There’s no longer any doubt that a bachelor’s degree just isn’t enough today for the higher levels of a professional career – management, administration, leadership – or for the highly specialized fields that make bigger incomes because qualified experts are hard to find, including technology, scientific research, and consultancy.
With the pressure to add credentials, more working professionals are turning to online degree programs to make it happen. Online graduate degrees are a sensible option for busy working adults, especially those who are already working in the field they want to study since a job in the field provides experience and a daily opportunity to put what you learn to use. Online degree programs allow students to work around their daily schedules and study at their own pace.
Even just a decade ago, there were a small number of options for fully online degree programs, and they were dominated by predatory, deceptive providers. Today, every state has a variety of choices from low-priced public research universities and regional institutions, while many private, non-profit universities and colleges offer surprisingly affordable options that are often available across the US.
Value Colleges has researched the very best options for online degree providers, focusing on only regionally-accredited, reputable colleges and universities, including both public and private institutions. We sort and rank the relevant results by 4 metrics:
- Cost— (per credit hour)
- Reputability— U.S. News Online Graduate (subject rankings)
- ROI— College Scorecard website (alumni salary data)
- Options— How many online Master’s degree programs offered
The Value Colleges method finds the online educators with the best balance between cost, quality, and earning potential to lead busy working adults to the smartest choice for their online education needs.
1. Indiana University
Long recognized as one of the foremost public research universities in the Midwest, Indiana University has been bringing top-tier education to the region since 1820, steadily gaining in influence and renown over generations. IU is best known for the Kelley School of Business, the Jacobs School of Music, and their humanities and communications programs, but Indiana has more than 40 graduate programs that are ranked in the top 25 by U.S. News & World Report, making them one of the most competitive public institutions in the nation.
In recent years Indiana University has refocused their efforts into professional and research fields, and worked to raise standards and improve accessibility. A large part of that effort has been IU Online, a highly developed set of online degree programs including more than two dozen fully online graduate degrees. From business administration to special education, IU offers many highly-sought, reputable online degree programs for working adults and traditional students alike.
Price per credit: $362
2. University of Massachusetts Online
Known around the world for their research and educational quality, the University of Massachusetts has used their sterling reputation to build the largest student body in New England, and one of the largest in the US. From their main campus in Amherst, UMass has become the equal of their elite private and Ivy League neighbors through inclusion and accessibility, pioneering both adult education and online education.
Today UMass Online is an independent part of the UMass system, having grown since its founding in 2001 into a large online educator offering over 150 degrees from UMass’s five-member campuses. That number includes nearly 50 fully online master’s, doctorate, and graduate certificate programs, ranging from education and criminal justice to healthcare management and information technology. UMass’s reasonable online tuition makes it possible for anyone in Massachusetts to earn an online degree without a lifetime of debt.
Price per credit: $470
3. Colorado State University
Founded as Colorado’s land-grant university, Colorado State University has carried on the mission of the land-grant project admirably for nearly 150 years, providing useful, practical education and research in applied sciences to the people of Colorado. As a land-grant institution, CSU has been instrumental in major research in agriculture and science, introducing the first engineering school to the state and making major discoveries in environmental science, disaster relief, and animal science.
CSU Online continues their mission of accessibility and value with more than 2 dozen fully online graduate degree programs. These include, of course, numerous agriculture and engineering degrees, but also degree programs in music, business, and social work. One of CSU’s strongest programs, Natural Resource Management, is also represented online. With CSU’s low tuition rates, students can be sure that their online CSU degree will bring them many returns.
Price per credit: $551
4. University of Florida
The State University System of Florida is rapidly coming to rival California and New York for the most respected public research universities, but flagship University of Florida still stands as the premier institution in the state. A land, sea, and space-grant institution, UF combines educational accessibility with top-tier research, including nationally-recognized business, engineering, and law programs as well as key STEM research in the ocean and space fields.
