Since 2014, Virginia has made strong efforts to increase higher education access through its Virginia Plan for Higher Education. The state considers online education a vital component to the educational landscape, and has even passed legislation centered on the continual improvement and expansion of its online offerings. Currently, there are 23 schools in the Virginia Community College System, or VCCS, many of which offer educational programs in an online format. Virginia students ready for college can find programs, financial aid and admissions information, compare schools and get details on the best online colleges in Virginia below.
We want to make your job of choosing an online college in Virginia to attend easier, so we’ve started the legwork for you. Taking into account factors important to students like tuition, financial aid, program availability, graduation rate and student-teacher ratio, we’ve crunched the numbers to determine with Virginia schools give students the best mix of quality and student support below—learn more about the best online colleges in Virginia to kickstart your college search.
Students can access a list of Virginia school's on the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) Colleges and Universities page. Each school has an accompanying profile, providing students with detailed information and data, ranging from the school's most popular degrees to its graduation rate, retention rate, average loan debt and demographics. Students can also access a school's program inventory through its profile, or directly through SCHEV's Degree Inventory tool.
Online students may be particularly interested in the Distance Learning Programs inventory, which allows students to see all online programs in Virginia, sorted by institution and degree level. The programs in this list can be completed entirely online. Students who have a specific program in mind but aren't sure whether it's offered online can always reach out to program advisers and coordinators to double check.
The Virginia Plan for Higher Education aims to make it easier for students to transfer their credits and understand the transfer process. A 2016 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that many transfer students weren't carrying their credits from one institution to another. This is because opportunities to transfer schools in Virginia were on the rise, while information on transfer policies and processes remained outdated and confusing.
Since then, however, the credit transfer process has become more streamlined and unified between institutions. Many colleges–like at Virginia Tech, where one in five graduates begin as transfer students—make it easy to change schools and receive credit for prior courses. These schools may also grant credits for prior military or work experience. Institutions vary on their policies, regarding how many credits students can transfer, the required GPA for transfer students and other transfer application particulars. Students can find school-specific information on the SCHEV Transfer Options page.
In Virginia, a college degree can have a huge impact on a person's income. On average, Virginians working in positions that require bachelor's degrees make nearly twice as much as those who have occupations that require a high school diploma.
Mean Annual Salary for All Occupations in Virginia, by Degree Level:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
Job opportunities in Virginia are expected to increase by 9.3 percent by 2024, meaning demand for qualified employees will be even higher. The highest-paying, in-demand careers for those with bachelor's degrees are in the computer information and software development sectors. Software developers, computer systems analysts, computer and information systems managers and information security analysts are projected to experience high job growth, plus earnings in the range of $100,000 or more per year. Careers in the medical and social services fields are also projected to grow over the next few years.
Virginia aims to be the best-educated state in the country, and one important step is ensuring that students have access to high-caliber online degrees. Students can do their part in making sure they enroll in quality programs by checking into their online schools' accreditation status.
Accreditation is a voluntary evaluative process that institutions or programs may undergo to prove they meet certain quality standards of quality. Schools may receive either institutional or programmatic accreditation, or both. Institutional accreditation assesses the quality of a school as a whole, and the highest standard of institutional accreditation is granted by regional accrediting boards throughout the United States.
The regional board in charge of evaluating the quality of online colleges and universities in Virginia is the Regional Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Along with institutional accreditation, individual programs of study may undergo program-specific accreditation. For instance, Virginia's George Mason University is accredited by the SACSCOC, and its online bachelor's in business management program is specifically accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the national standard for business education accreditation.
Virginia is home to a rising number of young adults—particularly from underrepresented groups — who need advanced educations to fill in-demand occupations across the state and contribute to social and economic growth. However, the cost of attending college in Virginia has continually increased at a rate that keeps many students from obtaining degrees. The state continues making efforts to increase higher education accessibility, and make it more affordable. Still, prospective students should consider tuition costs for in-state, out-of-state, and online students, as these vary considerably between Virginia colleges.
It's common for online bachelor's programs at Virginia schools to cost around the same for online students as it does for in-person students. Most online courses require an online course fee to cover the costs associated with operating an online platform. For this reason, online students typically end up paying around $30-$50 more per credit hour than their on-campus counterparts. These additional fees may be offset by potential savings on expenses related to transportation, parking, and on-campus meals.
Nonresidents, whether they take courses online or in-person, usually end up paying significantly more to attend a Virginia college.
Out-of-state students at George Mason University, pay around 3.5 times more in tuition than resident students, plus additional online course fees.
At James Madison University, distance education costs less than in-person coursework for both in-state and out-of-state students, but non-residents still pay a premium for their classes.
When determining tuition costs in Virginia, there is no catch-all answer, so it's important for online students to research each particular school and program to find out how much its degree will cost.
Tuition costs for Virginia non-residents are often considerably higher than for in-state students, but establishing residency in Virginia is fairly straightforward. Students must live in Virginia for a full 12 months before their first day of classes, and demonstrate intent to make Virginia their permanent residence after graduation. It's not enough simply to live in the state for a year—students must prove that they moved to Virginia for reasons other than school. They can do so by showing employment in Virginia, changing voter registration and actually voting in the state, property ownership, or by paying Virginia income taxes. Students who live outside of Virginia but work (or have parents who work) in the state may also qualify for in-state tuition. Full residency details are available here.
Those who are unable or unwilling to establish residency in Virginia may still qualify for in-state tuition at certain schools. Virginia is part of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), and some schools participate in the Board's Academic Common Market, which grants in-state tuition to students who live in other SREB states. This can be particularly beneficial to online students seeking degrees from Virginia schools, who get the convenience of distance education without taking on the extra cost of out-of-state tuition.
When it comes to online colleges in Virginia, the cost per-credit largely depends on the school, and a student's residency status. Many colleges in Virginia charge students the same amount for online classes as on-campus ones, but this is not always the case. Let’s take a look at some of the cost per credit rates at online colleges in Virginia compared to other nearby states for the 2018-2019 fall and spring semesters:
Students enrolling in online colleges in Virginia should start their financial aid search by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This gives students the opportunity to receive federal loans and grants, which can help offset the cost of tuition. Most need-based scholarships in Virginia use FAFSA information to determine student eligibility, too, so completing the form early can give students the best opportunity to receive aid.
The Virginia Plan for Higher Education aims to increase public funding to help make college more affordable to students throughout the state, but there are many financial aid opportunities specific to states, subjects and institutions. Examples include:
Students can find a list of Virginia scholarships and grants on SCHREV's Financial Aid Programs page, and they can access more state- and institution-specific financial aid information and resources here.
Sometimes students begin their college education but have to take significant time off for personal or financial reasons. In some cases, circumstances keep students from attending college in the first place. Virginia acknowledges that in order to grow the state socially and economically, learners of all ages and experiences need educational access. As a result, adult education programs were created to help non-traditional students continue their education. Often times, these courses can be used as a stepping stone for students who will go on to earn their college degree.
Here are a few of the college jumpstart programs offered through Virginia adult education initiatives:
Adult Education programs can be useful for:
Adult high school diploma programs – for aspiring Virigina college students whose first step is to take the GED or earn a high school equivalency certificate.
English learner programs – for students learning English to earn citizenship or take online college coursework in English.
Basic education programs – for students in Virginia who need to refresh their math, reading and writing skills before going back to college.
Lifelong learner programs – for seniors interested in pursuing college credits to brush up on technical skills before enrolling in an online degree program.
To locate programs in your area visit the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center website.