Where Is The Online Degree Tuition?

I spend a good deal of my time researching online degree tuition and other key characteristics of online programs for competitive analyses. Recently I conducted a detailed review of all of the marketed online Bachelors, Masters, and Doctor of Social Work programs in the U.S. I have to say, I’m exhausted. The cost of these programs is often the most difficult item to find.

Common Website Issues

The most common issue is that there are often no references or links to tuition / cost information on the program websites. Only a few programs have clear, easy to find information about their price on their websites. A few clever programs hide their tuition costs at the bottom of the landing page, under a tiny link called “Program Details”. Research with online students tells us that this is one of the most important considerations they have when they are shopping for a program!

Even when I find the university tuition information, there is often no specific information available about the tuition for ‘online’ programs, only the campus programs.

And, even in late August 2017, many programs still have the tuition tables for the 2016-2017 academic year on their websites. Many provide tuition data without referencing the academic year to which it applies.

Why Not Ask Directly?

In order to get to this information, I often end up sending a note to the contacts listed on the website asking for this detail. Here’s a fruitless e-mail chain from one such action, where I reached out to an admissions counselor / recruiter for more information:

Dear Michael, I’m researching costs of online MSW programs and can’t understand the information on costs for your program provided on the website. I understand your program only admits your state’s residents. What is the cost, per credit, for a student who begins the online program in Fall 2017?

Thank you very much for your assistance! — Michelle

His reply:

We don’t necessarily go by per credit hour. Graduate students tend to be part time with 6 hours or full time with 9+ hours. Here is a tool to help.


After checking the link and not finding what I needed, I responded back:

Hello, thank you for this information.

On this page, http://www.xxx.edu/fao/cost/  it looks like I would pay about $1,014 per credit (based on in-state graduate tuition cost divided by full-time 9 hours, per your note above). However, it also says on this page that tuition for online programs varies.

Is this about right for the MSW online program? I will be publishing this rate on the Online Degree Database, so I would very much appreciate your assistance in getting to the correct amount.

Thanks again — Michelle

His last reply to me:

Hi Michelle,

You would need to speak with a student accounts representative for specifics about cost.

And Finally…

So, even the direct approach left me empty-handed! I get that sometimes universities are big bureaucracies. Getting things done can be difficult. But, how could someone recruit for an online program and not be informed about the cost of the program? How about providing a warm-hand-off to the student account rep?

I counted at least 20 times when I clicked on a link that promised tuition details that led me to a 404 error page! This is always frustrating, but when you are knee-deep in the search for tuition costs, it’s downright maddening. It’s also harmful to the SEO ranking of your program website!

To make matters even worse, many websites demure their discussion of cost to information about how to ‘fund’ education costs. Here they introduce their process for helping students get loans and scholarships. As a consumer, I always get a little worried when someone offers me financing options before I even know the total cost. This is an unflattering strategy often employed by used auto-dealerships and TV shopping channels like QVC and HSN. “Take it home today for just $199 a month for fifteen to twenty years!”

And most importantly, in many cases the university tuition information found is ridiculously complicated. In-state vs. out-of-state, multiple additional fees that have names that make no sense to someone outside of the university, all different for each school or division, undergraduate vs. graduate, multiple campuses, total tuition numbers without clarifying the number of credits each represents. Any or all of these numbers may or may not apply to an online program.

The Online Degree Database Difference

In sum, I think universities and online programs can and should do better than this. Here’s an example of a university that gets it right by clearly laying out its online degree costs.

Gathering detailed online degree program information takes hours, if not weeks, of time scanning university websites. This is why the Online Degree Database exists. It is the only comprehensive, unbiased, source of online degree program data available in the market today. We collect details from university websites for the universe of most popular online master’s degrees like the MBA, MPA, MPH, MHA, MSW, MSN and more. Our interactive tool allows you to work with the degree information in the database to find the best online programs using the criteria that are important to you. Plus, we give prospective students helpful tips for how to talk with online program advisers and prepared reports for the most population master’s degrees. Visit our website today to see what we have to offer. Let us do the heavy-lifting on web-surfing university program websites for you!

If you are interested in prepared reports that summarize online degree details by key program characteristics (no GMAT, low tuition, and more), visit our sister website, SearchOnlineMastersDegrees!