With the national student debt over one trillion dollars, many students are considering online colleges with high return on investment to avoid graduating under a crushing amount of debt. The online market for higher education has been exploding over the course of the last four years. Major universities have begun to offer programs. Many of these programs are completion programs, perfect for students who decide to earn an associate’s degree at community college, which is a very affordable option. Other more non-traditional students may simply be looking to go back to college, or to find programs that will count some of their life experience as college credits. Whomever you may be, if you are considering higher education, there is a good chance going online will help you save money.
However, not all online programs, or schools that offer them are created equal. That is where this list comes in. Because it’s not just financially important to minimize your debt upon graduation, but much of the reason for attending college is the earning potential of the degree you intend to earn. Some schools have a much higher return on investment than others, thus representing a higher relative value and greater bang for your buck.
In this ranking, we present the 20 highest rated online schools with the highest return on investment. We examined U.S. News and World Reports’s top colleges for an online degree, and selected those with the highest return on investment according to Payscale.com data.
We list this information so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not online education is right for you, where you might study, and what return you might get for the investment of your valuable time and money. Below are links to our primary sources for inclusion and ranking data.
#20. Fort Hays State University: Hays, Kansas
Fort Hays State University has implemented a virtual college that features more than 25 undergraduate degrees. The school offers programs in business, education, psychology, management, nursing, political science, philosophy, and much more. If you’re looking for a long list of programs not offered by many of the more limited online selections, this is a great place to look.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #23
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $277,400
#19. Westfield State University: Westfield, Massachusetts
The accredited online offerings at Westfield State University are all completion programs at the undergraduate level. These are perfect for students looking to build on previous education. Completion programs are well suited to those looking to gain the last few credits needed for their bachelor’s degrees, or those seeking to upgrade their associate’s degree to a full fledged bachelor’s. The programs offered by westfield include some of the most popular majors. Business, psychology, sociology, criminal justice, and sociology are among the selection.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #4
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $348,400
#18. Ball State University: Muncie, Indiana
Ball State offers online programs in Business Administration, Early Childhood Education, an RN to BSN program, and General Studies which features a wide range of specializations that allow students to tailor the program to their interests and needs. Ball State is a public state university and as such provides online students with the chance to earn their degree at state university pricing, and with the flexibility needed by many non-traditional students with many demands on their time.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #20
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $385,700
#17. University of La Verne: La Verne, California
The University of La Verne is a private not for profit university associated with the Church of the Brethren. The school offers online programs designed to meet the needs of working adults. The selection of online bachelor’s degree programs consists of a B.A. in Business Administration, B.S. in Organizational Management, and a B.S. in Public Administration. The school has maintained its ties to the Church of the Brethren throughout its 120+ year history, and remains committed to its original goal of providing students with a high quality Christian education. For more of our research on Christian education, see our article about 25 Great Scholarships for Christian Students.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #13
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $450,800
#16. Post University: Waterbury, Connecticut
Post offers six associate’s degrees and thirty bachelor’s degrees online making it one of the most prolific universities on this list. The majority of bachelor’s degrees are in business, management, and computer information systems, with a wide variety of concentrations and specializations within those majors. There are also programs in sports, psychology, human services, and child studies.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #19
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $457,900
#15. Graceland University: Lamoni, Iowa, and Independence, Missouri
Graceland offers online bachelor’s programs in nursing and healthcare management. While the selection is not very wide, these programs are a strong choice for working professionals looking to advance in their healthcare career. The quality of the programs is high, which is why the school enjoys a strong ranking by U.S. News despite the lack of variety.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #5
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $471,400
#14. University of Nebraska-Omaha: Omaha, Nebraska
The University of Nebraska at Omaha offers one online bachelor level degree program, with nearly a dozen concentrations. The concentrations include some that can be found in many online programs such as accounting, criminal justice, and information technology. However, there are other programs anybody would be hard pressed to find online elsewhere like: Aviation Studies, Fire Service Management, Political Science, and Nonprofit Administration.
