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Published Aug 23, 2022 2:16 PM

The educational programs of the best online military colleges find a perfect partner in both the active-duty and veteran lifestyles. Distance learning is all about meeting the student on his or her terms — serving adults living busy lives, while looking to improve their education, who can’t linger in classrooms all day. Since they have their duties to perform, they need to seek that college degree online. 

Options for the best online colleges for military members expanded over recent years as distance learning programs multiplied. The pandemic inspired more traditional colleges to add distance learning credit and degree programs. As a result, the online college world now offers educational opportunities for most serving military members and veterans.

This list of the best online military colleges looks at multiple rating services and certification programs to make certain each option is properly accredited, allowing serving students to earn a degree directly or earn compiled credits that can be transferred to a traditional institute of higher learning.

It always helps the online college degree when the school in question has a nationally recognized name, and Arizona State University in the Valley of the Sun qualifies as a major western university (and Pac 12 Conference member). Offering a fully-accredited online college division in addition to its traditional, in-class undergraduate and graduate programs, ASU will set up nicely for any young service member looking to rank up, or for a more advanced, older student looking to enhance his or her post-service life.

The military highlight for Arizona State is the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. Named after the ASU graduate and NFL star who gave his life after quitting football at the height of his career to serve following the 9/11 attacks, the center works “to ensure ASU’s military-connected learners and student veterans have the support they need to ensure a successful academic journey and beyond. We’re here to help every step of the way.” With an additional focus on other military members beyond veterans, ASU also provides advisors for active-duty personnel.

The Arizona State University online name recognition comes at a cost, as the per-cost online credit comes in at $541 (or about five times as high as the “budget” school on our list below). However, ASU online offers financial aid for military members and veterans.

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $541
  • Cost per course to non-military for full-time study: $1,343
  • Military considerations: Pat Tillman Veterans Center
  • Accredited by: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Why It Made The Cut
  • Highly ranked nationally for traditional and military students alike, Arizona State University offers unique benefits for those serving.
PROS

High national rankings

Special dedicated services for military

Rolling application deadline for online students

CONS

More expensive per credit

Offering online program credits for only $111.92, the University of Florida Online offers a tremendous bargain for earning a degree from a major university name. Coming off a long history of cooperating with military members, the U of F Online offers multiple financial aid programs for service members, even with the low per-credit cost in place.

In addition to its special offerings for active-duty military, the University of Florida Online aids veterans now as it recently joined the Yellow Ribbon program for eligible Post 9/11 GI Bill recipients. To aid veterans in navigating the details of that program, the University of Florida maintains a site dedicated to those who served.

The online division doesn’t offer all of the same programs as in-person students, which can limit enrollment options. Also, unlike many online colleges that simply require the payment of fees to gain admission to course work, the online division within the University of Florida requires an academic record and a GPA of at least 2.0 for acceptance. That can make admissions trickier for would-be students not progressing from a traditional academic background.

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $111.92
  • Cost per course to non-military for full-time study: $518.19
  • Military considerations: Yellow Ribbon Program for G.I. Bills
  • Accredited by: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Why It Made The Cut
  • The University of Florida Online offers distance learning from a major national university for one of the country’s lowest per-credit costs.
PROS

Very affordable

Dedicated military services website

Special information sessions for incoming military

CONS

More demanding entry requirements

Limited undergraduate degree options

Best for Active-Duty

Boasting a long relationship with the armed services, Liberty University maintains an Office of Military Affairs to guide servicemen and servicewomen through enrollment, financial aid, and benefit programs.

Liberty’s extensive list of benefits for active-duty military includes tuition discounts for eligible online programs, a technology fee waiver for actively serving military members, free evaluation of military training for transfer credit, and regular updates of military programs.

One quirk for Liberty is its transition process, from part-time online service members to full-time enrolled students. Once an online student enrolls for 12 credits, Liberty stops charging by the credit and applies a flat-rate block fee of $11,900. Still, military financial aid programs remain in effect.

