Your Online Education Resource Center

Calculating the True Cost of an Online Program

Many students choose to pursue their degrees online for a number of reasons. For example, they may have to schedule their learning around a full-time job or family responsibilities. Some learners hope to avoid long commutes to campus or enjoy studying at home. Others choose online programs due to their relative affordability.

These guidelines will help you determine the true cost of online education. Below is a detailed list of distance learning tuition rates, technology and virtual access fees, and indirect costs associated with studying on campus, such as lost wages, room and board, and student service fees.

The decision to pursue online study is no different than that of any other educational program. Before making any final decisions, it’s imperative for students to consider the true cost of an online program, and whether or not it will benefit them in the future.”

Determining whether to enroll in a program online is a significant and personal decision. If your chosen program offers coursework or formal concentrations in your field of interest, is accredited, and is suitable for your learning style, make sure to consider these factors in addition to overall cost.

Overall cost is the obvious first consideration when comparing online programs, but it’s not the only one. In addition to determining the cost of tuition and other required fees, make sure to also consider if a program offers coursework or concentrations in the area of interest you desire and if the program has appropriate accreditation. What’s more is that you should also look into whether online education best fits your learning style.

Why Online Program Costs Differ From Traditional Program Costs

Pursuing a degree online is a great alternative to the traditional on-campus route. You might be interested in this because you have a busy career, or live in a remote location. Both have costs that traditional students don’t have to consider.

Those who choose to pursue higher education through an online program vs. an on-campus program will quickly discover that the cost of higher education is significantly different when comparing these two options. The cost of obtaining a degree through an online program is typically lower than the cost of going through traditional channels, although this isn’t always true.

As an example, students who prefer classroom learning may need to leave their jobs or take fewer shifts in order to continue their education. Although studying online may enable them to continue to work, they may not be interrupted by their classes. Single parents and others who have family responsibilities can also avoid the costs of professional caregivers by choosing an online educational option, and studying from the comfort of their own homes.

Traditional and online programs have different costs. In an online program, the tuition rate of a class is often the only additional cost — most schools do not charge other fees for online courses like they do for on-campus ones. However, students sometimes pay fees to access course materials online.

For online students who don’t intend to take advantage of campus-based student services, such as access to recreation centers or healthcare options, there may be no associated fees. The primary reason for a difference in cost is simply that online students can complete their education without requiring the same level of infrastructure as a campus-based student. The costs associated with providing physical amenities such as coffee shops and libraries are significantly lower in an online program than on a campus.

Access to Recreation Facilities: Traditional program students who pay a fee for gym, pool, or other such facilities may not have to pay these fees if they are enrolled in an online program that does not offer the same access to campus-based student services.

“Students at public four-year colleges paid an average tuition of $8,800 in 2016 if they qualified for in-state tuition.”

If you are planning to attend a public college or university, make sure to check whether online students are eligible for in-state tuition at the institution. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that in 2016, students pursuing a degree at a public, four-year college paid an average of $8,800 if they qualified for in-state tuition. Out-of-state students, as well as online students who didn’t get in-state rates, spent on average more than $23,000.

The long-term value of your degree is also important. Employers nowadays are less likely to differentiate between candidates who earned their degrees online and those that earned them on campus. However, some online programs may not meet the same academic standards as in-person programs. While researching where to study, make sure your school holds either regional accreditation or national accreditation.

What Are the Costs of an Online Program?

Online degree programs offer several potential advantages over traditional campus-based learning models, including lower tuition costs and the ability to earn a degree without ever leaving home. Even so, indirect costs add substantial amounts to degree expenses as well. Also think about the cost of room and board, the cost of books and other course materials, and a possible decrease in income. However, when you take a closer look at the costs of online courses and degree programs, you’ll find that they can be just as expensive as traditional courses.

We’ll break these direct costs and indirect costs down in the next section.

Transportation for Any On-Site Requirements

Many students have a lot of course work to get through, and the ability to watch lectures online anytime and anywhere they prefer is a huge time saver. These services provide better value for their money by not wasting time, effort, and money on traveling to campus all the time.

The biggest advantage of online learning over classroom learning is, obviously, distance. If you live remotely or want to work full time while taking courses, the option to get a Degree and gain a veritable education on your own schedule can be life-changing.

Online students may also be exempt from some transportation-related fees. For example, some schools charge students using buses to shuttle them from one part of campus to another an annual fee.

Yet, even if you pursue your degree online, you may still need to visit campus occasionally. Some colleges require all students to attend an orientation program in person when they first enroll in classes. Some colleges also require you to travel to campus to take exams, though many now allow online students to do so at proctored sites around the country.

Decreased Income

Online education gives you the flexibility to complete courses anytime, anywhere. If you are a full-time or part-time student with a professional life, online learning can offer more flexibility than on-campus education. The concept of an online course is quite simple: a school offers all the resources you need in order to learn online. You do not have to leave your home or your day job to get an education. You can study whenever you want and as much as you want.

