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How Much Does an Online College Degree Cost?

Online education has made its way into many community colleges, career schools and four-year universities. Cost is a major issue for prospective college students, regardless of whether they're attending on campus or online.

The cost of an online program depends on the school, degree type and area of study. Students can consider the costs of the online degree programs offered by Southern New Hampshire University, Penn State University and Arizona State University.

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers online undergraduate degree programs. At this school, undergraduate and graduate courses and credits cost a standard amount. The school also offers a 30% discount for active-duty military service members and their spouses. In total, associate's degrees typically require 60 credit hours and bachelor's degree programs require 120 credit hours. The following standard course rates do not include costs for books and other materials.

  • Undergraduate tuition: $960 per course ($320 per credit hour)
  • Graduate tuition: $1,881 per course ($627 per credit hour)

Penn State University

For the 2016-2017 school year, online program costs at Penn State University varied by degree level and program. For undergraduates, the school charges for courses on a per-credit or per-semester basis, depending on how many credits the student is taking and how many credits the student has earned so far. Therefore, it is important to remember that associate's degrees usually require 60 credits to complete, and bachelor's degree programs take 120 to 123, depending on the subject. Students are also charged an information technology fee, which varies based on the number of courses in which they are enrolled.

  • Undergraduate tuition
    • $542 per credit (or flat rate $6,587 per semester for full-time students) if the student has 59 or fewer credits
    • $584 per credit (or flat rate $7,129 per semester for full-time students) if the student has 60 or more credits
  • Graduate tuition: $1,185 per credit

Programs offered online through Penn State University include:

  • Associate in Letters, Arts and Sciences
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology
  • Bachelor of Science in Accounting
  • Bachelor of Science in Finance
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)

Arizona State University

Arizona State University is another school that offers online education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

  • Undergraduate tuition: $490-$633 per credit
  • Graduate tuition: $492-$1,132 per credit

Other Schools

Other online programs at various colleges across the country have 'cost calculators' via their websites, where potential students can enter in their personalized information on what types of programs they'd like to study in order to determine how much they would have to pay. Financial aid is also available.

Savings Associated with Flexibility

Distance-learning programs also offer flexibility not usually found in conventional degrees - flexibility which can result in savings. Full-time on-campus students are paying for the educational equivalent of a buffet, while online students taking the online, ala carte approach are paying only for the number of courses taken at the rate that fits their schedule. A student who needs more than four years to finish an undergraduate degree due to work or family commitments could realize a significant savings by using the distance-learning options as opposed to paying for extra semesters or years.

Regardless of the flexibility or savings they may offer, there is no value to illegitimate credits or degrees. When shopping online options, be sure to find accredited schools. The National Center for Educational Statistics has a database of legitimate schools that can be accessed through an online navigator tool. A school's accreditation claims can also be researched by checking with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

When considering enrolling in an online degree program, it is important to consider the school's tuition policies, as well as the financial advantages of online study. Verifying accreditation is also a must.

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