The Cost of Online College Courses: Closer to Traditional School Fees Than Many Expect

real cost of online college courses

Click To See a List Of Most Moderately-Priced Online Colleges and Universities

Students often bring unrealistic expectations about the cost of online college courses they shop for a degree program. After hearing about MOOCs, some expect all online learning to be free. Others, having read about problems with for-profit schools, expect online degrees to be hugely expensive. Neither of those are necessarily true. There’s no doubt you can pay a high rate for credits at a for profit, state or private school. But if “shop” carefully among schools, the tuition for an of online degree can be kept under control. 

Avoid The Fakes

You should be aware that trying to take shortcuts on cost can be dangerous. Getting a fake degree from a “diploma mill” or a non-accredited online school, for example, is a great way to throw away money, regardless of how low the fee is. When it comes to quality schools, the truth is that many individual distance learning courses cost about the same as traditional on-campus classes.

The “per credit” tuition you will pay for an online degree will, in many cases, be no different from what you would pay as a student in a traditional “brick and mortar” college. But you’ll save a bundle simply by living at home while you study. Campus-based students must spend tens of thousands of dollars on room and board over the course of their education, and non-classroom living costs can truly skyrocket if you attend school in a major city.

Cost Of Online College Courses At State Schools

If you want to study at a state university, you can also get a special benefit from the “distance” in distance education. That’s because state schools have traditionally charged a big premium (sometimes almost double the basic in-state tuition) for on-campus students who are not residents of their particular state. Most state universities kept their higher charges for out-of-state online students in the early days of distance learning. At this point some, but not all of them, have now removed that premium.

Tuition Complexities

Online schools also offer “per semester” tuition, which can help you save if you can study at an intensive rate. Rather than paying a “per credit” charge for each course at Western Governor’s University, for example, you pay a flat fee for each semester. If you can take more than a standard course load, you can cut down on the number of semesters you study and save a good deal. On the other end of the spectrum, if you get too busy with job and family responsibilities while you’re working on a degree and need to stop for awhile, online schools are generally open to allowing you to take a break without any financial penalty. Because they have so many adult students, online degree programs are generally built to serve people with more outside responsibilities than younger, on-campus students.

Cost differences: Traditional and Distance Learning

Most online three credit-hour courses cost anywhere from $700 to $900 – a charge that’s roughly comparable to the fees at mid-range traditional schools. That means that a full online degree, including textbooks and other supplies needed, will probably require an investment of about $7,500 per semester, or about $30,000 total. Certificate programs, even at a fairly high professional level, can cost less because they involve fewer courses. For example, a certificate degree in supervisory skills at Cornell eLearning, a top school, currently costs about $5,000., and requires 11 courses.

There are several ways to defray this cost. If you’re employed, particularly by a mid to large-sized company, you may be able to get a the company to fund some or even all of the cost of your online college courses. The federal government, which has traditionally given grants only to on-campus students, has shown more flexibility in recent years about giving financial aid to online students.

Find out as early as possible in your school search what your credit hours will cost. Also, be aware that many schools – both online and campus based – charge late application fees, late payment fees and other charges to people who apply just before school starts. You want to avoid those by getting all documents in on time. You can also help keep your degree affordable by watching out for “hidden charges” like graduation fees and other charges that don’t seem to make sense before signing on to your degree program.

Here are some of the most reasonably priced bachelors and associates degree programs, which you can get free information on by filling out some information about your interests. Estimated fees here are for the school year 2016 – 2017, and don’t include books and other costs unless otherwise noted.

Colorado Technical University
CTU is a large institution based on Colorado Springs with over 25,000 students. It has accreditation and has been ranked #1 Best for Vets in the category for online and non-traditional universities by Military Times Magazine. The school’s $325. per credit hour cost is very much at the affordable end of the spectrum for online schools.
Offers associate’s and bachelor’s degrees online in
– Criminal Justice (multiple specialties)
– Business
– Accounting
– Project Management
– Information Systems (multiple specialties)
– Electrical Engineering
Learn more about Colorado Tech’s degree programs

Grand Canyon University A large private school offering online degrees at a relatively moderate price for a school with strong name recognition across the country. Grand Canyon has a vast array of bachelors degrees in specialties including:
– Justice Studies
– Cyber Security
– Accounting
– Education
– Business Information Systems
– Computer Programming
– Psychology
– Nursing
Get info on Grand Canyon University

Online Degree Schools

Kaplan University
A very large and well-known school with over 40,000 students on 11 campuses and in a large online degree program, and regional accreditation. Offers a very wide range of degrees in:
- Criminal Justice
- Education
- Health Care
- Nursing
- Computer Technology
- Information Systems
- Legal Studies
Learn more about Kaplan's degree programs

Ashford University
San Diego, CA-based school established in 1918, Ashford offers a vast array of online degrees online across the range from associate to bachelor and masters, in addition to it's campus-based programs. Degrees available in:
- Business Management - BA & MBA in 19 different specialties
- Early Childhood Education
- Marketing
- Health Care Studies
- Homeland Security
- Psychology
- Sports Managment
Get information on Ashford's online programs
(Ashford University is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission, 985 Atlantic Avenue, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94501, 510.748.9001, Certain degree programs may not be available in all states. For more information about on-time completion rates, the median loan debt of students who completed each program, and other important information, please visit:

American Intercontinental University
AIU, a large online school, has a low credit hour tuition, but it does require more credits than some other schools on bachelor programs. The school works very hard to keep student costs down, however, by giving credit to degree programs from up to 50% of transfers for previous coursework at another school, and in some cases actually giving 75% credit. That's unusual. AIU offers associates's degrees in Business and Criminal Justice, as well as online bachelor degree programs in:
- Business (many specialties)
- Accounting
- Computers & Information Technology
- Healthcare Management
- Criminal Justice (many specialties)
Get info on American Intercontinental University

Colorado Technical University
CTU is a large institution based on Colorado Springs with over 25,000 students. It has accreditation and has been ranked #1 Best for Vets in the category for online and non-traditional universities by Military Times Magazine. Offers associate's and bachelor's degrees online in
- Criminal Justice (multiple specialties)
- Business
- Accounting
- Project Management
- Information Systems (multiple specialties)
- Logistics
- Psychology
Learn more about Colorado Tech's degree programs

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