For many potential students, including working adults and other non-traditional students, online learning is the best option. Online courses are more flexible to finesse around work schedules, many allow students to work at their own pace, and some can provide perks that campus courses can’t, like famous guest lecturers and fun, interactive content. Colleges are coming around to this new reality, and those who didn’t develop online programs early on are scrambling to catch up.
However, you don’t want to get taken for a ride. Frankly, some online degrees are worth a lot less than the money (or government grants, or student loans) you pour into them. You don’t want to spend your time and money on a degree that isn’t going to help you get a better job or make a higher income.
That’s why this list exists. These are the 50 best value colleges for an online undergraduate degree. These schools will not steer you wrong, will not rip you off, and will not waste your time. Each one meets our qualifications. Each one is a solid, trustworthy investment. To make this list, each school must:
- be regionally accredited
- be public/private U.S. only
- offer at least 3 online bachelor’s degree programs
These requirements disqualify any schools with only one or two programs, since those may not be serious investments; it also removes fishy, non-accredited programs. Otherwise, we have a range of options, from gigantic public research universities to small, private liberal arts colleges, technical institutes and religious schools.
Our master list is drawn from the U.S. News Best Values Online Bachelor’s Programs 2014 ranking, which examines all available online bachelor’s degrees. Our list is further weighted by 20-year ROI (Return on Investment) statistics from Payscale.com and total cost information from IPEDS, resulting in a final ranking of 50 schools.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that many of these are bachelor’s degree completion programs, requiring an associate’s degree or basic coursework from community college before admission, so if you’re interested, check the school’s official admissions requirements to be sure. If a residential program is more up your alley, check out our 2015 Best Value Undergraduate Colleges ranking.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
The top online value on our list is a doozy – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Do you want to fly? To work on planes? To run the control tower? Embry-Riddle is the place to do it. They’ve been around almost as long as airplanes, and even though you may be tempted by their campus in Daytona, FL (who wouldn’t?), you can get an accredited degree online through Embry-Riddle Worldwide. Embry-Riddle’s programs are especially useful for those already in the aeronautics field who want to move up in status, since students can earn up to a quarter of their credits from professional and life experience. An ROI of well over $530,000 makes Embry-Riddle a good investment for all of you aspiring aviators.
Oregon State is a large research institution with the distinction of being the only public land, sea, space, and sun-grant university (the only other is Cornell), recognized by Congress for excellence in all four areas and receiving federal funding. That means if you want to study anything in the sciences, Oregon State’s got you covered. And if you want to do it online, OSU’s Ecampus has been acclaimed by U.S. News & World Report and others as one of the best online bachelor’s degrees, with programs in agriculture, conservation, and environmental science. It’s got a strong ROI of $350,000 and a multitude of degrees to choose from for a great value.
Never heard of Lamar University? If you’re interested in an online degree, you should, because Lamar’s one of the best values for the money out there. A public research university in Beaumont, TX, Lamar has been praised by U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post as a value, and a 2010 American Council of Trustees and Alumni report found that Lamar was one of just a handful of colleges to earn a perfect score on curriculum standards. As a public university, cost is low, and with an ROI of over $350,000, it’s worth the price for an online degree in highly competitive fields such as Nursing, Entrepreneurship, and Criminal Justice.
Penn State World Campus
Penn State’s tradition of providing distance education is long and admirable. They were one of the first to offer correspondence courses, way back in 1892, and they saw the potential in online education before most anybody, in 1998. They offer a wide range of bachelor’s degrees, everything from advertising and public relations to Turfgrass Science (yep – Turfgrass Science). As a public research university, Penn State keeps its tuition reasonable, and an ROI of over $420,000 is the result.
Originally founded as an agricultural science institution, Utah State is a land and space-grant university in Logan, UT. Building on a long history of distance learning (understandable in a state with a large rural population), Utah State Online offers several accredited online bachelor’s degrees, in common programs such as agricultural science and economics, as well as unusual offerings such as Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education. A solid set of offerings and a respectable ROI of $366,000 makes Utah State another surprising value.
Sam Houston State University
Sam Houston State University was once the first teacher’s college in Texas, one of the first west of the Mississippi, and today, through SHSU Online, offers acclaimed, nationally-recognized accredited degrees online. U.S. News & World Report recognizes several of SHSU Online’s degrees as top choices, and they are recognized for their affordability and quality. Degrees offered include Business Administration, Nursing, and Criminal Justice, with a solid ROI and reasonable tuition rate.
