Cheap & Affordable Online Colleges 2017

Just because an online college has been deemed “cheap,” doesn’t mean that the school offers the lowest tuition on the market. Nor does “cheap” mean that they offer inexpensive services at the cost of your education. Most cheap online programs simply save you money while maintaining an excellent standard of higher education.

The “Cheapest Online Degree Programs” Aren’t Necessarily More Affordable

There’s a misconception that online education is always more affordable than alternative degree programs. A 2008 study by the Babson Survey Research Group discovered that online students pay roughly the same amount in tuition and fees as their on-campus counterparts.

While many online institutions of higher learning offer relatively low tuition, that doesn’t mean they’re the drastically cheaper option. Students interested in an online education should be prepared to navigate radically different payment structures depending on the school they choose, from standard credit hour charges to lump sum payments. They can also face a variety of fees for things they may never use or are left vaguely undefined like “activities,” “technology,” and “materials.”

You can check resources such as the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator feature to verify if the cheap online college degree program you found actually offers the best price for you.

Understand the Importance of Accreditation

Although most online colleges represent the most affordable of the online schools, they still offer a competitive education.

Accreditation is the process by which panels of higher education professionals evaluate a college and determine whether or not it meets a certain standard. Entire colleges may be accredited by an agency, and individual academic programs within a college may be accredited separately by a special agency (for instance there’s an accrediting agency for psychology programs, business programs, and so on).

Learn more about accreditation agencies by browsing the U.S. Department of Education’s comprehensive list of certified accrediting agencies throughout the country. If a school isn’t accredited by one of these agencies, you have no way of knowing whether or not they can deliver on any promises they make, from the caliber of their faculty to the strength of their degree programs.

Criteria for the Right Online Degree.

Use these criteria to find the best cheap online college for you:

  • Cost of tuition: Most colleges will list their tuition two ways: cost per credit hour and an estimated total cost for earning the degree. While the cost per credit hour figure is helpful in estimating your tuition, you should check the total cost of tuition first simply because this is the minimum amount of money you can expect to spend at the college should you enroll. Make sure you take into account any loans, grants, or scholarships you might qualify for that could offset the cost of your tuition.
  • Quality of faculty and individual courses: Online colleges will often give you a brief overview of the coursework and the faculty that you will work with should you enroll. Take the time to browse through the course descriptions to make sure they match up with your academic interests, and look up the faculty’s credentials online to verify that they have the necessary qualifications to teach.
  • Length of degree program: Most online colleges will estimate the length of a degree program either in months, years, or credit hours. Check the estimated length of a program you’re interested in to make sure that you can commit to the time required. Many online colleges can accommodate their students’ flexible schedules, you may be able to extend or shorten the estimated length of your degree program. If you have any questions about how long it may take you to earn a degree, contact the department of the online college offering the program.
  • Accreditation: Cross-reference a school’s accreditation just to be safe. Accreditation is one of the easiest ways to measure an online college’s reputation.

Most Affordable Schools by Subject

Each list offers three affordable online degrees* and many have options for as little as $4,000 per year.


1. Western Governors University – $5,780
2. University of South Dakota – $6,000
3. Chadron State College – $6,600


1. Eastern New Mexico University – $4,217
2. Chadron State College – $4,565
3. Southern Arkansas University – $5,550


1. Ohio Christian University – $5,075
2. Fort Hays State University – $5,555
3. University of Wisconsin – $5,712

Criminal Justice

1.  Penn Foster College – $2,312
2. Aspen University – $3,750
3. California Coast University Online – $4,725


Early Childhood Education

1.  Aspen University – $3,750
2. Fort Hays State University Online – $5,779
3. University of the Southwest – $7,110


1. Eastern New Mexico University – $3,743
2. Tennessee Temple University – $4,050
3. Chadron State College – $4,950


1.  University of S. Mississippi (Online) – $8,430
2. Rowan University – $11,550
3. S.D. School of Mines and Technology – $14,903


1.  Aspen University – $5,850
2. Granite State College – $7,560
3. Columbia Southern University – $7,950

Forensic Science

1.  Liberty University Online –  $10,200
2. National University -$13,590
3. American InterContinental University – $13,860


1. Columbia Southern University – $6,000
2. Western Governors University – $6,500
3. Weber State University – $6,600

Human Resources

1. Fort Hays State University – $5,778
2. Western Governors University – $5,780
3. Columbia Southern University – $6,000

Human Services

1. Wilmington University – $5,445
2. University of the Cumberlands – 6,368
3. Chadron State College – $6,600


1. Fort Hays State University – $3,472
2. Jones International University – $5,300
3. Southern Arkansas University – $5,550


1.  California Southern University – $6,489
2. Central Washington University – $7,596
3. Saint Leo University Online – $7,680


1.  Chadron State College – $3,560
2. California Coast University Online – $4,725
3. Western Governors University – $5,780


1.  Sam Houston State University Online – $4,417
2. University of North Dakota – $5,369
3. West Texas A & M University – $6,518


1. Southeast Missouri State University – $5,490
2. Broward College – $5,503
3. Fort Hays State University Online – $5,642


1.  Louisiana Tech University – $6,584
2. Mississippi State University – $7,010
3. University of Southern Mississippi (Online) – 7,313


1. Penn Foster Career School – $2,212
2. Penn Foster College – $2,212
3. Drury University – $3,680


1. Fort Hays State University Online – $5,642
2. Columbia Southern University – $6,000
3. Tennessee Temple University – $6,600

Public Health

1. University of North Dakota – $6,977
2. New Mexico State University – $7,254
3. Youngstown State University – $7,922

Religious Studies

1. Athens State University – $3,600
2. Amberton University – $4,356
3. University of the Cumberlands (Online) – $4,490

Social Work

1. University of North Dakota – $4,969
2. South Texas College – $6,161
3. Florida State University – $12,188


1. University of Central Missouri – $4,823
2. West Texas A & M University – $5,369
3. Fort Hays State University Online – $5,779


* Undergraduate annual tuition rates are displayed