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16 Best Online Colleges With Accredited Degree Programs

According to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 16.6% of all U.S. higher education students (about 3.3 million) in the fall of 2018 were enrolled in institutions that exclusively offer distance education courses. More than 35% were enrolled in hybrid institutions that mix distance education and in-person instruction — a class that includes some of the largest universities in the United States.

Whether you’re enrolling in a higher education program for the first time or going back to school after working full time for years, it’s possible to end up at a college or university that offers online learning opportunities even if you’re not explicitly searching for them.

And if you do prefer to enroll at an online college rather than live on campus (potentially far from your hometown and probably at a significant premium as compared to affordable rental housing nearby due to room and board markups at many residential universities) or endure a long daily commute to class? Then it’s easy to find an institution and program that fits your needs and goals — without moving away or spending more time than you’d like traipsing to and from class.

These days, many of the best online colleges and universities are directly associated with top traditional institutions, including flagship state universities and major private research schools. Whereas online degree programs were once primarily dominated by for-profit institutions that did little to prepare students for the workplace, the playing field today is far more evenly balanced and student-friendly. If you recognize many of the names on this list, it’s precisely because so many top-tier institutions recognize the necessity of providing first-rate remote-learning opportunities in the digital age.

Pro tip: When you’re ready to start working toward your online degree, start your search with edX. They offer both undergraduate and graduate programs from some of the top colleges and universities.

Top Online Colleges With Accredited Degree Programs

These online colleges and degree programs are among the U.S.’s best. All are associated with traditional four-year colleges and universities but do not require distance-learning students to appear in person.

Each institution’s listing includes key information about the institution itself:

  • Institution Type. Public universities receive substantial state funding and though largely autonomous are more closely monitored and regulated by state governments. Private universities are still more autonomous and can be nonprofit or for-profit, with the former generally regarded as providing higher-quality education.
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs. The number provided is a rough count of currently available distance-learning degrees. The exact number is subject to change.
  • Accreditation. This line item denotes the main accrediting authority. At larger universities, accreditation can be school-specific. In this case, the list of accrediting bodies is not necessarily comprehensive.
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate. The percentage provided is the total proportion of students, including transfers, who graduate from any four-year institution within six years of initial enrollment at the institution. For reference, the average 6-year graduation rate at public U.S. colleges and universities was 60% versus 66% at private nonprofit colleges and universities and just 21% at for-profit colleges and universities, according to the NCES. All three classes of institution include in-person-only, online-only, and hybrid schools. According to U.S. News, students enrolled in online degree programs are significantly less likely to graduate in a timely fashion than students at traditional universities. However, disagreement about the degree of difference persists.
  • Total Net Cost. This metric ranks total net cost — all expenses, including tuition and fees, minus all sources of financial aid, including in-state tuition discounts for online learners with residence in public universities’ home states — for online attendance. Because expenses and aid vary by student and can change each year, the figure is expressed in a four-tier range: $ (least expensive) to $$$$ (most expensive).

1. UCF Online

UCF Online is the distance-learning arm of the massive University of Central Florida, based in Orlando. With about 50 undergraduate and graduate degree options and another 20 graduate certificate programs, it offers a wide breadth of opportunity for first-time and returning students alike.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 70
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 73%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$

Notable undergraduate degree programs include:

  • Health Care: Nursing, psychology, health informatics and information management
  • Hospitality: Hospitality management, senior living management
  • Criminal Justice and Prelaw: Criminal justice, legal studies, political science

Notable graduate degree programs include:

  • Health Care: Nursing (master’s of science in nursing, or MSN), social work, health care systems engineering, health administration
  • Engineering: Civil engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, engineering management
  • Hospitality: Hospitality and tourism management, travel technology and analytics
  • Criminal Justice and Prelaw: Digital forensics, forensic science

UCF Online is popular with transfer students, so while it’s not quite the bargain some fellow public online degree-granting institutions are, the net cost for many students is reasonable.


2. Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) saw the writing on the wall long before most of its larger, better-known peers in the pricey realm of four-year private college education. As SNHU chugs along educating roughly 20 students online for each single student on campus, many of those peer institutions now stare into the financial abyss as the next generation of college students wonders whether the skyrocketing cost of college education is truly worth it.

SNHU’s sticker price is the highest of any institution on this list, but most distance-learning students don’t pay anything close to it for all four years. That’s because SNHU is extremely popular with transfer students, who begin their studies elsewhere (often a community college) and enroll at SNHU to complete their degree programs or upgrade from associate’s to bachelor’s degrees.

  • Institution Type: Private, nonprofit
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: More than 200
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 52%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$$$

SNHU’s most popular undergraduate degree programs include:

  • Accounting and Finance: General accounting, forensic accounting, accounting science
  • Engineering and Technology: Data analysis, data analytics, software engineering
  • Social Sciences: Public safety administration, global health, forensic psychology
  • Business: Health care administration, nonprofit management, business communication

Notable graduate degree and certificate programs include:

  • Accounting and Finance: Auditing, corporate finance, quantitative analysis
  • Engineering and Technology: Engineering management, Information technology (IT) management, health informatics
  • Social Sciences: Public safety administration, global health, forensic psychology
  • Business: Corporate finance, emergency management

3. OSU Online

OSU Online, Oklahoma State University’s distance-learning arm, is a reasonably priced option with about 50 online undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs. It’s also popular with transfer students and adult learners looking to earn degrees while continuing to work full time. And OSU’s vast list of courses designed specifically for active-duty military and honorably discharged veterans is a vital resource for service members looking to advance their careers inside or outside the military.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 50
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 61%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$

OSU Online’s undergraduate degree options include:

  • Multiple nursing programs (registered nurse to bachelor’s of science in nursing)
  • Computer science
  • Psychology
  • Marketing
  • Management

Graduate options include:

  • Electrical engineering
  • Public health
  • Family financial planning
  • Business analytics and data science
  • Health care administration
  • Special education
  • International agriculture

4. Bellevue University

For a private university, Nebraska-based Bellevue University is extraordinarily affordable — often cheaper than out-of-state tuition at the flagship public universities on this list. Its low tuition costs and fees are especially impressive given its small class sizes, reasonable faculty-student ratio, and wide range of online degree programs for graduates and undergraduates.

  • Institution Type: Private, nonprofit
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 60
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 72%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

Undergraduate highlights include:

  • Science and IT: Computer information systems, IT operations management, cybersecurity
  • Education: Math, biology, public health education
  • Health Care: Psychology, behavioral science, health care management
  • Public Service: Criminal justice, legal studies, security management
  • Business and Management: Accounting, business administration, hospitality management

Graduate highlights include:

  • Science and IT: Data science, computer information science
  • Health Care: Clinical mental health counseling, industrial and organizational psychology
  • Public Service: Master of public administration, master of professional studies
  • Business and Management: Master’s in business administration (MBA), business analytics, data analytics

5. ASU Online

ASU Online, the online program from well-known Arizona State University, has one of the most extensive lineups of online degree programs — more than 200. It’s also very reasonably priced. And unlike many hybrid institutions that adhere to the traditional semester or quarter schedule, ASU offers six start date options per year. That’s welcome news for adult learners looking to get started on their own time rather than waiting for August or January to roll around.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: More than 200
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 69%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

ASU’s popular undergraduate degree options include:

  • Multiple business, management, and leadership programs
  • Economics
  • Educational studies
  • Computer information systems
  • Health sciences
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Information technology
  • Multiple nursing programs
  • Supply chain management
  • Sustainability

Notable graduate degree options include:

  • Behavioral health (clinical and management)
  • Aging studies (gerontology)
  • Computer science
  • Cybersecurity
  • Electrical engineering
  • Global security
  • Medical nutrition
  • Nursing

