Our higher education experts have ranked the best online community colleges and trade schools in the country. Read on to compare schools based on academic quality, convenience, and cost. Find your way today.
Technology and the Internet have made higher education more accessible than ever, and more colleges and universities are offering digital learning. According to the Babson Survey Research Group, 70% of education leaders say online learning will be a critical factor in the long-term growth of their institutions.
An online associate degree is a great starting point for your college journey, even if your ultimate goal is to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Generally much more affordable than the typical four-year school, these programs also offer the flexibility you need to take classes and complete assignments on your own schedule.
With credit agreements, quality teaching, and the efficiency of online learning, it’s no wonder it’s become such an attractive option for students across the country and around the world.
Is it Cheaper to Attend an Online Community College or Trade School than a Traditional University?
Attending an accredited online adult education center or trade school offers a number of benefits, especially when it comes to cost savings. Although online programs typically charge the same tuition as their on-campus counterparts, they also offer flexibility and freedom that can save you big as you work toward your degree.
Because you can take your classes from anywhere with an internet connection, you can save money in the form of reduced childcare and transportation costs, as well as reduced tuition fees.
The total amount you spend on your online associate degree will depend on many different factors, including the type of degree you want, the field of study you choose, and the career path you want. These factors may also affect the time it takes to complete your course requirements, especially if your program includes an internship or internship.
The cost of earning an online business school certificate is typically tens of thousands of dollars less than a four-year college degree. Some programs can be completed in as little as one year, compared to four or five years for a bachelor’s degree. However, earning an associate’s degree online remains the most affordable community college option.
If you need help paying for community college courses or online business courses, financial aid is available just like it is for schools and on-campus programs. As long as your school is accredited, you may be eligible for assistance based on your financial need.
Associate Degree Graduate Salary
Earning an associate degree online is an investment that can be extremely profitable in the short and long term. With a diploma, you qualify for many jobs that aren’t possible with just a high school diploma. A study of College Scorecards found that college graduates typically earn $1 million more over their lifetime than high school graduates.
If you want to earn more money and get better career opportunities, exploring different affiliate titles online is an important first step.
Online Trade Schools, Technical Colleges, and Vocational Colleges
Trade schools, like community colleges, generally offer students the opportunity to earn a degree in two years or less for relatively low tuition. However, trade schools are somewhat different from colleges in that they provide more specific training for specific jobs or industries. Community colleges, on the other hand, tend to offer more general degrees.
These schools offer focused studies in a variety of professions, such as: B. Auto repair, plumbing and cosmetics. They are usually endorsed or approved by the government, and your credits are usually transferred to other accredited institutions. Upon completion of these programs, students typically receive certificates rather than degrees.
These two-year colleges are similar to trade schools in that they train students for specific careers. However, graduates often receive associate degrees instead of certificates as a result of their coursework. Technology-related courses such as computer science are common fields of study.
The term “vocational school” is usually associated with for-profit schools that are not accredited and therefore not recognized by most accredited 2- or 4-year institutions. These programs focus on specific careers, and students often complete them in nine months to a year.
How to Choose an Online Community College or Trade School
Choose Your Career Path and Specialization
Before you search online for community college or trade school programs, think about your long-term career goals and the careers that interest you most. Your desired career path will influence your choice of major and ensure you are working towards a degree that will take you into a specific field.
If your potential career requires a bachelor’s degree, choose an online community college program that allows you to later transfer your credits to a four-year program. If you are interested in a specific job, the vocational school offers an alternative training course with direct entry into the profession.
Think about your long-term career goals and the jobs that interest you most. Also, keep in mind that some schools don’t offer all types of majors, so you should avoid enrolling in a university where you can’t pursue the career you want.
If you decide to pursue an online business certificate or associate’s degree, be aware of the limitations of being certified in a trade. While trading programs generally take less time to complete, associates programs provide you with a variety of skills that are not necessarily tied to a specific job.
Finally, consider your local economy and the industries and employers that perform better in your state. Choosing a career in a high-demand field can help you land a job after you graduate.
Know the Facts
Once you have decided on a career path and major, take the time to research possible associate degree programs online. Check if each program meets your needs, and if not, remove it from your list of potential schools. Below are some key factors to consider when doing this research:
If your budget is tight (and most students are), even a small variation in tuition and fees can make a big difference. Make sure you know how much each school costs per semester or per credit, and research any academic and technology fees you may need to cover.
At some point, you may want to transfer to another college, especially if you want to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Try to find schools that have transfer agreements with other institutions. You want to transfer as many credits as possible.
School Size and Type
Think about the type of academic experience you would like. If you prefer smaller class sizes, look for schools that highlight their low teacher-student ratio. Also consider whether you prefer a public or private university. Public schools may be less expensive, but private schools generally offer more individualized instruction.
