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/
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics,http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/, accessed June 2018
- Grade increase: Tracking distance education in the United States,https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED580852.pdf, accessed June 2018
- Lumina Foundation, A Stronger Nation,http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/2018/#state/WA, accessed June 2018
- Online college students 2018: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc,https://49hk843qjpwu3gfmw73ngy1k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/OCS-2018-Report-FINAL.pdf
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities,http://www.nwccu.org/about-nwccu/, accessed June 2018
- Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce,https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.FR_.Web_.pdf, accessed June 2018
- Washington State Regional Educational Needs Assessment,https://www.wsac.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2017.12.08.regional.education.needs.assessment.pdf, accessed June 2018
- Washington Student Achievement Council, Postsecondary Success Issue Brief, 2015,https://www.wsac.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2015.Postsecondary.Success.Issue.Brief.pdf, accessed June 2018
- Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Guided Pathways,https://www.sbctc.edu/colleges-staff/programs-services/student-success-center/guided-pathways.aspx, accessed June 2018
- Washington State Employment Security Department, 2017, 2017 Employment Projections,https://esdorchardstorage.blob.core.windows.net/esdwa/Default/ESDWAGOV/labor-market-info/Libraries/Industry-reports/Employment-projections/2017%20projections/2017%20Projections%20Report.pdf
- Washington Student Achievement Council, 2016, 2017-19 Strategic Action Plan,https://www.wsac.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2016.12.01.SAP.pdf, accessed June 2018
- Washington Student Achievement Council, 2017, 2017, Transfer Report https://www.wsac.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2017.Transfer.Report.pdf, accessed June 2018
- Washington Student Achievement Council, Benefits of Postsecondary Education and Workforce Needs,https://wsac.wa.gov/roadmap/benefits, accessed June 2018
- Washington Student Achievement Council, Colleges and Institutions in Washington,https://wsac.wa.gov/colleges-and-institutions-washington, accessed June 2018
- Washington Student Achievement Council, State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA),https://www.wsac.wa.gov/sara, accessed June 2018
- Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), State Highlights, Washington,https://www.wiche.edu/state-highlights/washington, accessed June 2018
- Working for Washington,http://careers.wa.gov/livinginwa.html, accessed July 2018
- With more than 42 years as higher-ed leader, Jean Floten deserves Washington's thanks, The Seattle Times, January 24, 2017,https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/with-more-than-42-years-as-higher-ed-leader-jean-floten-deserves-washingtons-thanks/
Washington State has a lot going for it — from urban cities like Seattle and Spokane to farming and coastal communities scattered through the state. Home to scenic parts of the Pacific coast and the rugged Cascade Mountains, the state caters to many tastes. It also has a growing and diverse economy with industries from wineries and tourism to aerospace and technology — presenting residents with potential job opportunities in a wide variety of fields.
If you want to compete for jobs in this growing economy, an online degree program in Washington can offer a convenient way to earn a degree without having to quit your job or give up important responsibilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are currently 56 colleges and universities in Washington where students can earn a bachelor's degree. Furthermore, another 51 Washington schools offer students the opportunity to earn an associate degree; 33 colleges offer advanced degree programs. Many of these Washington colleges offer options for online or hybrid degree programs.
Why Earn an Online Degree in Washington?
Washington's employment projections for 2020-25 show a strong demand for a workforce with postsecondary education. In fact, over 70 percent of all job openings in the state are predicted to require candidates to have some education beyond a high school diploma. According to a joint government agency report, A Skilled and Educated Workforce, 2017 Update, there are gaps in the supply of a skilled workforce in terms of educational attainment at all education levels: middle skills, baccalaureate, and graduate.
Currently, Washington relies heavily on workers trained in other states to meet its employment needs, particularly where higher education qualifications are concerned. This shows the need to produce more highly qualified workers within the state. Even though data from a 2016 report (by Seaman et al.) shows that 87 percent of the students enrolled in online colleges in Washington reside within the state, even more state-based college graduates are needed in order to avoid having to import highly qualified workers from other locations.
The report, Washington State Regional Educational Needs Assessment, states that the following sectors are projected to have the highest growth over the next decade:
- Healthcare and social assistance (20%)
- Construction (17%)
- Professional, scientific, and technical (14%)
- Retail trade (14%)
STEM-driven fields are likely to show the greatest number of employment opportunities in the state over the next decade with the fastest growth in:
- Mathematical science-related occupations (28%)
- Computer-related occupations (16%)
- Social science occupations (10%)
The other good news is that investing in higher education can pay off. Data from the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) shows that employment and wages increase with education levels. For example, Washington residents between the ages of 25 and 44 with a high school diploma (or equivalent) had a median wage of $35,833 with an unemployment rate of 9.5%.Those with a bachelor's degree averaged a median wage of $60,575 and an unemployment rate of 3.9%. The earnings are even higher with a master's degree and unemployment even lower.
Top Online Colleges in Washington State
According to a 2018 Learning House study of online students, some of the salient factors important to online students and their success are career services, including job placement services, interaction with peers, available scholarships and grants, along with a host of other factors. Pooling data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), we took many of those factors into consideration when crafting our methodology so that we can present you with the best online college opportunities in the state.(See the "Methodology & Sources" section at the bottom of the page for more information.)
