Online Colleges in Arkansas

Like many states, Arkansas recognizes the value of online learning, and its potential to help close a looming skills gap. Thanks in part to statewide policies that make online degrees more accessible, Arkansas students have a considerable number of online degrees and schools from which to choose. Read on to learn more.

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As of 2014, the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator lists 86 separate certificate- and degree-granting institutions within the state, and yet Arkansas continues to invest in programs and policies that expand college access for its residents. Why? Because Arkansas needs more college graduates. According to a report from the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, Census figures suggest 29.3 percent of Arkansas' working-age adults had at least a two-year degree in 2012, which put the state considerably behind the 39.4 percent national average. When compared to all other states, Arkansas consistently ranks near the bottom for education attainment at all levels.

Minimizing this attainment gap is one of Arkansas' key economic goals, and with good reason. The Lumina Foundation projects that at least 60 percent of U.S. jobs will require some postsecondary education by the year 2025. If Arkansas' degree attainment rate continues to grow at the current rate, the state will fall nearly 24 percent short of this goal. This could limit the state's ability to attract employers (and the jobs they bring with them).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2013, Arkansas's estimated 1,152,600 workers earned a mean annual wage of $37,340 -- less than the national average. A 2013 report from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) suggests that one of the fastest ways to improve earnings in Arkansas is through education. That's why the state is participating in SREB online learning initiatives, like the Electronic Campus. The Electronic Campus allows Arkansas students to quickly find online classes from all across the South. As of 2014, ten Arkansas colleges participated in the venture, including the University of Arkansas and Arkansas Tech University. Arkansas also participates in the SREB's Academic Common Market, which allows students in participating SREB member states to enroll in online classes from out-of-state colleges at in-state rates. In other words, Arkansas recognizes the power of online learning, and is willing to invest the funds and policies necessary to grow online options within its borders.

Many of the most prominent online colleges in Arkansas are actually traditional brick-and-mortar institutions -- like the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and Arkansas Tech -- that see web-based learning as a tool for serving even the busiest or most remote students. Even two-year schools like National Park Community College have segued into the online education market. There are also a number of national online colleges and career schools that serve Arkansas students, expanding residents' options considerably. These schools were often among the first to adopt online learning and still tend to offer more online degree options than their campus-based counterparts. The key is to find the right program for your goals, learning style and budget.

The Most Affordable Online Colleges in Arkansas

The following list ranks the 10 schools in Arkansas that offer online degrees at the lowest tuition costs. This ranking is based on a number of factors that are important to prospective students such as the actual degree programs that are taught online, and information on tuition fees, accreditation and notable alumni. Tuition figures are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and reflect in-state tuition (when in-state tuition is available) for all students, including online students. See our Methodology section for more details on the ranking methodology.

#1 - University of Arkansas-Fort Smith

  • In-State Tuition: $4,528 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: Nursing RN to BSN degree, plus hundreds of undergraduate- and graduate-level courses

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith launched its first online course in the year 2000, and its online course catalog has grown significantly since then. Today all UAFS academic colleges save the College of Education offer online courses, including the Colleges of: Applied Science and Technology; Business; General Studies; Health Sciences; Humanities and Social Science; Languages and Communication; and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Select hybrid courses require some campus-based instruction, but most are completely web-based. Nursing students can even complete their RN to BSN degrees 100 percent online. Note that students must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average to enroll in online courses at UAFS.

#2 - Arkansas Tech University

  • In-State Tuition: $5,598 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 6 Bachelor's degrees, 5 master's degrees and 1 specialist's degree.

eTECH is Arkansas Tech University's online learning program, which allows students to earn select undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas like Education, Emergency Management, and Nursing, completely online. ATU also offers an accelerated Bachelor of Professional Studies degree, which reduces students' length of study to as little as 18 months. Students enrolled in eTECH courses have access to round-the-clock technical support, additional computer-based training courses through the Virtual Training Center, and other academic and career support services, including financial aid advising.

#3 - University of Arkansas at Little Rock

  • In-State Tuition: $7,094 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 10 undergraduate degrees and 4 postgraduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: CNN anchor T. J. Holmes, AIA Gold Medal winning architect E. Fay Jones, "True Grit" author Charles Portis, Alltel Founder and CEO Joe T. Ford, and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

According to its official website, UALR is committed to offering online students the full college experience, but with the flexibility they need to complete their educations while tending to family, work and other school responsibilities. UALR offers several undergraduate and graduate degrees online, including a handful of unique, accelerated programs that operate on an expedited seven-week system rather than the usual semester system. UALR is a member of the national Quality Matters program -- a program designed to certify the quality and methodology of institutions' online courses.

