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Most Affordable Online Doctoral and PhD Programs in 2023

Getting your PhD or professional doctorate is cheaper than you think. Explore the most affordable online doctoral programs from accredited universities and find other ways to lower the cost of grad school in this guide.

Search hundreds of top schools for the doctorate YOU want.

Written by

PhDs.me Staff

Last updated

Jul 30, 2023

Doctoral degrees are the highest level of educational achievement, and they are held by only a small percentage of individuals. Obtaining a doctoral degree offers career progression, new avenues, and prestige. However, earning a doctoral degree necessitates significant commitment in time and finances. Online doctoral and PhD programs help alleviate this burden by offering flexibility, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness, as you probably won’t have to resign from your job or relocate to complete them.

This guide highlights the most cost-effective doctorate-level degrees available either fully or partially online. Whether you’re interested in nursing, psychology, public health, education, criminal justice, or technology, there are online doctoral-level programs available within your budget to advance your career. Continue reading to discover more about the most affordable online doctoral and PhD programs available in 2023.

50 Most Affordable Online PhD and Doctoral Programs in 2023

Below is our list of the 50 U.S. colleges and universities with the most affordable online doctoral and PhD programs available in 2023. We’ve used the following methodology to develop this list.

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1
Cabrini University Radnor, Pennsylvania
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $

Cabrini University offers two affordable doctorate degrees: the PhD in organization development and change and a doctorate of education in educational leadership. Both are offered in a hybrid format, meaning some components are completed online and others in person. Many courses are offered in a blended learning format, so students complete some class sessions in person and others virtually. The degrees also offer a great deal of flexibility, especially in terms of when in-person class sessions are offered, so working students can balance their degree with a full-time career. In fact, all courses in the PhD in organization development and change happen during one weekend each month. Students complete coursework between these monthly classes, adhering to the scholar-practitioner model. Coursework for the doctorate of education is on a weekly basis, in a hybrid format.

Program Highlights:

PhD or DBA in Organization Development and Change

  • Credits: 73
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $830/credit
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

EdD in Educational Leadership

  • Credits: 54
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $830/credit
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationMSCHE
2
Ashland University Ashland, Ohio
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$

Ashland University offers five flexible doctoral degrees. The first two are doctorates of leadership, with traditional or executive tracks available. In the traditional program, students complete coursework on leadership in K-12 over the course of three years. The executive program is accelerated, allowing students to graduate in as little as two years. In either program, students take courses in a hybrid format. The blended courses mean most classes are online, but almost every course has an in-person component, usually in the evenings or on the weekends. The other three doctoral degrees are housed in the nursing school. The three DNPs include family practice, health systems leadership, and advanced practice. It is possible to complete all three online, though they all have different coursework and application requirements.

Program Highlights:

Doctorate in Leadership Studies, Traditional

  • Credits: 59
  • Length: 2-3 years
  • Cost: $780/credit
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

Doctorate in Nursing Practice

  • Credits: 38-77
  • Length: 2-3 years
  • Cost: $770/credit
  • Mode: Hybrid
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
12
AccreditationHLC
3
Type: Public
Cost: $

Fort Hays State University offers a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree with two entry options. The first option is comprised of 75 credits and intended for those who hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. In this program, students complete more clinical hours and take some foundational courses that would usually be covered in an MSN program. The second option is a 33 credit MSN to DNP program. With this option, students need to take fewer courses, and they can move right into their doctoral coursework. In both programs, students also complete a doctoral project that is mentored by a faculty member. Both programs are available fully online. Clinical requirements are completed in person, at a hospital or healthcare facility near the student.

Program Highlights:

Doctorate of Nursing Practice

  • Credits: 33-75
  • Length: 1-4 years
  • Cost: $260.96/credit in-state | $669.57/credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationHLC
4
Type: Public
Cost: $

Nurses who are considering getting their doctorate degree will want to know more about the DNP program from Texas A&M's Corpus Christi campus. Though the program is housed on the Corpus Christi campus, it can be completed online, offering much needed flexibility for those with a full-time job or other life obligations. To make it even easier to balance with work, the DNP is designed to be taken on a part-time basis. Students can choose between two DNP concentrations: the executive leadership track and the nurse practitioner track. The executive leadership focus is for students looking to enter healthcare administration or nursing leadership. The NP focus is for those who want to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner in Texas. In both tracks, students must also complete a DNP final project. As the degree is considered post-master's, it's for those with a MSN in the field. At this time, there is no BSN to DNP option.

Program Highlights:

Doctor of Nursing Practice

  • Credits: 40
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $271/credit in-state | 592/credit out-of-state
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
5
University of West Georgia Carrollton, Georgia
Type: Public
Cost: $

The University of West Georgia offers four doctoral degrees, which are the doctorates in higher education administration, nursing education, education with a focus on professional counseling and supervision, and education with a focus on school improvement. For all four degrees, all coursework can be taken online. The doctorate project or dissertation, depending on the program, can also be completed virtually. Students who select the school improvement degree also choose between nine concentrations: school counseling, educational leadership, K-12 online learning, instructional technology, reading, media specialist, teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), special education, and early childhood education. For all four programs, applicants should already have an advanced degree and work experience in the field of education at the time of applying.

Program Highlights:

Doctorate of Higher Education Administration

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost: $241/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Doctorate of Nursing Education

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 4 years
  • Cost: $241/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Doctorate of Education in Professional Counseling and Supervision

  • Credits: 39
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $241/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Doctorate in Education for School Improvement

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $241/credit
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
19
AccreditationSACSCOC
6
Arkansas State University Jonesboro, Arkansas
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationHLC
7
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationSACSCOC
8
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationHLC
9
University of North Carolina Wilmington Wilmington, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
16
AccreditationSACSCOC
10
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
11
Western Carolina University Cullowhee, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationSACSCOC
12
University of North Georgia Dahlonega, Georgia
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationSACSCOC
13
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationHLC
14
University of North Carolina at Charlotte Charlotte, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
20
AccreditationSACSCOC
15
North Carolina A & T State University Greensboro, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
19
AccreditationSACSCOC
16
California Miramar University San Diego, California
Type: Private for-profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
13
AccreditationDEAC
17
Carolina University Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
10
AccreditationTRACS
18
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
19
Alcorn State University Alcorn State, Mississippi
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationSACSCOC
20
East Carolina University Greenville, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationSACSCOC
21
Appalachian State University Boone, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
22
Maranatha Baptist University Watertown, Wisconsin
Type: Private not-for-profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
12
AccreditationHLC
23
Governors State University University Park, Illinois
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
10
AccreditationHLC
24
University of West Alabama Livingston, Alabama
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationSACSCOC
25
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
26
The University of Montana Missoula, Montana
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationNWCCU
27
Dakota State University Madison, South Dakota
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationHLC
28
Kennesaw State University Kennesaw, Georgia
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
22
AccreditationSACSCOC
29
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
19
AccreditationSACSCOC
30
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
19
AccreditationSACSCOC
31
University of North Carolina at Greensboro Greensboro, North Carolina
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
32
University of Wyoming Laramie, Wyoming
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationHLC
33
Columbus State University Columbus, Georgia
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
16
AccreditationSACSCOC
34
Georgia Southern University Statesboro, Georgia
Type: Public
Cost: $
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
22
AccreditationSACSCOC
35
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
19
AccreditationHLC
36
Emporia State University Emporia, Kansas
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationHLC
37
Lamar University Beaumont, Texas
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationSACSCOC
38
University of South Dakota Vermillion, South Dakota
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
14
AccreditationHLC
39
Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, Florida
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
21
AccreditationSACSCOC
40
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationHLC
41
Youngstown State University Youngstown, Ohio
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationHLC
42
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
18
AccreditationSACSCOC
43
Kentucky State University Frankfort, Kentucky
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
13
AccreditationSACSCOC
44
Adams State University Alamosa, Colorado
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
11
AccreditationHLC
45
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
17
AccreditationSACSCOC
46
Pittsburg State University Pittsburg, Kansas
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
15
AccreditationHLC
47
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
24
AccreditationSACSCOC
48
Sam Houston State University Huntsville, Texas
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
20
AccreditationSACSCOC
49
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
11
AccreditationNECHE
50
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Student/
Faculty Ratio
22
AccreditationWSCUC

College Rankings Methodology

PhD.me’s rankings are based on the most recent data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). To be eligible for our most affordable rankings, colleges were required to have the following characteristics:

  • Annual graduate tuition below $15,000.
  • At least one doctoral program in subject area offered partially online or fully online.
  • Accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Academic counseling and career placement services.

Eligible colleges were then scored on their performance in the following areas to determine the final ranking:

  • Cost: Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on in-state graduate tuition per academic year. (Heaviest weighting)
  • Selectivity: Based on overall admissions rate. More selective schools ranked higher.
  • Online learning availability: Based on percentage of grad students taking at least one class online and number of online doctoral programs in subject area reported by the school.
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: Schools with lower ratios ranked higher.