Online University Website
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #11
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $481,500
#13. Marist College: Poughkeepsie, New York
This small liberal arts college is committed to bringing a strong liberal arts program into the distance learning market. In addition to the BA or BS degree in liberal studies, the school also offers ten week and accelerated courses to help students get electives and core requirements taken care of as quickly and efficiently as possible. The program is geared toward working adults that have a desire for higher education but don’t have the ability to attend a traditional program. This program gives those non traditional students the flexibility they need to earn their degree on their own terms.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #17
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $524,500
#12. Colorado State University-Global Campus: Fort Collins, Colorado
CSU offers a wide range of degree completion programs into which up to 90 credits may be transferred from previous programs. Programs offered by CSU tend toward business with programs in accounting, and marketing. Also offered are programs in health care administration and management, project management, communications, and information technology. These programs are some of the best to be found in the online market, and because they are offered by a public university, the cost is much less than many private universities, and there are numerous financial aid options, thus making this one of the most affordable online colleges.niversity Website
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #7
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $596,100
#11. University of Bridgeport: Bridgeport, Connecticut
The online program in general studies at the University of Bridgeport gives students a chance to exercise a great deal of control over what they study to complete their bachelor’s degree. This is great for self motivated students that are seeking to study in a specific area, but don’t want to be tied down by an inflexible course load. The school is also one of the only schools offering an undergraduate dental hygienist program online.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #12
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $633,400
#10. University of St. Francis: Joliet, Illinois
The University of St. Francis is a Roman Catholic school in the Franciscan tradition. The school offers undergraduate programs geared toward non-traditional students that can best make use of the flexibility offered by online programs. The school offers an RN to BSN program, and programs in Healthcare Leadership, and Business administration. The Business Administration program has several different tracks from which students may choose including entrepreneurship, marketing, and managing human resources.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #28
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $676,500
#9. University of Illinois-Chicago: Chicago, Illinois
The University of Illinois offers online programs from three of its major campuses. Chicago is the most highly rated for online programs but the others are strong as well. Two bachelor’s programs are offered through Chicago; these are the RN to BSN program for registered nurses looking to earn their bachelor’s degree, and a degree in Health Information Management. Some of the programs offered by the other campuses are philosophy, computer science, and mathematics.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #18
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $717,700
#8. University of Florida: Gainesville, Florida
The University of Florida offers both four year online bachelor’s degree programs and completion programs. The four year degrees offered are Business Administration, Biology, Criminology and Law, and Psychology, among others. Completion programs are offered in Microbiology and Cell Science, Digital Arts and Sciences, Fire and Emergency Services, and Communication Sciences and Disorders. UF is one of the best public universities in the United States and with these quality online programs, should be highly considered by anybody looking for a cheap online degree program. UF is also one of the few universities that offers four year degrees online.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #34
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $729,400
#7. Norwich University: Northfield, Vermont
Norwich University has an entire school of graduate and continuing studies. The majority of programs offered online are graduate programs. However, Norwich offers a top level criminal justice undergraduate program, and is one of few schools where students can earn a Bachelor of Science in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis. The bachelor level offerings may seem a bit on the narrow side, but they are of the highest quality and simply must be considered by anybody to whom these programs might appeal.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #26
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $746,000
#6. St. John’s University: Queens, New York
St. John’s University offers three programs at each of the Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree levels. The associate’s degrees are in Liberal Arts, Business, and Criminal Justice, and the Bachelor’s degrees are in Liberal Studies, Administrative Studies, and Criminal Justice. St. John’s University is committed to providing high quality, flexible, accredited online degrees to non-traditional students.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #3
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $758,000
#5. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus: State College: Pennsylvania
Penn State’s World Campus is one of the most extensive online programs in the world. The school offers five online associate’s degrees, and twenty distinct bachelor’s programs. Penn State is one of the only online schools offering programs in economics, security and risk analysis, and energy and and sustainability policy. Penn State has been offering distance learning options for a long time and was one of the first schools to offer an online program. The school brings its world renowned reputation for excellence in education to the online market, and shows only signs of its intent to continue growing its already extensive list of programs.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #16
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $789,300
#4. Pace University: New York City, New York
Pace offers courses both fully online and in a blended hybrid format. Pace offers courses for traditional students but also offers a selection of courses for older students. The classes targeted at older students allow them to gain credit for job and life experience. Older students can get a bachelor of liberal studies or a bachelor of business administration in business studies. The online programs for traditional students include an RN to BSN program for registered nurses, a B.S. in Professional Communication Studies, and a B.B.A. in Business Studies.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #1
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $822,000
#3. George Washington University: Washington, D.C.
George Washington University offers a wide range of fully online courses and programs. They’re still streamlining the way in which these courses are offered, but students willing to do a little research will have an opportunity to study online at this highly respected institution of higher learning.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #35
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $852,200
#2. University of Alabama-Huntsville: Huntsville, Alabama
The University of Alabama offers many online programs, though only one of those programs is undergraduate. The main reason the school was worth mentioning, despite only offering one bachelor level program online, is that it is one of the only RN to BSN/MSN program available. The program stands out because it is designed to provide students with a seamless transition from the BSN program into the MSN program. This is increasingly important to nurses, as both the BSN and MSN programs allow students the chance to specialize, which is the most important thing aside from experience in the nursing field.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #21
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $903,500
#1. Lawrence Technological University: Southfield, Michigan
LTU offers high quality programs, though not a large selection at the undergraduate level. The two undergraduate degrees the school does offer however are popular ones–Business Administration, and Information Technology. These are completion programs and are perfect for students seeking to finish up their bachelor’s, and students seeking a program to which they can transfer the credits from their associate’s degree. The programs are designed for flexibility, recognizing that many of the students will be working professionals, seeking a program with the online format to maximize their time and work around their busy schedules.
U.S. News and World Report Online Bachelor Ranking: #6
Payscale 30 Year Average Net ROI: $933,300
Making a decision about where to earn a college degree is not something to be taken lightly. This list of accredited online colleges with high ROI provides a great starting point in your online college search.
To learn about more great online college choices, don’t miss our list of 20 High Patent-Awarded Universities Where You Can Get a Degree Online 2014.