm Beach State College is a public college and part of the Florida College System. A contender for the cheapest online university in terms of college cost per credit hour, Palm Beach State offers education pathways as diverse as its students. The college enjoys a close working relationship with local business partners. This ensures that its mix of programs reflects current trends and workforce demands.

Some of the online programs by the school include: 

  • Accounting Technology AS
  • Biotechnology AS
  • Business Administration and Management
  • Business Entrepreneurship AS
  • Electrical Power Technology AS
  • Emergency Medical Services AS

Founded in 1933 as Florida’s first public community college, it is one of the top producers of associate degree graduates in the U.S. The accredited school also offers baccalaureate degrees, career training, professional certificates, and corporate and continuing education. Graduates of the College have impacted every industry as community and business leaders. Financial aid may be available.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online/On-campus 
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/Commission on Colleges 

Pros:

  • Degree affordability
  • Online program flexibility

Cons:

  • Lack of availability from some faculty has been reported
  • Issues with curriculum changes have been reported

#1. University of the People

Pasadena, CA 

Website
Points: 16
In-State Tuition: $1,200

Our pick for the cheapest online college is the University of the People. It is also the first non-profit distance education university. UoP is a private, American-accredited, tuition-free online university. The school’s mission is to expand access to higher education for students globally. Currently, the school enrolls over 75,000 students. UoPeople offers degree programs in:

  • Computer Science
  • Criminal Justice
  • Political Science
  • Business Administration
  • Health Science
  • Education

It partners with top universities worldwide and holds the Distance Education Accrediting Commission accreditation.

Some of the online programs offered by the accredited school include the following cheap online degree programs: 

  • Online Master in Business Administration (MBA)
  • Computer Science, BS and AS
  • Health Science, BS and AS
  • Online Master in Education, (M.Ed.)

The school is 100% online so students can control their schedules and study anytime and anywhere they want via online technology. It encourages students to get the skills needed for in-demand jobs and put themselves on the fast track. Students are encouraged to apply for financial aid.

Fast Facts

  • Format: Online
  • Accreditation: Distance Education Accrediting Commission

Pros:

  • Degree affordability
  • Online program flexibility

Cons:

  • Graduation rate is lower than the national average
  • Limited degree program options

More About The Top 10 Cheapest Online Colleges

young man participating in a class while  getting his online college degree

We have listed the cheapest regionally accredited online colleges per credit hour above. These schools offer the cheapest online college tuition. They have flexibility and student-friendly schedules. They are all worth looking into when conducting a school search. As more colleges offer online programs, more students consider these options. There are many things to remember when choosing the ideal affordable online college. 

How to choose the cheapest online college per credit hour

Online Program Accreditation: Accreditation certifies an online degree offers a quality academic experience. It is a rigorous process. It helps us understand whether educational programs meet defined standards of quality. To earn accreditation, affordable online colleges must meet and maintain strict quality standards. Third-party agencies set these standards. Accreditation is very important since it offers high credibility to students’ degrees. It can impact

Online Program Accreditation: Accreditation certifies an online degree offers a quality academic experience. It is a rigorous process. It helps us understand whether educational programs meet defined standards of quality. To earn accreditation, affordable online colleges must meet and maintain strict quality standards. These standards are set by third-party agencies. Accreditation is very important since it offers high credibility to students’ degrees. It can impact:

  • Financial Aid Eligibility
  • Employability
  • Graduate Program Choice
  • Credit Transfer Options
  • Courses & Concentration Availability: Whatever education path you choose, you must review the offerings. Online students must first select the degree level and then review each course. This will include:
    • Core Courses
    • Majors
    • Electives
    • Concentrations
    • Internships
    • Group Projects
    • Capstone Projects

The choice of concentration means specialized study within a student’s chosen major. Students should choose a program with a concentration that fits their career goals. A specialization or concentration also allows students to tailor their degrees. Professionals and students can focus on an area of practice and look for jobs in that sector.

