Online Colleges in Pennsylvania

As home to some of the nation's oldest and best known universities, Pennsylvania has earned its stripes as a higher education powerhouse. Its diversity of online schools underscores its ongoing commitment to serving its students, and its drive to stay on the cutting edge. Read on to learn more about online colleges in Pennsylvania, including key trends and 10 online schools ranked by affordability.

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Pennsylvania's first college, The University of Pennsylvania, predates the Declaration of Independence, and if the number of colleges and degree programs that exist in the state are any indication, the commonwealth is as committed as ever to developing and educating the next generation of workers. As of 2014, the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator database includes 421 separate institutions of higher learning in the Commonwealth, including 140 schools that offer Bachelor's degrees. Pennsylvania's Department of Education, meanwhile, lists more than 500 institutions of higher learning at all levels, including private specialty schools, public two- and four-year institutions, private not-for-profit institutions, and others. Among the most common types of credentials these schools offer:

  • Technical and postsecondary certificates and diplomas
  • Associate degrees
  • Bachelor's degrees
  • Master's degrees
  • Doctoral and professional degrees
  • Continuing education certificates

What has prompted Pennsylvania to invest so much in higher education? There are dozens of good reasons to prioritize education, but an ever-growing demand for educated workers certainly ranks near the top. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of May 2013, 5,616,820 workers called Pennsylvania home. Among its largest industries, by employment:

  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Education and health services
  • Professional and business services
  • Government

While not all of these jobs demand higher education, many do, and that share is growing quickly. According to a 2010 report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, about 1.8 million jobs are expected to be available to Pennsylvania residents between 2008 and 2018 -- and one million of them will require a college degree. Many of the careers mentioned in the state's 2014 list of High-Priority Occupations require at least an Associate degree. While this spells good news for Pennsylvanians who graduate from college, it puts those who have not at a disadvantage. The Lumina Foundation reports that as of 2012, only 39.7 percent of Pennsylvania's working-age adults (ages 25-64) held a degree. Pennsylvania needs to find ways to close this education shortfall if it hopes to excel economically. Online colleges in Pennsylvania are an important part of the solution.

Thanks to the rise of online education, today's students now have more access to more postsecondary training programs than ever before. With their convenience and flexibility, online colleges in Pennsylvania offer numerous advantages over traditional campus-based instruction. Not surprisingly, many well-known colleges in the state have already begun offering online learning options. For example, the University of Pennsylvania offers online degrees in healthcare fields, such as dentistry and nursing, as well as free, non-credit versions of a number of its traditional courses through MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) provider Coursera.

Private institutions in Pennsylvania also feature online degrees that help prepare students for the state's changing economy. Arcadia University has several online degree programs, including Bachelor's degrees in Liberal studies and Business administration, and Master's degrees in Creative Writing, Special Education and Instructional Technology. Carnegie Mellon University, meanwhile, developed the Open Learning Initiative, or OLI, which is an online platform that allows students to take courses taught by professors from all over the country.

There are also a number of national online colleges that offer a broad range of online degrees to students in Pennsylvania. Some, such as DeVry University, University of Phoenix, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, even have physical campuses in state. These schools may offer both fully-online and blended learning options, allowing students to split their time between virtual courses and on-campus instruction.

The Top 10 List of Online Colleges in Pennsylvania

The following list of online colleges in Pennsylvania gives a sense for the diversity of institutions in the Commonwealth that offer online degrees. We have ranked them by affordability, and included key information, such as the number and types of programs offered and accreditation status.

#1 - University of Phoenix in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $10,240 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: Over 100 undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs.

In terms of enrollment, the University of Phoenix is the largest university in the United States, serving nearly half a million working professionals each year. As with DeVry, the University of Phoenix is a major national player in the world of online education, but offers additional, classroom-based training across Pennsylvania. Students can earn certificates, Associate degrees, Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and even doctoral degrees in a wide range of disciplines, 100 percent online. The school also offers special programs for working professionals accruing continuing education units and military service members.

#2 - Temple University

  • In-state Tuition: $14,096 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 2 postgraduate and 2 doctoral
  • Notable Alumni: Comedian Bob Saget, filmmaker Richard Brooks, director Adam McKay, football player Jim Callahan, author Tom McHale, Olympian Jason Read and more.

