Why Hide Online Degree Tuition?

Online Degree Characteristic

Where Is The Online Degree Tuition?

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a good deal of time researching online degree tuition and other key characteristics of online programs for competitive analyses. Our database of online degree program information (www.onlinedegreedatabase.com) currently holds details for over 4,200 online programs from more than 900 U.S. institutions. This makes it, by far, the most comprehensive information available about online degree programs in the U.S. market today.

We update the records in our database at least twice per year. Our updating process includes verifying:

  • the program website link (which we provide to students who download our free reports)
  • degree name
  • available concentrations
  • total credits
  • cost per credit (including in-state where appropriate)
  • prerequisite requirements
  • admissions requirements
  • plus several other key characteristics

The new 2018-2019 tuition is now posted on university websites for most programs. I’m in the process of updating these details for all of the records in our database.  My search for online program details replicates how a student would shop for an online program. This means that I’m in a unique position to offer some insights about online program website strengths and weaknesses.

In my experience, the greatest weakness is that tuition / cost per credit of these programs is often the most difficult item to find. And yet, it is one of the most important considerations for students who are shopping for an online program.

Biggest Website Weakness

There are often no references or links to tuition / cost information on the program websites. Only a few programs have clear, easy to find information about their overall price on their websites. A few clever programs hide their tuition costs at the bottom of the landing page, under a tiny link called “Program Details”.

Many websites link to outdated tuition or to pages that no longer exist (the dreaded “404” error). In some cases, the tuition and fee information provided on the university website is so complicated that it is nearly impossible for an outsider (and prospective student) to interpret. In-state vs. out-of-state costs, multiple add-on fees with acronyms that make no sense to someone outside of the university, all different for each school or division, undergraduate vs. graduate, multiple campuses, total tuition numbers without clarifying the number of credits each represents. Any or all of this information may or may not apply to an online program vs a campus-based program.

And, even in late August 2018, many programs still have the tuition tables for the 2017-2018 academic year on their websites (too many with 2016-2017!). And many provide tuition data without referencing the academic year to which it applies.

Other Website Weaknesses

To make matters even worse, many websites demure their discussion of cost to information about how to ‘fund’ education costs. Here they introduce their process for helping students get loans and scholarships.

As a consumer, I always get a little worried when someone offers me financing options before I even know the total cost. And online students have told us that they are experiencing buyer’s remorse in part because they had not completed enough research on tuition and fees before enrolling in their online program.

Most university online program websites also lack:

  • complete application deadline information for programs, so there is no way to know how many opportunities a student has during the year to enter the program
  • a thorough discussion of the curriculum, including course descriptions and course sequence
  • prerequisite requirements

It’s time for online program websites to step up to this challenge. Students who are comparison shopping will move on to other online programs if they can’t get the information they need to make an informed decision.

Website Strengths

There are improvements in the overall level of relevant details provided by most online program websites, with more programs providing meaningful details and improving the usability of their sites:

  • details for all online programs offered are located in the same area of the website
  • online program pages include a “summary” area near the top that includes cost per credit (which includes tuition and fees), total credits, available concentrations, and the time required to complete the program
  • prerequisite and admissions requirements are clearly identified
  • application fees and the application process are also clear for applicants

There are definitely more online program websites with improved content this year vs. the previous two years. But there are also many more online programs in the market, as competition continues to intensify.

The Online Degree Database Difference

Gathering detailed online degree program information takes hours, if not weeks, of time scanning university websites. This is why the Online Degree Database exists.

We collect details from university websites for the universe of most popular online master’s degrees like the MBA, MPA, MPH, MHA, MSW, MSN and more. And we’ve significantly increased the number of online information systems master’s degrees and bachelor degree programs in our database over the past year.

Our interactive tool allows prospective students to work with the degree information in the database to find the best online programs using the criteria that are important to them. Plus, we give prospective students helpful information on thinking through what program characteristics are most important and tips for how to talk with online program advisers for the most popular master’s degrees.

Visit our website today to see what we have to offer. Let us do the heavy-lifting on web-surfing university program websites for you!

If you work at a university, let the Online Degree Database help you find your most competitive price and program characteristics. Contact michelle@onlinedegreedatabase.com for more information on our market intelligence reports today!


Create Your Own Best Online Programs Ranking

Create your own "Best" programs rankings

Are you currently searching the web for best online programs in your field of choice? We collect a significant amount of data from online program websites to share with prospective students. And we COULD develop a proprietary algorithm to create a variety of “best” rankings of online degree programs. But we think that there are already too many of these relatively meaningless rankings sources, including for example, U.S. News & World Report, or OnlineU.org, or thebestschools.org.

What sentient human being isn’t curious about online degree programs that are, allegedly, the Most Affordable or the Best? But, be careful. Many prospective students find researching online program options confusing and overwhelming. This leads them to select programs based only on a few sources that bill themselves as “authoritative”.