  • University resources and student support:

    Schools offering online programs must offer student support. This way, students can earn their degrees remotely. Different online schools offer different types and levels of student services. Often, the support begins during admissions and extends to graduation. Students should research the support and resources schools offer for online degree students. Examples include online tutoring, career support, placements, and counseling.
  • School recognition and school rankings:

    One way to ensure a school’s education is also the best choice is to look at the rankings. Students should review any regional and national awards the school has received. Recognition and rankings add to the credibility of the degree. It can help further advance studies and careers. Look to see if the school rankings specifically recognize online degree programs. Online program rankings can reveal much about the school’s distance education resources.

There are many online education programs offered these days. Choosing a subject, online degree, and accredited college can be challenging. Students searching for the most affordable online colleges must ask themselves some questions. to find their matches. These include questions about:

  • Natural Aptitudes
  • Passion or Affinity for a Particular Field or Career
  • Earning Potential

Students should also ask what resources these affordable online schools provide.

What will you learn in the cheapest accredited online colleges per credit hour?

Woman attending an online college class on her computer while getting her degree.

Many cost-effective degrees in numerous subjects are available entirely online. This includes associate to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral or professional degrees. The cheapest regionally accredited online colleges offer several different online degree programs. Here is an overview of some of the most common online programs.

  • Bachelor’s Degrees:
    • Bachelor of Arts (BA degree)
    • Bachelor of Science (BS degree)
    • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA degree)
  • Master’s Degrees:
    • Master of Arts (MA, Master of Science)
    • (MS, MSc), Master by Research (MPhil)
    • Master of Studies (MSt)
    • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
    • Master of Public Administration (MPA)
    • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
    • Master of Education (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT)
  • Associate Degrees:
    • AA (Associate of Arts)
    • AS (Associate of Science
    • AAA (Associate of Applied Arts)
    • AAS (Associate of Applied Science)
  • Others include:
    • Specialist Degrees
    • Undergraduate Certificate Programs
    • Graduate Certificate Programs

Some online degree programs may require students to complete some clinical hours. These can include:

  • Social Work
  • Nursing
  • STEM
  • Counseling

This ensures students gain hands-on experience working with others. However, online programs are very flexible in locations and internships. Some even offer online education courses. These can include lab work and other applied sciences using alternative methods. Schools offering these courses online use facilitators like student advisors. This can ensure that students are able to fulfill these graduation requirements. Some cheap accredited online colleges use virtual simulations and at-home lab kits. This is to enable students to learn these subjects 100% online in a cost-effective manner.

How much do affordable online colleges cost? 

Tuition can range from around $2,000 to $20,000 per year. Community colleges offer some of the most affordable programs. Some of the cheapest non-profit online colleges offer free tuition. The online degree cost for the cheapest online college per credit hour can range from $70 to $200.

Is a cheap online degree worth it?

Many colleges offer high-quality online programs. These are designed to meet the needs and expectations of students globally. The standards of online education are often comparable to on-campus options. This includes many of the most affordable online colleges in the country. In most cases, the same faculty teach both online degree and on-campus courses. The curriculum and academic rigor also remain similar. Advances in technology have also paved the way for increased interaction among peers and faculty. This leads to better class collaboration. The above have made affordable online colleges a viable option for online students.

Smiling young black woman attending an online college class on her computer

What are the admission requirements for cheap accredited online colleges?

One drawback of applying to a program, or many programs, is that application fees can add up. If affording the application process is a concern to you, you might want to head over to our article featuring the most affordable online colleges with no application fee. Prospective students must ensure they meet admission requirements before applying. Depending on the school, applicants may need to submit:

  • Standardized test scores
  • Proof of a high school diploma or the equivalent
  • High school transcripts

Some affordable online colleges also require:

  • Recommendation letters
  • Resume
  • A statement of purpose

Transfer students will have to submit official college transcripts. Admitted undergraduate students must:

  • Complete general education requirements
  • Take courses in their major
  • Choose a minor or electives

As part of a degree, colleges may also require online students to:

  • Complete an internship
  • Capstone project
  • Thesis

Why get a degree from an affordable online colleges?

Earning a college degree can set a student apart in a competitive landscape. An online degree is no exception. In fact, it could lead to many job opportunities and a high earning potential. Online students pursuing advanced degrees have a higher potential of getting good jobs. They can earn more than those with a high school diploma. Still, an online college education can be expensive. A lack of funds can prevent many students from pursuing their dreams. 

