12 Most Affordable Online Colleges – Cheap Options in 2024

December 19, 2023

affordable online colleges, cheap

Affordable online colleges (see list of cheap online colleges below) are taking off—though remote learning is certainly not a new phenomenon. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic forced students indoors, 19th-century correspondence courses allowed students to learn all sorts of trades, from clerical skills to mining safety. Emily Dickinson sought tutelage from her mentor Thomas Wentworth Higginson via the post, yet remained in seclusion in Amherst, Massachusetts. We might even consider the erudite letters of Héloïse and Abelard a form of remote learning. These lovers-turned-monastic scholars corresponded to teach each other their views on ethics and theology.

While online learning today may sound less romantic, the common denominator among these examples remains appealing: convenience and affordability. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has noted that 2021 saw around 9.4 million students enrolled in at least one distance education course. That’s 61% of all undergraduate students. Compare this number to 2019, when only 36% of undergraduates were enrolled in at least one remote course. Remote learning didn’t simply fade away as the threat of Covid-19 subsided. The convenience and affordability of online courses continue to encourage undergraduates to seek some form of remote learning.

This article will examine the main reasons to attend one of the country’s cheap online colleges, before delving into our list of the 12 most affordable online colleges.

Why Consider Affordable Online Colleges?

In our current inflation, amidst a wobbly economy, high schoolers, transfer students, parents, and job-holders are considering an online degree. Let’s consider the cons first. An online education cannot offer the same camaraderie one will get from in-person classes and extracurriculars. Nothing can replace late-night escapades across campus, the excitement of athletic competitions, or the cavernous nooks of a college library. Yet these aspects are only accessories to a good education.

Not everyone seeks ambiance when applying to college. For anyone who wants to cut costs significantly, a cheap online college is a great way to go. What makes remote learning more affordable is twofold. First, students don’t pay for on-campus amenities (think food and board). Other “hidden amenities” such as career and health services may be reduced, optional, or not included. Second, students can balance courses with a job. Of course, many students at in-person colleges take part-time employment to alleviate tuition stress. Yet remote learning provides even more flexibility in the work-life balance. People who hold full-time jobs may find a way to work and obtain their degree at the same time.

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This flexibility extends to students who are also committed to raising children or who act as family caretaker. Finally, another pro of remote learning is the accessibility to a variety of educations. The profusion of online options means that those who wish to attend a research-heavy program can do so. Meanwhile, more career-focused students can find a plethora of remote options among technical schools. Overall, choosing a cheap online college may mean less student debt, less stress, more flexibility at home and in work. It can also result in a greater intentionality when it comes to choosing your institution and major.

Our List, Our Ranking Methodology

Please note that the following list of cheap online colleges is by no means conclusive. College statistics change yearly, and remote fees can change even more quickly. Likewise, most college websites mention that costs are subject to change without notice. And, while some colleges post tuition information per semester, others calculate an average yearly tuition. To further complicate the matter, an average courseload can vary between 12-18 course credits a semester. Some college websites publish a flat rate for a “full” load. Others make a more precise calculation based on each course credit. Thus, you should consider the following tuition and fees as simple estimates.

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Next, keep in mind that some colleges will charge an additional fee per course credit hour for online courses. (I’ve included this fee in the ranking when it’s made available.) Other colleges don’t explicitly state whether tuition and fees change depending on the balance of remote courses to in-person courses. Finally, each college student will have a unique situation regarding educational requirements, possible lab equipment fees, in-state residency, financial aid, etc. Some college websites allow students to calculate these additional variables with an online estimator tool.

In selecting 12 affordable online colleges, I’ve prioritized affordability above all other factors. Next, I defined affordability as yearly tuition and fees, and did not include other monetary factors. (These might include books, course materials, housing, and transportation. Many of these additional expenses do not concern full-time remote students.) I’ve pulled data from the relevant college websites. I’ve also consulted the NCES for statistics on remote learning. I have tried whenever possible to include both in-state and out-of-state tuition information.

Affordable Online Colleges: What to Keep in Mind…

While perusing our list, students should consider other factors relevant to their personal situation. For example, some students may prefer to pay for hidden amenities, such as mental health services and networking possibilities. Other students will not. Students should also consider whether synchronous courses (courses that take place according to a fixed schedule) will give them the framework they need to remain disciplined and keep up with assignments. On the other hand, asynchronous courses may provide students with the necessary flexibility to hold down a job.

Finally, keep in mind that institutional accreditations may become important for those applying for federal financial aid. They may also be important for those who plan to apply to graduate school. While this list is a jumping-off point, all students should expand their search by looking for in-state schools in which they are a resident. Students must also look for programs specifically tailored to their interests. See our list of “Other Affordable Online Colleges” below, which may provide additional inspiration.

