Top 10 Most Affordable Traditional Degree Programs

The financial crisis of the previous decade created somewhat of a paradigmatic shift in the global economy. Although the economy has produced evidence of a solid recovery, the residual effects of the economic crisis of the first decade of this millennium has forever changed the corporate landscape. As corporations were forced to lay off employees, many high-ranking and well-paid individuals were forced to reinvent themselves, with the vast majority of them re-entering the market as entrepreneurs.

Featured Affordable Bachelor Degree Programs

  1. BS – Criminal Justice: Capella University
  2. BS – Accounting: Kaplan University
  3. BS – Paralegal Studies: Liberty University Online

As this paradigmatic shift continues, the global economy is experiencing a trend in which a large number of individuals are being forced to return to school to earn degrees in fields other than their original field of study. To further complicate this process for many, the cost of obtaining a college degree has increased. Now many will have to find the most affordable path to obtaining a degree in a field that is projected to be a viable career option over the next decade.

Affordable degree options are a major concern for a growing number of individuals as they attempt to sort out their futures. Fortunately, there are some schools and degree programs that can be pursued at a reasonably low cost.

Understanding the Options

As this article progresses it will present at least 10 degrees that fall into a category of being affordable or maybe even cheap; however, before examining the degree programs that are out there that fall into this category, it is important to explore some funding options. In an era in which student loan debt has become a national crisis, it is vital for potential students to gain at least a minimum perspicacity of the available methods of funding their education.

The stats are staggering; college students who borrow graduate with an average debt of $25,250 — the equivalent of new car purchase or the down payment on a new home.

According to Kiplinger, there are seven solid ways of funding a college education:

  • 529 Savings plans, which are sponsored by all 50 states. The 529 plan allows your savings to grow tax free, and the savings will avoid federal income tax completely if the money withdrawn is used on college expenses.
  • Prepaid Tuition plans are becoming increasing popular. Obviously this requires a certain amount of advanced planning; however, a plan can be tailored to meet short-term goals with the right commitment.
  • Coverdell education savings accounts are similar to 529 plans in the account is allowed to grow with any tax being deferred. Taxes will be complete waived if the money is used on college expenses.
  • Roth IRAs are often used to fund retirement plans, but they can also be used to fund college studies.
  • Custodial Accounts, also known as UGMAs and UTMAs allow an individual to put money and other assets into a trust for a minor child until child either reaches 18 or 21.
  • Private scholarships are another viable option to pay for colleges. There are multitudinous private scholarships that are designated for a number of different situations. A little research on behalf of the student can produce a rather significant list of programs to which a student may apply.
  • Government grants are also available, and there are grants for most any situation.

Although student loans were mentioned on the Kiplinger list, it was replaced here with grants because of the heavy debt risks associated with assuming student loans.

Understand the Criteria Used to Build the List

In order to simplify and elucidate the process used to compile the following list, criteria was narrowed down to one simple variable; the cost to obtain a four-year degree in a particular field. This list does not consider any out-of-state expenses nor living accommodations. The more variables that were added only served to convolute the basic purpose of compiling the list.

The list is comprised of the university or college through which the degree can be obtained and the primary degrees that apply to the price range used to qualify the program. It is important to note that the degrees listed are not necessary limited to the school on the list, but the school represents the cheapest program that offers that type of degree at an acceptable level.

The only other criteria used was the requisite that the degree had to at least have value. In other words, degrees in basket weaving were not considered.

Because of a number variables that were somewhat perplexed, the list is not presented in any particular order.

1. Liberal Arts Degree — Berea College

Berea College

Berea College is a school that specializes in liberal arts studies, and the school is located in Kentucky. The vast majority of the students that are accepted in the liberal arts program at Berea score between 20 and 30 on the ACT exam. They also have a cumulative high-school GPA of 3.0 while participating in some type of college prep curriculum. Berea also takes a look at the extra-curricular activities of its applicants, including any participation in community service programs and volunteering for charities.

Degree: Liberal Arts is the primary degree offered by this school, however they also offer degrees in chemistry, biology, and physics, with all of the degrees falling under the tuition cost listed below.

Tuition: Berea presents a unique situation in that all of its students are offered a four-year tuition scholarship in exchange for participating in a student labor program. The labor program is designed to develop and foster a strong work ethic in the students in order to prepare them for the workforce upon earning their degree. Without financial assistance, the annual tuition at Berea is $6,946, with most students qualifying for some type of financial assistance.

