We ranked 969 schools based on the following categories:
- Available alternative tuition plans, using the 2015-16 final data set from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
- Number of distance education programs offered, using the 2015-16 final data set from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
- Cumulative median debt of graduating students, using data from College Scorecard, 2017.
- Average debt repayment of graduated students, averaged together from four different durations that were analyzed using data from College Scorecard, 2017.
- Average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to students, using the 2015-16 final data set from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
- Percent of students receiving institutional grant aid, using the 2015-16 final data set from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
- Financial aid by income level, ranking separately for percentage of students awarded aid and average amount of aid rewarded at five different income levels, using the 2015-16 final data set from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
- Net price of education, including grant and scholarship aid, using the 2015-16 final data set from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).
To get the final results, schools were ranked on a weighted average of their scores across all eight categories. In the event of a tie, the “Net price of education” category was used as a tiebreaker, and the state with the lower net price was declared the winner.
- National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Accessed October 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- College Scorecard, Accessed October 2017, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/
- Interview with David Dollins, conducted by Kenya McCullum in January 2018
- "Grants vs. Loans" by Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, April 4, 2014, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/04/study-shows-positive-imapcts-government-aid-graduation-rates
- History of SIU, Southern Illinois University, Accessed October 2017, http://siu.edu/about-siu/history.php
- Online Degrees and Classes, Southern Illinois University, Accessed October 2017, http://extendedcampus.siu.edu/programs/
- Financial Aid Office, Southern Illinois University, Accessed October 2017, http://fao.siu.edu/
- About OU, The University of Oklahoma, Accessed October 2017, http://www.ou.edu/content/web/about_ou.html
- Academic Catalog, Northern Arizona University, Accessed October 2017, http://catalog.nau.edu/Catalog/results?cat=ALLDEGREES&campus=DISLN
- Tuition Discounts, Northern Arizona University, Accessed October 2017, http://ec.nau.edu/TuitionDiscounts.aspx
- About Illinois Overview, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Accessed October 2017, http://illinois.edu/about/index.html
- About Temple, Temple University, Accessed October 2017, https://nextstop.temple.edu/about
- Graduate Programs, Online.temple.edu, Temple University, Accessed October 2017, https://online.temple.edu/offerings/graduate
- Fast Facts, Temple University, Accessed October 2017, https://nextstop.temple.edu/about/fast-facts
- About Illinois Springfield, University of Illinois Springfield, Accessed October 2017, http://www.uis.edu/about/
- Online, University of Illinois Springfield, Accessed October 2017, http://www.uis.edu/online/
- About the University of Arizona, Accessed October 2017, http://www.arizona.edu/about
- Online Programs: All, University of Arizona, Accessed October 2017, http://uaonline.arizona.edu/programs/all
- History & Traditions, Ohio University, Accessed October 2017, https://www.ohio.edu/students/history.cfm
- Focus on Ohio, Ohio University, Accessed October 2017, https://www.ohio.edu/focus/
- The OHIO Guarantee, Ohio University, Accessed October 2017, https://www.ohio.edu/guarantee/index.cfm
- About Ohio State Online, Ohio State University, Accessed April 2019, https://online.osu.edu/about
- About Mizzou, University of Missouri, Accessed October 2017, http://missouri.edu/about/
- Online Degrees and Programs, University of Missouri, Accessed October 2017, http://online.missouri.edu/degreeprograms/index.aspx
- Degrees Available Totally Online, Oklahoma State University, Accessed October 2017, http://www.osuokc.edu/academics/degrees_online.aspx
- Scholarships & Financial Aid, Oklahoma State University, Accessed October 2017, https://financialaid.okstate.edu/
- Scholarships and Financial Aid, Oklahoma State University, Accessed October 2017, https://financialaid.okstate.edu/
- America's Healthiest Campus, Oklahoma State University, Accessed October 2017, https://firstcowgirl.okstate.edu/america%E2%80%99s-healthiest-campus
You've probably heard about the growing concern over the magnitude of the national student debt, and the statistics show that there might be something to it. Forbes reported in 2018 that the total amount of money owed by student borrowers is over $1.5 trillion, with the average Class of 2016 graduate carrying more than $37,000 in unpaid college loans.
Steadily increasing tuition rates are certainly part of the reason for those big numbers, but they don't tell the whole story. At public schools in most states, for example, room and board, transportation, books and supplies tend to tend to cost as much or more as tuition and mandatory fees. Here are a few quick data points from the College Board:
- Average tuition, fees, room and board at public universities, 2018-19: $21,370
- Average tuition and fees at public universities, 2018-19: $10,230
- Average room and board at public universities, 2018-19: $11,140
How Can I Afford College?