Fort Hays State University
Fort Hays State University, in Hays, Kansas, is unassuming and little-known, but as its Virtual College is recognized all over as a solid value. Beginning in 1999, when most colleges were still trying to figure out email, FHSU’s Virtual College offers more than twenty all-online bachelor’s degrees, in fields as diverse as nursing, education, technology leadership, and management. Want to study Philosophy from home? The Virtual College has it. Information Networking and Telecommunications? Probably a better bet than Philosophy, and Virtual College has it. It’s a low cost and a solid investment, making Fort Hays a value in online education.
University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas, a public research institution in Fayetteville, AR, is a land and space-grant university with a top-tier reputation. Its business, architecture, and creative writing programs are nationally recognized for excellence, and the U of A Online offers several recognized, accredited all-online degrees. While not as wide-ranging as Penn State or Fort Hays, the U of A Online degrees are in desirable, marketable fields: nursing, business, and education in human resource and workforce development.
Pace University, a private research university in New York City, is known for its business school and for the Actor’s Studio, its MFA program (site of the famous television show hosted by James Lipton). But Pace also offers an online program of the highest quality, including programs in many marketable fields tailored to different types of students. There are programs designed specifically for adults, programs for students who want to complete a degree while working in their career, and an unusual B.S. in Technology Studies with concentration in Telecommunications, administered in partnership with the National Coalition for Telecommunications Education and Learning. Plus, Pace’s ROI is exceptional for online education, over $380,000.
University of Missouri
Mizzou, as it’s affectionately known, is a public R1 university with the distinction of being the first public university west of the Mississippi. Its reputation as a top-tier university is upheld by U.S. News & World Report rankings, and its value extends to Mizzou Online. Its online bachelor’s programs include sought-after degrees in nursing, hospitality management, and respiratory therapy, among others, and its ROI is a robust $328,000, making it a solid investment for public online education.
A public, land-grant research university in Fort Collins, CO, Colorado State is known as one of best-funded public universities, second in research expenditures for universities without a medical school. That commitment to learning and creating knowledge includes CSU Global, an online education program that includes nearly thirty undergraduate degrees. These programs are focused on highly marketable degrees, including business, information technology, and cybersecurity, resulting in a high ROI of over $320,000.
Florida Tech is a private STEM-focused institution in Melbourne, FL. You may be attracted to the sun and surf of Atlantic-coast Florida, but there’s no need to go to Melbourne to get a degree – Florida Tech Online offers many fully-online bachelor’s degrees in fields employers want, including business administration and criminal justice. With an impressive ROI of $490,000, Florida Tech Online provides a flexible curriculum and a fine value.
Norwich University, in Norwich, Vermont, is the oldest private military university in the US, and a surprising choice for an online value. Recognized at the birthplace of the ROTC, Norwich includes both Corps of Cadets and civilian students in majors such as criminal justice, civil engineering, and organizational leadership. Norwich online offers bachelor of science degrees in Criminal Justice and Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis, with a respectable ROI, making it a solid value.
North Carolina State University
One corner of the world-famous Research Triangle Park (including Duke University and the University of North Carolina), NCSU is a land, sea, and space-grant, research university in Raleigh, NC. Largely STEM-focused, NCSU has a reputation for excellence in engineering, agriculture, and textiles, and its ROI is an impressive $456,000. Its online offerings are very specific, and some require attendance at various campus locations, but for the cost of a state university and a handsome ROI, NCSU still makes the top of the list for online values.
Regis University, in Denver CO, is a private Jesuit university. Regis has long been ranked as a top-tier university, and the Regis University World Campus is no less prestigious. Regis offers more than twenty accredited degrees online from its colleges of Professional Studies and Health Professions. These include programs in business, marketing, and nursing, among many others. Regis has an excellent ROI of over $373,000, and while cost is more than many of the public universities on this list, the return on investment makes up for it, resulting in an excellent college value.