UF Online allows the University of Florida to bring its rigorous, respected educational programs to those who cannot attend on-campus, especially working adults and professionals. More than 60 graduate-level programs, including master’s, doctorate, and graduate certificates, are available: multiple engineering specializations include mechanical engineering, aerospace, and polymers, while agriculture, pharmacy, and others offer a full range of options. All these for Florida’s incredibly low tuition rates make UF one of the best values in the US.
Price per credit: $449
5. University of South Florida
The University of South Florida holds the distinction of being the only public university built from the ground up in the 20th century – not an extension campus, rehabilitated private college, or research center. Since then, USF has continued to do things their own way, growing in just over 60 years into one of the leading research universities in the state, and one of the fastest-growing, with significant work in health, sustainability, and public transportation engineering.
USF’s first mission was to provide educational opportunities to an underserved area of the state, and that mission has grown with the university. USF Online is beginning to take on a great deal of the heavy lifting, giving working Floridians the opportunity to increase their credentials and change careers with accredited online master’s degrees, more then two dozen. Whether engineering, education, or public health – a particular USF strength – graduates can be sure their USF Online degree will be worth the low, low cost.
Price per credit: $347
6. Drexel University
One of the most acclaimed universities in the world, Drexel University began in Philadelphia, PA, to provide cutting-edge, experiential education for the working classes of the region. Drexel is best known for pioneering cooperative education, sending students in alternating semesters of conventional classroom instruction and hands-on, on-site employment with corporate and industry partners. That method has given Drexel more intensive connections to the job market of Philadelphia and the northeast than just about any other university, a major benefit to graduates.
Students don’t have to live in Philadelphia, or even attend on-campus, to take advantage of Drexel’s global reputation, thanks to Drexel Online. Drexel Online brings Drexel’s top-ranked professional and applied science programs to students anywhere, from business to clinical research, sports management to health sciences. The Drexel name makes a resume appreciably more valuable, making Drexel Online a top-quality investment.
Price per credit: $894
7. University of Illinois at Springfield
Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 10 regional public university for the Midwest, the University of Illinois at Springfield is a small regional institution on the rise. Originally an upper-level and graduate university (offering only degree completion and graduate courses), UIS has expanded to a full university, but its strengths are still primarily in graduate study. UIS is not a research university, instead of focusing on providing the best possible education to working adults and transfer students.
UIS has invested heavily in online degree programs, offering fully online degrees in 1999, when many universities still did not take online education seriously as competition. Their foresight has paid off; UIS has been frequently cited as one of the best online educators not only in the Midwest, but as one of the best values nationally. More than two dozen fully online master’s degree and graduate certificates include computer science, public health, and health management, at one of the lowest tuition rates in the region.
Price per credit: $405
8. Arizona State University
Arizona State University is the model of the New American University, a concept and a designation coined to describe ASU’s 21st-century model – inclusive and accessible rather than restrictive and elite, entrepreneurial and experimental rather than safe and traditional. It’s paid off for ASU in a big way, with ASU being named the most innovative university in the US, and vaulting ASU’s student body to the largest in the nation, with no loss in reputation, educational quality, or research.
ASU Online is a key component in Arizona State’s renaissance, offering more than 100 fully online degree programs from bachelor’s to doctorate, including dozens of master’s degrees. ASU’s high-ranking business, management, and engineering programs are well represented online, while programs in social work, sustainability, and nonprofit leadership provide those doing good to make more of an impact. With reasonable tuition rates, ASU looks prime to define value for a long time.
Price per credit: $555
9. Regis University
The Jesuit order has been known for rigorous Catholic education for centuries, and Regis University, in Denver, CO, is one of the most acclaimed of the numerous Jesuit universities in the US. Regis has ranked highly in U.S. News & World Report’s regional rankings since rankings began, emphasizing professional education, service learning, and ethical development for the future leaders they educate.
Regis offers more than 30 fully online graduate degrees, including many programs from their acclaimed College of Business and Economics, with many MBA specializations. The College of Computer & Information Sciences offers numerous degrees in systems engineering, information technology management, and more, while the Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions offers many nursing, physical therapy, and healthcare administration programs. Regis keeps low tuition, especially for a private Catholic university, making their online degrees a bargain.