Aspiring students ultimately own their purchase decisions when they complete an online degree. Why rely on others to do what you can do for yourself?

Here are 3 of many possible examples that prove the rule on why you should create your own ranking. And, really, why accept rankings offered by marketers as authoritative anyway?

Example One

U.S. News & World Report: A recent article tells the bombshell story about the 4 years running #1 ranked online MBA program caught providing false data to U.S. News & World Report. Their methodology relies on the veracity of institutions that provide their proprietary data annually in a survey. This is not the first time a university was caught enhancing their numbers. The pressure to perform well in U.S. News & World Report rankings creates the urgent temptation to cheat. This significantly undermines the value of these rankings to students.

Example Two

OnlineU.org: The website offers a listing of the “Most Affordable” Online Colleges using one year’s tuition at both undergraduate and graduate levels. To their credit, they gather their data from the tuition pages on university websites and provide the link to the tuition page to verify these data. But the data are misleading because:

  1. Students generally want to know the total cost of the degree, not just one year’s tuition.
  2. Fees are left out of the annual cost equation (in the case of the #1 ranked institution, the graduate fully online fees raised the total cost per credit to $426 from the $255 reported on the website).
  3. Many institutions price online programs differently (e.g. the online MBA at one institution may be 20%+ more expensive than their online M.Ed. program). This simplistic ranking approach completely obscures this information and offers a misleading impression of real costs to prospective students.

Example Three

thebestschools.org: The website claims to be the  “the web’s most thorough and reliable source of information”. They use a proprietary “multicriteria optimization” algorithm that analyzes key data indicators. These indicators are taken from widely available, high-level data that institutions report to the federal government. But the “Best Of” lists of online programs here contain only details about “Featured Programs” not actual best program listings.

This secret sauce approach to fancy, proprietary algorithms is a common trait among rankings websites. And they use rankings to game Google algorithms to earn higher SEO scores with large amounts of often meaningless content. How is this helpful to students researching online degree programs?

Find Your Inner Data Scientist

The Online Degree Database knows that it’s better for students to have all of the data to use in their decision-making. It’s not helpful to have a hastily-thrown-together, misleading summary of these data. We give you the data and the tools you need to create your own ranking of online degree programs. You choose the criteria and the approach that makes the most sense for you. Then you apply it to the universe of available programs in our database.

And, we do not ask for or sell your contact information to universities. Our university sponsorship program, a source of funding for the database, is attractive to universities for several reasons: They see the value in competing fairly against each other. And they agree that student enrollment should be driven by positive program characteristics, not the size of the online program marketing budget.

Create Your Own Personalized Rankings

We’ve created simple, unbiased rankings of online programs by program type using our data before. And we’ve demonstrated how our data are more reliable than what you find at other websites through our other blog posts. But the true value here is that you can use the data on our website to create your own, personalized rankings based on the criteria most important to YOU. You define what is BEST.

Use our interactive tool to select a degree program and complete your own “best” ranking analyses. Generate as many free reports as you need to get the result you desire.

Take some time to consider these criteria:

  • Is the location (state) of the school a top priority for you?
  • Is it important that the program is professionally-accredited?
  • What is the total tuition of the program (total cost per credit as reported by the program website times the total credits required to complete the degree)?
  • Is the institution Public or Private? For Profit or Not-For-Profit?
  • What is the minimum GPA requirement you need based on your undergraduate transcripts?
  • Does the online program require a GMAT / GRE score for admissions consideration?
  • Are there specific concentrations you are interested in?

With over 4,240 (as of July 10, 2018) online programs from over 900 institutions in the database, you know that the online program research you complete with our website is truly the very best possible.

Example of Personalized “Best” Ranked Online Programs

For our example, we use our interactive tool to generate a hypothetical “Best” online MBA programs list. Criteria selected for our best online MBA rankings example are hypothetical and random. They include:

  • Programs with total tuition less than $15,000
  • Undergraduate GPA required for admission to program is minimum 3.0 on 4.0 scale
  • Professionally accredited by AACSB only programs
  • 100% online, does not require students to attend any part of the program on campus
  • Only include Not-For-Profit institutions

The five criteria represent one possible straight-forward, personalized algorithm for defining BEST online MBA programs among many that are possible. We define “best” here as most affordable, AACSB accredited, 100% online, with minimum 3.0 GPA requirement, at only not-for-profit institutions online MBAs. The 13 online MBA programs that fit our hypothetical criteria are shown in the table above.

But clearly there are other combinations of criteria available in our database that are more relevant to you as you research your online degree program options. Let your inner data scientist out to play with the Online Degree Database!

Data & Tools Designed To Meet Your Needs

Because you start your selection process with very close to the universe of available programs, your free report is a very unique and valuable product.  It cuts through the misleading information offered elsewhere and gives you what you really need to be sure you complete an accurate search: a personalized BEST online program list from the most accurate and complete source of online program information available.