Duration of the Program
How long does it take to complete your program if you attend full time or part time? See if you can find a planning guide for each program and figure out how many credits you need each semester to graduate in a given time frame.
Requirements on Campus
Some online association degree programs require students to attend classes or seminars on campus regularly. If you live close to campus, this might not be a problem. However, if you live far away, it can be extremely difficult to meet campus requirements, especially if you have children, a full-time job, or other personal commitments.
Accreditation for Online Community Colleges
One of the most important factors when choosing an online community college is the school’s accreditation status. All renowned colleges and universities are accredited at the regional or national level. Regional accreditation is considered the more prestigious of the two, and there are six regional bodies for institutions across the country.
Many online-only schools are nationally accredited. These institutions always offer quality programs and usually have the added benefit of lower tuition fees. Some programs within schools can also be independently accredited.
The non-profit Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the US Department of Education, a federal agency, oversee accrediting agencies. Both organizations maintain strict standards regarding the processes used by accrediting agencies when reviewing schools and programs across the country.
This consistency is important because it ensures that accrediting bodies use standardized and fair procedures when accrediting schools. As a result, students can be confident that their programs will provide them with a quality educational experience.
Community Colleges and Online Trade Schools by State
One of the benefits of many online community colleges is that you can attend school in any state. It can open up possibilities for you that you may not have considered and give you an excuse to embark on a new adventure. On the contrary, there are so many great options that you are likely to find a school that meets your needs close to where you already live.
What Associate Degrees Can I Get Online?
If you are looking to earn an associate degree online, you need to understand that there are different types of these degrees. The option you choose can have a long-term impact on your college career, affecting the majors available and the four-year programs you can transfer to. It could even affect the careers available to you after graduation. Take the time to understand the types of associate degrees and find the right one for you.
Associate of Arts (AA)
These programs typically focus on general education courses rather than a specific career or specialization. This enables you to prepare well for the subsequent transition to a Bachelor of Arts course. Classes typically include English, math, social studies, and laboratory science.
Associate Researcher (AS)
This two-year degree may be a good option if you plan to enroll in a bachelor of science in the future. In most cases, an associate degree provides a solid academic foundation rather than specific professional training. Some AS programs offer concentrations in majors such as health sciences, physics, computer science, and biology.
Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
These programs typically focus on preparing students to enter specific career fields after graduation. You may be required to take some general education courses, but most courses are focused on your chosen specialization. Examples of AAS programs include hospitality management, healthcare systems technology, and computer technology.
Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
This category includes specialized programs that train you for a specific job. Unlike AAS titles, AAA shows tend to focus more on visual arts, music, and advertising. Students can take general education courses as well as specialized courses such as photography, graphic design and art history.
Common Fields of Study for an Associate Degree
When you choose a specialization for your online associate degree program, you are making an important decision about the areas you will explore during your school years. In fact, this decision could affect which majors you can transfer to after completing your two-year degree. And of course, your major affects what jobs you might qualify for in the future.
The following are some of the most common majors in community college online programs:
This specialization covers a variety of business topics, including management, sales, marketing, accounting, and organizational structures. Students also learn to apply their newly acquired skills in a hands-on environment while preparing for a smooth transition into a four-year business program.
These programs provide a comprehensive introduction to the healthcare industry for students who typically attend more focused undergraduate programs in healthcare services. Students take courses in all sciences and related to research, clinical procedures and various health professions.
Students in these online partnered degree programs learn about teaching and learning theories and practices, as well as basic educational psychology. They also learn how to plan lessons, contribute to students’ social and academic growth, and manage health and safety issues at school. Many students then enroll in four-year elementary or secondary school programs.
These are general majors that prepare students for various college-level programs. You can cover a wide variety of subjects, including sociology, ancient and modern history, social issues, and political science. The ultimate goal is to provide students with a solid knowledge base about institutions and social behaviors.
An associate’s degree in psychology focuses on the study of the social behavior of individuals and groups, providing students with a knowledge base to use in their future studies. Students learn about different sub-areas of psychology, how to conduct in-depth research and how to conduct scientific experiments and tests.
This specialization examines the many facets of communication between people, including in person, in groups, and through various forms of media. Interpersonal, organizational, professional and intercultural communications are central areas of study.
Typical Curriculum for Online Affiliate Programs
Most of the online community college courses you take are general education courses. They usually revolve around core subjects such as science, math, humanities, and English.
For instance, your school may require you to take two science courses with options such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, and physics. Therefore, you have flexibility in which courses you can take to meet different general educational needs. Some programs may require you to take other types of general education courses, such as B. those that focus on cultural competence, communication or foreign languages.
Often the general education courses you take in an online associate degree program are the same as in a four-year program. This is why so many students choose to take these courses at a less expensive community college before moving on to an undergraduate program at a four-year university. Most of the online community college courses you take are general education courses.