Top Online Degree Programs in Washington
This data,compiled from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the most popular degree programs is based on the number of student enrollments. And these rankings matter because they can be an indicator of the employment demands in the state — something likely to be important to holders of these degrees.
Use our Degree & Career Match-Up tool to match the degree of your choice to a wide range of online schools across the country. Search by subject or occupation.
Quality of Online Education in Washington
Washington has plenty of measures in place that prioritize high-quality postsecondary education in the state so students can enroll in an online degree program in Washington with confidence.
One such measure is Washington's participation in the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which facilitates resource sharing among the higher education systems of the West. This gives online and traditional students access to expertise and resources that they may not find within their state. The state is also an active member of WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) which was formed in order to integrate the needs of distance learning with higher academic institutions. In fact, the University of Washington's Catalyst program won the WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award for its innovative use of technology in higher education.
The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) oversees various aspects of higher education and planning for the state of Washington. All degree-granting institutions in the state need to be authorized by them. The state is also a part of a nationwide program, State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA),which strives to establish equivalent national standards for regional offerings of postsecondary distance education programs. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) is one of the bodies responsible for accrediting higher education institutions in Washington - something that ensures that schools in the state that meet specific standards of quality.
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in Washington
It is always a good idea to check if the school in which you are interested offers one or more of the following ways that can help you on your way to earning a degree.
Career Advice: Washington's community and technical colleges offer "Guided Pathways"-a resource that provides students with advice around forming clear paths from college programs into careers and higher education options.
Soft Skills:A report on job growth and education requirements by the Georgetown University states that there is a need for an overlap between soft skills and qualifications. Employees who have soft skills like communication, for example,can be highly in demand. Choosing an online program that helps you develop your skills via foundation courses and electives may help you later when you're searching for employment.
Accreditation: It is always best practice to choose an online program that is accredited by either an educational or professional body to make sure you receive education that is recognized for its high standards.
Expert Weighs in on Online Degree Programs in Washington
Online colleges may offer plenty of benefits to their students in the state of Washington. According to Jean Floten, former chancellor of the online university, Western Governor's University Washington, her school and others in the area offer a vast array of online options geared to students who prefer the flexibility that comes with these types of programs.
"Particularly in my home state of Washington, where most university campuses are concentrated in the Puget Sound region and the easternmost portion of the state, the online modality is an excellent option for both place-bound students — those unable to commute to a brick-and-mortar university — and working adults who want to complete a degree," she explains.
In addition, as Floten notes, online education is much easier to customize."A big difference between the online model and that of traditional, brick-and-mortar universities is customization and personalization. Access to far and deep reaching metrics is greater in an online setting," she says. "We have precise data about how quickly a student is progressing, as well as where and when they need support. It's so precise mentors can even tell exactly how long a student spent reading a certain section of a text."
Top Occupations in Washington
According to the Washington State Employment Security Department by 2025, the top two major occupational groups in terms of overall percentage share of employment were found to be in office and administrative support occupations (12.24 percent) and sales and related occupations (9.17 percent). The following table, with data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows some of the top occupations in the state of Washington.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||440,310||$41,930|
|Sales and Related Occupations||301,700||$44,520|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||290,270||$30,080|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||229,460||$42,870|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||203,780||$79,090|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||183,490||$55,410|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||163,410||$88,670|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||157,400||$107,020|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||152,150||$58,450|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||123,380||$53,820|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||118,650||$32,540|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||89,480||$33,200|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in Washington
A big concern for higher education students is the cost of attending college, according to a report on postsecondary success by WSAC in 2015. With numerous resources for eligible students, the report goes on to say that "Washington maintains one of the best systems of student financial aid in the nation."
An easy way to determine whether you might qualify for financial aid is to fill out a FreeApplication for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. Types of federal aid can include:
- Pell Grants
- Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
You can learn more by visiting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid website.
WSAC offers a number of resources for students looking for financial aid. It also administers the majority of Washington's financial aid programs. The different types of resources can be divided into the following categories:
- State Need Grant
- College Bound Scholarship
- State Work Study
- Passport to College Program for Foster Youth
- Health Professional Loan Repayment & Scholarship Programs
- Aerospace Loan Program
- Alternative Routes to Teaching
- Teacher Shortage Conditional Grant
Additionally, you may qualify for scholarships or grants from your institution or a private organization. Many professional bodies give grants to deserving students who want to pursue higher educational degrees in specific fields. Some state-specific grants you may be eligible for in Washington are:
- Seattle Foundation Student Scholarships
- UW Nikkei Alumni Association Scholarship
- Pickett Law Firm Scholarship
- The Ajia Matthews Educational Scholarship
- The Benjamin Franklin Scholarship
This list provides additional information on scholarships and grants available to eligible Washington students.
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.
Tests You May Need to Take and Other Minimum Requirements
Online colleges in Washington set their own standards for eligibility of candidates. While a high school diploma (or equivalent) is typically required, a college or university may require you to fulfill further criteria before they consider you for enrollment. If you do not have a high school diploma, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges can help you finish it or gain a GED. There are three main criteria to meet minimum college admission standards in Washington:
- Maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher
- Take the SAT or ACT
- Complete the college academic distribution requirements (CADR)
Each school district determines which of its programs meet CADR requirements. You may be able to meet these through comparable college programs as well. You may also be able to use your transfer credits from an associate program toward the requirements for a bachelor's degree program.
Criteria can vary from college to college so it is best to check individual school websites before applying.