Cheapest Online Colleges and Universities

Get detailed information about cheapest online colleges and their tuition, accreditation, career prospects, scholarships, admission details and much more

Get detailed information about the cheapest online colleges and their tuition, accreditation, career prospects, scholarships, admission details, and much more.

Graduating from college without debt is possible! Yes, you read that right. The US has more than 40 million students in debt, and each of those 40 million owes an average of $36,406. That’s a big chunk of change! One might assume that those in debt are only in-campus students, but online programs aren’t always cheap, either. You might be wondering, are there any cheap online colleges out there? And if so, which are the cheapest online colleges?

Luckily, there are still affordable online colleges out there, and we’ll share a few of our favorites in this article. We’ll take you through some of the characteristics of these online colleges, the cheapest online college per credit hour costs, and information about scholarships and financial aid for these cheap online schools. 

Keeping this in mind, we’ve listed the cheapest online colleges you can find,  keeping in mind several factors such as fees, graduation rates, debt, financial aid, and more, for different degree levels. The rankings are given to 3000+ schools and the top 15 among them are given below.

What Is an Online Degree?

An online degree is an academic degree that you earned 100% online. It can come from a fully-online university with no on-campus programs. It can also come from the online learning offerings of traditional universities with brick-and-mortar campuses.

If earned from an accredited institution, an online degree is just as valid and respected as its traditionally-earned counterpart. Many schools will even state that their online degree programs are the same as the on-campus versions, meaning online students are at no disadvantage whatsoever.

Why Choose an Online Degree?

One of the biggest selling points of an online degree is the flexibility you get during your studies. Students who have other responsibilities, such as a family or a full-time job, can benefit from online schooling. The same applies to those who are currently serving in the military. Of course, online degrees also have other benefits, such as being much more affordable than traditional on-campus equivalents.

Other reasons why you may want to choose an online degree include:

  • Being able to learn at home or anywhere you please, so you can be comfortable

 

  • Broader options when it comes to school choices — online schooling means you won’t be limited by location so you can enroll in practically any school you please as long as you are eligible

 

Just remember: when choosing your online college, ensure that it is accredited! Accreditation shows that a school follows a certain standard of education, which tells your potential employers the caliber of training and education you received to prepare you for work.

How Much Cheaper Is Online College?

The answer to this question? Much cheaper — and even more so if you’re earning your degree from a private institution. This article from EducationData.org states that:

  • Online degrees from public four-year colleges can cost up to $10,776 less when the cost of tuition and living expenses are considered. Online degree tuition alone is nearly the same as on-campus, at least from public institutions.
  • Online degrees from private institutions cost an average of $58,560, whereas in-person degrees can cost as much as $148,800.

The same article also mentions a few important things:

  • Online students do not have to pay thousands of dollars (up to $3,400) in transportation costs each year in attendance.
  • Online students do not have to pay for campus meal plans, which can cost as much as $1,380 or more.

You also save on moving and housing costs, since you can earn your online degree from wherever you currently live. Additionally, you also get plenty of flexibility, allowing you to keep your job as you earn your degree. This can translate to less money borrowed if you need to take out a student loan.

Why Are Some Colleges Cheaper Than Others?

Public institutions in general tend to be cheaper than private institutions. However, there are also other reasons why some colleges may be able to offer cheaper tuition than others, such as:

  • Military benefits
  • FAFSA
  • Outside funding and endowments
  • Non-profit status

Of course, each institution can also choose its pricing, which means there will always be a difference from school to school!

Top 15 Cheapest Online Colleges and Universities

1. Great Basin College

Great Basin College

Accreditation: NWCCU

Tuition: $3,593/year in-state, $10,399/year out-of-state

Acceptance Rate: 100%

Graduation Rate: 10.9%

Established in 1967, Great Basin College is one of many affordable online colleges located in northeastern Nevada. A pioneer in online education, Great Basin College offers hundreds of online classes and a wide variety of online degree programs. Students that reside in Nevada pay about $3,593 per year in tuition fees, while out-of-state students pay $10,399 per year. In-state students can access lower-division courses for about $108/credit hour, while online out-of-state students pay more at $159.50/credit hour.