2. Engineering Degree — Brigham Young

Brigham Young

Brigham Young is located in Provo, Utah, and it is the largest religious university in America. The school has some strict admission guidelines. Anyone applying to the school must have an endorsement from their local Church of Latter Day Saints, and if not, they will have to be personally interviewed by a Mormon Bishop. In addition to the religious requirements, the school also gives a significant amount of gravity to the student’s high-school GPA and SAT/ACT scores. Although academic capacity is given the greatest gravity, academic achievement is not enough for a student to earn their way into the university. The school also looks at the student’s participation in their local community as well as their potential to contribute to the BYU community.

Degree: Although BYU offers a number of degrees, the one in view here is an engineering degree.

Tuition: According to a report by U.S. News, the annual Tuition at BYU is $4,710.


3. Bachelor of Science Degrees — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC is highly recognized as one of the top research university in the nation. The school has a very rich history than spans more than 200 years. The early curriculum requires that every study have a broad exposure to liberal arts; however, students are allowed to choose a more specialized field at the beginning of their junior year. One area in which the school has received numerous accolades is in the area of cancer research. The school opened their hospital for care and research in 1952, and they have been conducting research and treating patients since.

Degrees: This is a major university, so they offer a wide range of degree programs, but the programs in focus here surround science.

Tuition: For in state students, the BS is offered at a steal, with an annual tuition of only $7,694.


4. Nursing Degree — University of Virginia

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia has an exceptional pedigree. Founded in 1819 under the direction of Thomas Jefferson, the school has thrived as an academic institution. The schools has a number of minimum requirement that must be met by first-year applicants. To start, the student must produce a high-school manuscript which confirms that they have successfully completed four units of English and college-prep math. In addition to the foundational courses, the student must also have successfully completed two years of a foreign language and science. They also give gravity to SAT and ACT scores

Degree: There are number of degrees offered by the school that would fall under the tuition parameters mentioned here, however, the degree in focus here is the nursing degree.

Tuition: The in-state annual tuition at UVA is $12,006


5. Architecture Degree — Rice University

Rice University

Rice University has long been recognized as one of the top academic schools in the country. Rice has repeatedly been acknowledged for their bioengineering program. The school has extremely high academic requirements, with most students being required to have a minimum 3.0 high-school GPA. In addition to transcripts and grades, the school will review the ACT and SAT scores of the student, including the writing portion of the exam. Counselor and teacher recommendations also carry significant weight in the application process.

Degree: Architecture

Tuition: $36,000 is the average tuition to obtain a degree through Rice.


6. Psychology — Capella University

Capella University

Capella actually offers accredited degrees online, which can greatly reduce the cost. With more than 39,000 college student studying online, Capella is fulfilling its goal of offering adult students a study environment that is more conducive to their success when considering the unique challenges that they face on a daily basis. The admission requirements at Capella are not as stringent as some of the other schools mentioned on the list. The schools requires a high-school diploma or GED.

Degree: Although the school offers several degree programs, including education, healthcare, nursing and public service, the degree in view here is a psychology degree.

Tuition: The cost of earning a degree at Capella is $11,700

7. Accounting Degree — Walden University

Walden University

Walden University is another online college that offers accredited degree courses that can be earned online, which reduces the total cost of earning the degree considerably. Walden is a private school. The admissions requirements for Walden are similar to Capella, in that that they only require that the student have a high school diploma or equivalent. The program at Walden is designed for adults, and in most cases, the applicant has to be at least 24-years-old to be accepted into the program, nevertheless, a student between the age of 21 and 24 can apply if they have at least 12 hours of transferrable credits. Additionally, those who are at least 18 that have more than 90 hours of transferrable credit can also apply. Those who are active in the military automatically qualify.

Degree: There are a number of degrees that can be earned through Walden, but the degree in focus here is the accounting degree.

Tuition: The tuition at Walden is $11,000 per year.


8. Business Degree — Western Governors University

Western Governors University

Western Governors University is yet another online university that offers accredited degree programs through its online curriculum. They school caters heavily to the adult population who may not be in a position to adhere to a strict in-class schedule. In order to be accepted into a bachelor’s program at WGU, the student must be at least 16-years-old, possess a high-school diploma or GED, present all transcripts for all previous schools attended and complete an interview with an enrollment counselor at the school.

Degree: Business Degree

Tuition: The tuition at WGU is $5,780 per year


9. IT Degree — American Intercontinental University

American Intercontinental University

AIU is a non-profit international university that has campuses in Houston, TX, Atlanta, GA and online. The school has been dubbed the “Serious U” due to its singular focus on academics.

Degree: Information Technology

Tuition: The annual tuition is $13,590


10. Criminal Justice — Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University is a private Christian school, with a number of resident programs as well as online programs. The school is located in Lynchburg, VA. Applicants must submit SAT and ACT scores as well as transcripts. Additionally, the applicant must also compete an entrance essay. The school’s students have an average high-school GPA of 3.31, with an average ACT score of 22.

