The 20 most affordable online colleges

For many Americans who want a bachelor's or postgraduate degree, attending class while juggling jobs or family obligations can be a struggle. An online college program can be one solution, but picking a school may seem bewildering given all the choices.

The Affordable Colleges Foundation (ACF), which operates AffordableCollegesOnline.org, has tried to make the search easier by listing the institutions it says offer the most economical online degrees. The 46 colleges that made the cut are nonprofit and state institutions that offer a wide variety of online degrees, as well as demonstrate a history of what the organization calls "demonstrated academic excellence and financial support."

The University of Florida in Gainesville captured the top spot as the most affordable online college. The cost per online credit hour is $129, and the school's six-year graduation rate is 87 percent. Eighty-nine percent of undergraduates at this flagship institution receive financial aid. The U. of Florida offers nine online bachelor's degrees, 69 master's degrees and 10 doctorate degrees. It also offers two additional bachelor's degree programs for students who have earned an associate degree.

Here are ACF's top 20 most affordable online colleges, along with the cost per credit hour:

  1. University of Florida, $129
  2. University of Wyoming, $133
  3. Appalachian State University, $145
  4. University of North Carolina Wilmington, $149
  5. Brigham Young University-Idaho, $156
  6. Texas Tech University, $198
  7. Florida State University, $216
  8. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, $241
  9. Western Washington University, $250
  10. Utah State University $256,
  11. South Dakota State University, $257
  12. SUNY College at Oswego (NY), $257
  13. Westfield State University (MA), $260
  14. Central Washington State, $265
  15. University of Georgia, $268
  16. University of Utah, $275
  17. Missouri State University, $275
  18. University of Northern Iowa, $278
  19. Eastern Illinois University, $283
  20. Indiana University-Bloomington, $284

To qualify for the list, colleges had to charge less than $500 per credit and maintain a six-year graduation rate of more than 50 percent. The school also had to have full regional accreditation for all campuses and online programs. Finally, they must offer academic counseling and job placement services for graduates.

Of course, it's generally unwise to pick a school strictly on price. It's also important to speak to professors in the online programs and ask for referrals from students who are in the program or who have graduated recently. Also ask for job-placement statistics for the online graduates.

U.S. News & World Report rates online colleges, but just as with their rankings for traditional colleges and universities, it relies on reputations rather than actual learning outcomes. The U. of Florida also ranks as the No. 1 in U.S. News' online bachelor's degree rankings.