Old Dominion University is known for its online program. This public research university has one of the largest distance-learning programs in the US, accounting for almost a third of its 24,000 students. With some 70 bachelor’s programs to choose from, Old Dominion probably offers the widest variety of online degrees out there, including many majors not usually accommodated online, such as Civil Engineering, Health and Human Services, or Dental Hygiene. With the ROI for Old Dominion standing at a solid $305,000, ODU Online definitely gives students their money’s worth.
Indiana Institute of Technology
At Indiana Tech, online degrees in business, criminal justice, and other fields are a top value. Indiana Tech, a private, not-for-profit institution, focuses largely on business and STEM, and its online program has more than a dozen degree programs, and an ROI of over $350,000. An accelerated format allows students to complete undergraduate courses in only five weeks, speeding up the process and making the most of one’s financial investment.
The University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee is known for its business and engineering programs, both of which are recognized in the top 100 of their respective fields. But UWM’s online education is ranked even higher, number 25 by U.S. News & World Report, for its excellence. Offering a number of online bachelor’s degrees, including Information Technology and Nursing, UWM also provides a strong ROI, and a reasonable cost.
The University of Florida, in sunny Gainesville, FL, is a public research university recognized as a Public Ivy (a public college with the quality of the Ivy League) and one of the best public universities in the US. A land, sea, and space-grant institution, UF is respected for its research and teaching, and UF Online has that same level of quality. UF Online offers numerous bachelor’s degrees for in-demand fields like nursing and computer science, but also in less common areas such as geology and environmental management. That Public Ivy status also translates to a high ROI, nearly $450,000.
No, it’s not Columbia University – that’s over on our 50 best value universities list. This is Columbia College, a private liberal arts college in Columbia, MO. Columbia College has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review as one of the best colleges in the Midwest, and their online programs are a smart education investment. Columbia offers many online bachelor’s degrees in business, criminal justice, computers, and the liberal arts, solid values all.
Drexel University proudly calls itself a pioneer in online education, having begun its online program back in 1996. Drexel is a private research university with a unique cooperative curriculum, using connections with industry and government to help students build employment experience and networks. With many online bachelor’s degrees in highly in-demand fields, Drexel students benefit from an ROI well over $400,000.
Westfield State University, a public institution in Westfield, MA, has a fascinating history. Founded in 1838 by legendary education reformer Horace Mann, Westfield was the first public, co-educational institution in the US, accepting students regardless of race or gender. They are noted as one of the best public universities in New England, and their online program is highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report. They offer an online degree completion program for students who have completed community college requirements, including bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice, Business Management, and others.
Named for the guy on the quarter, George Washington University is a private university in Washington, DC, a city named for the guy on the dollar. GWU is consistently highly ranked, and is known as one of the most politically connected universities in the US, due to its proximity to Washington and networks within government. Like Drexel and Penn State, GWU was an early adopter of online education. If you’re interested in government or want to go into politics, GWU offers the connections and the name in an online format, and an average ROI of over $370,000.
DePaul University is a private Catholic institution in Chicago, IL, originally founded and committed to providing education for underrepresented and first-generation college students. As part of this commitment, DePaul also offers online degrees, making it possible for non-traditional students to earn a bachelor’s in communication, computing and digital media, and other fields. DePaul’s impressive ROI of over $336,000 makes it a significant online value.
The University of Cincinnati, a top-tier public research university in Ohio, provides students with a high-quality education and a public-university price, perfect ingredients for a college value. But UC adds a top online program as well. UC offers numerous medical-related degrees online, including Health Information Management, Respiratory Therapy, and Substance Abuse Counseling, many of which have been citing in ranking of the best online medical programs. An ROI of over $359,000 sweetens the pot as a top college investment.
Central Michigan University
Central Michigan University may not carry a lot of name recognition, but it makes up for that in the quality of its programs. A large, public research university in Mount Pleasant, MI, CMU is known for its online programs, with its online bachelor’s degree only one of its programs to be listed by U.S. News & World Report as a top online education. CMU’s Global Campus offers bachelor’s degrees in Administration, Political Science, and Community Development, programs not often offered online.
CSU Chico, a public research university in Chico, CA, has been cited year after year as one of the best public universities in the west, part of the powerhouse California State University system. With CSU Chico Online, students can earn bachelor’s degrees in Social Science, Liberal Arts, and Sociology completely online. Like many California State and University of California system schools, CSU Chico has an impressive ROI, comparable to Ivy Leagues, of $410,000.
