To be included in our ranking of the best colleges for online degree programs, all colleges had to meet the following five criteria:
- Be an accredited U.S. institution
- Offer either 2- or 4-year degree programs
- Have at least 1 percent of students taking at least some of their classes via distance education
- Be active in the 2015-16 school year
- Report data for all 15 specific ranking variables included in our methodology
We then ranked the remaining 2,169 colleges and universities and scored each on a 100-point scale on these specific. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average amount of federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Full-time Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Open admissions policy for all or most entering first-time undergraduate-level students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Offers credit for military training
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- 2017-18 Tuition and Fees at Public Four-Year Institutions by State and Five-Year Percentage Change in In-State Tuition and Fees, accessed March 28, 2018, The College Board, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/2017-18-state-tuition-and-fees-public-four-year-institutions-state-and-five-year-percentage
- Access to Better Learning and Education Grant Program, 2017-2018, Florida Dept. of Education Office of Student Financial Assistance, http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFAD/factsheets/ABLE.pdf
- Admission Requirements, accessed March 29, 2018, Florida College, https://www.floridacollege.edu/admissions/application-process/admissions-requirements/
- Articulation Agreement Between the Division of Florida Colleges and Western Governors University, March 12, 2010, http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5421/urlt/0078478-westerngovernorsag.pdf
- A Preeminent Florida University, accessed March 28, 2018, Florida State University, https://preeminence.fsu.edu/
- A Stronger Nation, accessed March 28, 2018, Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/2018/#state/FL
- Business Florida: Your 2018 Florida Opportunity Guide, accessed April 20, 2018, Florida Trend magazine, http://www.floridatrend.com/business-florida#Industries
- College Navigator: Florida, accessed March 28, 2018, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=FL
- Commentary: Florida's push for online courses benefits all, including STEM students, by Ned Lautenbach, April 3, 2018, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-state-push-for-online-learning-benefits-all-stem-too-20180403-story.html
- Common Placement Testing, accessed March 29, 2018, Florida Department of Education, http://www.fldoe.org/schools/higher-ed/fl-college-system/common-placement-testing.stml
- Complete Florida, accessed March 29, 2018, https://www.completeflorida.org/how-it-works
- First Generation Matching Grant Program, 2017-2018, Florida Dept. of Education Office of Student Financial Assistance, http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFAD/factsheets/FGMG.pdf
- Florida Jobs by Occupation, 2017-2025 Employment Projections, accessed April 10, 2018, http://www.floridajobs.org/labor-market-information/data-center/statistical-programs/employment-projections
- Florida embraces online higher education, even as political divisions run deep, by Jessica Bakeman, 4/3/2017, Politico.com, https://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2017/04/florida-embraces-online-higher-education-even-as-political-divisions-run-deep-110900
- FloridaShines, accessed March 28, 2018, published by Florida Virtual Campus, https://www.floridashines.org/
- Florida projected to have $1 trillion economy in 2018, by Richard Danielson, Jan. 9, 2018, http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/Florida-projected-to-have-1-trillion-economy-in-2018_164348454
- Florida's February Employment Figures Released, March 23, 2018, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Labor Market Statistics, http://www.floridajobs.org/labor-market-information/data-center/statistical-programs/employment-projections
- Florida Jobs 2030, accessed March 29, 2018, Florida Chamber of Commerce, http://www.flchamber.com/research/research-programs/florida-jobs-2030/
- Front of the Graduation Line, Data Snapshot, The Florida College System, March 20, 2017, https://www.floridacollegesystem.com/sites/www/Uploads/Publications/DataSnapshots/DataSnapshot_NationalGradRate%20032017%20FINAL.pdf
- How to Find a College That Fits You, accessed March 29, 2018, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/find-colleges/how-to-find-your-college-fit/how-to-find-a-college-that-fits-you
- Higher Education for All, Data Snapshot, The Florida College System, January 18, 2017, https://www.floridacollegesystem.com/sites/www/Uploads/Publications/DataSnapshots/DataSnapshot%20Student%20Age%20Range%20FINAL6.pdf
- Joes Marti Scholarship Challenge Grant Fund, 2017-2018, Florida Dept. of Education Office of Student Financial Assistance, http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFAD/factsheets/JoseMarti.pdf
- Online Education: State University System of Florida Annual Report 2016, published March 30, 2017 by the State University System of Florida Board of Governors, http://www.flbog.edu/board/office/online/_doc/online_annual/Online_Annual_2016.pdf