Everyone can attend this great cheap online college, with an acceptance rate of 100%. This institution is regionally accredited by the NWCCU, ensuring it provides quality education. GBC offers only undergraduate programs — at this college, you can learn certificate programs and earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

2. BYU Idaho

BYU Idaho

Accreditation: NWCCU

Tuition: $4,118/year

Acceptance Rate: 97%

Graduation Rate: 47.5%

With 130 years of history in faith and service, Brighton Young University (BYU) Idaho offers students on-campus and online a Christian learning experience. BYU Idaho offers one of the cheapest online degrees in the USA, with tuition at almost half the cost of other colleges. To attend BYU Idaho’s online programs, online students will pay approximately $4,118 each year. At $131 per credit hour, BYU is a great choice for a cheap online college for those who want a Christian education. With an acceptance rate of 97%, admission is accessible to most. 

3. University of North Carolina - Pembroke

University of North Carolina - Pembroke

Accreditation: SACSCOC

Tuition: $500/semester in-state, $2,500/semester out-of-state

Acceptance Rate: 85%

Graduation Rate: 40.1%

Known as one of the most affordable universities in America, UNC - Pembroke offers many online degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and certificate levels. The college is located in the southeastern area of North Carolina in a town called Pembroke and has small class sizes and a diverse student population.

Online degrees cost $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 per semester for out-of-state students. UNC Pembroke’s acceptance rate is 85%. 

4. Minot State University 

Minot State University

Accreditation: HLC

Tuition: $316 per credit hour

Acceptance Rate: 77%

Graduation Rate: 45%

Minot State University offers affordable online programs, with undergraduate programs costing between $4,080 and $6,120 per year, or $340 per credit hour. Their acceptance rate is 77%. Ranked #3 on BestCollege’s Best Online Colleges in North Dakota’s list, Minot State University is a great, affordable online college. 

5. Clayton State University

Clayton State University

Accreditation: SACSCOC

Tuition: $3,235/year

Acceptance Rate: 68.5%

Graduation Rate: 50.9%

Clayton State University has a special, e-tuition for students studying online degree programs and courses. E-tuition is intentionally lower than traditional tuition, as it excludes regular fees for athletics, campus health, and parking. Clayton State University is one of the few universities that offer the same e-tuition cost for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Students studying for their Bachelor’s degree online can expect to pay $3,235 in tuition costs per year. Their acceptance rate is 68.5%. 

6. Georgia Southern University

Georgia Southern University

Accreditation: SACSCOC

Tuition: $199 per credit hour

Acceptance Rate: 91.2%

Graduation Rate: 49.8%

George Southern University offers one of the most competitive tuition rates at only $199 per credit hour for online students. Established in 1906, the university, located in Georgia, has almost 27,000 students and about 140 different degree programs. At an acceptance rate of 91.2%, many get the opportunity to study cheap online college courses at this institution. Furthermore, it was named the #1 top online college in the state of Georgia. 

7. Eastern Illinois University

Eastern Illinois University

Accreditation: HLC

Tuition: $315 per credit hour

Acceptance Rate: 55.5%

Graduation Rate: 57.5%

Eastern Illinois University offers the same online tuition rate to out-of-state residents as they do to in-state residents. At $315 per credit hour, EIU offers students an affordable online experience. They were ranked as the “Best Bang for Your Buck” college by the Washington Monthly, and a “Best Online College in Illinois” by Affordable Colleges Online. EIU has an acceptance rate of 55.5%. 

8. Western Governors University

Western Governors University

Accreditation: NWCCU

Tuition: $7,290/year

Acceptance Rate: 100%

Graduation Rate: More information here

Western Governors University is committed to bridging the gap between low-income students and higher education. Located in Salt Lake City, Utah, WGU impressively declared that 45% of their students didn’t need to take out any loans for their education.