The free report that identified this list of programs provides additional information about these institutions. It includes the location (state), in-state and out-of-state total tuition, public/private institution status, and importantly, a link to the program website of the online MBA, so you can continue your research on your own.

Find your inner data scientist and create your personalized “Best Online Program” rankings today!

Improve Your Online Program Visibility

Improve Online Program Visibility

The Online Degree Database helps you improve your online program visibility. It is a unique, unbiased source of information about online degree programs. Today, our database has more than 4,000 degree programs from more than 900 universities. Some of the key details for each online program contained in the database include:

  • Degree name
  • Location – Region & State
  • Total tuition
  • Cost per credit
  • Concentrations
  • Accreditation
  • Prerequisite requirements
  • Admissions requirements
  • Rankings
  • Institutional details available through IPEDS can be appended to these data

These data are sourced directly from university online program websites and stored in a relational database. We update all records several times a year. We strive to include the universe of online programs from the most popular degrees in the U.S. today.

Best Tool for Researching Online Degrees

We have also designed a student-friendly interactive tool that allows students searching for online degree programs to access our data — for free! Unlike other websites that target researching students to generate leads for online degree programs, our website never asks for student’s personal contact information. Students can access our available programs here to start their research on program options. They can select criteria like total tuition, location, or accreditation based on what’s most important to them. And they can generate an unlimited number of Free Reports that identify the universities offering online programs that fit their criteria.

Our Free Reports contain the university name, degree name, and hot link to the program website so that the student can go immediately to get more information on the programs of interest directly from the university.  When a university decides to sponsor their online degree program with us, we’ll provide more of their program details to researching students in their Free Reports. When a university chooses to partner with us, they are letting students know 1) that they are confident in the quality of their online programs, and 2) they want to provide students with the best information possible as they make one of the most expensive and important decisions in their lives.

Our comprehensive database, interactive search tool, and Free Reports create a win-win situation for both students looking for their best online degree options and universities with competitive online degree programs. For students, we provide free access to the most comprehensive details about online degree programs available — and, for universities, we generate greater visibility for their programs based on program characteristics, not on existing brand strength or size of marketing budget (which may have nothing to do with the true quality of the online program from a student’s POV).

Preliminary Results, April 1-17, 2018

The tables included here are based on details from Free Reports generated during the last seventeen days (April 1 to 17th, 2018).  During this short period of time, we’ve had 33 visitors who generated a total of 87 Free Reports. Please note that students must use the interactive tool to select no more than 100 programs for each report.

The table below shows the number of reports generated by online degree type during the first two weeks of April:

Search Online Degrees
This table is a summary of Free Report activity from April 1 to 17th, 2018

It should be no surprise that the M.B.A. and Ed.D. are among the most popular searches by visitors to our website. As traffic continues to build, we see interest in other programs growing as well. Students who find us and generate Free Reports are definitely taking advantage of the depth and breadth of our data to ensure that they understand and research all of the online programs that meet their criteria.

The following table shows ALL of the universities that have earned visibility with researching students because their programs met some criteria that students were searching for when they generated their Free Reports, April 1 to 17th, 2018. Some of these universities invest heavily in marketing their programs, while others simply do not have the marketing expertise or budget to generate significant visibility for their programs. But does a student really care about the size of an online program’s marketing budget? I don’t think so.  I think students care a good deal more about the quality and cost of an online program. And a tool like ours, that let’s them complete due-diligence searching among all of their options, is a great step forward from what’s been available in the past.

There are 511 institutions that have appeared in the first two weeks of April’s Free Reports. Of these institutions, a total of 25 programs received ‘out-clicks’ where the user went from our Free Report directly to the university’s program website. Here are the institutions that appeared in the Free Reports:

Improve Online Program Visibility
The listed universities appeared in Free Reports during the first two weeks of April 2018

The last table shows more specific detail on university visibility, by capturing the universities and number of times they appeared in Free Reports for online MBAs so far in April. There are 243 universities with online MBAs that met the criteria entered by students searching for an online MBA program. Here they are:

Search Online Degrees
These universities’ online MBA programs fit the criteria users selected for their Free Reports

These tables demonstrate a very small part of the power of our database and reporting tools, all of which become available to our clients, when they become partners.

The Online Degree Database Difference

As the tables above demonstrate, the Online Degree Database is bringing new and important information to the market about online degree programs. For the first time, researching students can access these details with our easy-to-use tools that allow them to select online program options based on program characteristics that are most important to them.  Universities that fit the student’s profile appear, at no cost, in the Free Reports. The Free Reports contain a link to the university’s program website.

Universities that wish to improve their online degree program visibility to prospective students by offering more details to students should consider partnering with us.  See our recent press release to get more information about this. Or contact Michelle directly at michelle@onlinedegreedatabase.com to learn more about how we can help you improve your online program visibility.

Visit the Online Degree Database today!