The 12 Most Affordable Online Colleges

1) University of North Carolina at Pembroke

The University of Carolina at Pembroke is one of the cheapest online colleges in the U.S. An in-state full-time undergraduate living on campus will pay $1,000 a year in tuition, and $2,490 a year in fees. An out-of-state resident should expect to pay $5,000 a year in tuition, and $2,490 in fees. In 2022, 36% of Pembroke undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

 2) Clayton State University

Compared to the $2,540 tuition that in-state residents pay here for 15 credit hours, the E-tuition for the same credit load is not significantly higher, at $2,539.95. Meanwhile, out-of-state tuition amounts to $9,241 for 15 credit hours. All students pay a technology fee of $57. Remote students can choose from among 22 Online Majors. In 2022, 39% of Clayton undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

 3) University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro also provides more transparency around their online vs. in-person rates. Remote in-state students should expect to pay an annual amount of $5,436 for both tuition and fees. Out-of-state remote students will notice a steep hike in costs, with a total of $20,595 for tuition and fees.

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 4) Florida Atlantic University

Yearly tuition and fees for a Florida resident totals $5,952, while a non-Florida resident should expect to pay around $20,584. For a better estimate, prospective applicants can check out their tuition calculator. Undergraduates looking for remote learning can choose from among eight online majors.

 5) The University of West Florida

According to their website: “UWF has not increased tuition in a decade, and our special Alabama rate beats many in-state rates.” Indeed, not only will Florida residents find a good deal on education here. While Florida residents should expect to pay $6,360 a year in tuition and fees for a 30-credit-hour load, Alabama residents see just a small spike, at $9,510. Other out-of-state residents will pay $19,260 in tuition and fees yearly. In 2021, 55% of West Florida undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

 6) Florida International University

For another Florida option, Florida International University offers residents a 30-hour yearly credit load for $6,757.65. Non-residents should expect to pay about $19,156.65. In 2022, 26% of Florida International undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

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 7) Eastern New Mexico University

In-state Eastern New Mexico undergraduates pay $3,369 a semester for tuition and fees, which comprises 12-18 credit hours. Meanwhile, out-of-state students and those in the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) are charged $4,359. On top of these costs, a $17 charge is added for every credit hour of online classes. In 2021, 98% of Eastern New Mexico students at the Main Campus were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

 8) Western New Mexico University

At Western New Mexico University, residents pay $3,933.84 per semester for a load of 12 credit hours. Non-residents should expect to pay around $7,177.08. In 2021, 36% of Western New Mexico students were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

9) University of Wisconsin – Green Bay

Wisconsin residents at the Marinette, Manitowoc and Sheboygan campuses will pay around $3,595.59 per semester for 12-18 hour credits. Meanwhile, non-residents should expect to pay around $7,889.44 per semester. All remote students must pay an additional $25 per hour credit, which counts as “Distance Education” fees. In the fall semester of 2021, 24.7% of Green Bay students were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

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 10) Western Governors University

The average tuition for an undergraduate student at Western Governors University amounts to $8,010 yearly. The online degrees span more than 60 different bachelor’s and master’s programs in fields ranging from accounting to health. In 2022, 100% of undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

11) Texas A&M University-Commerce

In-state undergraduates pay $4,212 per semester at Texas A&M University-Commerce for a load of 12 credit hours. Non-Texas residents should expect to pay $9,108 per semester. Both types of students will need to pay an additional fee of $50 per credit hour for online courses. In the fall of 2021, 29% of Texas A&M Commerce students were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

12) The University of Texas at the Permian Basin

Using the University of Texas at the Permian Basin’s Online Cost Calculator, I estimate that an incoming freshman can expect to pay around $9,444 yearly in tuition and fees. A more accurate prediction could be calculated based on the tuition per credit hour, which costs $219.22. Additionally, prospective online students should factor in $35 in fees and $108.12 for the online program charges. In 2022, 45% of Permian Basin undergraduates were enrolled exclusively in distance education.

Other Affordable Online Colleges in the Running

It’s never a bad idea to spread your net widely when applying to college. For other cheap online colleges, we recommend checking out:

  • Arkansas State University Online
  • Brigham Young University – Idaho
  • Georgia Southern University
  • Great Basin College
  • Kennesaw State University
  • Purdue University
  • University of Florida Online
  • University of Houston-Downtown
  • University of Illinois Springfield
  • Valdosta State University
  • Western Carolina University

What’s Next?

Choosing from among the most affordable online colleges will require some strategy on your part, as well as further research. This article attempted to lay the groundwork for prospective undergraduates looking for cheap online colleges. Yet there are certainly other ways to finance a college education. We recommend checking out these related articles: Selective Colleges with Generous Scholarships and Selective Colleges Offering National Merit Scholarships.

You may also find the following online education-related blogs to be of interest: