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20 Best Online Colleges for Nontraditional Students in 2018-19

Feb 22, 2018 | By Jessica Santina
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Methodology:

Using the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  1. Level of institution is either “Four or more years” or “At least 2 but less than 4 years”
  2. At least 1% of students are taking at least some of the classes via distance education
  3. Data is reported for all 11 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section
  4. School replied “Yes” to the data point “All programs offered completely via distance education”

We ranked 14 colleges on 11 criteria, using 2015-16 data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the weights specified:

  1. Number of programs offered via distance education
  2. Percentage of students participating in distance education classes
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduate and graduate students
  4. Average out-of-state tuition for undergraduate and graduate students
  5. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases and media
  6. Availability of academic/ career counseling services
  7. Availability of job placement services for graduates
  8. Offers dual credit
  9. Offers credit for life experience
  10. Offers advanced placement (AP) credit
  11. Offers credit for military training

All schools were scored on a 10-point scale for each of the points listed above. Individual data point scores were then multiplied by their respective weights, and the scores were added together, for a maximum possible score of 10 points.

Sources:
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20-best-online-colleges-for-nontraditional-students

The vision of the "typical" college student being a fresh-faced 18-year-old just out of high school is slowly changing. The adult, or "nontraditional," college student -- that is, college students age 25 or older, often students who already have families and children -- is not the rarity it once was.

The "Typical" Online Student

According to Aslanian Market Research and Learning House's 2017 report on "Online College Students: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences":

  • 16 percent of online undergraduate students in 2017 were age 18 to 24
  • 21 percent of online undergraduate students in 2017 were age 25 to 29
  • 18 percent of online undergraduate students in 2017 were age 30 to 34
  • 20 percent of online undergraduate students in 2017 were age 35 to 39

That's 59 percent of online undergraduate college students aged 25 to 39, in contrast to the 16 percent aged 18 to 24! Furthermore, 44 percent of online undergraduate students reported having at least one child. As you can see, if you are an adult student or a parent who is worried about feeling out of place if you attend college, you may find yourself feeling much more at home than you expected!

Whether you're returning to college or whether it's your first time, and whatever your reasons for attending -- supporting a family, advancing a career, changing a field of expertise or something different -- you should find yourself in good company, especially at an online college. But where might you be the most comfortable attending? If you're uncertain, allow us to offer some quality recommendations.

Best Online Colleges for Adult Students in 2018-19

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics and our own personal methodology (described in more detail at the bottom of this page,) we've created this ranking of the 20 best online colleges for nontraditional adult students. The percentage of adult learners attending the school and the number of degrees awarded to adult learners were both important factors, as were helpful services such as credit for life experience and placement services. Use this ranking as a springboard to help you find the institution and program best suited to your needs.

1. American Public University System

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
20.44%68.73%

An excellent place for students who are looking into going back to school, APUS offers more than 200 online degree and certificate programs that start monthly and run for eight or 16 weeks -- convenient for adult students juggling work, school and/or family obligations. The system prides itself on its affordability, which extends to its free application and its Undergraduate Book Grant -- a program providing textbooks and ebooks at no charge to selected students who are earning undergraduate academic credits.

2. Southern New Hampshire University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
57.25%20.99%

SNHU goes out of its way to address the needs of the nontraditional learner, from offering more than 200 online programs with 24/7 access, to generous credit transfer policies, to multiple course terms that enable students to begin their studies throughout the year, to widespread faculty and administrative support. The university boasts that its online programs are developed by subject-matter experts, with the goal of teaching students workplace-relevant skills and information.

3. Northern Arizona University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
38.80%10.10%

With 45 bachelor's and 22 master's degree programs, as well as almost 20 graduate certificate programs, all offered online, it's no wonder NAU makes our list. And for adult learners who would like to have extra time for their studies, NAU's competency-based Personalized Learning option (also delivered online) gives students the option to spend as much time as necessary on each course until they have mastered the necessary skills -- no fixed deadlines or strict schedules.

4. University of Central Florida

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
37.29%11.55%

This isn't the first of our ranked lists that UCF has distinguished itself upon, and it's unlikely to be the last! The university offers more than 80 degree and certificate programs, taught fully online by over 200 full-time, tenure-track faculty. Services nontraditional students may appreciate include career placement assistance, access to live librarians, mentoring and success coaching, live tutoring and writing workshops.

5. Liberty University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
47.23%10.29%

This Christian, nonprofit, liberal-arts college in Virginia offers more than 250 certificate, associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral online degree programs in a wide range of subjects. Many of these programs use an eight-week delivery format to expedite your learning, and many also never require on-campus visits at all. Liberty also boasts that it hasn't raised tuition in the last several years. And for returning students who may have some previous college credits they're looking to transfer, Liberty offers free transfer evaluations.

6. Rasmussen College - Minnesota

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
53.40%29.58%

Through its robust online course delivery platform, Rasmussen College offers 30 fully online associate and bachelor's degree programs, as well as diploma and certificate programs in numerous subjects. Helpful resources such as academic advisors, tutoring and 24/7 tech support are available to help guide adult students through their programs. Rasmussen also offers the innovative Flex Choice program, which features a customized blend of competency-based education, self-directed assessments and credits for prior learning.

7. Old Dominion University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
41.54%12.39%

More than 100 distance-learning programs are offered through Old Dominion's ODU Online program. The ODU website stresses that 63 percent of the university's online students work at least 30 hours a week, which speaks to its flexibility for nontraditional students. ODU also offers the unique opportunity to select either synchronous courses -- which take place at regularly scheduled times and involve web conferencing software -- or asynchronous courses -- which allow students to complete their work anytime, anywhere, with target deadlines for meeting milestones.

