Best Online Colleges for 2017-2018

A great way to contain costs of higher education is via online degree programs. Most learning institutions now offer online Associates and Bachelors programs that prepare students just as effectively as the traditional classroom. Vocational programs follow a route that is more career-focused, equipping students with specific, career-centric skills that can be applied immediately post-graduation.

Many junior and community colleges have adopted ing online learning resources, reaching out to a broad range of students; from professionals busy with their daily jobs to stay-at-home parents. The following are some benefits and drawbacks of the online two-year and four-year colleges and what they offer regarding program volume, affordability and availability.



Search school name
Degree level
School Type

Online College Majors

Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of online learning options across majors. Students have earned degrees in criminal justice, accounting, nursing and psychology online. Even though each of these majors has some consistent core elements, each one has specifically targeted content that gives graduates the flexibility needed without compromising quality.

Online Colleges by State

In as much as online learning has eliminated time and place a barrier on more traditional universities, it’s still important to check which colleges offer online programs in your state. Local universities or colleges with online programs make it easier for the students attending to exploit the physical resources available or, enroll in a hybrid program (online courses and physical courses). To learn about the online programs of different states, select a state below.


BenefitsDrawbacksBest for…
Two-Year College

Some of the benefits of online two-year colleges include:

  • Lower tuition rates.
  • Flexible scheduling – the class schedule of community colleges is designed mainly for working professionals and those with families.
  • Academic variety – students can choose from credit and non-credit programs in a wide range of disciplines at community colleges.
  • Credit transfers – credits earned in an associate degree program can be used to transfer into a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

Despite these benefits, there are some drawbacks to this option including:

  • Lack of academic award choices – two-year colleges usually only offer diploma, certificate, and associate degree programs.
  • Fewer career options post-graduation – students with associate degrees may be eligible for a narrow selection of careers. Some fields and/or career titles require a bachelor’s degree as the minimum requirement.

This option is best suited for:

    •Non-traditional students, including adult learners returning to college.
  • Students pursuing vocational or professional development skills specific to an occupational field.
  • Students seeking additional training or certification.
  • Those seeking to save money on general education classes before transferring to a four-year college.
Four-Year Public University

Benefits of the four-year public university include:

  • Affordable tuition.
  • Larger breadth of education – Students can choose from a wide range of majors, minors, and academic specializations in four-year public universities.
  • Multiple academic choices – students can select from bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree options.

Some of the drawbacks include:

  • Limited class availability – the size of public universities mean some there are a limited number of offerings for some classes for each course and the more attractive classes may be filled up quickly.
  • Less individualized attention – the class size makes it difficult for lecturers and professors to give each student individualized audience and guidance.

The four-year public university program is best fitted for:

  • Students who want a well-rounded education.
  • Students that want a wide selection of degree options in a variety of academic disciplines.
  • Individuals interested in pursuing more advanced degrees.
Private Not-For-Profit College

Benefits of this option include:

  • Smaller enrollment sizes – on average, the student population of private, non-profit institutions is around 1,900.
  • Shorter completion time – in private not-for-profit colleges, it takes students an average of four years to graduate while it might take six years to graduate at public universities.
  • More financial aid opportunities – private, non-profit universities usually have competitive financial assistance packages, strong alumni donor support, and additional scholarship opportunities.

Some drawbacks include:

  • Higher tuition rates.
  • Stringent admissions requirements – the application process and admission to private colleges are typically more competitive and selective.
  • Fewer online options

Private not-for-profit College is best for you if you’re:

  • Students who want an education at a specialized institution
  • Students who wish to attend a more selective institution that may have a greater reputation in the job market.
  • Students who are high academic achievers looking for a challenging program of study.



Self-paced, or asynchronous learning, is a form of learning that allows students to study at their pace and time. This system of learning may not make it possible for students and teachers to communicate in real-time and the mode of instruction is through self-study. Some elements of self-study employed by the self-paced system may include pre-recorded lectures, individual assignments, and reading of course materials.

In the real-time or synchronous learning, both the students and the instructor are present in real-time. The teacher facilitates the instruction in real-time using traditional classroom-based elements such as team projects, group discussions, and lectures.

Tools Used

Email to communicate to peers and instructors.

Streaming audio and video for instructional material delivery.

Discussion boards to facilitate class dialogue.

Web-based learning applications and course management systems/platforms for student instruction and assignment delivery.

Wikis for student collaboration and communication.

Web conferencing to share information and conduct presentations.

Instant messaging to participate in quick, real-time conversations.

Video conferencing to conduct in-person discussions and lectures.

Audio conferencing for student and instructor discussions and meetings.

Online whiteboard to share ideas and collaborate.

