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Is Tuition Cheaper for Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs?

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Many students opt for online programs because they assume online bachelor’s degree tuition will be cheaper. While that may be the case, there are many issues to consider when deciding whether to study at a traditional school or to earn a degree online. Cheaper isn’t always better. The fact that a program is less expensive might be due to cost-cutting on things like faculty. Of course, online degree costs will not include room and board or costs for transportation, but many other charges may be the same as for traditional students.

Cost Depends on Discipline and School

Some degrees in fields like nursing are more expensive across-the-board than other degrees. That will be true whether a student earns the degree traditionally or through online delivery. There also may be additional expenses for some programs. Nursing students, for instance, must consider that they may incur travel expenses for some practicum experiences at medical facilities at a distance from their homes. Virtual schools may charge lower tuitions because they don’t have to maintain land, buildings or a cadre of full-time support staff. Traditional colleges and universities might charge the same or higher tuitions because of the necessity of maintaining tenured faculty to teach both traditional and online courses. In addition, students will pay more for a top-ten school even if they study through an online program.

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Traditional Tuition versus Online Tuition

While some schools might charge less tuition for online students, an article in the US News and World Report quotes a survey completed in 2013 that indicates most charge the same or even higher tuition. The study of 400 public universities found that 60 percent charged the same tuition, while 36 percent charged more for online degrees. The average per-credit-hour online tuition is $441. Full-time traditional students usually pay tuition by the term. Online students piece it out at the per-credit-hour rate and that may be significantly higher. Schools which charge more cite things like the need to maintain resource staff 24/7. Additionally, some schools charge out-of-state students higher tuition whether they attend the brick-and-mortar institution or study through distance learning. Students that take some online courses in blended programs should be aware that the cost of these classes may be significantly higher than those offered in a traditional format.

Where Online Savings Are

Still, students earning an online degree do not have to worry about expenses like room and board that add hefty charges. Depending upon whether students have private rooms, share a room with one person or live in a dormitory, the cost of college housing can average $10,000 or more a year, according to another US News and World Report article. Meals are in addition to that and meal plans are required at most schools. Traditional students will pay fees for lab use, parking, activities and other things that online students don’t incur. Online programs do charge technology and other fees, but these are generally less than those traditional students pay. While textbooks are required for most classes, some online courses use digital material.

The takeaway is that students should use diligence in researching online programs. The foremost consideration for undergraduates and graduate students alike is usually cost. That cost must be weighed in consideration with other factors like accreditation and program quality, course availability and resources provided for online student programs. While online bachelor’s degree tuition may not be lower, there are many other factors that might make online programs the best return on an educational investment.