Price per credit: $710
10. George Washington University
For working professionals in public service or traditional-aged students who have a future in political life, there may be no better choice than George Washington University. Named for the president who willed it into existence, GWU has been called the most political campus in the nation, with extensive networking within the federal government, private industry, and the non-profit sector.
Understandably, GWU’s greatest strengths are politics and public policy, legal studies, and communications, but GWU’s many online degree programs include reputed degrees in public health, business, and medicine as well. GWU offers nearly 50 fully online graduate degrees, all taught by George Washington’s top-notch faculty and allowing students access to some of the most respected experts in the field through GWU’s partnerships. The George Washington University name is a mark of excellence recognized by employers everywhere, making GWU a top 10 best value at any price.
Price per credit: $685-$1600 (varies depending on program)
11. Penn State World Campus
A land, sea, space, and sun-grant institution, Pennsylvania State University is one of the best-known and most-respected public research universities on the east coast regularly cited as a Public Ivy (a public university with Ivy League quality). With a $3 billion endowment and nearly $1 billion in research funding, Penn State has been at the forefront of discoveries in psychology, engineering, agriculture, and sociology, with graduate students receiving all the benefits that such an environment provides.
Penn State was also at the forefront of online education, an early adopter forming the Penn State World Campus in 1998. Penn State offers around 50 fully online graduate degree and certificate programs, taught by Penn State’s world-class faculty and carrying the Penn State reputation onto the job market and into rewarding careers. Penn State keeps tuition costs affordable and provides a strong return on investment for graduates.
Price per credit: $810
12. University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Founded on a land grant in the early days of Nebraska’s statehood, the University of Nebraska was organized along the lines of the land grant’s emphasis on agriculture, applied engineering and mechanics, and practical education, a mission UNL continues to take up with pride. UNL has been a national leader in agricultural and ecological study, defining the field in many ways, while it has also revolutionized the study of technology and the liberal arts with pioneering digital humanities scholarship.
UNL’s online graduate degree programs have been ranked in the top 15 by U.S. News & World Report and are offered in every state, as well as many nations around the world. The university’s emphasis in making education accessible to working adults, and the demands of having a large, rural population has made it essential for UNL to develop top-notch distance education to bring their quality instruction to their students, and now students all over the world benefit from the University of Nebraska’s essential value.
Price per credit: $325
13. Sam Houston State University
The first teachers’ college in Texas, Sam Houston State University is best known for teaching educators, and SHSU still educates a large proportion of Texas’ teachers. But SHSU has grown beyond that relatively humble beginning to become one of the most respected and forward-thinking universities in the state. Their College of criminal justice was one of the first academic institutions professionalizing the field, and with one of the few body farms in the nation, they are key to forensics education and research.
Not surprisingly, SHSU’s online education and criminal justice graduate programs have been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as being among the best in the US, but SHSU offers many other top-tier online degrees, including the MBA, computer science, and many more. More than two dozen fully online master’s degrees offer working adults in Texas and around the nation to earn a highly respected, fully accredited degree at a reasonable cost.
Price per credit: $466
14. Michigan State University
Michigan State University was founded as an agricultural college and the first land-grant university; like the University of Nebraska, then, MSU made their reputation on revolutionizing agriculture with the scientific study of ecology, plant and animal science, and mechanical engineering, blazing a valuable path for future universities. MSU also led the study of communications with the very first com-arts school in the US.
Today, MSU continues to innovate and lead in fields such as business and criminal justice. MSU offers nearly fifty fully online graduate degree programs and certificates in some of its most decorated areas, including education, business, nursing, and criminal justice. Even more hybrid courses allow working professional students in the area to take courses that are flexible for their job schedules. Michigan State’s value is well-established and their reputation solid, making them one of the most trusted values in the Midwest.