Temple University's Online Learning (OLL) program prides itself on its scope of programs and its flexibility. Students can complete undergraduate, graduate and even continuing education courses online. As of 2014, students can complete a handful of degree programs entirely online, including a Doctor of Physical Therapy; an Ed.M. in Educational Psychology; a Clinical Doctorate of Occupational Therapy; and an MBA. Note the U.S. News & World Report ranked Temple's online graduate business programs among the top 10 in the nation in 2014.

#3 - DeVry University-Pennsylvania (Visit School Site)

  • Tuition: $16,010 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: Close to 100 undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs.

DeVry University in Pennsylvania is an excellent example of large, national online school that also offers campus-based programs in the Pennsylvania cities of Ft. Washington, King of Prussia, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Because DeVry is so large and so experienced in the realm of online education, it offers courses, certificates, undergraduate and even graduate degrees in an exceptional diversity of disciplines. Programs tend to be accelerated: classes begin every eight weeks.

#4 - Pennsylvania State University

  • In-state Tuition: $16,992 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: Over 120 certificates, Associate degrees, Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and doctoral degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Architect Louis Astorino, novelists David Morrell and Alan Furst, Tony award-winning set designer Oliver Smith, Nike CEO Mark Parker, actor Ty Burrell, columnist Margaret Carlson, Nobel laureate Paul Berg

Penn State offered its first distance education courses in 1892, which used the U.S. Postal Service to relay student work. Today the institution's distance learning programs look much different, but are every bit as progressive as they were then. In 1998, Penn State became one of the first major accredited colleges in the nation to offer online education options to its students. These offerings have evolved into the school's World Campus, which is among the largest online schools in Pennsylvania, serving students from 50 states and 60 countries across all seven continents. Students can complete more than 120 accredited certificates, Associate degrees, Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees and doctoral degrees, all completely online, from the comfort of home.

#5 - University of Pittsburgh

  • In-state Tuition: $17,100 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 11 postgraduate programs
  • Notable Alumni: Nobel Prize laureates Paul Lauterbur, Philip Hench and Wangari Maathai; National Medal of Science winners Bert W. O'Malley and Herbert Boyer; professional athletes John Woodruff, Dan Marino, Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett.

Pitt Online says its goal is to provide its students with the same "superb" education they would receive in the classroom, which means classes are lead by the same faculty, both on- and off-campus. Online students also have access to a number of helpful services, including a comprehensive digital library, academic advising and a wide range of instructional materials. Penn Online primarily offers Master's degrees and Post-Master's and graduate certificates in areas like education, nursing, business and the information sciences. In 2014, U.S. News & World Report ranked Pitt Online's graduate-level education and engineering programs among the top 50 in the nation, and its online graduate nursing program ranked 56th.

#6 - La Salle University

  • Tuition: $38,200 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 3 undergraduate and 6 postgraduate
  • Notable Alumni: Deputy U.S. Secretary of State William Burns, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Charles Fuller; architect John McShain, Associated Press president and CEO Tom Curley, plus six U.S. Olympics medalists and dozens of professional athletes.

La Salle University says that when it comes to its online programs, it prioritizes academic quality, flexibility and convenience. Students can enroll in 100 percent online undergraduate and graduate programs (and graduate certificates), or blended programs that combine classroom and web-based instruction. Key online disciplines include computer science; forensics; business; education; speech-language pathology; and nursing.

#7 - Saint Joseph's University

  • Tuition: $39,040 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 2 undergraduate and 8 postgraduate
  • Notable Alumni: John Lehmer, Jack Ramsay, Andrew von Eschenbach, Jamie Moyer and Bruiser Flint

Saint Joseph's University says it has been developing minds for more than 160 years -- a mission it extended significantly with its enthusiastic adoption of online learning. Today students can earn online Bachelor of Science degrees in Professional and Liberal Studies and Bachelor of Science in Professional and Liberal Studies with a concentration in Autism Studies. Master's degrees are offered in Business Intelligence; Criminal Justice; Health Administration; Instructional Technology; Organizational Development & Leadership; Secondary Education; Special Education; Deaf Education and graduate certificates in a plethora of fields, including business, leadership, education and more. It also hosts an online resource center designed to support its online learners.