#4 - University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

  • Tuition: $7,200 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: Select online undergraduate and graduate degrees in medical fields, including the RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and the B.S Online Career Ladder degrees in areas like diagnostic medical sonography and vascular technology.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences bills itself as Arkansas' only comprehensive academic health center with outreach programs operating in Northwest Arkansas. Its eight regional centers and seven "institutes of excellence" give students a great deal of hands-on clinical experience, but the school also offers a number of 100 percent online degrees. Online students who hope to eventually segue to UAMS in a more professional capacity, take note: Employing more than 10,000 Arkansans across 73 counties, UAMS holds the distinction of being the state's largest public employer. (See why health is the most lucrative major in the south)

#5 - Southern Arkansas University

  • In-State Tuition: $7,466 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: Several online undergraduate courses and graduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Several state congressional representatives and senators, including: Denny Altes, Jane English, Boyd Anderson Tackett, Steve Womack and Bill Gossage.

According to its official website, ASU's online learning system was designed to support undergraduate students completing general education courses and other degree requirements, graduate students whose jobs and family responsibilities make college difficult, non-traditional students who stand to benefit from "the freedom and ease of online access," and even retirees pursuing personal enrichment. Each semester more than 1,200 students enroll in more than 350 online courses across a wide breadth of disciplines. Online students have access to the same student support services afforded campus-based students, including tutoring, academic and career counseling, and graduation and retention support.

#6 - Arkansas State University

  • In-State Tuition: $7,510 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 5 Bachelor's degrees and 7 Master's degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, poet Miller Williams, and Medal of Honor recipient George K. Sisler

Arkansas State University offers a diversity of online courses and degree options across a number of disciplines, including education and public administration. Students can earn a Bachelor's of Interdisciplinary Studies degree in one of five separate disciplines: technology, criminology, communications, health and physical education. According to ASU's official website, its online graduate degrees in Business and Education rank among the best in the nation, as rated by U.S. News & World Report. ASU says it is committed to providing convenient online courses taught by "dedicated, highly qualified faculty," allowing students to complete their degrees "in the shortest possible time."

#7 - University of Central Arkansas

  • Tuition: $7,595 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: One undergraduate degree, 14 Master's degrees, and 8 graduate certificates
  • Notable Alumni: Former Arkansas Gov. Benjamin Travis Laney, actor Gil Gerard, University of Texas head football coach Charlie Strong, author Dee Brown, musician and songwriter Jimmy Driftwood, and NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

UCA Online allows the University of Central Arkansas' to serve students from all across the country (or globe), all from the comfort of home. Primary areas of study include Education, Health and Behavioral Sciences, and Liberal Arts. According to the school's official website, UCA Online students have access to the same faculty, affordable tuition rates and financial aid resources as students who report to the classroom. The program also promises a low student-to-professor ratio, even online.

#8 - University of Phoenix (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $10,240 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 46 Associate degrees, 102 Bachelor's degrees, 41 Master's degrees and 8 Doctoral degrees.

The University of Phoenix is another large, national institution offering both online and campus-based degrees. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the university is by far the largest college (by enrollment) in the United States. As of 2014, University of Phoenix offers three Arkansas locations, all of which are in Little Rock. Those who live elsewhere, take heart: The vast bulk of University of Phoenix students are able to complete their degrees online, without ever having to step foot in the classroom. This set-up is especially convenient for students who work on top of attending school, which explains why, according to its official website, nearly a half-million working professionals enroll in University of Phoenix courses each year.

#9 - Ashford University (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $10,312 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: More than 50 online undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Ashford University is an prime example of a national, online university serving Arkansas students (or virtually anyone who has access to an Internet connection). Its online presence cannot be overstated: Though Ashford University only has one physical campus (in Clinton, Iowa), the National Center for Education Statistics reported that it was the second largest college in the nation by enrollments. Students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in a plethora of disciplines, among them: Business; Communications; Criminal Justice; Education; Health Care; Information Technology; Science; Behavioral Science; Public Administration; and Military Studies.

