CollegeOnomics eBook

How to find the most affordable colleges in America

Top 10 factors to consider

Posted at 9:15 AM on April, 27 2017


 Graduating from the Best, Most Affordable Colleges in America



Are you aware that there are colleges in the US that offer free tuition?

It is good to know if a free-tuition college would work for you and what their requirements are before you begin evaluating other accredited colleges to find  the most affordable colleges in the US.


Would a Free-tuition college work for me?

In this post, I’ll be presenting a view quite different from many of the familiar write-ups on affordable or free-tuition colleges. When mentioning free college tuition, most people consider Berea college (Kentucky), Antioch college (Ohio), Deep Springs college (California) among a few others. But there are a few catches that one needs to be aware of:

 a) Many of these colleges are highly selective, which in turn means that only a small percentage of applicants are accepted into these colleges.

b) A number of them have work-study programs that require students to work a fixed number of hours every week to be eligible for the free tuition. For some students, this might be ideal as they would start gaining valuable work experience. But for others, dedicating the college years towards only studying might be the best option. It all depends on what is ideal for the student.

c) Many of the colleges still charge the students for room-and-board.  Some colleges are more flexible, and may consider additional work hours in exchange for free room-and-board.

d) Many of the free-tuition options are targeted towards in-state students, so it may not work for out-of-state students.

e) Some of these colleges have additional requirements to qualify for the aid or scholarship, including biblical studies or need-based financial support.


So if you can make one of the free-tuition colleges work for you and you are ok with the additional work required, that might be a good college option for you.

There is another online US college known as the ‘University of the People’ (UoPeople) which offers free tuition and is accredited by the Distance Education Council. But UoPeople does not have the typical regional accreditation like most other recognized colleges in the US. Many of the professors and curriculum developers come from top ivy league colleges and this makes their degree valuable. The college has lenient admission requirements but it would require hard work to complete a degree here. Students at this college come from many countries across the world. The only fee students pay is a small one for taking each exam. These are all factors that you need to consider before deciding whether UoPeople is right for you.

But if you want more flexibility with when you study, when you  work and to manage your schedules independently, a more suitable option would be one of the accredited flexible colleges. Flexible colleges are located in cheap and good universities in usa that offer many low-cost ways to acquire college credits and for completing your college degree. The flexible colleges are the most affordable regionally accredited online colleges with many classroom options; their low-cost and inherent flexibility make them a great college option to consider. The cost at the flexible colleges is so little that you could complete a 4 yr. bachelor’s degree for a total cumulative cost of under $10,000.

There are a handful of flexible colleges in the US and they have broad admission requirements. These are all good colleges with cheap out of state tuition in most cases. Most adults with atleast a few prior college credits and high school completion certificate are eligible for enrolling into the flexible colleges. Since the flexible colleges are all regionally accredited, their credits are easily transferable, are good for getting jobs after degree completion, or for further graduate studies.

These colleges accept many free and low-cost online courses such as Saylor courses or CLEP for college credits, and the textbooks are also inexpensive. And since they do not have residency requirements, there are no additional room and board costs, and you can simply stay with family for the duration of your college degree. In many ways, this is much better than the other tuition-free colleges as there are no catches or additional requirements. For more information, please signup for the free pdf, or take a look at our low-priced eBook, or go through our other articles on this site. 


How do I to shortlist colleges for affordaility?

Here are the top 10 factors to consider when determining whether a college is affordable and has no hidden catches. Carefully evaluating colleges using the following 10-step criteria will enable you to maximize your college success:


i) Number of credits transfer permitted

If you had earlier completed any college-level courses, the best way to save money and time is to get those prior credits transferred to the enrolled college. In an effort to maximize their revenue from college courses, many brick-and-mortar colleges are restrictive in this area and either do not allow much credits transfer, or make the process complicated. Some colleges are also vague about their credits-transfer policies which forces sincere students to waste a lot of time, energy and money. Such students are forced to go back-and-forth with the college staff for getting their prior credits transferred.

Almost all the flexible colleges (mentioned in the free pdf and our eBook) allow unlimited prior credits to be transferred completely free of charge, during the time of initial college enrollment and multiple times thereafter.


ii) Accepted paths for college credits

MOOC Courses for College CreditsStandardized exams such as CLEP and DSST are some of the most cost-effective and the quickest ways for acquiring college credits. Guides and textbooks for these tests are also available for very low cost, especially from a number of online tutorials such as Free-Clep-Prep. Free-clep-prep was started by a veteran who completed all his college-level learning via CLEP, DSST and Excelsior college exams. The site has enormous amounts of free information on many of the CLEP and DSST tests, along with practice tests and guides for some of the tests. The site lists recommended textbooks and free study sources which can be helpful for your test preparation.

MOOC course providers such as Coursera also have some of their courses approved by ACE (American Council of Education). ACE-recommended courses are directly approved for college credits by a vast majority of colleges across the US.


iii) Mandatory college credits or courses

 In most US colleges, students have to undertake all the courses in a classroom setting at the college. Some colleges have an online option apart from the physical classroom option. This can add up to a lot of tuition costs and is one of the main reasons for the exorbitant rise in college expenses.