Best for…

Students with the following characteristics and learning style may benefit most from self-paced online programs:

  • Disciplined
  • Self-motivated
  • Goal-oriented
  • Wants a slower learning pace
  • Has strong time management skills
  • Doesn’t want or need personalized instruction
  • Requires flexible learning schedule

Students with the following characteristics and learning styles may find real-time instruction to be the best fit:

  • Collaborative Learner
  • Good interpersonal communication skills
  • Self-directed
  • Organized
  • Motivated
  • Wants peer-to-peer and instructor interaction
  • Has strong time management skills
  • Prefers regimented learning pace

Accredited Online Colleges: Process and Importance

Accreditation, which is often an independent and voluntary process of review and regulation, reviews/audits higher education institutions to ensure that the programs offered meet established quality standards. The Department of Education is vested with the responsibility of accreditation. However, it does not handle the actual review process.

Institutions seeking accreditation undergo a strict review process that includes inspection of elements such as planning of the curriculum, course offerings, graduation rates, available facilities, financial resources, faculty, and admission standards. Institutions and programs that receive accreditation must go through a continuous evaluation to ensure that they comply with the standards set by the accreditation body.

There are currently 15 accrediting agencies recognized by the Department of Education to carry out regional, national, and programmatic accreditation. There are specialized accrediting organizations in charge of a subject; and program-based reviews in such areas as healthcare, counseling, law, community and social services. It is important for students to choose an accredited program of study because assures the quality of education from the subject institution.

The following also makes it important to enroll in an accredited institution:

  • Program accountability
  • Program compliance
  • Credits are transferable to other institutions
  • Employers recognize academic credential or degree

The Rise of the Not-for-Profit

Online learning is transformational; not just altering the way students learn, but revolutionizing how colleges and universities deliver instruction. Non-profit colleges and universities offering both two and four-year programs have been quick to embrace online education as a way to enhance academic access and the variety of programs available to students. Additionally, it is important that non-profit colleges accept online learning because non-profit colleges, in most cases; represent the best educational option for those who find it difficult to attend traditional campuses.

According to research from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), more than 80 percent of public universities and at least half of private colleges offer online programs. A 2014 study from the Babson Institute estimated that 71 percent of all public, degree-granting institutions provide distance learning opportunities to students.

Enrollment Trends

Available data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that close to 2.6 million college students were enrolled in online colleges. It also revealed that more than 5.5 million students were taking at least one class online. AASCU data shows that about 65 percent of all online students were enrolled in a nonprofit college. 45 percent of those students attended public colleges while 20 percent attended a private nonprofit institution.

Enrollment figures for both public and private not-for-profit online colleges and universities have experienced continued increases. A 2013 research showed a 5 percent increase in public institutions’ enrollment and close to 13 percent increase for private nonprofit institutions.


The numbers clearly show that nonprofit online colleges are moving in the right direction with their online courses and they’re doing that in a tremendous way. Online colleges by far outperform their on-campus counterparts in many key areas, which is why students are now turning their attention to online educational options.

Fields of Study

Data from AASCU institutions show that healthcare-related fields of study and business-related courses are two of the most commonly offered academic programs by students enrolled in nonprofit universities.

Market research shows that the bachelor’s degree is the most popular online degree that students enroll in. A study by Edu Ventures reveal that 42 percent of students are enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program, 29 percent are enrolled in an online associate degree program, and 24 percent are enrolled in an online master’s degree program.


To an extent, online degrees and holders of such degrees have been discriminated as not being on par with degrees earned on-campus. Nevertheless, this trend seems to be changing as non-profit colleges (both private and public) have created online programs that compete favorably with traditional degrees.
A survey of academic leaders revealed that 76 percent of them agree that online degrees are on par with degrees from on-campus institutions.


The flexibility of online education is the main reason behind the increasing demand of online education in recent times. With online education, a student seeking to return to school, a recent high school graduate seeking a college education in another state, or someone wishing to advance his career, can complete their education on their own terms. Also, online education allows a student to create a schedule that perfectly fits their life and work, which is usually not the case with traditional classroom-based programs. Online education allows schooling to be interlinked with the student’s working and home lives, making online education the top choice for people seeking to pursue higher education.


Regardless of the state of residence, students can usually enjoy in-state tuition costs when enrolling at an online college. Online education also allows students to make savings in the form of travel costs, dorm costs, as well as lower costs for class and study materials that can be received virtually.


Although online students may never find themselves in a traditional campus, that doesn’t mean they can’t access the same support and student resources available to on-campus students. Non-profit colleges offer an array of resources to their students regardless of if they’re on-campus or online students. Some of the commonly offered support services for online students at nonprofit colleges include:

  • Online student orientation
  • Online learning management systems
  • Dedicated online education website and departments
  • E-libraries and digital textbooks
  • Online student advising
  • Counseling services
  • Academic tutoring and support program

Established in 2011. is the trusted source used by millions of people to make informed decisions about their education. If you’re thinking about a college, university, or advancing your degree, then you’re in the right place