These numbers may seem forbidding, but don't let them discourage you. There are a range of options available for students who are looking to save a few thousand dollars each year on the basic costs of enrollment. Here are three tips to get you started:
- Tip One: Earning your degree online can actually help lower admission costs, particularly at in-state schools. If you take an active role in budgeting your education, the savings available by avoiding parking fees, meal plans, dorm charges and hardcover textbooks can be significant.
- Tip Two: Financial aid is a big part of just about every student's college budget, and can often make the biggest difference to your total debt load. If you attend one of the most affordable online colleges in your state with an eye toward landing scholarships and grants, you may be able to knock thousands of dollars off the total cost of your degree.
- Tip Three: Although schools in your own state are likely to offer more affordable degree programs than schools in other states, some out-of-state institutions offer tuition breaks -- especially for online students -- that may tip the scales. Be sure to look into such options if your goal is to attend college out-of-state.
David Dollins, associate vice president of enrollment management at Clarion University of Pennsylvania
"Unlike other industries where negotiating price is commonplace, within higher education that practice is not as frequent. With that said, universities are more commonly "discounting" tuition rates (i.e., "sticker price") to draw more students. Savvy families will work to negotiate scholarship amounts and pit another university's (or universities') financial aid package against yours in an effort to leverage more aid dollars off total cost. The challenge, though, is that the Department of Education has very strict regulations on loans and federal grant money, and so more often than not it is the university's own monies that are being utilized to see what might be done, if anything at all. This means that not all schools are in a position to negotiate, so students and families should still keep overall academic fit top of mind. But it never hurts to ask."
Dollins previously served as executive director of undergraduate admissions and orientation at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. Under his leadership, NAU recruited and enrolled six straight, record first-year classes, representing 41.5 percent growth since 2011.
The moral of the story is, don't write off your dream school without making sure you're aware of all the different sources of aid that might be able to help you afford your education! Here are a few important avenues of aid to be aware of when doing your research:
- FAFSA. Every student should be familiar with the FAFSA. An acronym for "Free Application for Federal Student Aid," this nationwide form can be your gateway to thousands of potential scholarships, grants and subsidized loans.
- Tuition payment plans. Some institutions have financing options to help students spread the cost of their tuition and fees over a series of installments. These plans may come with restrictions, so be sure to talk to your registrar or financial aid advisor for details.
- Prepaid tuition plans. This kind of plan allows students, family members and others to purchase tuition credits before university admission is even granted. Tuition credits scale with the cost of tuition, meaning that they'll hold their value per credit hour even as tuition increases.
- Guaranteed tuition plans. Some states offer tuition guarantees for resident students. These plans ensure that the tuition rate you pay during your first year of enrollment stays consistent throughout the rest of your degree plan, creating a stable base for budgeting your education expenses.
- Institutional grants. Unlike loans, these financial aid awards don't need to be repaid after graduation. In most cases, they are available through individual colleges and universities, so your school's financial aid office should be able to tell you about them. However, grants often come with specific sets of eligibility qualifications and may require applications other than the FAFSA, so it helps to be proactive about pursuing them.
- Title IV. Federal student aid initiatives, which include Stafford Loans, Pell Grants and other common programs, all fall under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Only schools included under Title IV may disburse aid from these programs to their students.
10 Online Colleges with the Best Financial Aid in 2019-20
In order to find out which schools offer the most affordable online degree programs when accounting for variable factors such as financial aid and tuition plans, we had to get creative. The U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)'s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) supplies data about higher education, such as cumulative median student debt, average financial aid by student income level and the net price of education after average grant and scholarship aid is factored in. We pulled together data on those points and others, then ran the data through our proprietary ranking methodology to calculate this list.
Please note that this is NOT a list of the cheapest online colleges. In fact, the tuition costs for these colleges can be quite high. However, the large amount of financial assistance that these colleges offer can make them much more affordable than the price tag may lead you to believe! It is also worth noting that the schools on this list are unanimously high quality, with the majority earning a score of 95 or higher in our Top Colleges Tool.
Read on for our list of the most affordable online colleges and see if one might be right for you. (If you are looking for lists of the cheapest online colleges, check out the "Affordable Online Colleges" sections on our state pages instead.)
University of Arizona
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
Northern Arizona University
University of Oklahoma - Norman Campus
Ohio University - Main Campus
University of Illinois at Springfield
Ohio University - Main Campus
Florida State University
Oklahoma State University - Main Campus
If you've got questions the information on this page didn't answer, there are other resources that you can look into. The financial aid office at your intended university is always a good bet, for one -- they'll likely have the scoop on institution-specific programs like grants and scholarships that sources outside that particular college may not know about.
Chances are that you'll still need to take out at least one or two student loans to take care of your remaining tuition expenses, but taking an active role in your college finances should help you avoid the worst of it. Don't forget to check out our How to Pay index page for more information, and good luck!