Some of the flexible colleges have a small portion of credits that need to be completed directly via the college’s courses. So determining the number of such in-college credits requirement and their overall cost becomes important. For example, if a college requires say 20 credits to be undertaken at the college, and if the tuition cost per credit is say $400, this would cost the student $8000.

Some flexible colleges have no such mandatory credits requirement. This results in a significant reduction of the overall college costs.


iv) Residency requirement/ Location dependency

Many of the high-priced colleges with large campuses require students to attend classes at the college campus almost everyday. In addition to the unwanted hardships to adult students by doing this, many also end up spending a lot of money on their room and board expenses. Apart from the college tuition costs, the one other reason for the high cost of college is this inflexible residency requirement. Many students spend between $8000 to $12,000 on their college living expenses per year.

At most of the flexible colleges, there is no residency requirement. A few of them provide options by which students can attend college at the campus, but it is not mandatory; online classes are equally accepted at these colleges. Due to this locational flexibility, the flexible colleges are also the most affordable universities in usa for international students. Students can live anywhere in the world and still complete a college degree at a flexible college. And since there are so many ways to acquire college credits, these degrees have a good reputation similar to many of the high-quality traditional colleges.


v)  Application fee, Enrollment fee, Student Services fee, Graduation fee

Many colleges throw in these additional costs on the students thereby taking many students by utter surprise. Before enrolling into a college, please find out the amounts of all these additional charges apart from the tuition fees. Enrollment fee is generally charged once at the time of initial enrollment into the degree program. Student services fee is either payable every semester or annually at most colleges. This covers the general advisement and other services provided to the students by the college administrative staff.

At the flexible colleges, there is a small application fee, generally less than $100. Some of them charge an annual enrollment fee to keep the student status active and this also covers the student services.


vi) Tuition cost

 For undergraduate degrees, colleges charge anywhere between $500 to $1000 per credit. For a 3-credit course, this would come to about $1500 to $3000, and textbooks and supplies would be extra. Some colleges charge a flat fee annually, but it generally comes to atleast a minimum of $500 or more per credit in any case.

 Flexible colleges charge about $500 per credit but do not mandate where or how students decide to complete their college credits. To reduce costs, students can take more exams such as CLEP, take low-cost ACE-approved online courses and so on. For all such learning, there is no per-credit charge by the college itself. CLEP exams cost about $150 for a 3-credit exam, and this includes the cost of books and test proctoring.


vii) Prior-learning (or) Portfolio Assessment

Skills and Work Experience for College Credits

This option of using prior non-accredited learning towards meeting degree requirements is only available at the flexible colleges and not at most other colleges. There is generally a 3-credit course that teaches students about this assessment process. Most flexible colleges would allow you to earn about 50% of credits via prior learning.

If a student has a lot of non-accredited college-level prior learning, say years and years of work experience in the same degree field, this can be a major cost-saver. Most colleges charge a flat fee for portfolio assessment, or a reduced fee for a fixed number of credits evaluated. 


viii) Enrollment schedule

Most traditional colleges allow student enrollments only once a year and this generally happens a month or more after the high school year is completed. So if a student for some reason misses the application deadlines, he or she would have to wait one whole year to enroll at the college, or decide to go elsewhere.

In contrast, flexible colleges have a rolling enrollment schedule. Many of them allow students to enroll anytime of the year, and some of them have three or more times each year as the enrollment window! This can greatly improve the flexibility of these colleges, reduce time for degree completion, and reduce the overall degree costs. The sooner a student finishes college, the sooner he or she can get a well-paying job.


ix) Student support

Most colleges nowadays have a lot of administrative staff in addition to the teaching staff. Most of them provide guidance and assistance on matters outside of the actual classroom teaching. But the quality of the student support can vary greatly across colleges. So be sure to find out more about this from other alumni students or do your own research by talking to the administrative staff.

The administrative staff can have a huge impact on your college studies. They are generally involved in transferring your prior credits, guiding you on your core and elective courses, and in scheduling your course enrollments. Some also handle your college fee payments and so much more. Any ambiguity or lack of clarity in any of these areas can be detrimental to your degree completion. So please be sure to check this out before choosing your ideal college.

Many of the flexible colleges provide atleast above-average student support. More information on individual flexible colleges can be found in the CollegeOnomics eBook.


x) Evaluation, Grading and Course Rigor

If the quality of the courses is high and the professors & staff are helpful, students can greatly benefit from their college learning. Grading and evaluation of projects & assignments are also important. Very restrictive grading and evaluation would highly de-motivate students and force them to spend additional time and money re-taking any tests or exams. Too lax a grading and evaluation and the objective of acquiring college learning itself would be lost.

Generally, online forums or reviews, or speaking with alumnus can help shed light on these factors at your target colleges. In my experience, many flexible colleges have well-balanced grading & evaluation services which are quite reasonable. More information on the flexible colleges can be found in our eBook.

Good luck!

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