#8 - Lehigh University

  • Tuition: $43,520 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 13 postgraduate degrees and 2 doctoral degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Pulitzer Prize winning authors Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe and Joe Morgenstern, actor Don Most, Dr Harry J. Buncke, Manhattan Project physicist Robert Serber, astronomer Richard Hawley Tucker.

Lehigh University offers Master's degrees in Biological Chemical Engineering; Chemical Engineering; Chemistry; Healthcare Systems Engineering; Management Science and Engineering; Manufacturing Systems Engineering; Mechanical Engineering; Molecular Biology; Polymer Science; Engineering; Educational Leadership; Globalization & Educational Change; International Counseling; and an MBA. It's doctoral degrees include Educational Leadership and Comparative & International Education. All of these programs, including a host of certificates, are offered through its Global Online Degrees & Training program. According to U.S. News & World Report, Lehigh is home to some of the best online graduate programs in the country, especially in the fields of business and engineering.

#9 - Villanova University

  • Tuition: $44,430 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 1 undergraduate program and 2 postgraduate programs
  • Notable Alumni: Howie Long, singer/songwriter Don McLean, Jill Biden, Harvard President John L. Hennessy and actor Jon Polito

Villanova is a leader in online education in the state of Pennsylvania, offering dozens of certificates, undergraduate and graduate degrees 100 percent online. The schools offers an undergraduate RN-BSN program and two Master's programs in Human Resource Development and Public Administration. The school also offers a number of not-for-credit master certificate programs in areas like Six Sigma; Software Testing; Intelligence and more. U.S. News & World Report ranked Villanova's online graduate business and engineering programs among the best in the country.

#10 - University of Pennsylvania

  • Tuition: $45,890 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 1 postgraduate program
  • Notable Alumni: U.S. President William Henry Harrison, Philosopher Noam Chomsky, Tesla and PayPal founder Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Donald Trump, and others, including eight signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, three U.S. Supreme Court justices and 28 Nobel laureates

The University of Pennsylvania is one of the nation's oldest universities, but its online courses, certificates and degrees are anything but traditional. Students can complete online courses in a number of traditionally hands-on fields, such as Medical, Nursing and Dental Education. Meanwhile, its Wharton Executive Education program ranks perhaps among one of the most respectable online MBA programs in the country. Penn is also one of the major institutions contributing to Coursera, a provider of massive, open online courses, or MOOCs. MOOCs are free, non-credit courses available to anyone, anywhere, any time.

Snapshot of Pennsylvania Cities

More than 12 million people, according to the 2012 Census, make Pennsylvania the sixth most populous state in the nation. It is also a diverse one, attracting residents of all different backgrounds, and from all across the globe. Naturally Pennsylvania is home to several thriving metropolitan centers, each with its own history, economy and demographic makeup. The following is a snapshot of Pennsylvania's largest metros, along with key economic and population data derived from the U.S. Census and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additional fun facts were drawn from official Chambers of Commerce and city websites.

The Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metropolitan region is the largest in the commonwealth, and according to the BLS, supported more than 1.8 million workers as of May, 2013. Education and Health Services remains the state's largest industry, but the Trade, Transportation and Utilities; and the Professional and Business Services sectors are not far behind. The Philadelphia metro's median annual wage in 2013 was $51,780 -- well above the national average. The Cost of Living index is 118.8, with home prices averaging $399,600.

Philadelphia was home to more than 1.5 million people in 2010, but the total metropolitan region supports nearly half of the state's total workforce.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
You need not be a history buff to know that Philadelphia played a significant role the nation's history -- both before and after its independence from England. Area and visiting students can tour a number of historical sites and cathedrals, including the famous Liberty Bell. It also offers a myriad of cultural highlights, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a thriving zoo.

Though much less populous than Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is the second-largest metropolitan region in Pennsylvania; more than 1.1 million people worked here in May 2013. The region's largest industries, by employment: Education and Health Services; Trade, Transportation and Utilities; and Professional and Business Services. The median annual wage in the Pittsburgh metro was $44,950 in 2013 -- about on par with the national average. The Cost of Living index is 94.4, with average home prices at $225,839.

More than 300,000 Pennsylvanians lived in the Pittsburgh proper in 2010, but the entire Pittsburgh metro supported about one-fifth of the commonwealth's total civilian workforce that year.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
Pittsburgh may be historically synonymous with steel, but actually holds a number of claims to fame. Known as the "City of Bridges," Pittsburgh is home to nearly 450 bridges -- more than the city of Venice. It is also home to a number of world-famous art venues, including the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Phipps Conservatory.

