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/
- Colleges and Universities, accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania Department of Education, http://www.education.pa.gov/Postsecondary-Adult/College%20and%20Career%20Education/Pages/College-and-Universities.aspx
- Distance Education, accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania Department of Education, http://www.education.pa.gov/Postsecondary-Adult/College%20and%20Career%20Education/Pages/State-Authority-of-Distance-Education.aspx
- Funding Opportunities, accessed April 2018, Philadelphia Higher Education Funding Agency, https://www.pheaa.org/funding-opportunities/index.shtml
- Governor Wolf to Reaffirm Commitment to Public Education, Skills Training in 2018-19 Budget, February 2, 2018, Pennsylvania Government, https://www.governor.pa.gov/governor-wolf-reaffirm-commitment-public-education-skills-training-2018-19-budget/
- National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, accessed April 2018, http://nc-sara.org/
- Pennsylvania Department of Education, accessed April 2018, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, http://sheeo.org/sheeo_surveys/user/68
- Pennsylvania’s Economic Outlook: June 2017, June 28, 2017, Wells Fargo Securities Economics Group, https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/assets/pdf/commercial/insights/economics/regional-reports/pa-economic-outlook-20170628.pdf
- Pennsylvania’s Workforce Characteristics Report, accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, http://www.passhe.edu/inside/bog/Workforce%20Gap%20Analysis/Pennsylvania%20WCR%20Briefing%20Paper.pdf
- Placement Testing, accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, http://www.pennhighlands.edu/admissions/admissions/placement-testing/
- Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020 State Report, accessed April 2018, Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce, https://cew-7632.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/StateProjections_6.1.15_agc_v2.pdf
- State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania Department of Education, http://www.education.pa.gov/Postsecondary-Adult/College%20and%20Career%20Education/Pages/State-Authorization-Reciprocity-Agreement-(SARA).aspx
- Strategic Plan 2020: Rising to the Challenge, accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, http://www.passhe.edu/inside/bog/Documents/Strategic%20Plan%202020%20Rising%20to%20the%20Challenge_dh.pdf
- State grant funding available to Penn State students taking online courses, February 16, 2018, Pennsylvania State University, http://news.psu.edu/story/505854/2018/02/16/academics/state-grant-funding-available-penn-state-students-taking-online
- Taking Required Tests, accessed April, 2018, Federal Student Aid, https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/prepare-for-college/tests
- Temple Option FAQ, accessed April 2018, Temple University, https://admissions.temple.edu/node/441#overlay-context=node/441
- The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, accessed April 2018, U.S. Department of Education, https://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/agencies.aspx
- The State System: About Us, accessed April 2018, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, http://www.passhe.edu/inside/Pages/About.aspx
Pennsylvania’s high school graduates and professionals can expect more jobs to open up in the coming years as high-skilled sectors like health and education services are set to grow, according to a study on Pennsylvania’s economic outlook by Wells Fargo. Earning a college credential at this opportune time could put you in the candidacy for higher-paying jobs in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is home to well-known colleges like the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State University. Many of the state’s colleges and universities – including private institutions – offer online degree programs that may be a convenient option for those who want to pursue a college degree while maintaining a work-study-life balance.
Why Earn an Online Degree in Pennsylvania?
In the next few years, Pennsylvania is likely to require more workers with postsecondary education to fill in-demand jobs. A 2013 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce showed that by 2020, in Pennsylvania, 63 percent of jobs in the state arelikely require a postsecondary credential.Further,
- 29 percent of jobs will need an associate degree, or a postsecondary vocational certificate
- 22 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree
- 11 percent of jobs will need a master’s degree or higher
The Georgetown University study also showed that more than one-third of the projected 2,154,000 job openings in Pennsylvania through 2020 likely require a bachelor’s degree or higher.
According to the 2016 Workforce Characteristics Report, Pennsylvania has 347,000 business establishments, and an estimated 536, 213 jobs will likely be added through 2024 as a result of industry growth
The report also showed significant growth in Pennsylvania’s service-based sectors such as information technology, financial services, education and healthcare, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality. Most of these sectors can be aligned to occupations that require a postsecondary education
Top Online Colleges in Pennsylvania
We used a methodology that has considered factors that are most likely to be important to prospective online students. This includes accreditation, enrollment numbers in online education, graduation rates, financial aid options and whether the college offers placement services. Those seeking to earn their degree online may find this list of online colleges and universities to be some of the best choices for achieving academic and career goals.
Top Online Degree Programs in Penn State
When choosing an online degree program, you may want to know which online programs are the most popular – and could be the most marketable – ones in the state.Using data obtained from the NCES, this list of the top online degree programs in Pennsylvania may serve as an indication of the state’s need for more graduates holding degrees in these fields
Quality of Online Education in Pennsylvania
Recognizing that Pennsylvania’s economic growth is connected to a more-educated workforce, Governor Tom Wolf has been focusing on initiatives to boost higher education quality and outcomes. Expressing his commitment, he said, “As a business owner, I know that companies only want to locate and grow in a state that has strong schools and makes the commitment to ensuring our workforce has 21st century skills.” In order to achieve this, the state government has prioritized maintaining a sizeable budget toward funding institutional support and financial aid grants with an aim to make quality postsecondary education affordable for all students.
