Cost of an Online Degree from a U.S. College
By: Devon Haynie, education reporter at U.S. News, covering online education
International students looking to earn an online degree on the cheap can consider University of the People, a tuition-free, accredited school.
For many international students, the idea of earning an online degree from a U.S. school can seem like an enticing alternative to studying abroad. With online learning, there’s no need to leave a job, resettle a family or fork over large amounts of money for on-campus tuition.
But while online education is cheaper than its on-ground counterpart, the price can still be less than ideal for international students. If the cost of a specific U.S. online program is a concern, experts say international students can consider a variety of options, including seeking out funding and taking advantage of new, free online options.
At most colleges and universities, international students who study online will pay the same rates as their American peers – not more, says Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor of online learning at the University of Illinois—Springfield.
If a school charges a flat rate for online tuition, international students can expect to pay that rate, he says. At schools that offer in-state and out-of-state tuition, students will be charged the out-of-state rate – though that is still typically far less than the on-campus tuition, he says.
International students may get a better sense of the cost of their online education by reaching out to one of the State Department’s worldwide EducationUSA advising centers or by contacting a school’s financial aid office, experts say.
Students who can’t afford the upfront cost of tuition for their online program can try exploring scholarship opportunities available through their own countries or through the U.S., though both options may prove challenging, says Dave Jarrat, a spokesman for InsideTrack, an academic coaching service that works with university students across the country.
Many foreign governments only offer tuition assistance for on-campus study, as part of their goal is to spread cultural awareness in addition to gaining an education, he says.
“Outside of their governments, international students should reach out to the many nation-specific organizations within the U.S. that fund students to study at U.S. institutions,” he said through email. “Again, many of these will only fund on-campus experiences with the intention of spreading cultural awareness and understanding.”
Susan Pittman, spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, puts it bluntly: “There are few scholarships for online degree learning,” she says.
Instead of looking for scholarships specifically for online learners, experts suggest students contact their prospective school and look for other kinds of awards.
“Most of our scholarships are not restricted geographically,” says Faye McIntyre, dean of the University of West Georgia’s Richards College of Business and lead dean of the Georgia WebMBA program. “But different scholarships will have different requirements. Some of them may be specific to full-time or part-time students.”
As technology evolves, even international students with no hope of paying regular tuition at a U.S. college also have another option for their online studies. Students can enroll in Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, at some of the best U.S. universities for free, though they can’t yet compile a degree out of the courses.
Students who do want an inexpensive, accredited degree can apply to University of the People, a tuition-free, online university that grants associate and bachelor’s degrees in business and computer science. While tuition is free, students are asked to pay for their end-of-course exams, or $100 per test. Fees can be waived for students who demonstrate financial need.
The school currently enrolls more than 700 students. In April it graduated its first class, which included students from Syria, Nigeria and Jordan. The school is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other large donors, and relies on volunteer faculty members.
“We believe that the cost of higher education doesn’t make any sense and we are building a model to show that it can be cut dramatically” says Shai Reshef, president and founder. “We believe that there was not a better intention for the creation of the Internet then spreading education everywhere.”
Billy Sichone, a development worker from Zambia, discovered University of the People during his Internet research for online programs, most of which were way beyond his price range.
He was skeptical of the program at first. But looking back, he says he’s happy he made the decision to enroll in the school’s bachelor’s in business administration program.
“I think it will open up doors for me and I’ll be a bit more confident,” he says. “Already my employers are seeing that I have a bit more competence as a result of this training.”