Price per credit: $698
15. University of Houston
The University of Houston, a public research university, is central to the academic, research, and business life of Houston, as a major economic presence contributing billions of dollars to the Texas economy. UH’s deep connections to the government and industry of Houston, one of the nation’s leading business cities, has major benefits for UH students and graduates, giving them entry into a thriving market with a respected degree.
The University of Houston is a distance-education pioneer, having started the first public educational television channel in 1953, a station that continues today. With a focus on practical professional education and applied research, UH offers more than a dozen fully-online graduate degree programs, including numerous specializations in two of their greatest strengths, engineering and education. With low tuition and great opportunity, the University of Houston is a definitive Texas value.
Price per credit: $422
16. Colorado State University-Global Campus
Colorado State University-Global Campus (CSU-Global) is one of the three separate campuses in the Colorado State University System, which includes the flagship Colorado State University in Fort Collins and the Colorado State University-Pueblo campuses. Each of the three campuses are operationally separate with distinct missions, but are governed under the same CSU System Board of Governors. CSU-Global has been a model in online education; proud to be the country’s first and only 100% online, independently accredited, state, nonprofit university.
CSU-Global offers many online Master’s degrees and certificate programs from seven areas of study: Business & Management, Human Resources, Finance, Education, Technology, criminal justice & Law and Healthcare. CSU-Global’s price is especially appealing, as there are no out-of-state charges and no increases in tuition for individual students no matter how long they remain students – a smart value that is good all over the world.
Price per credit: $500
17. Concordia University, St. Paul
Part of the well-known Concordia University system, a network of related Lutheran institutions across the nation, Concordia University is one of the most respected small liberal-arts universities in Minnesota. Founded in 1893, Concordia has made its name only in recent years, becoming one of the most recognizable names in online education, with a highly diverse student body and accessible, career-focused degree programs.
With over 20 fully online graduate degree and certificate programs, CSP offers students many opportunities to increase their credentials, advance their careers, and move into positions of leadership. Concordia offers many management, business, and education degree programs, as well as criminal justice, physical therapy, and exercise science. Concordia offers one of the lowest tuition rates of any accredited university, making it a bargain for prospective students around the world.
Price per credit: $378
18. Florida State University
Founded on the oldest educational campus in Florida, Florida State University is one of the leading public research universities in the southern US and a key component of the State University System of Florida. A land, sea, and space-grant institution, FSU has been at the forefront of education and research in the state, from cancer treatment and engineering to theater and art.
FSU’s highly-regarded online degree programs focus on the professional and technical fields that have always been Florida State’s strengths, including education, communications, criminal justice, business, nursing, and social work. FSU’s College of Business, in particular, has been cited by U.S. News & World Report as a top public business school, while their criminology program is recognized in the top 10 of the field. A reasonable tuition rate for Florida residents has made FSU a regular feature one of the best value rankings of online graduate schools.
Price per credit: $479
19. University of Denver
The University of Denver brought education to the Rocky Mountains in an era when Denver was a hardscrabble mining camp and the Rockies were remote, wild, and untamed. Denver is a modern metropolitan city today, but the University of Denver is still there, a highly regarded private institution with top-ranked programs in everything from business to writing, according to U.S. News & World Report.
The University of Denver has no shortage of excellent online grad degree offerings; with around 50 fully online graduate degree programs, Denver is still meeting the educational needs of students who cannot easily attend classes on campus. Students can choose from many management specialties, including Environmental Policy and Security, or from their many leadership and organization degrees, including Healthcare Leadership. Denver’s quarter system helps students complete their courses more efficiently and on a more flexible schedule than traditional semester calendars, and UD’s tuition rate is reasonable for a top-notch private university.
Price per credit: $1256 ($628 per quarter)
20. Colorado Technical University
Colorado Technical University is the rare for-profit institution to meet all of the major qualifications for reputability: regional accreditation through the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; recognition as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation; and a solid ranking from U.S. News & World Report. CTU recruits heavily among military personnel and veterans, being noted by the NSA, Homeland Security, and military-related media outlets as a military educator.