Degree: Criminal Justice

Tuition: annual tuition is $6,482


Understanding the Dynamics Associated with Cost of Earning a Degree

There are multitudinous variables that impact the cost of earning a degree, and depending on those variables the cost of earning a degree. Although the primary focus of this article is on the cheapest degrees, the greatest impact on cost was the institution through which the degree would be earned. The 10 degrees listed with the corresponding schools would change in cost as the institution changes.

It is apropos that applicant is aware of this dynamic. Although some degrees are more expensive to earn than others, the general rule of thumb is cost can best be controlled by choosing an affordable institution.

The Impact of Earning a Degree at Low-Cost Schools

There is the postulation that earning a degree from one of the schools above will not carry the weight of some of the more expensive schools. Obviously, earning a degree at an Ivy League school will carry a serious amount of weight; however, the old adage that “you get what you pay for” does not always apply to academics. All of the schools above were not only selected based on the bases of cost, but they were selected because of their academic excellence as well as the wide acceptance of their degrees by corporate America.

The degrees that were selected also have impact. It does not make much since to have a degree that has no value or earning power; that would completely defeat the purpose.

Alternative to a Four-Year Degree

There is definitely something to be said for earning a four-year degree from an accredited university. It provides the ground work and organizational skill to prepare a student for the workforce, in addition to the industry skills and expertise that is necessary to execute a particular discipline. With that being said, the rising cost of education, coupled with the constantly evolving economic landscape, creates a situation in which a person does not have to be a mathematics major to understand that things are not necessarily adding up when it comes to conventional four-year degrees. This does not mean that bachelor’s degrees are no longer valid; however, it does raise some questions concerning alternatives to bachelor degrees, especially alternatives that may present opportunities in which the cost is significantly lower than the cost to earn a bachelor’s.

Despite the school and degree costs listed above, public-college costs have skyrocketed out of control as student loan debts continues to rise. With college graduates who have moved into their 30s still bearing student loan debt, the nation is in a crisis. The average annual tuition for an in-state college education is $17,860. Private college tuitions are even higher. This makes a person appreciate the opportunities offered by the schools that were listed earlier.

There is additional cause for concern. The unemployment rate for bachelor’ degree recipients between the ages of 20 to 24 is 5.9 percent, lower the national average; however, it presents the subtle truth that a college degree would result in an immediate paycheck. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case for those who make up that 5.9 percent. Before anyone starts dismissing the need for a bachelor degree, they should know that those who attempt to enter the workforce without a degree fair far worse. The unemployment rate among high-school graduates without a college degree is an enormous 27 percent. Four out every five jobs that met their demise at the hands of the great recession where held by high school graduates. It is also worth mentioning that the average lifetime earning potential of a person holding a bachelor’s degree is approximately $1 million more than a person with only a high school diploma.

So for the person who desires to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, stay the course, it will be worth it in the long run. But what about the high school grad who has no desire whatsoever to attend Flagship U, and even less of a desire to work in a fast food establishment for the remainder of their life. For the person who is looking for an alternative to a four-year degree there is hope.

Here are a couple options:

  • 1. Earn a Certificate in a Particular Discipline
    There are more than 30 million jobs in America that pay at least $35,000 per year without a requisite for a four-year degree. This does not mean that the educational process ends after high school, it simply means that the student takes another route instead of a conventional four-year college. The truth is that most middle-wage jobs — jobs ranging from $35,000 to $75,000 per year —are in fields in which there is an increasing demand, such as information technology, public services, and health care. Although these positions don’t require a bachelor’s degree, they do require a certain level of formal training and preparation.


    The jobs require what is known as a professional certification. Earning a professional certification is an affordable method of increasing earning potential. The increased earning potential that is presented by these professional certifications are nothing to scoff at. Another benefit to taking this route is that is takes less time than earning a bachelor’s degree, preparing the graduate for the workforce much sooner.

  • 2. Earn an Associate’s Degree
    A high-school graduate has the option to earn an Associate’s degree. Like a professional certification, an Associate’s degree can be obtained in less time than earning a bachelor’s degree, usually within two years. Those who hold Associate Degree’s will help meet an increasing demand in today’s workforce. The latest data reveals that employers are planning on hiring one-third more people who have earned associate degrees this year than was hired last year.

Again, the mentioning of these alternatives to earning a four-year degree is not to discount its validity in the slightest. It is simply to offer less expensive methods for an individual to put themselves into play in today’s workforce.

This is a considerable amount of information to inculcate and digest, but it should be considered by anyone that is looking to enhance their resume by furthering their education.