How Much Does Online College Cost?
Several factors influence the overall cost of attending college. For instance, public schools receive ample funding from state and local government bodies, which usually translates into more affordable tuition for in-state students. Private schools, meanwhile, often rely more heavily on alumni donations and generally charge students more. For public schools, in-state students typically pay considerably less for tuition than out-of-state or international students. Hidden fees, like technology use fees or graduation charges, can also sneak up on students, regardless of a school’s location or type. Learners should assess each of these fees to determine the true cost of an on-campus or online education.
IS AN ONLINE DEGREE CHEAPER THAN A TRADITIONAL DEGREE?
Though online schools may claim to provide an education at a bargain rate, this is not always the case. Many schools charge comparable rates per credit to online and on-campus students. In fact, a recent BMO report found that the average per-credit, in-state rate for online bachelor’s programs in 2016 was $277 — $34 more than the on-campus equivalent of $243.
Where online students really can save money, however, is on housing and transportation fees. Without the added cost of on-campus housing and/or parking fees, online learning can add up to significant cost-of-living savings. Of course, it’s important to look at enrollment costs, technology fees, and any other hidden fees that may counterbalance potential savings.
The table below compares the University of Florida’s tuition rates for on-campus and online students, as both in-state and out-of-state residents. Note that all four credit costs include tuition and additional fees (e.g, technology and administrative fees). The base online tuition for residents is $111.92 per credit, while on-campus tuition is $149.24 per credit. However, the added fees for online students equal $17.26 per credit, which is much lower than the $63.47 per credit in fees that on-campus students must pay. In the end, the total per-credit totals for residents of Florida are $129.18 for online learning and $212.71 per credit for on-campus learning. Non-residents pay much higher rates for both education formats.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA TUITION AND FEES
|UF On-Campus Tuition + Fees for Residents||$212.71/credit|
|UF Online Tuition + Fees for Residents||$129.18/credit|
|UF On-Campus Tuition + Fees for Non-Residents||$955.28/credit|
|UF Online Tuition + Fees for Non-Residents||$552.62/credit|
Beyond tuition and campus fees, online students can benefit from more affordable living costs. Housing on or near campus can be expensive, especially if schools are located in large cities or within major economic centers. Distance learners can complete coursework from their home and save even more on transportation by completing and submitting their work online.
Furthermore, online students typically receive the added benefit of a more flexible schedule. Many schools offer part-time enrollment that allows distance learners to work full time or tend to other personal obligations. Full-time programs are also available for those seeking to graduate as quickly as possible. Regardless of which program format they choose, online learning gives students the added flexibility to continue their careers while they complete their degrees.
To provide more perspective about the costs of on-campus living, the following table lists average room and board fees for on-campus students. Consider the financial benefit of foregoing these expenses as you weigh your education options.
ROOM AND BOARD FEES (2018-19)
|Public Two-Year (In-District)|
|Public Four-Year (In-State)|
|Public Four-Year (Out-of-State)|
|Private Nonprofit Four-Year|
FEES FOR ONLINE LEARNERS
While online students can save on costs like on-campus housing and transportation, they may still be responsible for some hidden fees. A recent BMO report found that online costs per credit actually averaged $34 more than on-campus credits in 2016. The following sections details the additional fees often appended to an online education. As you research potential schools, be sure to account for all additional fees, which can have a significant impact on the overall cost of your education.
Assessment Fees: To receive a grade for online coursework, classes may charge an assessment fee. This fee pays instructors to review your work and provide a score. Typically, assessment fees are included in the general tuition rate, but this is not always the case.
Graduation Fees: Schools often charge supplemental graduation fees in a student’s final term of a program. This fee may pay counselors to check that a student has met degree standards and passed all of their required exams.
Technology Fees: Sometimes called distance learning delivery fees, technology fees are a significant component to many online programs. This fee varies depending on your school’s technical resources and educational platforms.