Average tuition rates for WGU undergraduate students are about $7,290 per year. They charge a flat rate cost per semester instead of per credit hour. WGU’s acceptance rate is 100%.  

9. Murray State College

Murray State College

Accreditation: SACSCOC

Tuition: $207/credit hour in-state, $368/credit hour out-of-state

Acceptance Rate: 77%

Graduation Rate: 55.4%

Murray State College is a public university that offers affordable education to its students. Its main campus is located in Kentucky while the other five are located in Henderson, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, Paducah, and Fort Campbell.

The tuition per credit hour for undergraduate students is $368 for non-residents and $207 for in-state students. Both rates are significantly lower than other university averages. Their acceptance rate is 77%.  

10. Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University

Accreditation: SACSCOC

Tuition: $182 per credit hour

Acceptance Rate: 78.4%

Graduation Rate: 41.2%

Valdosta State University in Georgia, University is an incredibly affordable online college. They offer eTuition rates of $182 per credit hour and are ranked as one of the best online universities in the USA. 

The university is slightly selective and has an acceptance rate of 78.4%. Of all enrolled students, 41.2% graduate.

11. University of the People (UoPeople)

University of the People (UoPeople)

Accreditation: DEAC

Tuition: $0 (but some administrative fees)

Acceptance Rate: 100%

Graduation Rate: More information here

Located in Pasadena, California, the University of the People is a tuition-free online university. UoPeople is accredited by the  Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and offers degree programs in Health Science, Business Administration, Education, and Computer Science. Their tuition-free model makes them the cheapest online college on this list. It’s worth noting that UoPeople is also currently working on getting its regional application.

This online college is completely tuition-free, as the school is funded by generous donors. Students face only a $60 application fee and a $120 assessment fee for every course they complete. And, students can pay these fees after their exam period. If you have financial hardship, they also offer scholarships that cover these minimal fees.

Anyone can attend this university, as they have an acceptance rate of 100%. Overall, an entire associate’s degree can be completed for only $2,460, a bachelor's degree for $4,860, and a graduate degree for $2,940-$3,180. These are administrative fees, not tuition fees. No doubt, this makes UoPeope one of the least expensive online colleges you can find.

12. American Public University

APU

Accreditation: HLC

Tuition: 

  • $285 per credit hour (undergraduate), $370 per credit hour (master’s)
  • $250 per credit hour (undergraduate or master’s) with a military grant 
  • Free textbooks for ALL undergraduate students
  • Free textbooks for military-affiliated master’s degree students

Acceptance Rate: 100%

Graduation Rate: More information here

A former Marine Corps officer established the American Public University in 1991. Over thirty years later, it is now an excellent educational institution accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Degree programs at APU are highly flexible and start every month to allow for more mobility.

Today’s student body at the APU is made up of 80% veterans and active military service members.

13. Chadron State College

Chadron State College

Accreditation: HLC

Tuition: 

  • Undergraduate: $296 per credit hour
  • Graduate: $370 per credit hour
  • Flat-rate tuition — same rate no matter where you are

Acceptance Rate: 100%

Graduation Rate: 42.9%

Chadron State College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Here, students pay a flat rate for tuition — this means you’ll pay the same rate no matter where you are. No need to worry about an inflated out-of-state cost bringing up your overall expense. Chadron asks $296 per credit hour for undergraduate students and $370 per credit hour for graduate students.

Chadron State College offers three start dates throughout the year so you can choose which one works best. The online courses follow an asynchronous format, meaning you can access your course material 24/7 without set class schedules.

14. Bellevue University

Bellevue University

Accreditation: HLC

Tuition: 

  • $440 per credit hour + financial aid available
  • $250 per credit hour for active duty military and their spouses
  • More information here

Acceptance Rate: 100%

Graduation Rate: 65.5%

Bellevue University has the distinction of also being considered one of the best online colleges around. It is accredited by the HLC and offers both on-campus and online degree programs. There are over fifty undergraduate programs available online. However, Bellevue also offers some master’s and doctoral degree programs.