You will also be able to take basic or higher courses through an online community college. This is especially true if you are pursuing an AAS or AAA degree, both of which are intended to prepare students to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
Vocational schools have a completely different curriculum. Instead of developing knowledge in a variety of general education subjects, trade school programs focus on developing knowledge and skills for a specific career. Many trade school jobs require specialized training that often involves more hands-on work. While some associate programs offer courses that include hands-on work, most programs are too broad in scope to develop the skills needed for specialized work.
How Do Community College Online Courses Work?
Most online association degree programs include specialized software or digital platforms that allow students to access course materials, participate in class forums, interact with instructors, and complete assignments and exams. These platforms also provide students with access to technical support and tutoring resources. Ultimately, online programs aim to replicate the in-person educational experience while making the best use of technology to make the learning process as efficient as possible.
In many courses, you have to exchange ideas with your classmates. This is done through online forums and discussion boards where you can discuss assignments, ask questions and provide feedback on the topics covered in class. Your instructor will also post notes on the platform. If you have questions or want to discuss your grade with your teacher, you can do so online.
When it comes to taking tests, many online community college courses require students to go to a certified test center. There, professional examiners will deliver your exam and ensure that you complete it on time and, where appropriate, without the use of textbooks or other course materials. In other situations, you may be able to take your exams online, but you may have limited time to complete them.
Apply to Community College or Trade School online
Once you find an online community college program that meets your needs, your next step is to apply to that school. You must prepare documents about yourself and your academic career. There may also be an application fee and, for some associate degree programs, an admissions essay. Below is an overview of the most common application requirements:
Almost all associate degree programs require prospective students to have a high school diploma or GED certificate for admission. Some may require that you have completed certain prerequisite courses, for example. B. Some level of English or mathematics. If you do not meet these requirements, you may be required to take a remedial course before you can officially start the program.
Application fees vary from one college to another, but in general, you can expect to pay between $20 and $50 to apply to the program of your choice. Some schools do not charge an application fee, while others do not charge fees for applicants who can demonstrate financial need.
In addition to paying an application fee and providing your diploma/GED certificate, you may be required to submit a resume, one or more letters of recommendation, and a personal statement or essay. These documents give you an opportunity to explain why you deserve to be accepted into the online community college program of your choice.
Can I Transfer to a Bachelor’s Program from an Online Community College?
Many students may want to move on to a bachelor’s degree after completing their community college education. An early start can help ensure the smooth transfer of your online associate degree credits into a relevant four-year program.
For credit transfers, work with a credit transfer advisor at the college or university you plan to attend. This person will tell you which credits will or will not count and how the credits counted cover various general education requirements. This process usually works best if you have planned ahead and attended a community college that has a transfer agreement with the four year school in question.
Not every school will accept credit for your online associate degree program, so it is important to do your research and make sure the courses you are taking will help you achieve your academic goals. In general, most transfer students find that if they first earn an associate’s degree, they can earn a bachelor’s degree in about two years.
What are Transfer Agreements?
Many online community colleges have transfer articulation or credit transfer agreements with 4-year colleges and universities. These agreements enable students to first acquire an associate’s degree and then use the credits they have already acquired for a bachelor’s degree. This can be extremely useful if your long-term goal is to continue your education, as it ensures that you are not wasting your time on courses that ultimately do not count towards an advanced degree.
Contact each of your potential associate online degree programs to see if they have credit transfer agreements with other institutions. If so, find out if you plan to attend one of these institutions in the next few years so you can plan the most effective path to achieve your educational and career goals.
Best Online Community Colleges of 2022
#1 Online College in Indiana
Ivy Tech Community College
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Graduation Rate: 25%
Percent Online Enrollment: 58%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $150
Out of State | $293
Based in Indiana, ITCC offers 17 fully online degree programs in high-demand fields such as software development, cybersecurity, and criminal justice. The free app asks for high school PSAT, SAT, ACT, or GPA scores or college transcripts to demonstrate college readiness.
Students can start their studies all year round in one of five starting semesters in January, March, June, August and October. Once registered, distance learners have access to a variety of virtual services, including counseling, tutoring, and professional development.
#2 Online College in Arkansas
Location: Melbourne, Arkansas
Graduation Rate: 56%
Percent Online Enrollment: 62%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $121
Out of State | $219
Based in Melbourne, Arkansas, Ozarka administers more than 30 associate degrees and certificates covering fields ranging from allied health sciences to culinary arts. About 600 of the university’s 1,600 students enroll in online programs or courses each year.
Ozarka’s Open Door Admissions Policy is committed to providing access to education and only requires submission of official high school, GED, or college transcripts that have been previously attended. Students can schedule online tutoring and academic counseling sessions through online appointments, phone, or email.
