How Much Does an Online Education Really Cost?

There are many who would love to increase their desirability in the job market by pursuing a college degree. Still, there are others who have already earned a degree, but wish to advance further at work or to change fields altogether. In this day and age, there are many options available to potential students. One of these options is the online degree.

Many who are considering pursuing an online degree often wonder: how much does an online degree really cost? It would be helpful to the decision-making process if there were an easy answer, but the only answer available is: it depends.

Regardless of whether you are considering an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree, A Master’s Degree or a Ph.D., the general consensus is that the cost of an online degree can vary greatly depending upon the quality of instruction and reputation of the school. As with traditional learning that is campus-based, there can be great variation from one institution to another. For instance, what the student gets, in terms of quality of instruction, access to resources, and institution credibility can be specific to the college. If a student graduates from an unaccredited college that has only been around for a few years, his costs may be lower than they would have been at an Ivy League school, but his job opportunities may be fewer as well. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for; higher education is no exception.

That being said, it is sometimes true that online degrees cost less than their traditional on-campus counterparts. Additionally, many of the costs outside of tuition are lower when an education is pursued online. Often, costs such as on-campus room and board, the expense of gas to get to classes, and the purchase of books (many materials used in online classes are often available for low-cost or no-cost online) can add up to cost as much as the actual tuition.

Learning online often frees students to learn when, where, and how, they please. It is certainly true that online degrees may be a wave of the future. This was explained by writer Tamar Lewin, when he wrote in a 2011 article for the New York Times that “Most experts agree that given the exploding technologies, cuts to university budgets and the expanding universe of people expected to earn postsecondary degrees, there is no end in sight for newfangled programs preparing students for careers in high demand areas like business, computer science, health care, and criminal justice.” Lewin may refer to online degree programs as “newfangled”; they are. But since most have been around long enough to have been put to the test, they are now being seen as equivalent to programs offered on-site. Online students can rest assured that they are pursing an increasingly respected alternative.

Because the cost of a college degree is not based on the degree itself but is instead based on the number of semester hours it takes to earn it, the actual cost of an online degree varies. Earning an Associate’s Degree usually takes at least 60 semester hours of instruction, and earning a Bachelor’s generally takes 120 semester hours or more. Because there is such variation in the cost per semester hour among all colleges and universities, it would be difficult to pin down an exact cost of earning an online degree. A search of available programs shows programs that cost as little as $50 per semester hour, going up to as much as over $1000 per semester hour (for example, at highly respected research universities). As an example, if a student chose to pursue an Associate’s Degree that had a tuition cost of $50 an hour, they could earn the degree for approximately $3,000 in tuition costs. However, if the same student decided to pursue an online degree through UMass, with a cost per semester hour of approximately $425, the tuition cost of a Bachelor’s Degree would be in the range of $51,000. It is clear to see that there are great differences in costs from one school to another.

It is critical, when you explore different online degrees offered, that you consider the vast difference in tuitions. Sometimes, finding the perfect mix of low cost and credible reputation can be a bit confusing. This is why it is important to really consider all of your options.

According to the Online Education Database, online classes can also be useful and affordable for those who are already enrolled at other colleges and universities, but who are looking to continue learning during summer break: “For college students who want to attend summer classes but live to far from their colleges or have to work summer jobs, taking online classes from an accredited college and transferring the credits to their primary college is a good idea.”

Regardless which online curriculum you choose, earning an online degree is certainly a credible, enjoyable, and affordable way to get an education. In the end, the greater job opportunities that will open up to you will have made it all worthwhile.