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/
- A Statewide Approach to Service Year—the Virginia Model, A Stronger Nation, the Lumina Foundation, April 18, 2017, https://www.luminafoundation.org/news-and-views/a-statewide-approach-to-service-year-the-virginia-model
- A Stronger Nation, Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/2018/#nation, accessed February 2018
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Overview: The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, http://www.schev.edu/index/statewide-strategic-plan/overview, accessed January 2018
- Release: 2016-17 marks a record for bachelor’s degrees and STEM-H credentials in Virginia, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, January 5, 2017, http://www.schev.edu/index/agency-info/media-center/news-releases/schev-news/2018/01/05/release-2016-17-marks-a-record-for-bachelor-s-degrees-and-stem-h-credentials-in-virginia
- Student Debt Graduates of 2015-16: A First Look, State Council for Higher Education for Virgnia, http://research.schev.edu/apps/info/Articles.Student-Debt-1516-Graduates-A-First-Look.ashx?NS=Articles, accessed February 2018
- The Best Educated State? Virginia Business, http://www.virginiabusiness.com/news/article/the-best-educated-state, accessed January 2018
- The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, Annual Report for 2016 to the General Assembly of Virginia, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, January 2017,http://www.schev.edu/docs/default-source/virginia-plan/Reports-and-Updates/annualreport2016final.pdf
- Virginia Performs, Commonwealth of Virginia, http://vaperforms.virginia.gov/indicators/economy/workforceQuality.php, accessed January 2018
- Virginia's Changing Economy, StatChat, University of Virginia Demographics Research Group, http://statchatva.org/2014/08/01/virginias-changing-economy/
Virginia needs more workers with a college credential. "Of all the jobs created since the Great Recession, 99% of them went to individuals with more than a high school diploma," said Peter Blake, Director of the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). "The Commonwealth needs a well-educated workforce to succeed in the world economy. Virginians need to keep their skills sharp to succeed in work and life... For all these reasons, the Virginia Plan [established by SCHEV in 2015] sets a goal for Virginia to become the best-educated state by 2030."
This drive has already achieved some measure of success: In the 2016-17 school year Virginia's colleges and universities awarded the highest number of bachelor's degrees in their history. Most of these degrees were in STEM-H fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health.
Many of Virginia's two- and four-year colleges and universities offer blended or fully online programs that are aligned to the needs of today's job market. Enrolling in a degree program online allows individuals who want to compete for higher-paying jobs in Virginia to earn an associate, bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree without having to give up a job, family or social obligations.
Why Should I Earn An Online Degree in Virginia?
While 90.9 percent of adults in Virginia had a high school diploma in 2005, today Virginia's fast-growing economy requires more workers with an education beyond high school. Even though a little over 47 percent of its workforce now possesses a college degree, the demand for educated workers in Virginia is expected to grow at a rapid rate.
When compared to neighboring states, Virginia ranks first in the percentage of working-age adults with a degree or credential, according to the Lumina Foundation. Yet the State Council for Higher Education still aims to increase the percentage of Virginians with a degree from the 2015 level of 51 percent to 70 percent by 2030. Findings from Georgetown University indicate that in Virginia by 2020:
- 67 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education
- 30 percent of jobs will require some college, an associate degree or a postsecondary vocational certificate
- 23 percent of jobs will require a bachelor's degree
- 13 percent of jobs will require a master's degree or better
Not only is the job market hungry for those with a postsecondary credential, aspiring degree holders may also find that they have increased access to some important benefits. According to the State Council for Higher Education, people who hold an "associate degree or greater are 38 percent more likely to have employer-sponsored healthcare than those with a high school diploma."
A report from the American Institutes of Research shows that Virginians who hold a bachelor's degree tend to earn on average, 67 percent more than high school graduates (two percent higher than the national average of 65 percent). When compared to those holding an associate degree or having some college experience, earning a bachelor's degree can help you earn about 40 percent more, on average.
Top Online Colleges in Virginia
In order to be considered for our ranking, all Virginia colleges had to first meet five criteria. Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, we then evaluated each school based on factors like graduation rate, percentage of students working after graduation, flexibility, student services and job placement services (Read more about our methodology below.)
Top Online Degree Programs In Virginia
As Virginia continues to grow economically, the job market will reflect its expanding needs. Explore these top online degree programs according to the latest data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. While considering a degree program, it is important to check for accreditation to make sure you are enrolling in a program that meets quality standards of education.
Quality Of Online Education in Virginia
The wide scope of employment opportunities likely to be available to college-educated job applicants is one very good reason to earn an online degree in Virginia. But another great reason is that the degree programs offered by accredited schools in the state are required to meet Virginia's exemplary high standards of quality for postsecondary education.