#3 Online College in Mississippi
Holmes Community College
Location: Goodman, Mississippi
Graduation Rate: 37%
Percent Online Enrollment: 53%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $125
Out of State | $125
Graduates looking for an alternative to the traditional classroom will find several options at Holmes Community College. Students can earn online Associate of Arts and Associate of Applied Arts degrees in areas such as criminal justice, paralegal engineering, medical practice engineering, and medical billing and coding.
This admission-free college admits all applicants who have earned a high school diploma or GED. Holmes participates in the Mississippi Virtual Community Colleges network, which allows students to take classes online from any member school.
#4 Online College in Ohio
Eastern Gateway Community College
Location: Steubenville, Ohio
Graduation Rate: 19%
Percent Online Enrollment: 97%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $132
Out of State | $245
As the premier distance education program in Ohio, EGCC offers online degree programs in a variety of fields, including health, engineering and computer science, public service and security, education, and business. The university has an open door policy, admitting students throughout the year. Applicants must submit high school or GED transcripts and SAT, ACT, or ACCUPLACER test scores.
Working adults can take advantage of the Free College Benefit program, which allows them to earn a certificate or degree at no cost to them.
#5 Online College in Texas
Houston Community College
Location: Houston, Texas
Graduation Rate: 18%
Percent Online Enrollment: 42%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $85
Out of State | $227
At HCC, distance learning students can choose from more than 60 online academic and professional programs ranging from supply chain management to anthropology. Most programs offer full online delivery formats, although some courses require in-person sessions. The university follows an open admissions process and accepts students with a high school diploma or GED.
Online students can access a wide range of support services, including personal and mental health advice, academic and career advice, course tutors, as well as technical support available 7 days a week.
#6 Online College in Kansas
Allen County Community College
Location: Iola, Kansas
Graduation Rate: 39%
Percent Online Enrollment: 73%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $61
Out of State | $61
Allen Community College enrolls more than 2,500 students each semester at its campuses in Iola and Burlingame, Kansas, and online. Students can earn various certificates and associate degrees online, including the Senior Pharmacy Technician/Assistant program. Campus students can also choose from 100 online courses to supplement their face-to-face courses.
The university accepts any applicant with a high school diploma or GED. Distance learning students receive a full range of student services, from career assistance to academic advising.
#7 Online College in South Dakota
Lake Area Technical College
Location: Watertown, South Dakota
Graduation Rate: 72%
Percent Online Enrollment: 46%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $124
Out of State | $124
Founded in 1965 as South Dakota’s first technical college, LATC administers 31 programs, including 13 hybrid electronic degrees and certificates, which combine distance learning with in-person courses. Graduate E students take some online courses and come to campus for hands-on training and/or clinical needs. LATC offers online degrees in several high-demand fields, such as computer information technology, nursing, and robotics.
The college’s streamlined admissions process requires applicants to submit high school transcripts and ACCUPLACER or ACT scores.
#8 Online College in Texas
Lone Star College System
Location: The Woodlands, Texas
Graduation Rate: 18%
Percent Online Enrollment: 40%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $90
Out of State | $257
LSC is an open institution with campuses throughout the North Houston area, providing affordable academic and career programs to more than 85,000 students. Distance learning students can choose from more than 30 comprehensive online degrees and certificates, hybrid programs, and individual online courses in fields ranging from business and professional services and engineering to health sciences and education.
LSC also offers accelerated noncredit programs that provide employee training in information technology, manufacturing, and other practice areas.
#9 Online College in Mississippi
Itawamba Community College
Location: Fulton, Mississippi
Graduation Rate: 46%
Percent Online Enrollment: 67%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $140
Out of State | $240
Headquartered in northern Mississippi, ICC has become one of the largest providers of online courses in the state. The university offers 7 comprehensive online associate degree options in popular fields such as hospital management, early childhood education, and business and marketing management.
Distance learners can access a variety of resources to ensure their academic success, including technical support, virtual tutoring, and additional teaching assistance. The admissions process is user-friendly and requires applicants to submit high school transcripts or GED and SAT, ACT, or ACCUPLACER scores.
#10 Online College in Iowa
Northwest Iowa Community College
Location: Sheldon, Iowa
Graduation Rate: 69%
Percent Online Enrollment: 67%
Average Cost per Credit
In State | $200
Out of State | $200
Since its beginnings as a technical high school in 1964, NCC has grown into one of Iowa’s premier community colleges, offering on-campus and online programs. Membership in the Iowa Community College Online Consortium allows NCC students to enroll in more than 750 courses and programs. Distance learners can earn certificates and earn degrees in growing areas such as health information technology, web and graphic design, as well as medical coding.
NCC operates an open-door admissions policy and admits students who have a high school diploma or GED.