Colorado Tech has a host of fully online graduate degree programs, many of them in MBA specializations like entrepreneurship, supply chain management, and logistics. Other degrees are developed and directed specifically toward service members and veterans, such as homeland security, criminal justice, and cybersecurity. Colorado Tech’s low tuition rate is another source of its success, making it one of the most affordable online graduate schools around the world.
Price per credit: $585
21. University of Colorado, Denver
Paired with the Anschutz Medical Campus, the University of Colorado Denver is one of the most respected public urban research universities in the nation. As the largest research university in Colorado, UCD is primarily known for its world-class medical, pharmacy, nursing, and healthcare administration programs, but also receives high marks for its business and public affairs degrees.
UCD’s quality business and public affairs programs appear in their growing slate of fully online graduate degrees, including MBA degrees. CU Denver’s online programs also include numerous excellent master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing, including both DNP and PhD programs, as well as many education-related degrees, such as curriculum and instruction, early childhood education, and e-learning. CU Denver keeps tuition rates low, and with no extra fees for non-residents, is a value anywhere.
Price per credit: $445
22. Auburn University
Auburn University is one of the foremost public research universities in the South, recognized as one of the most rigorous and educationally advanced institutions in the region. A land, sea, and space-grant institution, Auburn has been at the center of advancements in engineering, architecture, and economics, with some of the nation’s best-ranked schools in those fields. Auburn’s reputation puts it at the top of public university rankings, and on a global scale.
With more than 30 fully online graduate degree programs, including master’s and executive master’s formats, Auburn is also becoming a leader in online education for the Deep South. Auburn’s online graduate schools, not surprisingly, are dominated by its top-ranked business school, with MBA and MS programs in a number of specializations, but students can also choose from numerous education, agriculture, and other master’s degrees as well.
Price per credit: $850
23. University of Alabama at Birmingham
Originally an extension campus of the University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham little by little grew into one of the premier public research universities in the region. Much of that growth came from the location of the UAB Health System, which began when the UA medical school merged with two hospitals in Birmingham to create one of the most respected academic medical centers in the South. Today UAB dominates the economy of Birmingham and employs more Alabamans than any other single entity.
UAB offers some three dozen fully online degree programs from their most acclaimed and popular online graduate schools. Most of those come from the School of Nursing, one of the highest-ranked in the region, as well as from the School of Public Health and the School of Engineering, two of UAB’s most trusted. All of these are available for an incredibly low tuition rate, making them ideal choices for Alabama’s growing professional class.
Price per credit: $410
24. Purdue University
A large public research university, and one of the most recognizable names in higher education, Purdue University was founded as a model of scientific, applied engineering, and technical university. It has continued to follow that path and to expand over the century and a half of its existence, becoming known both for its aerospace engineering and aviation programs, and for its groundbreaking English and writing programs.
Already a top 25 public university according to U.S. News & World Report, Purdue has begun to make a name for itself in the online realm as well, with two dozen excellent, fully online master’s degrees and graduate certificates. Online programs include degrees from Purdue’s highly ranked Krannert School of Management and College of Engineering, as well as acclaimed education programs. Purdue’s tuition is low for a university of its caliber, adding value to excellence.
Price per credit: $431
25. California State University, Fullerton
The California State University system is one of the most respected and highest-ranked public higher education systems in the US, and CSU Fullerton is a prime example of why. One of the most diverse universities in the nation, CSUF is both a Hispanic-serving and Asian American-Native American-Pacific Islander-serving institution, a special designation that highlights the impact CSUF has on the unique population of Orange County.
One of the best colleges in the nation for social mobility, as well as one of the most rigorous, CSU Fullerton is known for its combination of inclusiveness and commitment to raising its students’ status, and their many online programs have helped them make significant inroads in providing opportunity to more students. With a number of fully online programs in education, technology, and professional development, CSUF offers working adults a low-cost chance to make their careers take off.
Price per credit: $406