6. PennState World Campus

PennState World Campus is Pennsylvania State University’s online-only arm, available to students anywhere in the U.S. Though it’s not the most affordable online degree-granting institution out there — the university is relatively expensive by public university standards — it does offer significant tuition breaks for in-state students.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: More than 150
  • Accreditation:  Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: Not available (85% for Penn State’s main campus)
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$$

Pennsylvania State’s most popular online undergraduate degree options include:

  • Labor and human resources
  • Health policy and administration
  • Criminal justice
  • Cybersecurity analytics and operations
  • Accounting
  • Psychology
  • Software engineering

Notable graduate degree options include:

  • Accounting
  • Educational leadership
  • Finance
  • Industrial engineering
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Strategic communications

7. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: Worldwide & Online

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University: Worldwide & Online is a fairly specialized institution catering to students interested (or already immersed in) aviation and aeronautics. Thanks to a universal tuition break for active-duty students and close ties to the defense industry, it’s extremely popular with service members and veterans. The low graduation rate is an artifact of this unique focus, as many students enroll for specific courses or concentrations without intending to complete four-year degrees.

  • Institution Type: Private, nonprofit
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 60
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 19%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$

Many undergraduate and graduate degree programs at Embry-Riddle focus on specific aviation or aviation-adjacent disciplines, such as aeronautics, aviation maintenance, and aviation business management. But general-purpose options exist here as well, such as communications and supply chain management.


8. Ohio State University

Ohio State Online is the online arm of Ohio State University, one of the country’s biggest and best-known state schools. Like PennState World Campus, Ohio State Online is not the most affordable public option. But the high quality of instruction and solid range of degree program options for graduate learners make it a good choice for returning students.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 40
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 84%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$$

Ohio State Online’s undergraduate offerings are a bit thin: multiple nursing options, health sciences, radiologic sciences, and dental hygiene. The scope of graduate programs is more in line with PennState’s World Campus, with its most popular graduate options including:

  • Engineering management
  • Public administration
  • Social work
  • Business analytics
  • Bioethics

9. FIU Online

FIU Online, from Florida International University, is an extremely affordable public option with more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. While its graduation rate isn’t eye-popping, the breadth of programs makes it a strong choice for self-motivated students, especially those able to take advantage of the in-state tuition break.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: More than 100
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 58%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

Notable undergraduate programs include:

  • Biology
  • Criminal justice
  • Economics
  • Computer science
  • Finance
  • Multiple hospitality management options
  • Human resource management
  • Information technology

Popular graduate programs include a slew of engineering options, a health care MBA, and a master’s of public administration.


10. Appalachian State University

Students at App State Online, Appalachian State University’s distance-learning solution, miss out on visiting the state’s beautiful mountainside campus near Boone, North Carolina, a fine college town to live in year-round. But they do get some of the perks, including very reasonable tuition and a well-rounded lineup of undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 45
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 72%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

Notable undergraduate options include:

  • Multiple nursing options
  • Child development
  • Communications studies
  • Workforce leadership and development

Notable graduate options include:

  • MBA
  • Elementary education
  • Health care administration
  • Library science
  • School administration

You can find a list of their undergraduate and graduate degree options using the yellow tabs across the top of their website.


11. Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University has much in common with its neighbor, Florida International University, including impressively low tuition and a tropical perch in South Florida. Alas, with only around 20 programs at the moment, it lacks the curricular breadth of FIU. But it’s nevertheless a nice choice for distance learners with no interest in dealing with Boca Raton’s congestion and high cost of living.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 20
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 52%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

Florida Atlantic’s most popular undergraduate options include:

  • Computer science
  • Multiple nursing programs
  • Multiple business administration options, including marketing and hospitality management
  • Geoscience

The school’s top graduate options include:

  • Multiple master’s of education options, including educational psychology and higher education leadership
  • Computer engineering
  • Computer science
  • Information technology and management

12. Oregon State University’s Ecampus

Oregon State University’s Ecampus has more than 70 online-only and hybrid course options, making it an excellent choice for students without easy access to the institution’s main campus in beautiful Corvallis. Like some of its flagship brethren, though, the Ecampus isn’t a true bargain — if low cost is paramount and you’re not an Oregon resident, you’re better suited to a single-dollar-sign option.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 75
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 67%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$$