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $395
  • Cost per course to non-military for full-time study: $11,900 block fee
  • Military considerations: Tuition discounts, assigned advisors
  • Accredited by: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Why It Made The Cut
  • A Christian university in Virginia, Liberty maintains an identity of dedication to active-duty military with specially dedicated advisors.
PROS

MIlitary tuition dIscounts

Dedicated Office of Military Affairs

Maintains updated listings of benefits

CONS

More expensive per credit

Full tuition costs in effect at 12 credits

Best for Spouses

Columbia College makes a special effort to extend its special online education benefits beyond just active-duty service people and veterans. Both the spouses of military members and their dependents enjoy special cost deals per credit hour. In fact, beyond these family members of those serving, Columbia College also extends special rates to military installation civilian employees (along with their spouses and dependents.

The college collects and shares all of its military benefits through its website, including data on tuition assistance, scholarships, and G.I. Bill applications. The college staff includes advisers who can provide additional information.

While the per-credit cost for military spouses and dependents is discounted from general students ($318.75 compared to $375), it is more expensive than the cost for the service member ($250).

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $250
  • Cost per course to non-military full-time study: $1,125
  • Military considerations: Benefits for family members
  • Accredited by: Higher Learning Commission
Why It Made The Cut
  • Offering the Military Affiliated Benefit program since 2021, Columbia College offers reduced tuition and other benefits to the spouses and dependents of military members.
PROS

Reduced tuition and benefits for spouses and dependents

Eight-course completion

Official list of affiliated bases and installations

CONS

Cost more expensive for spouses and dependants

Non-rolling admissions

Best for Veterans

Making a genuine push for service veterans as well as active-duty military, Park University discounts its cost per credit for both classifications ($250 down from $415). Fortunately, Park University doesn’t limit the active military financial help to just discounted per-credit costs. They also offer financial aid programs, while extending consideration to the families of veterans.

Park University maintains its online Global Warrior Center to guide veterans and active-duty to guide veterans through their options in degree programs, individual courses, and additional financial options no matter where they are in the world.

While Park University is fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an extensive list of degree programs for certification, BAs, and graduate degrees, the school’s name doesn’t carry the prestige of some online colleges and universities. Still, it’s what you do with the degree, not just where you earn it.

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $250
  • Cost per course to non-military for full-time study: $1,356
  • Military considerations: Global Warrior Center
  • Accredited by: Higher Learning Commission
Why It Made The Cut
  • Offering significant tuition discounts for veterans and active military members before financial aid consideration, Park University extends a special invitation to those who serve.
PROS

Specially discounted per-credit rate for past and present military

Financial aid allowed with discounted credits

More than 500 course offerings

CONS

Less prestigious name recognition

There is no college or university on this list with a longer and prouder military history than Texas A&M University – College Station. The school officially qualifies as a Senior Military College and remains one of only six American universities with a full-time, volunteer Cadet Corps.

Texas A&M scores well nationally for its MBA and Masters of Education programs, especially for veterans. Whether a military-affiliated or a civilian graduate student or undergraduate, students can get their admissions and financial aid questions answered through the Aggie One Stop Service. However, there are special advisors for military students.

Texas A&M does have a more complicated fee scale, with costs varying between undergraduates and graduates or in-state and out-of-state students. The differences can be significant, ranging from as little as $40 to as much as $550. Regardless of cost qualifications, there are special financial aid opportunities for undergrad and graduate military students, such as VA Chapter Benefits and the Texas Armed Services Scholarship.

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $40 to $550
  • Cost per course to non-military for full-time study: $1,377
  • Military considerations: Senior Military College
  • Accredited by: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Why It Made The Cut
  • As a long-time senior military college, Texas A&M University – College Station specializes in offering its military graduates ongoing education options online.
PROS

Long-time military education history

Aggie One Stop Q&A Service

Rolling admission period

CONS

Varying price-per-credit scale

Best Under the Radar

Milwaukee Area Technical College traditionally serves working adult students seeking professional certification or associate degrees. Considering most of its students are working adults, and many with families, MATC got out ahead of the distance learning trend years ahead of the curve with its College of the Air program, offering broadcast lectures via public television.

