Mar 10, 2021
Earning a PhD requires time, energy, and, perhaps the toughest part of the entire equation: money. It’s no secret that college tuition has risen significantly over the past thirty years. In 1989, the average in-state tuition at a public university was $1,999 per year for a full-time graduate student. By 1999, that rate had reached $4,042. By 2015, $11,303. Does that mean an online PhD is too expensive? Not at all. It just calls for a little research and know-how on your part — the student — to identify the schools, programs, and financial opportunities that make the most sense for you.
Paying for Your Online PhD
Finding an affordable online PhD starts with understanding how college costs work. The two price points to keep in mind here are cost per credit and credits to degree completion. Why these? In contrast to annual tuition, which applies to traditional full-time students, cost per credit makes it easier for non-traditional students with flexible schedules to estimate how much they’ll need to pay. And today, more and more online PhD students work toward their degree part-time and/or can take between two and six years to finish their dissertation.
But what do online PhD programs actually cost? It can depend on a number of factors, which we’ll outline below, but here’s a look at the cost of an online PhD (or EdD) in Education at eight different U.S. colleges:
Important caveats to keep in mind as you read the rates:
Total credits depend on time it takes to complete the dissertation process.
Some colleges and/or states have tuition caps. For example, Arizona has an in-state tuition ceiling of $5,703 per quarter.
Some colleges charge more per credit for part-time study.
Even when breaking down the cost for similar online doctoral programs, variation exists. Variables such as college type, degree major, and geographic location often come into play. Let’s examine how these differences can impact the cost of earning your PhD online.
College Type: Public, Private, and Profit
The type of college to which you enroll can influence your tuition bill. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but at the macro-level we can see the difference. And while you can view this cost difference on a cost-per-credit level (see table above), we can also examine the most recently reported (2016) annual graduate program tuition rates from the National Center for Education Statistics:
- Public institutions: $11,303
- Private, for-profit: $14,432
- Private, non-profit: $25,817
With fully online programs, location isn’t necessarily a major issue. Although online PhDs have a few in-person requirements, such as annual visits and a dissertation defense, a majority of the coursework and research can be done remotely. For students in blended programs, however, campus visits are more regular, and being near a physical college helps. What does this mean for those students? Location matters. If you’re looking for a blended PhD program near you, here are the ten most and least affordable states for higher education in 2015, according to the CollegeBoard. You can see the full report here.
At this point, you may be asking, “Do online students always pay in-state tuition?” The answer is no. It varies by institution. However, many colleges and universities do offer their online students the in-state rate, which helps keep their programs more affordable. Other colleges establish separate rates for their online programs, regardless of where its students live. And others charge online students the same as their campus students – based on their residence.
- Example: UMassOnline: All students pay identical rates, no matter where they live.
If you’re interested in an online PhD program where in-state/out-of-state residency influences cost, see if the college is part of a tuition exchange agreement. For example, the Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market offers tuition discounts for nearly 2,000 academic programs in Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Any student living in one of these states, and pursuing one of the approved 2,000 programs, can pay in-state tuition at a college within any one of the partner states. Similar tuition exchange programs include:
Type of Delivery: Online vs. Blended vs. Campus
When it comes to tuition, the cost-per-credit for an online PhD is the same or similar to that of a campus or blended program. The same goes for most fees. However, students may see differences in costs that come with earning a doctorate online. For example, some of the costs that campus students see that online students may be able to forego include:
It’s important to note that online PhD students may see non-academic fees that campus students don’t. A few common examples include:
Online course fees
Creating and delivering online programs requires investment on the part of the college. This can include professor training, material generation, and either development or purchase of an online learning and communication platform.
Extra technology fees
Sometimes folded into the aforementioned online course fees, but they definitely can be their own line item. These usually cover the online learning platform and any other tech needed to make online programs and courses function.
When assessing the cost of an online PhD program, pay close attention to how they handle these fees. Best-case scenario? The college removes them from your bill at the beginning, so the money doesn’t leave your account and/or the added costs don’t impact your financial aid amount (if you have it). Worst-case scenario? You’re stuck with the fees because all students are. Likely scenario? The college offers a rebate or discount to online students at the end of the term. Because they don’t always make their fee policies clear, contact the financial aid office for a detailed rundown on requirements and protocols.
On many college and university tuition pages, you may see the always helpful, “tuition varies by program”. This can make it difficult to track down how much your online PhD may cost you. But why the variation by program, and does that really happen everywhere? In most cases, yes. Here’s why.
Cost to the college.
Each major requires instructors, equipment, and resources, and the number and costs associated with those elements varies across majors. In 2017, the National Bureau of Economic Research examined tuition rates by major across the state of Florida. According to the study, engineering was the most expensive major, followed by health sciences and physical sciences. Among the lowest? English, philosophy, and mathematics. While the study focused on undergraduate cost per credit, this can be a proxy for ballparking the cost of an online PhD.
Much like an economy, supply and demand play here, too. Due to popularity at the doctorate level, education, business, and psychology may see higher-than-average tuition rates, as well.
Reducing the Cost of Your Online PhD
An online PhD may be a significant financial investment, but when it comes to paying, you’re not stuck between a rock and a hard place. The 30-year rise in tuition and fees has been matched by an increase in funding opportunities for students moving beyond the bachelors. The number of private and public scholarships for PhD students continues to grow, and grants and fellowships give students even more opportunities to make a doctorate education a reality. Here’s what to look for when seeking out and applying for each of these funding options.
Sure, an online PhD comes with a cost, one that could be tough to tackle if you’re not prepared. Hopefully, with the right information and some guidance from a financial aid counselor, you can make that cost manageable.