If you do decide Ecampus is right for you, you can choose from undergraduate programs like:

  • Multiple agricultural options, including crop and soil science and fisheries and wildlife sciences
  • Business administration
  • Business analytics
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Popular graduate options include:

  • Adult and higher education
  • Public policy
  • Environmental sciences
  • Multiple MBA options
  • Organic agriculture
  • Rural policy

13. UNM Online

UNM Online is the online learning arm of the University of New Mexico, the main campus of which is a haul for students based outside the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Fortunately, UNM Online is among the most reasonably priced options on this list, so it’s a fantastic choice for both remote in-state students and learners from all over the U.S.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 25
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 49%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

Notable undergraduate options include:

  • Strategic communication
  • Business administration
  • Native American studies
  • Chicano and Chicana studies
  • Radiologic science
  • Dental hygiene

Top graduate programs include:

  • Construction management
  • Computer engineering (Internet of Things focus)
  • Space systems engineering (mechanical or electrical engineering focus)
  • Educational leadership

You can find a list of their undergraduate and graduate degree programs using the interactive menu on their website.


14. U of M Global

U of M Global is the University of Memphis’s online campus. With more than 60 graduate and undergraduate programs to choose from and a reasonable tuition schedule that’s especially easy on Tennessee residents’ wallets, U of M Global is a second home for thousands of students who don’t live close enough to Memphis for a campus commute to make sense.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 60
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 48%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$

U of M Global’s top undergraduate programs include:

  • Accounting
  • Finance
  • Public relations
  • Marketing management
  • Business information and technology

Popular graduate programs include:

  • Accounting
  • MBA
  • Master’s of professional studies
  • Multiple education options

15. Thomas Edison State University

Thomas Edison State University (TESU) is the most “online” of New Jersey’s 11 state colleges and universities. Its curriculum is primarily designed to accommodate career-oriented students, including those returning to school after years in the workplace. Though historically a commuter school, TESU began focusing on distance learning years ago, and its early investments have paid off — producing dozens of quality undergraduate and graduate degree programs. TESU is also one of the cheapest options on this list, especially for New Jersey residents.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 100
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: Not reported
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $

Popular undergraduate programs at TESU include:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Accounting
  • Health care management
  • Data science and analytics
  • Energy systems technology
  • Criminal justice

Popular graduate programs include:

  • MBA
  • Public service leadership
  • Information technology
  • Educational leadership
  • Educational technology and online learning

You can find a full list of their degree programs on their website.


16. Dakota State University Online

Not to be confused with South Dakota State University, another public institution based in South Dakota, Dakota State University Online offers about 50 online graduate and undergraduate programs to students whether or not they’re within the borders of its sparsely populated state. Though initially conceived as a teacher training university, Dakota State’s breadth has expanded considerably in recent decades. Its lineup of degree programs now approaches larger rivals’, with particular focus on IT and computer science disciplines.

  • Institution Type: Public
  • Approximate Number of Online Degree Programs: 45
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • 6-Year Graduation Rate: 43%
  • Total Net Cost (Range): $$

Notable undergraduate options include:

  • Cyber leadership and intelligence
  • Cyber operations
  • Health information technology
  • Business technology
  • Elementary education

Popular graduate programs include:

  • MBA
  • Analytics
  • Computer science
  • Educational technology
  • Cyber defense

You can find a list of their undergraduate and graduate programs on the interactive menu on their website.


Final Word

These are some of the best accredited colleges and universities offering online degree programs to U.S.-based students without regard for geography or state residential status. But new online degree programs — and entirely new digital education institutions — arise with impressive regularity these days. If you’re thinking about taking a gap year or holding off on applying to college altogether until next year, you’d do well to review your options again.

Are you thinking about applying to an accredited online college or degree program? Which ones stand out to you?

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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