#10 - ITT Technical Institute (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $18,048 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 15 Associate degrees and 20 Bachelor's degrees

ITT Technical Institute is a large, national college that serves students online or on campus. ITT's official website says it connects more than 70,000 students each year with "career-focused" degree programs. Students living in the Little Rock area have the option of reporting to campus, depending on the program, but most students are able to complete their educations completely online. Note that online students can enroll in courses year-round, reducing the amount of time it takes them to complete their degrees. Students can complete online degrees in areas like: Business; Nursing; Criminal Justice; Drafting and Design; Business; and Information Technology.

Online Colleges: Expert Interview

Carolyn Mosley

Dr. Carolyn Mosley, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith

Q. Can you tell us a little about the online programs offered at your school?

The College of Health Sciences has offered the Bachelor of Science in Imaging Science (BSIS) - Management and the Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program since 2004 as fully online programs. The Master of Science in Healthcare Administration (MHCA) will be offered as a fully online program fall 2015 once final approval is granted from the Higher Learning Commission.

The BSIS program targets graduates of Associate of Applied Science Radiography programs who want to receive a bachelor's degree. It provides the educational foundation for registered radiographers to expand their career opportunities while providing the community with quality healthcare practitioners in the imaging sciences. The RN to BSN online program provides educational mobility for associate degree and diploma prepared nurses and the foundation for graduate education in nursing. This flexible track makes possible the opportunity for registered nurses to receive 35 credit hours for previous nursing education and experience. We plan to begin offering an online Master of Science in Healthcare Administration degree program in the fall.

Q. What advice would you give to students interested in an online degree program?

Students sometimes assume that an online version of a course will be easier than its in-class counterpart. This is not the case. Learning online can offer many benefits that a traditional face-to-face class doesn't, but it also introduces some challenges. It takes self-discipline and good time management skills to be successful in online courses. Online courses can be effective for certain types of learners. While many students do well learning in an online environment, others prefer traditional methods of instruction. Prior to enrolling in online courses, students should assess their learning skills, preferences, and personal situations carefully.

Q. How do you anticipate online learning might evolve in the coming years?

As more and more individuals need to work while going to school, it is expected that the interest in online education will increase.

Snapshot of Arkansas Cities

Arkansas is both environmentally and economically diverse, and while online students can technically attend school from anywhere, some cities and metros are more bustling than others. Read on to learn more about three of Arkansas' largest cities and metros, including key economic, demographic and cultural trends. Note that all data was compiled using resources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and official city websites.

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway Metropolitan Area
Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas, and together with surrounding cities -- including North Little Rock and Conway -- makes up the state's largest metro. It is an economic powerhouse supporting a BLS-estimated 334,770 workers in May 2013. Mean annual earnings were $41,240 in the region that year, which is about on par with the national average. Perhaps not surprisingly, the state employs a large share of workers in the area. The region's largest industries (by employment) in July 2014, as reported by the BLS: Government; trade, transportation and utilities; and professional and business services. The Cost of Living Index in the Little Rock area is 99.3, and the average cost of a home is $292,900.

The U.S. Census estimates that as of 2013, nearly 725,000 residents lived in the Little Rock metropolitan area, making it the largest metro in Arkansas (by population). Little Rock's capital status attracts residents and visitors from all across the state, making the city one of Arkansas's primary cultural hotspots.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
Little Rock has earned a great deal of national recognition, and not just as the capital of Arkansas: In 2011, Forbes Magazine named it America's second cleanest city, and in 2013, Outside Magazine named Little rock one of America's Best Towns. Several colleges serve the Little Rock metro, including the University of Arkansas. Students and visitors alike may want to make a trip to the Arkansas Arts Center, the Museum of Discovery, and venues like the Arkansas Arboretum and the Community Theatre of Little Rock.

Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Area
The Fayetteville metro -- which includes the city of Bentonville -- is unofficially regarded as the retail capital of the world; Walmart's global headquarters is located here. The BLS reports that in 2013, the region supported an estimated 208,000 workers earning an annual mean wage of $41,560, a tad above the national average. One area where the Fayetteville and its surrounding communities shines: Employment. Even during the Great Recession the metro fared far better than most of the country. The BLS notes that as of June 2014, unemployment in the Fayetteville metro was 4.9 percent, more than a full point below the national average. The largest industries in the region that month, by employment: Trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; and the government. This area's Cost of Living Index is 89.9, and the cost of home averages $252,875.