One of the objectives of the Virginia Plan for Higher Education, introduced in 2015, is to ensure the quality of Virginia's higher education meets student and business expectations. As part of that effort, and also to promote the value of higher education, Virginia has joined a countrywide effort to improve the method of measuring education quality in these core areas:
- Written communication
- Quantitative reasoning
- Critical thinking
Along with the Virginia Board for Workforce Development, the state is working with national partners, education providers, economic developers as well as industrial and business heads to help identify skills needs and align them with degree programs. In collaboration with their partners, Virginia seeks to promote quality education by measuring the relevance of programs to high-demand occupations across the state.
The state also has regional accrediting bodies — all of which require accredited institutions to adhere to acceptable levels of quality. Virginia's regional accrediting bodies include the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Schools and Colleges, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Bonus opportunity: "Virginia is leading the nation's higher education systems through its statewide approach to participation in the innovative Service Year Alliance program. This nationwide program provides students with an opportunity to work in a service year job with a nonprofit organization or in the public sector. According to the Lumina Foundation, "many of Virginia's colleges and universities have implemented strategies to make a service year a part of what it means to participate in higher education." Prospective students should check with their target schools to understand how those schools participate in the SYA program.
What To Look For In Online Degree Programs in Virginia
Virginia students have plenty to choose from when it comes to earning a degree online. From small, community colleges to large, public universities, many schools have chosen to embrace e-learning with open arms and implement multiple online options for their students. Online students can expect to face the same rigorous studies as traditional college students, although the method of delivery is decidedly different. According to online educator and expert Heather E. Henson of the Henson group, the main difference online students will encounter is the mode of communication.
"While some courses will include lecture recordings, much like the student would find in a large lecture style university course, quality online courses will integrate the best of the Internet and social media to facilitate an engaging experience for the student," she says. "The hope is that the best online courses will convey to the student, not that the instructor is the gatekeeper for all the knowledge related to a topic, but that the student already has access to the information, they just need to know where and how to look for it. This sets the groundwork for lifelong learning that will benefit the student in our quickly changing society."
Before students decide to pursue online degrees in Virginia, they should make sure they have the proper support and materials to succeed. Having the necessary technology to participate in online courses is a good place to start, says Henson, yet it is equally important to have the skills to use that technology. Furthermore, it is crucial for students to make sure all of their decisions are informed ones.
"Essentially, the online student has to be their own advocate," she adds. "It is important for a student considering taking an online course or their entire program online to consider the type of experience they want and ask enough questions to make sure that is what they will get."
Top Occupations in Virginia
A wide range of industries in Virginia are doing well. From computer chips, blue crabs, and tobacco to communication technology and tomatoes, Virginia’s diverse employment sectors, ranging from technology and tourism to agriculture, dairy and even wine-making, are an appealing combination of traditional trades and developing ones, giving college graduates a variety of career options to choose from. While manufacturing is still a dominant sector, retail, healthcare, scientific, technical and professional services are growing fast due to a rapidly changing economy which is technology-driven.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||548,320||$37,980|
|Sales and Related Occupations||392,540||$39,660|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||331,100||$23,600|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||265,210||$84,180|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||242,610||$57,790|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||236,710||$37,880|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||208,090||$79,980|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||201,680||$100,830|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||156,390||$44,610|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||156,160||$49,350|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||128,280||$27,170|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||127,030||$27,170|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Virginia
When it comes to college education, affordability is a major concern for many students who want to achieve their higher education goals but just don't have enough financial resources to do so. While the average student debt in Virginia is similar to the national average, in 2015-16, the median student loan debt remained under $30,000 for a bachelor's degree and $15,000 for an associate degree. However, about 38 percent of students earning a bachelor's degree in Virginia graduated without student loan debt; over 55 percent of associate degree holders have no college debt, according to the SCHEV.
Students meeting certain qualifying criteria may find help to fund their online education in Virginia through scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs offered by federal, state, institutional and private financial aid programs. Those pursuing distance learning in Virginia may qualify for a number of different aid programs, including Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. Virginia college students may also apply for one of the many scholarships available in the state. The following list provides a sample of those scholarships, although students should conduct their own research to learn about additional scholarships and grants that may be available:
- Lee-Jackson Educational Foundation Scholarship Program
- Virginia Commonwealth Awards
- VSGA Scholarship Program
- Virginia Teaching Scholarship Loan Program
- Granville P. Meade Scholarship
- Cybersecurity Public Service Scholarship Program
- Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program
Prospective students should also check with any schools they're considering to see if scholarships are available and learn more about how to apply.
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
Most colleges in Virginia require students to show that they are college ready by taking the following tests before they can be enrolled. Almost all students are required to take these tests, particularly if you are applying to a community college:
- Virginia Placement Test (VPT) for Math
- Virginia Placement Test (VPT) for English
Depending on the college and university guidelines, students may have to submit their SAT and/or ACT scores in addition to taking the VPTs for math and English. You may be required to take the English as a Second Language (ESL) Placement Test if English is not your native language. Exams like IB, CLEP, AP or other entry exams may be required depending on the program or institute applied to.