8. The University of Texas at Arlington

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
48.36%16.67%

UTA's tremendous size allows it to offer a whopping 700 Web-based courses. Plus, students can take advantage of Finish@UT, a fully online, bachelor's degree completion program hosted by the University of Texas System Online Consortium that enables you to choose and study areas of concentration that suit you. UTA also offers accelerated online programs in nursing, education, urban and business affairs, and a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) program, designed to help you apply your learning immediately in the workplace.

9. Georgia Piedmont Technical College

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
47.33%20.38%

This small Georgia college offers Associate of Applied Science degree programs, as well as programs for earning diplomas and technical certificates of credit. And the administration is so sure you'll be satisfied that it even offers a guarantee. If a graduate educated in one of its standard programs is found by an employer to be deficient in one of that occupation's standard competencies, the student may retrain at no cost -- a guarantee that remains in effect for two years after graduation.

10. Central Georgia Technical College

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
47.33%20.38%

CGTC makes our list for the features it offers to Special Populations -- economically disadvantaged, special needs, single parent, displaced homemaker, dislocated worker or nontraditional career populations. Its Special Populations Connections blog helps connect these students to each other and useful resources, and the school offers assistance with book purchases, career guidance and assessment, and language translation services. And the college's T.E.A.M.S. program works to provide early intervention services for students who may be struggling to succeed in school.

11. East Carolina University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
28.64%6.23%

ECU calls itself North Carolina's leader in distance education, with more than 90 online degree and certificate programs. An example of its pioneering approach to online learning is its one-of-a-kind educational leadership doctorate, which can be earned online in just three years, including the dissertation. Its undergraduate programs are degree completion programs, which can be ideal for returning adult learners who have earned at least two years of education elsewhere and want to finish their degrees.

12. Kaplan University - Davenport Campus

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
59.26%19.73%

The Davenport, Iowa campus of Kaplan University offers many benefits to nontraditional students enrolled in its career-focused online programs -- particularly those who've been serving in the military, taken some college classes or already gained workplace experience. Most of its programs enable students to transfer in prior credits. You can prepare a portfolio of prior experience to earn credits toward your degree, and you can even test out of courses you may have already mastered.

13. Fayetteville Technical Community College

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
57.79%17.94%

Fayetteville Tech offers a wide assortment of associate degree, diploma and certificate programs fully online. Servicemembers may enjoy its military-specific partnerships with numerous universities, which help transfer military experience into degree coursework. The college's work-based learning option provides opportunities to apply work experiences toward your degree. And nontraditional students may appreciate the Project Success program, which can award selected students up to $500 in financial assistance in case of certain emergencies, to help remove barriers to continuing your education.

14. San Joaquin Delta College

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
33.69%14.30%

This community college in Stockton, CA, provides a valuable service for adult learners who still may need to complete their general education courses, want to earn associate degrees or need preparation before transferring to a four-year college. Nontraditional students may like its open admissions policy and the fact that it offers credit for life experiences. The college community also values diversity, and offers a wealth of support services for culturally or socially diverse populations.

15. Central Texas College

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
61.92%16.55%

This college was designed with flexibility in mind, with courses offered at night, on weekends or, of course, online. It's a public, open-admission community college offering nearly 30 online associate degree programs and even more online certificate programs in many academic, professional and technical fields. CTC also concentrates much of its effort on military servicemembers, veterans and their families, offering resources such as credit for military education and experience, as well as credit for other nontraditional learning.

16. Albany Technical College

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
45.36%16.30%

Albany Tech is a public, two-year institution in Albany, GA, and the only technical college in the state to have a full-service Career Development Center on campus. Its commitment to keeping the end in mind drives its programs. Graduates leave with a professional career portfolio, and the college warranties its education, ensuring that every graduate who doesn't meet program standards is re-educated at no cost.

17. California State University - East Bay

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
53.32%19.91%

Cal State East Bay makes our list for several reasons, not least of which is its affordability. It's also the most diverse four-year public college on the U.S. mainland, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education. It offers numerous online bachelor's degree completion programs, which is perfect for returning students who are looking to bolster their careers by finishing the degrees they once started. If you've already earned a bachelor's degree, one of the school's online master's degree programs might be just what you need instead.

18. Oregon State University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
37.58%10.89%

OSU Ecampus offers 22 undergraduate and 27 graduate programs online. Oregon State offered distance learning before there ever was a World Wide Web -- its first distance learning program was offered in liberal studies via correspondence and video in the 1980s. And older students may take comfort in knowing the average age of OSU Ecampus students in the 2016-17 school year was 32.

19. University of Houston - Downtown

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
62.16%26.84%

If you've done some college coursework but left school to fulfill other obligations, you might be interested in OHD's online degree completion programs. Choose from 15 bachelor's and three graduate degree programs. Online students have access to both on-campus and online resources, and course credits are fully transferable. What's more, depending on your particular circumstances or learning needs, you may choose from online, hybrid (online and face-to-face components), video conferencing or face-to-face instruction at off-campus locations.

20. Texas Women's University

Percentage of adult learnersPercentage of adult learners awarded a degree in 2016-17
51.34%10.70%

TWU says its purpose is "Educate a woman, empower the world." Emphasizing a female-focused education, this university based in Denton, TX, is committed to transformational learning, discovery and service in an inclusive environment that embraces diversity -- in short, a spirit that aligns closely with the mission of many older, nontraditional students. You can find undergraduate completion and graduate degree programs through TWU, as well as certificate programs, all offered online. Online tutoring is available in multiple subjects, some of which is done 24/7.

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