- Planning for a Higher Education: Parent and Student Guide, accessed March 29, 2018, Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, https://fasfaa.memberclicks.net/assets/documents/be%20cool%20go%20to%20school%202013.pdf
- Savings Plan Guide, Florida Prepaid College Savings Plans, Florida Prepaid College Board, accessed April 10, 2018, https://www.myfloridaprepaid.com/wp-content/uploads/Savings-Plan-Guide.pdf
- Skilled workers wanted, but costly in South Florida, by Marcia Heroux Pounds, April 18, 2017, Sun Sentinel, http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-skills-gap-broward-20170414-story.html
- Step Into Your Future!, Bright Futures Scholarshipbrochure, accessed March 29, 2018, Florida Office of Student Financial Assistance, http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFAD/PDF/bf_brochure.pdf
- Unemployment continues decline in January; Broward construction job growth outpaces state, by Marcia Heroux Pounds, March 12, 2018, Sun Sentinel, http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-bz-unemployment-january-20180309-story.html
- University of Florida Office of Admissions, accessed March 29, 2018, University of Florida, http://www.admissions.ufl.edu/
- What Seniors Want to Know About Financial Aid and Going to College? brochure, accessed March 29, 2018, Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, https://fasfaa.memberclicks.net/assets/documents/FasfaaSeniors.pdf
- William L. Boyd, IV, Florida Resident Access Grant Program, 2017-2018, Florida Dept. of Education Office of Student Financial Assistance, http://www.floridastudentfinancialaid.org/SSFAD/factsheets/FRAG.pdf
The Florida Chamber of Commerce says that 64 percent of Florida jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by the year 2021. Fortunately, the Sunshine State is a shining light when it comes to online offerings in higher education. According to Florida's State University System (SUS) Board of Governors, the state ranks second in the nation for its number of students enrolled in distance-learning courses. In fact, a full 61 percent of SUS higher education students took at least one distance-learning course in 2015-16.
Students considering joining the ranks of Florida degree-holders may find plenty of opportunities here, both through traditional or online programs. The state is home to more than 400 institutions of higher learning, with five schools exclusively devoted to online education. And according to its 2017 Data Snapshot, the Florida College System (FCS) leads the nation in its percentage of students graduating from college.
The number of students earning online degrees in Florida is increasing, according to the State University System of Florida's Annual Report. The majority of these students are working adults 25 and older, and a slightly higher number of them are women.
If you're interested in online education in Florida, you're in luck; the state boasts many aggressive initiatives that aim to bring online learning to more Florida students than ever before.
Why Earn an Online Degree in Florida
According to The College Board, Florida had the second-lowest costs for tuition and fees in the nation in 2017-18. And, the state's rate of higher education attainment has increased more than 10 percentage points since 2008, likely the result of a push - by Gov. Rick Scott and other lawmakers — to make higher education an accessible, affordable reality for its residents. Plus, replacing classroom-based courses with online courses actually speeds the time to graduation, according to Ned Lautenbach, chair of the Board of Governors, State University System of Florida.
In a state where the Florida Prepaid College Board says the majority of residents live within 50 miles of a postsecondary educational institution, 35 percent of its new jobs require at least some college or postsecondary training, and 21 percent require bachelor's degrees. The greatest job growth during the 2017-2025 period is projected to occur in the following occupations, according to the labor market data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. All of these require some level of postsecondary education or training:
- Managerial and professional occupations
- Health care occupations
- Interpreters and translators
- Community health workers
- Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) positions
- Education occupations (particularly postsecondary teachers in STEM specialties)
Some of the industries driving economic growth, according to Florida Trend magazine, are:
- Aerospace and aviation: It's the No. 1 state for aviation repair and overhaul businesses and No. 2 in aviation and aerospace businesses.
- Defense and homeland security: Florida is home to more than 20 major military installations and the second-largest space and defense systems manufacturing industry in the U.S.
- Information Technology: There are more than 27,000 IT firms in the state.
- Life sciences: The state is a hub for biomedical research, pharmaceutical and medical device companies.
- Logistics and distribution: $160 billion in goods flow through Florida ports each year, and it's the top hub for air cargo distribution to Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Corporate headquarters: Sixteen Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here.
