10 low-cost online colleges for out-of-state students

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College, The Short List: Grad School andThe Short List: Online Programsto find data that matter to you in your college or grad school search.

As tuition continues to rise at many colleges across the U.S., online course enrollment is also on an upward trajectory, making more affordable and flexible alternatives available to students.

According to the Online College Students 2018 study by Aslanian Market Research and Learning House, 34 percent of distance education learners consider tuition and fees to be the most important factor when deciding on an online program. While tuition and fees typically cost less for students who attend public colleges in a state where they are residents, some affordable out-of-state online programs are the exception to that rule.

[Read: 7 Ways to Reduce the Cost of an Online Degree.]

Among the 311 ranked online colleges that submitted these data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the College of Coastal Georgia is the least expensive for out-of-state students during the 2018-2019 school year. The school charges $125 per credit, for a total program cost of $15,000.

The average credit hour cost at the 10 least expensive online bachelor's programs for out-of-state students is $180. The average degree program cost at those schools is $21,716.

In comparison, the average out-of-state cost for all ranked online bachelor's programs is $472 per credit hour. For 2018-2019, the average total program cost for all ranked schools is $58,002.

On the higher end of the scale for out-of-state students is MidAmerica Nazarene University, which charges $1,436 per credit hour for a total bachelor's degree program cost of $180,936.

[Read: U.S. News Ranks 2019 Best Online Programs.]

Credit hours required for a bachelor's degree vary, though most schools require 120 to graduate, per U.S. News data. Only two of the 10 online programs with the lowest costs for out-of-state students require more than 120 credits.

Students who have previously completed academic coursework may pay less than the total program costs reflected below if they have transferable credits from another college. According to the Online College Students report, 85 percent of distance learners have some college credit to transfer toward a degree.

Below is a list of the undergraduate online programs where out-of-state students are charged the lowest cost per credit hour during the 2018-2019 school year. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be ranked, were not considered for this report.

School name (state)Out-of-state cost per creditCredits needed to graduateOut-of-state total program costU.S. News rank
College of Coastal Georgia$125120$15,000123 (tie)
Sterling College (KS)$135124$16,740230 (tie)
Fitchburg State University (MA)$136120$16,320242 (tie)
University of North Carolina–Pembroke$188120$22,560226 (tie)
Western Carolina University (NC)$189120$22,68058 (tie)
Valley City State University (ND)$190120$22,800173 (tie)
University of West Georgia$199120$23,880217 (tie)
Georgia Southern University$204126$25,704123 (tie)
Arkansas State University$210120$25,200114 (tie)
Fort Hays State University (KS)$219120$26,28042 (tie)

School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.

U.S. News surveyed more than 350 colleges and universities for our 2019 Best Online Bachelor's Programs rankings. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News' data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Online Programs rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News' rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The tuition data above are correct as of Jan. 15, 2019.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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