Does an Online Degree Provide a Better Return on Investment than One from a Brick and Mortar School?

With most students graduating with more than $34,000 in student loan debt, it’s natural to consider whether the return on investment (ROI) from an online degree is greater than the ROI from a more traditional program at an offline university. There are many considerations to take into account when assessing the ROI of a college program, whether online or offline, including housing costs, textbook costs, and miscellaneous fees charged to both online and offline learners. The good news, however, is that an online degree program can certainly have a higher ROI than its offline counterparts if students make sound financial decisions during their time of enrollment. There are areas of great opportunity for savings within an online undergraduate or graduate degree program.

Further Reading: Top 10 Best Accredited Online Colleges

Consider Living at Home During the Program

One of the biggest added expenses that students face during a more traditional college program is room and board, which means that they have on-campus housing and a costly meal plan during all four years of study. While this is certainly a great luxury, with opportunities for socializing and studying that might be harder to achieve while living at home, it’s an expense that often reduces a program’s ROI while increasing a student’s federal loan debt. The good news is that an online degree program does not require proximity to a traditional campus for students to master the coursework and earn good grades. Most online learners therefore live at home, escaping the high cost of room and board while enhancing the ROI of their chosen distance learning program. This is a great way to begin saving money.

Look for a Public, In-State Online Degree Program

Online degree programs aren’t just the domain of expensive, for-profit programs anymore. In fact, a majority of state-funded flagship schools now offer at least one online program in areas like business, education, and the liberal arts. These in-state programs have many benefits, all of which lead to a higher return on investment for an online degree. First and foremost, these in-state programs provide students with in-state tuition, often at a significant discount when compared to out-of-state tuition or the rates charged by private online schools. Second, the name recognition of a large, state-funded college or university will actually make a student’s diploma more powerful as they begin looking for jobs. Third, a program of this size and scope will give graduates access to a larger alumni network. This makes it easier to find jobs and promotions over the long-term.

Consider a Program with a Trimester Format

Finally, many online programs operate in a trimester format. This means that there are three “semesters,” with 15-week sessions in the fall, spring, and summer. Students will use only one year’s worth of financial aid to attend these three semesters and they’ll complete the degree in as few as three years. This can reduce the cost of the program and get students into the workforce ahead of their peers, and that definitely bodes well for ROI.

With the Right Choices, ROI is Better for Online Programs

ROI in higher education is always a combination of stated costs and student choices. When it comes to learning online, making the right choices will certainly help student minimize their costs, take on fewer student loans, and complete their degree ahead of their peers. For these reasons, the opportunity exists for a dramatically better return on investment from an online degree.


Bambi Majumdar

Melissa Anderson

Julie McCaulley