Reviewed By: Melissa Anderson, MS.Ed
Reading Level: Grade 8
Read Time: 6 minutes, 21 seconds
Original Publication Date: October 2018
As technology develops, online education continues to grow in popularity. Many wonder about the cost of online college per credit hour. Most students know that degree programs cost less when they take courses online. But they might not be aware of just how much they can save.
The cost of a college education varies by institution. The most popular options for payment include:
- A flat rate for an online bachelor’s degree
- A flat rate per semester of online college
- Charges based on the number of credits taken per semester
After looking at the typical cost of tuition, there are other factors to consider. These include:
- Application fees
- Books and supplies
- Transport for on-campus requirements
- Technology fees
Clearly, the answers to the questions: “How much are online classes?” and “What does online college cost?” are somewhat complicated matters.
Average Cost of Online College Per Credit Hour
U.S. News and World Report states that the average cost of online bachelor’s programs is $333 per credit hour. This puts the cost of an online schedule of 12 credits, which is generally a full course load, at around $3,996 a semester. It points out that some schools charge online students as little as $116 per credit for online college. Other schools may charge more than $400 per credit hour towards an online bachelor’s degree. This refers only to the tuition that students pay for their classes. It does not include any other online education expenses or online resources. Furthermore, it is only applicable to undergraduate courses. For graduate students, online courses and degree programs are usually more expensive.
Cost of Online Programs: In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition
Online degree programs can differ for students living in and out of the state. At some schools, online students qualify for in-state tuition. This price break is typically reserved for students who live and study in the same state. Out-state students may pay twice as much for colleges with no online tuition discount. Some institutions also prohibit students from certain states from taking classes online. This is because they do not have accreditation in those states.
Online College Fees
Prospective students considering online college as opposed to a traditional school should ask about the cost of any fees besides tuition costs. Those living on campus often pay fees for using the school’s library or athletic complex. Similarly, online students often pay a technology fee. This fee is used to pay for the online learning system they use to complete assignments. Many online programs charge a technology fee of $25 to $100. This fee is charged each semester that they attend online college. Online learners are also responsible for paying fees when they reach graduation. This includes fees for certain course materials, services to support students engaged in distance learning, and technology fees associated with online school. In addition to extra fees, be sure to ask about any available tuition discounts and financial aid opportunities as you pursue your degree online.
Personal Expenses for an Online College Degree
Taking online classes is an excellent way to save money. Students should also consider the personal expenses they face while pursuing a degree. For example, online learners don’t need to pay money for a meal plan or a dormitory room on campus. But, they may need to pay rent and buy food while living off campus. Online students also pay for textbooks required to complete coursework. Other expenses for online programs may also include a new computer or tablet. Thankfully many cheap online colleges offer free laptops for students. Moreover, their professors may require that students purchase specific software. This makes the average price of attending school online increase significantly.
Online classes appeal to a variety of students. This includes those who work full-time, those out-of-state who do not want to move to attend an on-campus program, and those who have other obligations that keep them from studying at a local school. The cost of an online undergraduate degree is generally less expensive than the tuition and fees for students taking classes on campus. Even so, students will want to consider all the costs before applying to online programs.
It’s important to note that online students qualify for the same financial aid programs. Extra financial aid can be used for college-related expenses after tuition is paid. Your financial aid includes federal student loans and private student loans. It can also pay for:
- Internet connection
- Other required supplies
You may need to apply for more loans to cover some or all these extraneous online college costs. Be sure to keep track of any mounting student loan debt. It’s important to remember that your financial aid will go toward paying your tuition and fees first. This is true whether you attend school online or on campus. Undergraduate students may not have enough left over to cover housing and food. So it’s important not to bank on being able to pay everything with your student loans. You may need to work part-time or even full-time to make earning your online degree affordable. The ideal situation is if you can live with family for free or at a reduced cost while you earn your college degree.
If that’s not an option, there are other ways to reduce the cost of your online program to more manageable levels. If you are an undergraduate student, consider doing your first couple of years at a community college. Many community colleges offer programs for online learners in addition to their on-campus programs. And they are significantly cheaper than private schools, public schools, and even state universities. Plus, if you get excellent grades in community college, you can transfer credits to even the best state universities (all of which are offering tons of online degrees these days). You may even be able to secure big scholarships and/or institutional financial aid to cover online college costs based on your grades. There are a lot of ways to handle personal costs for online learners. They aren’t all easy, but there are systems in place that can make it much more manageable for many distance learners. Remember that you’ll need to attend an accredited college to qualify for most financial aid programs, including those from the federal government.
Online Degree Cost: Alternative Tuition Rates
Some institutions offer alternative tuition rates for prospective college students. This includes both private and public colleges. Thomas Edison State University offers out-of-state students a flat-rate tuition of $4,299 per term. If you take 18 credits, you pay $238.83 per credit. That’s a great rate compared to average online college costs. Another affordable online college, Western Governors University, also offers flat-rate tuition at $4,005 per six-month term. Additionally, WGU’s format makes it possible to take courses at your own speed. Take their Bachelor of Business degree as an example. Most college students graduate within 36 months. That’s six terms. For a 120-credit degree, that comes to an online college cost of just $200.25 per credit. It means the whole bachelor’s degree costs under $25,000. And it can be earned in just three years instead of four!
Keep your eyes open for incredible deals like this as colleges try to find ways to make themselves more affordable. The online market is changing and changing fast as it develops and we see more and more innovation. We have tons of articles right here on this website featuring some of the best, most affordable online colleges out there. So if the average cost of tuition still seems like too much, check out our articles that spotlight the schools on the lower side of the average cost. There are many opportunities out there for prospective college students if you know where to look (and we know where to look)!
We trust this breakdown serves you well as you consider the average costs of online college.
- How Do Online Classes Work?
- Top Free Online Colleges
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- Free Online College Courses for Adults
- U.S. News & World Report