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), which is the largest provider of online education in the Commonwealth, has adopted a performance-based model for funding its educational institutes. Since this model was initiated in 2000, PASSHE colleges have seen:
- Gains in student retention
- Increase in graduation rates
- Improvement in program quality
Recognizing the needs of future employers for a workforce that has a broad skill set, the higher education system in the state of Pennsylvania seeks to include educational experiences for all students across degree course content that include:
- Building knowledge and judgment
- Learning how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own
- Instilling a commitment to communities
- Broadening their worldview by learning about societies and cultures from outside the United States
Another way Pennsylvania aims to serve students is through its membership of the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), an organization that establishes national standards for distance education across the country. Enrolling in a SARA-approved college can assure you of a quality online education. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Education requires all out-of-state distance education providers be accredited by an agency that has been approved by the United States Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Students may want to look fornationally or regionally accredited colleges or programs. Some accrediting bodies include:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
- Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
- Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS)
Expanding Online Education Opportunities in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), initiated in 1983, has outlined strategic goals for 2020 to ensure that college students, both online and on campus, have a good chance at succeeding in achieving their academic and career goals. Some of the expected outcomes by 2020 include:
- Increase in the number of programs and courses available to distance learners
- Increase in the number of online and blended courses to 53,000
- Increase in the number of degrees and certificates awarded each year to at least 31,500, and the number of STEM and health-related degrees to 7,500
- Increase in the number of adult learners over the age of 25 to at least 11,000, and Pennsylvania community college transfer students to at least 4,000
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in Pennsylvania
Students who are able to take advantage of online education in Pennsylvania can find themselves in a particularly powerful position when it comes to the management of their own time, says Dr. Scott Hammond, an online educator that works for Utah State University, an institution that offers online education in Pennsylvania. That's because students can spend less time dealing with the logistics of their learning experience and use it to learn something instead.
"You don't need to circle campus looking for a parking place, or run through crowded halls," says Hammond. "You don't need to find a front row seat, because online, all rows are front rows."
However, as Hammond points out, that shouldn't be the main reason students choose an online degree program, nor will it work for everyone. Each student has his or her own needs and learning style to take into consideration and online learning is certainly not "one size fits all."
"Students should NOT pick online degree programs for convenience," Hammond warns. "Learning style is very important, and if social interaction stimulates your learning then online might not work for you."
It is important to also consider availability of quality student support services, according to Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). “Don’t go in with the expectation that you’re supposed to get less than because its online,” Eaton said
Those who seek out distance learning in Pennsylvania can access a whole host of resources via PA Universities Online. PA Universities Online connects you to academic programs and individual courses offered by the 14 state universities that make up the state's higher education system.
The Pennsylvania Career Guide is designed to help prospective students and job seekers evaluate their career options. Higher Priority Occupations lists occupations that have higher skills needs and can give prospective students a realistic picture of Pennsylvania's actual workforce needs.
Top Occupations in Pennsylvania
Working toward earning a college degree is a significant investment of time and money. This list of the fastest-growing occupations in Pennsylvania can give you an idea of jobs that are in demand, their projections through 2026 and average salaries
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||940,270||$37,220|
|Sales and Related Occupations||553,440||$41,000|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||501,670||$23,380|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||451,170||$36,250|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||397,810||$75,210|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||341,440||$58,430|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||279,180||$73,290|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||248,200||$25,710|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||232,020||$46,960|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||217,180||$50,840|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||182,260||$31,380|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||170,530||$28,530|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Pennsylvania
Since 1963, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) has been offering grants, loans and work-study opportunities to qualifying students to help pay for college education. The Pennsylvania State Grant Program, a need-based financial aid program funded through the PHEAA, is approved to include distance education students. To meet the eligibility requirements for this program, students must be Pennsylvania residents, enroll in a minimum of six credits in a degree program, and fulfill other state grant stipulations.
Otherstate-specific financial aid options include:
- Blind or Deaf Higher Education Beneficiary Program
- Partnerships for Access to Higher Education (PATH) Program
- Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant Program
- Ready to Succeed Scholarship (RTSS) Program
Several private institutions also offer need-based and merit-based scholarships to students. Below is a list of grants and scholarships offered by business organizations to students pursuing higher education in Pennsylvania:
- Kid’s Chance of Pennsylvania Scholarships
- Greater Pittsburgh Golf Course Superintendents Association Scholarship
- The Nightingale Awards of Pennsylvania Scholarship
- Pennsylvania Society of Tax & Accounting Professionals Scholarship
It is important to spend time looking at all the financial aid options and eligibility criteria before beginning the application process. Please check with your prospective school’s financial aid office for more information
Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
Tests You May Need to Take
Earning a spot at a college in Pennsylvania may require you to take one or more standardized tests. While SATs and ACTs are the most common ones, some schools may also accept the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP).
Some prospective students may additionally need to share TOEFL/IELTS scores to determine English language efficiency. And some institutions use the ACCUPLACER test to determine a prospective student’s strength and knowledge in math, reading, and writing.
Some Pennsylvania colleges may not require SAT/ACT scores, and some institutions may design their own in-campus placement tests to help determine a student’s eligibility for their degree programs. Pennsylvania’s Temple University has a “Temple Option” that students can choose to take instead of SAT/ACT tests. This option offers short, introspective, and open-ended questions for eligible freshman candidates seeking admission to the university’s degree programs.