Originally founded as a teacher’s college, Troy University, in Troy, Alabama, is known as Alabama’s International University due to its emphasis on attracting foreign students. As part of that drive, Troy has developed an extensive distance learning program, with more than a dozen bachelor’s degrees available fully online, including unusual offering such as Anthropology and Hospitality, as well as popular, highly marketable degrees such as Criminal Justice and Applied Computer Science.
Originally founded to bring civilization to the little mining town known as Denver, the University of Denver is the oldest private university in the Rocky Mountains. It must have been successful; today Denver is a major metropolis and the University of Denver is regularly noted as one of the best private universities in the US. Through the University College, UD offers bachelor’s degree completion programs online, including degrees in Environmental Studies, Global Studies, and more.
University of Wisconsin - Superior
UW Superior’s main claim to fame may be that Arnold Schwarzenegger earned a bachelor’s degree there, by correspondence courses, in the 1970s. But even if UW Superior isn’t a household name, it’s a college value anyone can appreciate. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree online in Exercise Science, Health and Wellness Management, and other fields. If it’s good enough for the Terminator, it’s good enough for you.
Concordia University - St. Paul
Part of the Concordia system, ten colleges administrated by the Lutheran Church, Concordia University – St. Paul is a liberal arts university in St. Paul, MN. Concordia, St. Paul offers nearly twenty online degree programs, in diverse fields including Early Childhood Education, Human Resource Management, and Marketing, designed for working adults completing their degrees to improve their job prospects.
Washington State University
Washington State University, a land-grant research university in Pullman, WA, has the most fun-to-say nickname in the US – “Wazzu.” It’s also an impressive public institution with a high research level and a significant ROI of over $350,000. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in several areas, including Accounting, Management, and Human Resources, from a school with a respectable U.S. News ranking and a delightful nickname. You know you’ll want a t-shirt.
St. John’s University is a private, Roman Catholic university in exotic Queens, NY. A top-tier college ranked as one of the best in the Northeast, St. John’s also offers accredited, marketable online degrees in Administrative Studies, Criminal Justice, and Liberal Studies. While student debt is a little high for private colleges, the ROI is respectable and the quality of education is widely considered excellent.
Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, NY (rivaling any other town for most fun name), was originally founded by the Marist Brothers, a Catholic religious order. No longer strictly Catholic, Marist College has a reputation that crosses ranking lists such as U.S. News, Princeton Review, and Forbes, as one of the best colleges in its class, and its standing as one of the most technologically advanced colleges obviously lends some credibility to its highly-regarded online programs.
McKendree University, in Lebanon, IL, was founded by literal pioneers in 1828 as a Methodist seminary, and is the oldest university in the state of Illinois. A top-tier university in the midwest region, McKendree offers online degrees in highly desirable fields including Psychology, Business Administration, and Nursing.
The University of Nebraska, a land-grant research university in the city of Lincoln, is known for its groundbreaking agriculture and ecology programs, models for many other universities. UN offers numerous online bachelor’s programs, including Agriculture and Life Science, of course, but also Health Science, Library Science, and Public Administration. A solid ROI of over $300,000 makes Nebraska a good investment.
California State University - Dominguez Hills
CSU Dominguez Hills‘ cousin Chico appears a few entries ago; the California State University system is a hotbed of online values. In addition to a diverse student body and faculty, and a commitment to community engagement, Dominguez Hills offers online programs for working adults to earn degrees in Nursing, Applied Studies, and Quality Assurance, and improve employability and earning.
University of St. Francis
The University of St. Francis is a private Catholic institution in Joliet, IL, outside of Chicago. As a Franciscan university, USF creates an intensely religious environment dedicated to the educational and spiritual improvement of its students. To serve students who cannot attend on campus, USF offers three online bachelor’s degrees, in Business Administration, Healthcare Leadership, and Nursing. USF carries a solid ROI of over $290,000, significant for an online degree.
Loyola University Chicago (not to be confused with Loyola University of Maryland, an unrelated Jesuit institution) is a Catholic university founded by Jesuits and named for Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Loyola is the largest Jesuit college, with six campuses in the Chicago area and another in Rome, Italy. Highly ranked among US schools, Loyola offers a number of online bachelor’s degree completion programs, including Pastoral Leadership, Criminal Justice, and Information Technology.
