Cost, Accreditation and the Best Online Universities in the State
Pennsylvania has nearly 250 institutions of higher education, including 14 state-run universities and 92 private universities and colleges. The state system of higher education enrolled 102,301 students in fall of 2017, a 9 percent drop from a decade earlier. This decline has pushed colleges across the state to adopt more diverse degree program delivery, with blended and online learning options on the rise. With just 7.8 percent of Pennsylvania college students taking an online class in 2012, Penn State World Campus, the state’s largest distance learning provider, has 150 online degrees and certificates available. But how does a student find the right online college in Pennsylvania? Which have the right accreditation and affordability to make a difference? Get answers to these questions and more below.
For this year’s college rankings, our analysts carefully reviewed statistical data from multiple sources for more than 7,500 postsecondary institutions so that you could easily evaluate schools based on what matters most to you. For each school, we applied the eligibility criteria outlined below, then ranked schools and programs based on four ranking factors.
Eligibility Criteria for All Postsecondary Institutions:
Must be a not-for-profit institution
Must be regionally or nationally accredited
Must offer at least one online program1
Must be located in a state (schools in US territories and Washington DC were not considered)
Dozens of data points were used to calculate a weighted score for four ranking factors: quality, affordability, flexibility and program (in order of significance). To determine quality, which was the most important consideration for all AS Online rankings, the most impactful data points were acceptance and graduation rates; for affordability, tuition2 and grants; for flexibility, part-time enrollment offerings; and for program, degrees conferred in that program area.
Some of our nursing program rankings used exam pass rates from NCLEX
How to Read Our Rankings Tool:
A dash indicates IPEDS data was not available
Annual in-state tuition is displayed unless stated otherwise
1 Our Best Vocational Programs rankings included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both annual in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our Rankings Tool currently only displays annual in-state rates.
Higher education has become a necessity in today’s economy. However, not everyone can attend a college or university while raising a family or holding down a 9-to-5 job. Online and blended learning opportunities continue to help make this kind of multi-tasking a reality, but it can be difficult to find the right program. Many online colleges in Pennsylvania have started to stand out, with affordable tuition, a strong curriculum and sizable collection of distance programs and courses across numerous majors. See which schools made the list for 2018.
Are you are interested in attending an online school in Pennsylvania, but don’t know where to start? Here are answers to some of the most common questions about online programs in Pennsylvania.
How can I find which online colleges offer the degree I’m looking for in Pennsylvania?
The Pennsylvania Department of Higher Education provides a digital map of all colleges and universities in the state. Whether you wish to study liberal arts, engineering, or pursue a medical degree, Pennsylvania schools offer a variety of online program options. Here are just a few of the most popular programs online at Pennsylvania colleges and universities.
This is only a small sampling of the numerous distance learning options available at Pennsylvania institutions. If the program you are looking for isn’t listed above, keep researching; your prospective major is likely available through one of the state’s many online schools.
Which online schools in Pennsylvania will accept my transfer credits or work/life experience?
Many online learners return to the classroom after an extended period in the workforce, bringing a great deal of professional and life experience with them. Fortunately, several Pennsylvania colleges offer course credit for prior learning. Penn State provides numerous online learning options and offers credit for on-the-job training programs approved by the American Council on Education. Students who have completed police academy training or hold nursing licensure may also receive college credit. In addition, Penn State maintains a portfolio program, which allows learners to document any major-related activities they have performed outside of the classroom. A committee then reviews the portfolio and confers the appropriate college credits.
Some candidates wish to transfer credits from other institutions toward their online degree. Every school maintains different credit transfer policies, which apply equally to on-campus students and distance learners. At the University of Pittsburgh, transfer students undergo an admissions review, in which a committee evaluates previously-earned credits and decides which should transfer. The University’s transfer credit and GPA guidelines give applicants an idea of what each program requires, although the committee makes all final decisions.
How Much More Do College Grads in Pennsylvania Make?
While Pennsylvania residents working in jobs that require college degrees generally enjoy higher salaries than those without, individuals with bachelor’s degrees may reap the greatest benefits from higher education in the state. On average, careers requiring a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in Pennsylvania make an average of $33,000 more per year those working in jobs that require only a high school diploma. It is important to note that some professions are more lucrative than others, and the data below represents the combined average earnings for all occupations.
Mean Annual Salary for All Occupations in Pennsylvania by Degree Level:
Many exciting and fulfilling occupations require a bachelor’s degree, and online education can open up a world of new job opportunities. For example, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum qualification needed to take on roles in public relations, social services and applications development. Despite this, the percentage of Pennsylvania residents with only a high school education is slightly larger than the national average, allowing college-educated Pennsylvanians to stand out in the job market.