The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan region is the commonwealth's third largest metro, economically speaking, drawing 336,550 workers in 2013. The area's largest industries, by employment: Trade, Transportation and Utilities; Education and Health Services; and Professional and Business Services. The metro's 2013 median annual wage of $43,910 was about on par with the national average. The Cost of Living index is 105.1, and home prices average $319,097.

Allentown proper was home to more than 118 thousand people in 2010, making it the third most populous city in Pennsylvania. According to the BLS, the metro supported a bit less than 10 percent of the state's total working population -- far less than Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
Allentown is green, but not with envy: The region maintains over 2,000 acres of parkland, which, according to the city's official web site, is well above the national average. It also features a bustling, renovated downtown complete with two symphony orchestras, an opera house, an art museum and two theater companies. Visitors should be sure to visit Hamilton Street in particular, which serves as a cultural and business center.

Helpful Resources

Prospective students considering online colleges in Pennsylvania should consult a number of resources before choosing a program. The Pennsylvania Department of Education maintains an online database of distance education providers from across the state, and the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator allows visitors to search for schools and degree programs of all times, online or otherwise. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), part of the U.S. Department of Education, can provide additional information about schools, including enrollment and demographic data. Perhaps the best source of information when evaluating online colleges in Pennsylvania, however, is the schools themselves. Students can contact college admissions offices to request more information or to clarify program details, accreditation status and more.


1. "A Stronger Pennsylvania Through Higher Education," Lumina Foundation, 2014, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/downloads/pdfs/pennsylvania-brief-2014.pdf
2. "Best Online Programs," U.S. News & World Report, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education
3. DeVry Online programs, http://www.devry.edu/online-education/online-education.html
4. "Distance Education Providers," Pennsylvania Department of Education, http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/distance_education_providers/21555
5. Economic News Release, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.t01.htm
6. "Educational Attainment," 2012 American Community Survey, American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_12_1YR_S1501&prodType=table
7. "Help Wanted: Projections Of Jobs And Education Requirements Through 2018," Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University, June 15, 2010, Anthony P. Carnevale, et. al., https://cew.georgetown.edu/jobs2018
8. "High-Priority Occupations, Department of Labor & Industry," Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2014, https://cew.georgetown.edu/jobs2018
9. La Salle University, http://www.lasalle.edu/online-programs-courses/
10. Lehigh University, http://distance.lehigh.edu/
11. Lehigh University College of Education, http://coe.lehigh.edu/international
12. "May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Philadelphia, PA Metropolitan Division," Occupational Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_37964.htm
13. "May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Pittsburgh, PA Metropolitan Division," Occupational Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_38300.htm
14. "May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ Metropolitan Division," Occupational Employment Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_10900.htm
15. "May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Pennsylvania," Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_pa.htm#00-0000
16. "Pennsylvania metropolitan areas," Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_metropolitan_areas
17. Penn State World Campus, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/
18. Penn State Online Degrees and Certificates, http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/degrees-and-certificate
19. Saint Joseph's University, http://online.sju.edu/
20. Saint Joseph's University Programs, http://online.sju.edu/programs/programs.asp?cmgfrm=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
21. "Search Educational Entities," Education Names and Addresses (EDNA), Pennsylvania Department of Education, http://www.edna.ed.state.pa.us/Screens/wfSearchEntity.aspx
22. Temple University, http://www.temple.edu/oll/
23. Temple University Programs, http://www.temple.edu/oll/onlinecourses.htm
24. University of Pennsylvania, http://www.upenn.edu/programs/distance.php
25. University of Pennsylvania Open Learning, http://openlearning.upenn.edu/
26. University of Pittsburgh (Pitt Online), http://www.online.pitt.edu/
27. University of Pittsburgh Programs, http://www.online.pitt.edu/programs/index.php
28. University of Phoenix, http://www.phoenix.edu/campus-locations/pa.html
29. University of Phoenix Online Programs, http://www.phoenix.edu/degrees.html
30. Villanova University, http://www.villanovau.com/
31. Villanova University Programs, http://www.villanovau.com/programs/

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