Located along the state's most northwestern border, the Fayetteville metro spans three Arkansas counties and one Missouri county, though all of its major cities -- including Fayetteville, Bentonville and Springdale -- are squarely in Arkansas. Its bustling economy attracts workers (and employers) from all across the state. As of 2013, the U.S. Census estimated that just under 492,000 people lived in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro, and its population was trending upward.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
According to the major tourist site Experience Fayetteville, the Fayetteville metro is home to a multitude of art and cultural institutions, including the famous Crystal Bridges Museum. Perhaps one of the region's most impressive assets, however, is the land itself: Nature types can explore more than 40 miles of trails through 4,000 acres of parkland, lakes and rivers.

Fort Smith
Fort Smith may not be the state's capital or a retail mecca, but it remains one of Arkansas' most important economic centers. Several major manufacturing plants are located here, including: Rheem, Georgia-Pacific, Gerber, Mitsubishi Power Systems and Planters Peanuts. The BLS estimates that the area supported 112,020 workers in May 2013. The median annual regional wage was $34,960 that year, or a bit below the national average. Fort Smith's largest industries by employment in 2014, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Trade, transportation and utilities; manufacturing; and the government.

Situated on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, Fort Smith first made its mark as a western frontier military post in the early 1800s. While the city continues to celebrate its Wild West heritage, today's residents and visitors are more likely to come for Fort Smith's economic and educational highlights than its military tradition. According to Census estimates, nearly 280,000 people lived in the Fort Smith area in 2013, making it the third most populous metro in the state of Arkansas.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
Fort Smith houses a number of unique museums, including the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, the Fort Smith Museum of History and the Fort Smith Air Museum. Culture hounds may want to catch the Fort Smith Symphony or the Western Arkansas Ballet, and the city's McCafferty School of Irish Dance has produced some of the most celebrated Irish folk dancers in the nation.

Helpful Resources

The Arkansas Department of Higher Education provides a wealth of information on Arkansas colleges, financial aid and even college transfer procedures. It also publishes a list of approved distance learning programs each year. Another excellent resource for prospective students: The Southern Regional Education Board. Visit its Electronic Campus to find online courses available to Arkansas students, or to learn more about the Academic Common Market.


  1. Academic Common Market, Southern Regional Education Board, http://www.sreb.org/page/1304/academic_common_market.html
  2. Arkansas State University, http://degree.astate.edu/
  3. Arkansas Tech University, http://www.atu.edu/etech/
  4. Ashford University, http://www.ashford.edu/
  5. "A Stronger Arkansas Through Higher Education," Lumina Foundation, 2014, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/downloads/pdfs/arkansas-brief-2014.pdf
  6. "C2ER," The Cost of Living Index, http://www.coli.org/
  7. Dr. Carolyn Mosley, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, interview with the author May, 2015.
  8. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  9. "Economy at a Glance: Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO," Bureau of Labor Statistics, June, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ar_fayetteville_msa.htm
  10. "Economy at a Glance: Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR," Bureau of Labor Statistics, July, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ar_littlerock_msa.htm
  11. "Economy at a Glance: Fort Smith, AR-OK," Bureau of Labor Statistics, July, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ar_fortsmith_msa.htm
  12. "Fast Facts: Highest enrollment," National Center for Education Statistics, 2013, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=74
  13. "May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Arkansas," Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/CURRENT/oes_ar.htm
  14. "May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO," Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_22220.htm
  15. "May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR," Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_30780.htm
  16. "May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Fort Smith, AR-OK," Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_22900.htm
  17. "Participating Institutions Academic Year 9/21/2014 - 12/31/2015," Electronic Campus, Southern Regional Education Board, 2014, https://secure.electroniccampus.org/student/scripts/institutions/institutions.asp
  18. Participating States, Academic Common Market, Southern Regional Education Board, 2014, http://home.sreb.org/acm/states.aspx
  19. Southern Arkansas University, http://web.saumag.edu/online/
  20. The University of Arkansas, Fort Smith, http://uafs.edu/distancelearning/welcome-distance-learning-university-arkansas-fort-smith
  21. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock, http://ualr.edu/online/
  22. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, http://nursing.uams.edu/academic-programs/
  23. The University of Central Arkansas, http://uca.edu/online/
  24. The U.S. Department of Education, The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/

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