Bellevue students become part of a cohort of other students with whom they progress at the same pace. Additionally, this institution offers excellent student support such as writing assistance and tutoring.

15. Marshall University

Marshall University

Accreditation: HLC

Tuition: $303 per credit hour — including fees!

Acceptance Rate: 89.3%

Graduation Rate: 46.4%

Marshall University was first established in 1837. This school, based in West Virginia, offers many bachelor’s and master’s degrees online. Besides its offerings to undergrads, MU also has its Regents Bachelor of Arts degree, a customizable program made for students who want to continue their education regardless of the reason they didn’t finish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a free college online?

Yes! Some online colleges exist online completely for free. For example, you can earn a degree in business administration, health science, or computer science from the University of the People. The UoPeople is 100% free, likely making it the least expensive online college on this list. It is nationally accredited by the DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission) and is currently working on acquiring its regional accreditation. Regardless, many institutions recognize and accept UoPeople graduates — such as UC Berkeley

A college doesn’t have to be tuition-free to give you a free education, either. Many colleges and universities offer financial aid packages that significantly reduce or eliminate your tuition costs. However, you may need to meet eligibility requirements, such as:

  • Being a military service member
  • Being a high-performing and achieving student with low income or financial hardship
  • Being an employee of the college (or a child of an employee of the college)
  • Working for a company with an excellent employee education benefit
  • Being a foster or adopted child (which may qualify you for certain tuition assistance)
  • Being of Native American heritage

You can also find plenty of free online courses (not necessarily degrees) from renowned institutions such as Harvard, Cambridge, MIT, Columbia, and more. For example, EdX provides plenty of free education, with certificates of completion coming from its prestigious partner universities.

What is the cheapest way to get a degree online?

Earning your degree online on its own can already significantly reduce your education costs. You don’t even have to find the cheapest online college for this to be true. Studying online has plenty of advantages, one of them being more affordable tuition and no added living expenses. Since you don’t need to move to live on or near your campus, you can eliminate those related costs altogether.

Can you do all your college online?

Absolutely! Many fully online colleges exist, but you don’t need to enroll in one of them to earn your online degree. Many of the more “traditional” educational institutions now also offer online versions of their degree programs. These online versions typically offer the same learning experience as the on-campus version.

What are the disadvantages of online learning?

As with anything, there are pros and cons to online learning. Here are some of the disadvantages:

  • You may struggle to pick up on new learning and knowledge if you are more of an in-person learner
  • It can be more challenging to collaborate with others over the internet
  • You may be at the mercy of technology and your internet connection (technical difficulties may occur and get frustrating at times)
  • Online or distance learning may feel more impersonal compared to in-person classes and interactions

Do employers consider online degrees?

Yes! This Northeastern University article reveals that most (61%) of human resources leaders consider online learning equal to or even greater quality than traditional education. This CNN article reports that 83% of executives consider online degrees from well-known and reputable institutions to be just as credible as traditional on-campus counterparts.

There’s a caveat — employers are less likely to consider your online degree if it comes from a school they are unfamiliar with. The main driver for an online degree’s acceptance is the brand and reputation of the institution from which it was earned.

Additionally, 92% of employers state they view online degrees as favorable if they come from brick-and-mortar institutions. On the other hand, only 42% state they would consider a candidate with an online degree from a fully-online campus-less institution.

Are online degrees cheaper than traditional college degrees?

Most often, online degrees can be cheaper than your traditional on-campus option. Many institutions offer their online degrees at a more affordable cost. Others even charge a single rate for students in and out of state. You also won’t have to deal with the additional living expenses and opportunity costs involved in a traditional on-campus program.

Can you use Pell Grants to pay for online schooling?