A Christian institution in Jackson, Mississippi, Belhaven University emphasizes a Biblical, religious worldview in its education. Many of their courses of study are directed toward business and management, and its many online offerings include Biblical Studies, Business Administration, Accounting, and Health Administration.
Eastern Kentucky University is a public research university in Richmond, KY. Founded as a teacher’s college, EKU is proud of its status as a top-tier university in the south, as well as recognitions by Forbes and as a Military Friendly institution. EKU offers many online bachelor’s degrees, with unusual offerings such as Construction Management and Fire, Arson, and Explosion Management, as well as programs that may be of particular interest to veterans, such as Homeland Security, Safety Management, and Police Studies.
Arizona State University, in Phoenix, AZ, is the largest university (by attendance) in the US, with a student body of over 82,000. Size is part of ASU’s concept of the New American University, a model based not on exclusivity and elitism, but acceptance and engagement. As part of this mission, ASU also offers a staggering number of accredited bachelor’s degrees – over forty, more than some universities offer on campus. Students can major in everything from Film to Software Engineering online, and benefit from ASU’s excellent $381,000 average ROI.
Originally founded to provide educational opportunities to the remote North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, today is a part of the University of North Carolina system and a recognized institution of higher learning. WCU offers online bachelor’s degree completion programs in atypical areas such as Emergency and Disaster Management and Emergency Medical Care, as well as business, nursing, and early childhood education, with a hybrid program in engineering.
A small, private university affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Charleston Southern University is a Christian institution with big plans for national recognition. As part of that plan, CSU has begun building an accredited online college, with degree programs in nursing, Computer Systems, and Organizational Management, with larger plans in the future. While not well-known now, CSU may be a dark horse value, and a potentially growing investment.
Upper Iowa University
Distance education is Upper Iowa University’s business. Not only does UIU have fifteen distance education centers and a self-paced independent study program, but they offer nearly thirty undergraduate degrees and certifications. UIU is also recognized as a military-friendly university, a designation reflected in its public administration programs.
Southeast Missouri State University has the honor of being mentioned by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi, when it was Southeast Missouri State Normal School. Not every college can say that. It is also the home of the Center for Faulkner Studies, with a large collection of William Faulkner’s papers. Besides these distinctions, SMSU is an online value, with a solid set of accredited online degrees including Technology Management, Computer Information Systems, and Emergency Preparedness, among several others.
Ball State University
The alma mater of David Letterman (as any fan of the Late Show will know well) and Jim Davis (creator of Garfield the cat), Ball State is a public research university in Muncie, Indiana. Ball State has been an institution on the rise for some time now, being an early adopter of wireless internet access and sustainability, with a plan to convert to largely geothermal energy in the next few years. Ball State offers four bachelor’s degrees, named by US News & World Report as among the best, in Business Administration, Nursing, Early Childhood Education, and General Studies.
A few entries ago we profiled Eastern Kentucky University; now we hop across the state for Western Kentucky University, in Bowling Green. WKU is probably best known for its Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology, home of one of the most important folklore and historical preservation programs in the US. Folklore is not one of WKU’s numerous online offerings, but students can earn bachelor’s degrees in Sociology, Family and Consumer Sciences, and many healthcare fields.
Located in Birmingham, AL, the University of Alabama (or ‘Bama if you’re on friendly terms) was founded in 1831, when Alabama was still frontier, and has been the center of educational and cultural life in the state ever since. UA also offers educational resources to students outside of Alabama through Bama By Distance, including many online bachelor’s degrees. Students can major in more than a dozen areas, including nursing, mechanical engineering, and food/nutrition.
Let’s get this out of the way, for those of you keeping score – yes, SCAD has a negative ROI. However, it still makes this list for one simple reason: SCAD offers accredited online degrees in areas no other reputable college even attempts. In keeping with SCAD’s original mission, to provide education in fields that were not available in the south, SCAD gives students the opportunity to earn online bachelor’s degrees in majors such as Advertising, Graphic Design, Interactive Design and Game Development, and even Sequential Art (comics). So while SCAD may not be a perfectly sure bet as an investment, if you’re looking for an established, accredited degree in art and design (instead of a fly-by-night correspondence course that may just rip you off), SCAD has it. Caveat emptor, and draw your first graphic novel about it.