Decreased income is an indirect cost that is often overlooked. Basically, if you earn $50,000 per year working 40 hours a week, your total income could drop to $25,000 if you only work 20 hours a week while attending classes and completing required coursework. Even if online tuition is $10,000 more expensive than on-campus tuition, you might still save $15,000 overall by pursuing your degree online.

Work-Life Balance/Quality of Life

Once you’ve decided that an online college is the best option for your financial and academic goals, there are still some important factors to consider before enrolling. While money will undoubtedly be a big consideration, you should also consider your class schedule and how educational expenses may impact your work-life balance. There’s a lot to take into account and, depending on your situation, it might be better to hold off on enrolling in order to help ensure you make the best choice for you.

 For instance, students who study online do not need to travel to campus to attend their classes, but the course may still require them to spend significant amounts of time away from home and friends. You may also need to spend time learning new technologies or resolving technical issues.

Many students find a major source of stress in choosing courses, balancing their social lives, and finding time to study. These stresses often increase when students undertake an online university degree, as it not only gives them less personal interaction with their instructors, but also limits the structure they have to help them manage their time.

Anywhere between 20% to 30% of college students are classified as “nontraditional.” These nontraditional students often have families and full-time jobs, but choose to continue their education. For some, the motivation is a focus on building a fulfilling career, while others view continuing education as a critical financial investment. Large universities like California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), offer numerous resources to help students juggle campus life, work, and family responsibilities—including a variety of programs specifically targeted to nontraditional students.

How to Lower the Cost of an Online Program

There are many different ways you can lower the total cost of pursuing a degree online. Whether you find yourself trying to pay for college directly, or paying for it through your taxes, finding ways to reduce the total cost of education is important.  Our list below details five of the most common ways to save money on distance education.

Attending a Public College or University

State colleges and other public institutions are generally cheaper than private schools, even for online learners. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that students attending public four-year colleges paid an average of $19,500 in 2016. Those attending four-year private colleges and universities paid an average of almost $41,500 in tuition and fees that same year. If you qualify for in-state tuition, or other financial aid programs for public school students, the cost of your education can be even lower.

Transferring Credits

Universities and colleges allow students to transfer credits earned at another college or university to colleges and universities, thus reducing the overall cost and time required to earn a degree.

Universities and colleges allow students to transfer credits earned at another college or university to colleges and universities, thus reducing the overall cost and time required to earn a degree. In order to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you may wish to begin your education at a community college. Community colleges usually charge far less than four-year colleges, and they have articulation agreements with many public universities and colleges within their state. They make it possible to transfer credits if you meet certain GPA requirements and some other criteria.

Applying Work, Volunteer, or Military Experience

Some colleges award credits for prior employment, volunteer service, or military service. To be eligible for this credit, you must submit some sort of proof of your experience, such as a sample portfolio or military service record along with your college application materials. You may also have to write a brief essay explaining the relevance of the experience to your chosen academic field. Instead of handing in portfolios, some schools may require our students to sit for an exam assessing our specific skills and knowledge.

Finding Free or Low-Cost Books and Course Materials

The costs of books and course materials can often be high, but you can often find alternative options that are free or very low-cost. Begin your search for required materials in your college library. Public libraries in the community may also carry more common texts. Next, check with your college’s bookstore to see if they sell previously used copies of the books you need. Also, you can find used or older editions of your course materials online, though you should consult your instructor to ensure they contain the right information and assignments.

Applying for Financial Aid

Don’t forget to apply for as much financial aid as you can. The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for federal grants, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans. In addition, many states use the information you provide on the FAFSA to award their own need-based grants and scholarships. Many private organizations also offer scholarships, including some tailored specifically for online learners.

Scholarships for Online Students

Being an online student can take its toll on your wallet, so be sure to look into scholarships for online students if you need financial assistance. Luckily, there are many scholarships offered exclusively to online students and those pursuing distance learning degrees.

Additional to scholarships for online students detailed below, you should contact your academic institution’s financial aid office to determine which institutional resources, including scholarship and grant opportunities, are readily available to distance learners.

Are Online Programs Worth the Cost?

One of the biggest questions for older students who are considering an online degree is whether it’s worth the cost. Online programs have become more flexible, accessible, and prestigious over the past few years, and studies show that online students tend to do just as well as their peers on exams. Still, some doubt whether online degrees carry the same value as degrees earned through a traditional campus-based program.

You can find free classes online that will teach you a variety of subjects. But an increasing number of people are paying for online education in order to earn credit toward a degree. That could be a great option for you to pursue your goals and dreams, but it can also be costly so you should carefully think through the pros and cons before deciding whether an online program is worth the cost.

Regardless of whether you choose to study online or in person, choose a program that is accredited. A school cannot be accredited unless it meets certain standards and appropriately prepares you for a career in your field. Unaccredited programs may not provide you with a quality education, and future employers may not even recognize your degree. Financial aid opportunities can also be missed, resulting in you paying more for a poorer educational investment.