Required Travel Fees: Students may need to pay travel fees to cover any on-campus components of their online program. Check to see if schools require on-campus orientations, seminars, exams, advisory reviews, and/or capstone presentations. These on-campus components may also lead to temporary housing costs that will not appear in a school’s tuition rates.
IN-STATE VS. OUT-OF-STATE COLLEGES
As the above table describing the University of Florida’s rates demonstrates, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can be significant for public schools. For example, residents of Florida pay about one quarter of the price compared to their out-of-state counterparts for the school’s online program. This tuition difference is designed to prioritize and favor members of the local community. Higher costs often give out-of-state applicants pause.
To circumvent these growing expenses, some schools have created associations and partnerships with programs in neighboring states. For example, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) fosters multiple program exchanges to minimize out-of-state costs for schools in participating states and territories. The Western Undergraduate Exchange offers in-state tuition rates for residents across the western U.S. in WICHE’s 16 participating programs. Similarly, WICHE’s internet course exchange provides discipline-specific course options that allow students to access courses otherwise unavailable at their local institution.
Meanwhile, the Southern Regional Education Board offers similar opportunities across the southern U.S. The Academic Common Market and Electronic Campus unites another 15 school campuses, and the Midwest Higher Education Compact unites programs across 10 states in its Midwest Student Exchange Program. Each of these associations helps mitigate the average cost of online colleges for out-of-state learners.
TWO-YEAR VS. FOUR-YEAR COLLEGES
If you are still concerned about the overall cost of a college education, beginning your postsecondary education by pursuing an associate degree can help mitigate these worries. Full-time learners typically earn an associate degree in two years while covering core and introductory degree coursework. This degree qualifies graduates for some entry-level professional positions in a variety of fields, including healthcare, business administration, and IT assistance. Once you earn an associate degree, you can continue your education in a bachelor’s program by either enrolling in an expedited program or transferring relevant credits directly from the associate level.
Two-year associate programs at community colleges typically cost much less than paying for two years of school at a four-year institution. Today, many community colleges also foster relationships with regional four-year institutions, creating fast-track paths for students who intend to transfer into a bachelor’s program. Earning an online associate degree through a community college may be even more affordable and offer the best bargain, regardless of whether you intend to continue your education.
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE COLLEGES
Another factor students must weigh is the difference in cost between public and private schools. Most public colleges and universities receive state government funding to support their students. This typically keeps the cost of tuition lower and helps defray fees for potential in-state learners. As mentioned in the section above, community colleges — also supported by state government funds — cost even less by virtue of their relatively limited degree programs and campus resources. In contrast, private institutions rely more heavily on donations from alumni and private supporters and usually charge higher tuition rates.
However, it is important to note that this financial situation is evolving as public schools are learning to operate on increasingly less federal and state funds. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, public state schools have lost an average of 25% of state funding since the year 2000. To help cover this gap in funding, the average public four-year school has hiked tuition by 136% over that same time period.
Private institutions, in contrast, have seen tuition rates increase at a lower rate. Although the tuition costs of private schools were considerably higher than public schools in 2000, they have increased by only 17% since then. These private programs tend to offer much smaller class sizes and better student-to-instructor ratios, while specialized degree offerings may be more financially valuable than what public schools usually offer.
FOR-PROFIT VS. NONPROFIT COLLEGES
For students interested in technical or specialized training, a for-profit institution may be an acceptable choice. However, the general reputation of for-profit institutions has suffered due to a recent series of public scandals that revealed inflated tuition costs and suspect accreditation, leading to lower professional prospects for graduates.
According to a 2013 College Board survey, for-profit schools often cost more than their nonprofit counterparts; the average yearly tuition rate at for-profit institutions was $15,130 in 2013, as compared to $11,093 at nonprofit schools. These higher costs stem from multiple factors, including advertising and lobbying to entice enrollment. For-profit degrees are now considerably less attractive on the job market because employers are cautious of credentials from new schools with little or no track record of excellence. In short, for-profit schools should be chosen with extreme caution.