Today, MATC still specializes in general education associate degrees and special certification in professional fields ranging from heating and air conditioning to culinary to auto repair to barbering. Its more traditional, in-class offerings are not as highly regarded as its trade courses, making top course options more limited for online students.

MATC positions itself as a strong online military college option by offering special, in-house assistance for active-duty and veteran students through its Military Education Support Office and Veterans Resource Center. Both programs help qualify students in seeking financial aid and transferring college credit.

Key Features
  • Online college cost per credit: $161.25
  • Cost per course to non-military for full-time study: $620.10
  • Military considerations: Military Education Support Office and Veterans Resource Center
  • Accredited by: Higher Learning Commission
Why It Made The Cut
  • Specializing in hands-on technical studies, MATC offers practical and highly affordable training and education.
PROS

Affordable

Offers practical professional training

Credits transfer to four-year colleges and universities

Special services for active-duty military and veterans

CONS

More limited course and program options

Lesser-known online college

Things to consider before enrolling in college online

Choosing the best online military college involves more than just considering the cost per credit hour and course offerings — though those are as important to active serving military and veterans as they would be to average students. It’s equally important to consider how dedicated a given college is to the military by closely examining its services.

Look beyond the possible military discounts and explore the additional benefits for those who serve. Check out if the online military college has an office or department for military members or an office of veteran affairs. Determine if the school offers dedicated advisors for the military. If the college in question offers any of the above, contact that office or those officials directly and get a feel for their expertise and concern. 

Finally, if possible, reach out to military alumni and active students of the college, or even better, those studying directly in your intended field of study.

FAQs about online military colleges

Q: Can I do online college in the military?

A: As long as online college study doesn’t interfere with assigned duties, ongoing secondary education is allowed, and often encouraged, in all branches of the U.S. military.

Q: Is online college free for the military?

A: Online military colleges are not free by a matter of standard policy unless the student already earned a full scholarship. However, many online colleges offer reduced credit costs and special financial aid for serving students and veterans.

Q: How many college credits does it take to rank up in the Army?

A: Ranking up via college credits differs by branch, but in the Army, for example, you need at least 24 credits to enlist as an E-2; 48 credits to enlist as an E-3; and a four-year degree to enlist as an E-4. 

Q: Do online colleges accept the G.I. Bill?

A: All accredited online colleges inspected by the U.S. government and one of its approved accreditation bodies will accept the G.I. Bill regardless of whether they already offer discounted credits to the military.

Q: Can I trust college accreditations for online colleges?

A: The official accreditation bodies certifying online colleges (listed below) are all officially approved by the U.S. Department of Education. If an online college is accredited by such a body, they meet the national criteria as a legitimate institution of higher learning.

Final thoughts

The best online military colleges distinguish themselves through their dedicated service to both active-duty and military students. They offer special assistance and tuned-in advisors to help prospective students explore academic expectations, admissions requirements, and financial aid options. Put simply, the best online military colleges conduct their business as though they value their active serving or veteran students as valuable individuals facing unique challenges. 

Methodology 

In addition to examining the websites of each online college as though we ourselves were looking to further our education, we considered per-credit price and program flexibility as prime factors. We also made certain each college is fully accredited by one of these certified regional collegiate accreditation bodies:

If those bodies are good enough for the U.S. Department of Education, they’ll work for our purposes.

We also put priority on those online colleges placing an emphasis on active military members and veterans by offering special considerations such as advisors and financial programs for both active-duty military and veterans. If a military college option merely honored the G.I. Bill and failed to extend more financial assistance opportunities (or the resources to research and access those opportunities), that was a strike against it.

Finally, since active-duty personnel can often find themselves transferred or otherwise asked to change their location and residence, we made certain every program on this list allowed for other colleges’ credits to import into their academic degree schedules — while producing college credits ready to export to another accredited online or traditional college environment.

For more information on our process, check out the Task & Purpose review guidelines