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10 Least Expensive Online Colleges for In-State Students

Ilana Kowarski

The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College, The Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matters to you in your college or grad school search.

Prospective students who intend to work through college may prefer an online bachelor's program instead of an on-campus one to avoid commuting to and from campus. Attending an online school allows undergrads to watch lectures on a computer, no matter where they are.

Programs at online colleges, which are typically designed for nontraditional students, may also be appealing to parents with small children and others with family responsibilities. Online courses typically give students significant flexibility to decide how and when they will complete coursework, which allows for greater work-life balance.

[See: 10 Things to Consider When Juggling Career Goals, Online Education.]

One way to minimize the cost of an online education is to enroll at a public school as an in-state student. Among the 166 ranked online bachelor's programs that reported this data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the average total cost for in-state students is $38,516 in 2019-2020. On average, these programs require about 122 credits to graduate, and the average cost per credit is about $317.

In-state students pay significantly less at the 10 least expensive online public schools, where the average total cost is $12,168. Among these programs, which each require 120 credits to graduate, the average cost per credit is about $101.

The University of North Carolina--Pembroke offers the lowest total cost for in-state students: $6,360. In contrast, the most expensive public online bachelor's program for in-state students is The Citadel in South Carolina, where the total cost is $79,800.

[Read: 10 Affordable Online Colleges for Out-of-State Students.]

Seven of the most affordable online colleges for in-state students are located in Florida. Two are in North Carolina and one is in Georgia.

Below is a list of the online bachelor's programs where in-state students are charged the lowest total program cost for the 2019-2020 school year. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

School (state) Credits needed to graduate In-state, per-credit cost In-state total program cost U.S. News rank
University of North Carolina--Pembroke 120 $53 $6,360 66 (tie)
Western Carolina University (NC) 120 $54 $6,480 123 (tie)
Daytona State College (FL) 120 $92 $11,040 29 (tie)
University of Central Florida 120 $105 $12,600 16 (tie)
University of Florida 120 $112 $13,440 4
College of Coastal Georgia 120 $115 $13,800 166 (tie)
South Florida State College 120 $119 $14,280 260-345
Seminole State College of Florida 120 $120 $14,400 237 (tie)
Pensacola State College (FL) 120 $121 $14,520 73 (tie)
St. Petersburg College (FL) 120 $123 $14,760 58 (tie)

School officials can access historical data and rankings, including of peer institutions, via U.S. News Academic Insights.

U.S. News surveyed more than 350 colleges and universities for our 2020 Best Online Bachelor's Programs rankings. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News' data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Online Programs rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data comes from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News' rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The cost data above is correct as of Jan. 21, 2020.

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