The Impact of Accreditation for Online Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania
As online learning continues to grow in popularity, accreditation is more important than ever. In a state full of great universities, it is easy to become overwhelmed by so many opportunities. Accreditation makes it easier to narrow your options and helps to ensure that you select a quality Pennsylvania school.
When it comes to campus, blended or online learning, regional accreditation signifies quality. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes six regional accrediting agencies, with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) overseeing the colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. Both Temple University and Villanova University, for example, are accredited by the MSCHE. When you’re researching and narrowing down your online college choices, make sure every school on your shortlist has regional accreditation.
Paying for Online College in Pennsylvania: Tuition & Financial Aid
While student debt is a serious issue for students nationwide, Pennsylvania residents have greater reason for concern. The state’s student loan debt rates are second-highest in the country, with the average 2017 graduate leaving school with $36,000 in debt. That said, a college degree is often the ticket to a fast-growing, higher-paying occupation in the state. Online universities in Pennsylvania have made it easier for students to save on traditionally campus-based costs, such as room, board, parking and related fees.
Let’s take a look at how online learning costs compare to traditional on-campus options.
The University of Pittsburgh’s tuition rates vary by program. However, the School of Education charges $18,130 for full-time, in-state students, versus $920 per credit online. An online student with a 15-credit course load would pay only $13,800. Out-of-state learners who study on campus pay $31,102, making online education an even better deal for candidates outside of Pennsylvania.
Slippery Rock University charges slightly separate rates for in-state and out-of-state online tuition. Pennsylvania residents pay $322 per online credit hour or $3,858 for 12 hours. Tuition for out-of-state students is $328 per credit or $3,935 for 12 hours.
Tuition rates at Temple University vary according to degree. The Fox School of Business and Management charges in-state students $10,308, which increases to $18,276 for those residing out of state. Online students pay $595 per credit regardless of residency, or $8,925 for 15 credit hours.
Online learning is convenient as well as affordable. Many distance learners continue to work as they study, which provides additional funding and helps keep students out of debt.
Still wondering about the cost of attending school online in Pennsylvania? Here are answers to a few more common questions about tuition and residency requirements.
What are Pennsylvania’s requirements to qualify for in-state university tuition?
To qualify for in-state tuition in Pennsylvania, students must meet the requirements laid out in Pennsylvania Code –35.29b. Candidates must have resided in the state for at least one year prior to the term’s start. Special exemptions may be made for those who do not meet this requirement, but are government employees or dependents of Pennsylvania residents.
Are online credits more affordable in Pennsylvania than other places?
While costs vary from school to school, Pennsylvania tuition rates tend to be higher, on average, than those in other states. In-state tuition tends to cost around $15,000, compared to $16,070 in New Hampshire and $5,220 in Wyoming. When exploring the cost of attendance at online schools in Pennsylvania, it helps to compare per-credit costs against other web-based programs. At $328 per credit hour, Slippery Rock’s online tuition rates compare favorably to Arizona State University’s online undergraduate tuition, which costs between $520 and $728 per credit hour.
How can I get help paying for online college in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania sponsors several grants administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). PHEAA serves as a portal for students seeking financial aid. While assistance is available for online learners, PHEAA cautions that students earning more than half of their credits through distance education may receive a reduced award.
One major funding opportunity for Pennsylvania students is the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, which provides awards to qualifying state residents each year. Grant amounts vary between candidates, and eligibility is based on both need and academic performance. These grants do not need to be repaid. However, qualifying students must obtain at least half of their course credits through classroom learning.
Some grant and loan programs are intended for Pennsylvania residents who fall into certain demographics. The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts issues grants of up to $20,000 for qualifying students. Undergraduates who previously participated in the state’s foster program may also be eligible for a Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant of up to $3,000. Children of firefighters, police and other public servants may qualify for the Pennsylvania Postsecondary Education Gratuity Program.
In addition to loans and grants, prospective students should explore specialized financial assistance opportunities at their chosen school. The University of Pennsylvania provides information regarding institutional grants and scholarships on the school’s financial aid page.
As in most states, Pennsylvania students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to access federal financial aid opportunities. PHEAA directs students to its own FAFSA page, which walks students through the application process. PHEAA also offers assistance for candidates interested in applying to the state grant program.
Online Education & Adult Education in Pennsylvania
Often working hand in hand, adult education programs can provide the path to a college degree that many non-traditional students in Pennsylvania are looking for. A vast majority of adult education participants are between the ages of 25 and 44, which includes many working adults, parents and seniors who set their college aspirations aside for other priorities earlier in life, but still have a desire to earn a college education.
If you’re preparing for college in Pennsylvania, here are some types of adult education programs that could help you get started: