Cost Analysis of Distance Learning Liberal Arts Programs

The cost of distance learning liberal arts programs depends on several factors, such as level of degree sought and school type. Many schools charge per course or per credit for their online courses, instead of a flat rate per semester, since online students tend to take fewer courses at a time.

For many, online courses seem like a cheaper alternative to getting the same education in a classroom - but are online courses really more cost-effective? Online and on-campus liberal arts courses are similarly priced, but tuition costs will vary by credit load, and online students will need to check for additional fees.

Does Long Distance Learning Cost Less Than On-Campus Learning?

Long distance liberal arts learning can cost more money than on-campus learning depending on the number of credit hours being taken. For example, because some online classes charge tuition by the credit hour only, taking enough credits to go to school full-time may be cheaper online. However, taking more or fewer credits than this can result in increased costs.

Other factors, such as the degree level and type of school (in-state vs. out of state or public vs. private), will affect the cost of credits for online education as well, with community college remaining one of the most cost-effective education options.

Analysis of Online Liberal Arts Programs by Level

An analysis of the cost of distance-learning liberal arts programs at a variety of U.S. colleges and universities shows that online undergraduate courses typically cost about $1,200-$3,200 for a 3-credit course. In general, graduate-level programs are more expensive than undergraduate programs, with tuition ranging from about $1,500-$2,400 per course. Students who enroll in online liberal arts programs offered by community colleges may pay less, with courses costing closer to $500 each; many 2-year schools charge the same tuition for both online and on-campus courses, though in-state and out-of-state students may have different rates. Costs also differ for public and private schools. In general, programs at private schools cost more than the same programs at public schools.

The figures below use these general numbers in order to evaluate the average cost for a distance learning liberal arts degree program. It's important to note that these figures do not factor in discounts for taking more than one class at a time or financial aid.

  • Associate's Degree: $500 per course or $10,500 for a 63-credit program
  • Bachelor's Degree: $1,200-$3,200 per course or $48,000-$128,000 for a 120-credit program
  • Master's Degree: $1,500-$2,400 per course or $15,000-$24,000 for a 30-credit program

Analysis of Online Programs at Liberal Arts Schools

Liberal arts colleges are those that offer primarily undergraduate programs and typically award at least half their degrees in a liberal arts field. Not all of these schools offer online programs, but those that do often charge the same per-credit rate for distance learning programs and on-campus programs. The main difference is that on-campus students pay the same tuition for 12-18 credits a semester, while online students are charged by credit, and thus they would pay less than on-campus students for 12 credits but more for 18 credits.

Students taking online classes as they can afford them, such as one at a time, may also see an increase in costs. Some schools offer tiered tuition, where a student would pay below the standard per-credit tuition rate if he or she takes over a certain number of credits (such as going to school at least part-time).

Additional Costs

While online students do not have to worry about room and board costs, there are several other fees that potential students should be aware of. Many schools have application and/or technology fees. Each of these fees is typically about $30-$60, though the technology fee may be more than $200 at a few select schools. Some schools may also include assessment fees, graduation fees and clinical fees. In addition, online students may need to purchase specific software programs.

Online liberal arts courses can cost the same or more than courses taught in a traditional classroom environment, though the fees may differ. The number of credits taken is another important factor; while it may be easier to pay for one online course at a time, it is not always cheaper.

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