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With all the changes occurring in the higher education world, colleges are being challenged to offer students creative options in order to attract them to their institutions. Many colleges are meeting this new challenge through increased marketing as well as offering students courses in a variety of new formats. Today, thousands of colleges are offering online courses as a way to expand their reach and attract students without geographic boundaries. So, for the student who would like to take online courses to meet some of their degree requirements, how does a student decide?
There are some broad classifications that might help a student narrow their choices for finding the best online courses to meet their specific needs:
- Affordable, Semester-Based
- Fixed Rates
- Ongoing Enrollment
- Self-Paced, Independent Study
- Access to Syllabus Before Enrolling
- Flexibility with Course Prerequisites
- Non-Proctored Exams
- Science Courses with Labs
- Textbooks Included
- Non-Regionally Accredited Schools
- Online Christian Ministry Degrees
- Low-Priced Online MBA Courses and Degrees
There are thousands of colleges offering online courses in addition to the ones listed in the categories below. The schools included, however, have been chosen because they are both reasonably priced and regionally-accredited unless otherwise noted. The list is far from exhaustive, though, and not meant to purposefully exclude any colleges. They are primarily mentioned to give students an understanding of the types of course formats that are available today. A student may find it helpful to do their own research to find the courses that best fit their budget, schedule and degree plan.
The following colleges offer affordable online, semester-based courses in eight or sixteen-week formats. Courses from this list of schools can be found starting from lower than $100 per credit hour.
Another emerging trend in higher education is the offering of creative tuition plans. Fixed rate tuition is a unique option being offered by a few colleges. Western Governors University in Utah charges a flat $3,000 per six-month term and the student can complete as many courses as they want in that period. Courses begin the first of each month and a student can enroll in as many sessions as they like.
Many colleges are now offering students the ability to begin taking online courses throughout the year instead of following traditional fall and spring semester formats. Some schools begin classes every month. Courses generally follow eight or sixteen-week schedules, but students can begin any month that fits them best. The following colleges in this category offer tuition beginning at less than $175 per credit.
Self-Paced, Independent Study
The number of courses being offered in this category by today’s colleges and universities is growing very quickly. Students are demanding flexibility and schools are responding. Students can work through the course material at their own pace, which can prove to be very helpful both for those wanting to move quickly and for those needing to go more slowly.
The course material directs students through each subject and often requires written assignments and tests. Instructors are available for questions and grading, but the course is directed by the material and not the teacher. Students should assume these courses are just as challenging as traditional courses, but can offer greater flexibility to students with demanding schedules.
Many colleges such as Louisiana State University, Portland State University, and the University of Oklahoma have no admission requirements, and students simply register and pay for courses. Colleges usually allow students between six and twelve months to finish, but may give extensions of time for an additional fee.
Most colleges offering self-paced online courses also offer other online courses in traditional semester-based formats. However, one benefit of self-paced courses is the ability for students to begin any day of the year. These courses might also be referred to as “self-paced,” “quick entry,” “correspondence” and “open entry-open exit”. The colleges below offer flexible, independent, self-paced courses beginning at less than $100 per credit.
Access to Syllabus Before Enrolling
Many students may benefit from having the opportunity to review a course syllabus before enrolling. This allows students to research the course content, work requirements, grading system, and time commitment needed to earn a satisfactory grade. The following colleges place their syllabi online for students to review prior to enrolling. Colleges in this category can be found with tuition starting under $100 per credit hour.
Flexibility with Course Prerequisites
Colleges normally require students to take basic courses before proceeding to more advanced courses. As a result, students must follow college policies to prove that course prerequisites have been met before they will be allowed to enroll in an advanced class. College prerequisite policies can vary a great deal, but Louisiana State University’s policy is especially easy to follow for their online students.
LSU’s website is very informative and it clearly explains course content, lesson assignments, grading formats, and more. They offer more than 175 online, self-paced courses for less than $100 per credit hour, including many upper level courses.
Many colleges require students who take online courses to take their tests under the supervision of an approved proctor. Local college testing centers and libraries are common locations for students to arrange for a proctor. Some colleges, however, allow their students to take some of their exams without a proctor. Each course has different testing guidelines. Some instructors feel comfortable assessing a student’s knowledge through writing assignments, projects or group discussions, and allow their exams to be taken online. The following colleges have offered some courses with non- proctored tests. The colleges from this category begin tuition at less than $100 per credit hour.
Science Courses with Labs
One of the challenges of earning the majority of a degree online is the common requirement for a science course with a lab. Many colleges offer online science courses, but only a handful will include the lab. The following colleges include an online lab with some of their science courses. Colleges in this category offer courses for as little as $100 per credit hour.
Some colleges are including the cost of textbooks and learning materials in their tuition price. They sell themselves on the idea that their costs are all-inclusive, with no hidden fees. Two affordable online colleges offer students this option. Colleges in this category currently offer all-inclusive tuition beginning around $250 per credit hour.
Non-Regionally Accredited Schools
Some students may want to consider taking courses from Penn Foster College, even though this school does not have regional accreditation. Students who plan on graduating from a college that accepts ACE credit may be able to take advantage of Penn Foster’s more than 180 online courses that have been recommended by ACE. Colleges that do not normally accept credits, from non-regionally-accredited institutions, may still allow these courses to be transferred because they have been approved by ACE.
Penn Foster offers manageable, self-paced courses that students are allowed to take twelve months to complete. Students can begin these courses anytime and textbooks and study materials are included in the tuition. They also offer multiple options for acceptable exam proctors. These courses will not work for every student, but may be considered by students choosing colleges with generous transfer policies. Penn Foster currently offers courses for less than $100 per credit hour.
Online Christian Ministry Degrees
Some online private Christian colleges offer affordable tuition for students wanting to earn a ministry degree. Some of these colleges offer undergraduate degrees while others focus on the post-graduate level. Colleges in this category currently begin tuition at less than $200 per credit hour.
Low-Priced Online MBA Courses and Degrees
College tuition for a masters degree is usually higher than tuition for undergraduates. This often places these degrees out of the financial reach of many students. Students looking for affordable graduate-level courses may want to research the following colleges, with tuition starting at less than $250 per credit hour.