Enrolling in the cheapest accredited online colleges will save students on college costs. This way, they can avoid college debt and still get their desired degree from an online program. These affordable online colleges are becoming a top choice for many working adults. This is mostly because they make a college education more accessible. 

Graduates can enter their desired careers instead of settling for any job. Many entry-level business, education, and healthcare jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. Students who specialize in a particular field can also enroll for post-graduate degrees. This will improve their chances of growing in their careers after online college. 

Accessibility is one great benefit of online programs. Students can attend a program while staying in their current job or relocating. Since they are not bound by geography, they can choose the best and the cheapest online colleges.

Online programs offer more scheduling flexibility than traditional programs. This flexibility offers working students the chance to continue with their day jobs. Programs with flexible formats allow students to complete assignments at their convenience. Online degrees help learners balance their coursework with social, personal, and professional responsibilities.

Graduation cap and diploma set on computer keyword.

Are affordable online colleges accredited? 

Most of the leading affordable online colleges are accredited. They offer students a verified and credible degree from an online program. Accreditation certifies that a school offers a quality academic experience. The cheapest regionally accredited online colleges also offer programmatic accreditation. This ensures that a third party evaluates and approves the program’s standards. Online college accreditation is a rigorous process. It helps students understand whether their chosen program meets top-quality standards. A cheap, accredited online college ensures that students earn highly credible degrees. It will positively affect their:

  • Financial aid eligibility
  • Employability
  • Graduate program choice
  • Credit transfer options

You might also consider checking school rankings from a respected source.

How long does it take to get a degree from the cheapest online colleges? 

A cheap online college degree usually takes the same time as any traditional college. This is true for students pursuing an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s. An associate degree generally requires 60 credits and takes two years. A bachelor’s degree requires 120 credit hours and four years to complete. Master’s degree programs typically take two years, requiring 30 and 60 credit hours. Still, schools may offer online students flexible options to complete their degree. For instance, they may take longer to complete a degree online than usual. Or, the school may offer an accelerated online bachelors degree for students who wish to graduate early. 

accredited stamp, indicating a school is accredited.

What kind of financial aid do the most affordable online colleges per credit hour offer?

Online colleges often offer the same federal financial aid as traditional colleges. Enrollment status, whether part-time or full-time, may affect the amount or nature of the loan program. Some schools offer scholarships and other institutional awards to their online students. Maybe one of your concerns is you don’t have a good computer. Well many of the most affordable online colleges offer a free laptop for students. There are also options for departmental scholarships available to online learners. These types of scholarships are often awarded based on academic merit. Students should contact the financial aid department for all the relevant information.

Many colleges partner with companies and nonprofit organizations to offer students financial help. Some cover the full cost of tuition for every credit hour, while others may offer limited assistance to cover fees and other costs. Online students can research awards based on their field, background, and state. They can also apply for scholarships to professional associations, private foundations, and institutions.

confident young woman, a graduate of an online education degree.

How much does a graduate from the cheapest accredited online college make?

A graduate’s earning potential varies by field of study, location or state, and degree level. Other factors like years of experience may also affect earnings for online college graduates.  

Typical salaries:

  • Average annual associate degree salaries are $45,989
  • The average annual bachelor’s degree salary is $51,212
  • The average annual master’s degree salary is $77,844

What questions should students ask their advisors before enrollment?

During the enrollment process for online college, students should ask their advisors questions like-

  • How many credit hours are required to complete a degree online?
  • How long is the online college program, and what are flexible options for online students?
  • Which cheap online degree best matches my busy schedule: full-time, extended, or accelerated option?
  • Do I need to take any prerequisite foundation courses for online college?
  • Do I need to complete any course before starting? Will that affect my course duration?
  • May I enroll in an online bachelor’s program regardless of the courses I took during my associate degree?
  • Do I also have to complete a capstone to complete a degree online?
  • Can I roll over credits from my associate’s or other bachelor’s degree?
  • Would the internships in a cheap online degree program prepare me for entry-level careers, and how can I choose them?

Sources:

  • U.S. News & World Report
  • College Navigator
  • Parents.com