Yes! If your school of choice accepts the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), then it likely also accepts Pell Grants. Conversely, if your school doesn’t accept the FAFSA, it likely does not accept Pell Grants. Take this into consideration as you look at potential schools. 

Do online colleges accept everyone who applies?

Usually no, but some of the above-listed online colleges have acceptance rates of 100%. These colleges accept pretty much everyone who applies! However, always make sure that you go to cheap accredited online colleges for your education — no accreditation can mean employers will not recognize your degree.

Are tuition rates for online colleges the same for both in-state and out-of-state residents?

Some online colleges offer eTuition, which offers the same tuition for all students, no matter where they are located. For specific information about tuition fees for non-residents, refer to the specific college website.

Final Thoughts

Thanks to continuing advances in technology, it’s become more and more possible to earn your degree entirely online. On top of that, so many institutions understand the need to make education more affordable and accessible to all nowadays. The result is this list of the fifteen best and cheapest online colleges and universities — each one of them accredited. We hope this list helps you find the school that’s right for you!


Want to keep searching for the best online college for you? Read this: 10 Best Online Colleges and Universities


National Park College (NPC)

Hot Springs, Arkansas


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 10

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 14

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Berkshire Community College

Pittsfield, Massachusetts


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 26

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Modesto Junior College (MJC)

Modesto, California


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 28

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University of the People

Pasadena, California


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 34

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 68

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South Carolina State University

Orangeburg, South Carolina


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 45

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Springfield College

Springfield, Massachusetts


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 49

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 29

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 210

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SUNY Canton

Canton, New York


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 58

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Naugatuck Valley Community College

Waterbury, Connecticut


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 66

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University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 66

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Touro University Nevada

Henderson, Nevada


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 56

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 71

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AMES Christian University

Fort Myers, Florida


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 66

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 99

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Mississippi University for Women

Columbus, Mississippi


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 55

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 380

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Penn Foster College

Scottsdale, Arizona


University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 79

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Colorado Theological Seminary

Lake Helen, Florida


Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 45

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 131

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Southern States University

San Diego, California


University Type: Private For-Profit

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 84

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 59

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 143

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Ashworth College

Norcross, Georgia


University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 87

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Indiana University Bloomington

Bloomington, Indiana


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 89

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University Type: Public

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 91

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Christian Leadership University

Cheektowaga, New York


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 100

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 100

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Grambling State University

Grambling, Louisiana


University Type: Public

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 102

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Pensacola state college (PSC)

Pensacola, Florida


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 104

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 105

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 106

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Colorado Mesa University (CMU)

Grand Junction, Colorado


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 108

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University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 110

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 120

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 115

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Purdue University Northwest

Hammond, Indiana


University Type: Public

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 116

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Stevens-Henager College

West Haven, Utah


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 92

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 260

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CNI College

Orange, California


University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 117

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Gulf Coast State College (GCSC)

Panama City, Florida


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 118

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Keiser University

Fort Lauderdale, Florida


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 106

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 363

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Denver College of Nursing

Denver, Colorado


University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 77

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 270

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Life University

Marietta, Georgia


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 62

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 255

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Santa Fe College

Gainesville, Florida


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 126

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Tallahassee Community College

Tallahassee, Florida


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 129

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Miami Dade College (MDC)

Miami, Florida


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 130

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University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 136

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Georgia Military College (GMC)

Milledgeville, Georgia


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 136

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Dalton State College

Dalton, Georgia


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 136

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Barry University

Miami Shores, Florida


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 138

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Francis Marion University (FMU)

Florence, South Carolina


University Type: Public

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 147

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Hiram College

Hiram, Ohio


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 150

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University Type: Private For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 150

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Tennessee State University (TSU)

Nashville, Tennessee


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 123

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 216

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University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 148

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 325

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Grace University

Omaha, Nebraska


University Type: Private Not-For-Profit

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 167

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 150

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Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)

Charleston, South Carolina


University Type: Public

Bachelors: Avg cost per credit $ 126

Masters: Avg cost per credit $ 182

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