- Finance and professional services: The Sunshine State is home to the third-largest insurance industry in the U.S. and the fourth-largest financial services industry.
- Manufacturing: The state hosts 19,000 manufacturing companies.
- Clean technology: Florida is the top state for annual biomass production and is home to more than 11,000 clean tech companies.
Florida's economy is projected to reach the $1 trillion mark in 2018, and the Sun-Sentinel reports that job growth in the state exceeds the national average. But at this pace, there aren't enough skilled workers in the state to meet demand. In fact, many IT employers report a shortage of workers needed who possess bachelor's degrees.
Top Online Colleges in Florida
Whether you're considering enrolling for an online degree as a freshman, want to transfer to a new program, plan to return to school to finish your degree or want to further your career by earning a graduate degree, you'll want to look ata number of factors to determine which online degree programs in Florida are the right fit for your needs. Our methodology evaluates Florida schools offering two- and four-year degrees, considering such important factors as the number of students enrolled in distance education, graduation rate, availability of career counseling and placement services and more. Based on this criteria, here's our list of the top 10 Florida colleges that offer online degree programs.
Top Online Degree Programs in Florida
As part of your selection process, you'll want to consider what online programs are most popular and available to you in Florida. Generally, programs are developed in alignment with the state's job market, in order to best fill demand for those occupations. Using data collected from the National Center for Education Statistics, we've created the following list of the 10 top online degree programs in Florida.
Quality of Online Education in Florida
Few states have made the commitment to expanding online education as Florida has. In fact, the State University System has a goal of delivering 40 percent of its undergraduate credit hours online by 2025. Florida's Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC) has listed college completion and degree attainment as its number one priority area.
But it's not just about quantity: The SUS is committed to quality, too. The Board of Governors' 2025 Strategic Plan includes goals and strategies to ensure that online programs are of comparable quality to traditional classroom counterparts. And the SUS is developing recommendations to ensure a healthy array of offerings of online-accessible STEM labs and consistency in online STEM programs.
You'll find such impressive institutions as University of Florida, where research dollars are invested at five times the national average, and which has facilities in all 67 Florida counties working together.
There's the University of Miami, where the commitment to ensuring student support and satisfaction has led to a 91 percent freshman retention rate. And there's Florida State University, designated a Preeminent University by the State of Florida, due to its impressive investments and involvement in important research activities. And that's just the start of what's available to prospective students.
Helpful Resources for Prospective Online Students
Students can appreciate the state's dedication to supporting online students. One of its most valuable resources is FloridaShines, which stands for "Florida's Student Hub of Innovative Educational Services." The site works with the state's 40 public colleges and universities as well as other partners to help online students succeed in school and beyond. While in school, you can use the site to check your progress, register for online courses, search across the state's libraries, plan a path of study, gather information about transferring schools and more. The site also offers powerful resources in the area of career planning.
Another great resource is Complete Florida, a website created to help the state's more than 2.8 million adults who have earned some college credit to complete certificates, associate degrees or bachelor degrees. This resource aims to help shepherd students through the process of applying for programs, navigating tricky paperwork, selecting the right program, applying for financial aid and finding coaching to help you through school.
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in Florida
When choosing an online college, students should conduct the same in-depth research they would for any other institution.
"Completing a bachelor's or master's degree is an investment that can provide returns for the rest of your working life, so take the time to choose the one that's right for you, and that requires doing some homework," says Patrick Partridge, who handles marketing and enrollment for Western Governors University, a Utah-based provider of online education in Florida and a partner of the Florida College System to aid FCS graduates with two-year degrees in completing their bachelor's degrees.
Of course, the first thing to consider is whether the program or subject area you want to study is even offered. Beyond that, The College Board suggests you weigh a few other criteria:
- Size: Is having a lot of one-on-one time with your professors important to you? If so, you might lean toward a program with a very small student-to-teacher ratio.
- Location: Even though you're planning to do your studies online, location can be a factor because some programs require you to make appearances on campus for exams or meetings. Plus, many schools work with the surrounding community to place students in internships or to complete projects.
- Makeup of student body: You may want a program in which more students are in similar situations to yours — whether that means being fresh out of high school, older and returning to school after a long time away or a career-level professional earning a graduate degree.
- Availability of extracurricular activities and support: Online students usually have access to the same on-campus activities and support services as traditional students. Which ones appeal to you?
