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Are Expensive Online Colleges Better Than Cheap Ones?


I’m searching for an online bachelor’s in business or management. But no two online colleges charge the same cost for this degree. One school can charge $50,000 more for what looks like the very same distance degree to me. Is an expensive online college better than a cheap one?
Rayette, Boise, Idaho

There is no relationship between cost and quality in online education. Paying more won’t get you “more” of an education, nor will it necessarily buy you an academically better degree. The cost—and therefore affordability—of any online degree is a function of four factors. It may surprise you to learn that none of these is correlated with educational quality.


Public online schools charge less because they are subsidized by your tax dollars. When you attend any public college you are attending an institution you have already helped support through your federal and state tax dollars. 

Because public colleges receive subsidies through tax funds they do not need to charge you, the student, as much in tuition and fees. Publicly funded residential colleges have always cost significantly less than their private counterparts.

Similarly, online colleges that are publicly funded are more affordable than private online colleges.

Get Educated national surveys of online college costs and affordability consistently show that the top-ranked cheapest online degrees across all subject areas, ranging from business to healthcare, come from publicly funded or state universities online.

It costs less to live in certain regions of the country. For example, it is much less expensive to live in Wyoming than it is to live in Massachusetts. No surprise, then, that according to’s National Survey of Online Bachelors in Business, the University of Wyoming offers a business bachelor’s online for about $16,000. On the other hand, the University of Massachusetts, headquartered in high-cost New England, charges almost $58,000.

Traditionally, all colleges operated as non-profit agencies. But every year more online colleges are being organized as for-profit businesses. The University of Phoenix Online, operated by the Apollo Group, is the largest online college in the United States. It is also a for-profit company.

National online college affordability studies by Get Educated show that universities which are chartered as for-profits charge more—often two to three times more—for their services.

On average, colleges that are nationally accredited rather than regionally accredited cost less. One reason is because national accreditation is not as widely accepted or as prestigious as regional accreditation.

Paying less for your distance degree doesn’t mean you will receive less of an education. Compare all your online degree options before you enroll. Your cheapest option will likely come from a local, non-profit, public university.

Expect to pay two to three times more to attend a private, for-profit college. Be aware that there is no evidence or guarantee that you will receive an academically better online education in exchange for paying the higher cost.

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