Most Affordable Online Doctoral and PhD Programs By Subject

Some doctoral majors are more compatible with distance education than others. Nevertheless, the breadth of academic and professional fields available for online study may surprise you. The chart below offers recent affordability figures for online PhD and doctoral programs by subject based on median student debt.

SubjectMedian Student Debt
Biology, General $17,000 
Allied Health Diagnostic, Intervention, and Treatment Professions $35,772 
Pastoral Counseling and Specialized Ministries $40,897 
Chemistry $40,979 
Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research $41,129 
Sociology $44,909 
Drama/Theatre Arts and Stagecraft $47,558 
Anthropology $48,570 
English Language and Literature, General $50,762 
Health and Physical Education/Fitness $51,465 
Music $53,215 
Theological and Ministerial Studies $53,396 
Student Counseling and Personnel Services $53,920 
Education, Other $54,789 
Architecture $60,684 
Research and Experimental Psychology $61,016 
Registered Nursing, Nursing Administration, Nursing Research and Clinical Nursing $61,142 
Religion/Religious Studies $62,353 
Education, General $63,348 
Educational Administration and Supervision $63,566 
Educational/Instructional Media Design $69,645 
Teacher Education and Professional Development, Specific Levels and Methods $70,789 
Public Health $73,405 
Psychology, General $74,847 
Theology and Religious Vocations, Other $76,813 

Source: College Scorecard

What Makes an Online Doctoral Program Affordable?

Several factors contribute to the overall affordability of online doctoral programs. Below are four of the most significant factors to consider. However, keep in mind that there may be exceptions, so it’s important not to dismiss any program before examining it in detail. 

In-State vs. Out-of-State Residency

Since public colleges and universities receive a lot of their funding from state taxes, they normally charge a substantially higher tuition rate to out-of-state students. This is a good reason to check programs at schools in your state of residence first. However, some schools now charge a single rate to all students in online degree programs regardless of residency, so your out-of-state status may not be an eliminating factor. 

Private vs. Public Universities

The general rule is that degrees from public colleges and universities are more expensive than their public school counterparts. For the most part, that rule still stands. However, our program rankings show this may be changing. Don’t automatically exclude doctorate programs simply because they’re from private schools.

Credits Required

Be sure to consider the total number of credits required. For example, EdD programs at Evangel University and Southwest Baptist University are $600 and $445 per credit respectively. However, the total required credits are 50 for Evangel’s program and 73 for Southwest Baptist’s program. So, the total tuition cost for Evangel ($30,000) is less than that for Southwest Baptist ($32,485). Both programs are still quite affordable, but the total cost may be a deciding factor.

Financial Aid Packages Offered by the School

Most students need some outside help to fund their doctorate studies. Fortunately, students enrolled in virtually all of the programs mentioned in this guide are eligible for federal financial aid, particularly student loans. Most schools also offer a range of other aid opportunities, like scholarships and grants, work-study programs, and in-house student loans. Fort Hays State University, for example, offers both nursing-exclusive scholarships and a loan forgiveness program to its DNP students.  

Where to Get Funding for Your Online PhD or Professional Doctorate 

Paying for an online doctorate can feel daunting, but there are many ways to lower your out-of-pocket costs and make earning your degree a reality. Several of the most common funding opportunities are detailed below but be sure to investigate Financial Aid for Doctoral Students in more depth before beginning your program. 

Scholarships & Grants

Scholarships and grants are popular mainly because you don’t pay them back. They’re available from a range of sources, sometimes even the colleges and universities themselves. Check each school’s website for available scholarships and grants along with the Scholarships & Grants for Doctoral Students available regardless of where you attend.  

Doctoral Fellowships

Doctoral fellowships are merit-based awards that provide financial support to doctorate students to help pay for their continued studies. As opposed to assistantships, fellowships usually do not require students to take on teaching or research responsibilities in exchange for the award. Learn more about how to land a great doctoral fellowship in this PhD Student’s Guide to Fellowships.   

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Employers highly value good employees and frequently aim to support their career advancement, particularly when it’s within their own organizations. Consequently, many companies offer employer tuition reimbursement programs for their most valuable employees, covering some or all of the tuition fees in exchange for a commitment to work for the company for a specified period. Speak with your supervisor or HR department to determine if tuition reimbursement is accessible to you.  

Student Loans

The student loan is the most common type of financial aid for all degree programs. The biggest source of student loans is the federal government. For grad students, that usually means the Direct PLUS Loan. Some schools offer in-house loans for their students as well. Contact your school’s financial aid office for information on student loan availability.