Of course, there's also one non-negotiable factor to look for: accreditation.
"It's important to find a school that's accredited and one that is respected and legitimate in the eyes of hiring managers and other institutions," Partridge adds. "Call enrollment offices, ask for the experiences of students and alumni on schools' Facebook pages and read objective news coverage about the university you're looking into. Also, realize that higher cost does not always mean higher quality. For example, competency-based education programs, such as those offered at WGU, rewards students for knowledge and skills they already possessed — helping them save both time and money."
The bottom line is that outstanding accessibility, robust variety in online course and degree offerings and a high degree of student support combine to make enrolling in one of the many online degree programs in Florida a smart choice.
Top Occupations in Florida
State leaders are committed to growing the industry clusters of aviation/aerospace, finance/professional services, health care and life sciences, manufacturing and logistics and distribution. These clusters align with the industries growing the most jobs in the state, according to data from the State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Following are the jobs seeing the most growth in the Sunshine State, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||1,432,350||$34,860|
|Sales and Related Occupations||1,067,960||$38,010|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||921,580||$25,400|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||525,490||$35,130|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||523,070||$75,140|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||445,980||$68,610|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||420,230||$48,890|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||376,890||$39,810|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||354,920||$42,370|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||325,860||$25,750|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||250,050||$30,570|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Florida
Of course, once you've decided what career path to follow and which program interests you, one big question must be addressed: Can you afford it? Whether you opt for a campus-based state school, private institution, community college or online education in Florida, higher education can be expensive. Fortunately, financial aid may be available to help students pay the tuition, fees, room and board and other costs that come with going to college.
Florida can be very generous with financial assistance, provided you meet specific requirements. According to FloridaShines, students who are residents of Florida pay significantly less to attend state colleges and universities than students from other states.
There also are numerous scholarship options available to students in Florida. Of course, federal programs, such as Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, may be accessed by first submitting your Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Plus, many scholarship and grant programs are administered by the Florida Department of Education. There are also options through local, regional and private organizations or companies. In most cases, these scholarships and grants apply both to the traditional college experience and online programs.
Among the many scholarship and grant programs offered by the state to Florida students are the following:
- Access to Better Learning and Education Grant Program: can provide tuition assistance to Florida undergraduates enrolled in degree programs at eligible private colleges in Florida
- First Generation Matching Grant Program: a need-based grant for Florida students seeking degrees who are the first in their families to attend college
- William L. Boyd, IV, Florida Resident Access Grant Program: a tuition-assistance program for Florida undergrads attending eligible, nonprofit colleges or universities in the state
- The Benacquisto Scholarship for National Merit Scholar graduates: a scholarship for high school National Merit Scholars from Florida high schools
- Jose Marti Scholarship Challenge Grant Fund: a need-based merit scholarship for eligible Hispanic students at Florida colleges
- Bright Futures Scholarship: a lottery-funded scholarship to reward Florida high school graduates with high academic achievement
Additionally, many individual schools and programs offer scholarship and grant opportunities to incoming students. Contact prospective schools' financial aid representatives to learn more about what options you might have.
Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-19 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
Test You May Need to Take
Florida's customized common placement test is the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test, or PERT. This test aligns with what Florida postsecondary faculty have deemed necessary for success in entry-level college courses, and it helps determine a student's skills and abilities in math, reading and writing in order to be accurately placed in college courses.
Additionally, most Florida colleges accept the standard ACT or SAT test scores as part of their applications. These multiple-choice standardized tests provide prospective colleges with comprehensive information about how much students have learned in high school, primarily in the areas of reading, writing and math. Each school has its own requirements in terms of the minimum scores it accepts from applicants. It often is beneficial for students to take these tests multiple times, since schools usually take the best scores under consideration. Some schools may require both exams, while others, such as University of Florida, only require one but have no preference as to which test score students submit.
Depending on the school or your background, you may need to take additional tests, such as:
- Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) test, which enable students who have taken advanced-level courses in high school to test out of those courses in college
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP), which covers material taught in introductory-level courses at other colleges or universities (in the case of transferring to a new college)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to ensure students have achieved a certain level of fluency in English.
Finally, if you are transferring from another institution, you may need to take that school's placement tests to determine what content you may get credit for (for example, intro-level math and writing courses) and whether you can move on to higher-level content.