How can I work, get a degree, and not break the bank?

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Whether the student is attending a brick-and-mortar school or enrolled in an online degree program-it’s an expensive proposition. The average cost of an in-state school is close to $9,000 for tuition alone. Online programs are not always the answer, as this cost varies from college to college. Some institutions charge as much per credit hour for on-campus as they do for online classes. In addition, there’s the expense of room and board and books. No wonder student loan debt averaged $29,000 as of 2012. It increases each year.

Suppose you’re employed with a high school education or a few college credits and wonder where can you get a degree while working. You want to advance your education without incurring enormous debt. Are there more reasonable alternatives?  The answer is yes.  There are several opportunities in the area of less expensive online courses. Here are two to consider:


Their mission statement:  “Making higher education available for everyone by building the most affordable and accessible universities in the world.”

UniversityNow was founded by Harvard Law school and Wharton business school graduate, Gene Wade in March 2013. Its offices are domiciled in San Francisco, CA.   In his 2011 TED talk, Mr. Wade shared his vision of a low-cost college degree for the working class. As of 2013, he has raised $42 million in venture capital for his company. UniversityNow is the parent of Patten University and New Charter University (NCU).

Both Patten and NCU have self-paced online degree programs that are accredited, affordable and designed for working adults. The two offer tuition on a flat-rate basis, to be paid monthly or per four month term. For undergraduate tuition, Patten charges $1316 per term or $350 per month. New Charter charges tuition starting at $199 per month. For both universities, the tuition includes all textbooks and online course materials, and students may take as many courses in a term as they can successfully complete. Also, both universities offer graduate degrees.

One difference between NCU and Patten is that the latter has on-campus and online programs. NCU is strictly online learning. Patten University was originally called Oakland Bible institute by its founder, Dr. Bebe Patten in 1944. Gene Wade acquired the institution in 2012.

Both Patten and NCU offer Associate’s degrees in business and criminal justice, bachelor’s degrees in leadership, management and psychology, as well a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA).

University of the People

This is a non-profit, accredited online institution of higher education located in Pasadena, California. It was founded by educational entrepreneur, Shai Reshef, in January 2009 when 177 students from 49 countries comprised the inaugural class. It has corporate partners, such as Hewlett Packard and Microsoft. Academic partnerships with New York University (NYU) and Yale Information Project. The university received the Clinton Global Initiative in August 2010. As of May 2014, the university had accepted more than 1700 students from 143 countries.

The university has an equally impressive array of members on its board of trustees and its council of presidents. There are four advisory boards:

  • The Business of Administration Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Russell S. Winer, (Dean) Chair of the department of Marketing at the Stern School of Business,  NYU.
  • The Computer Science Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Alexander Tuzhilin, Chair of the Department of Information at Stern School of Business, NYU
  • The Arts and Science Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Dalton Conley (Dean) from NYU
  • The Library Service Advisory Board, chaired by Ms Ilene Frank, previously from the University of Florida

According to the University of the People website, they do not charge students to take classes, reading or study materials, and doesn’t charge for annual enrollment. There is a small processing fee for application ($10-$50) and an examination fee of $100 per end-of-course exam. These costs are kept to a minimum due to the generous donations from corporate and private donors. Founder Mr. Reshef has reportedly donated $3.5 million his own funds to the university.


There’s a well-worn phrase: If it’s too good to be true-it can’t be. In the case of University of the People, it may be too good and true. Initially, this online school admitted almost all who applied. The problem arose when the university realized that some students struggled with English. Standards were raised. Acceptance dropped from 99% to 81%. Retention rose from 42% in 2010 to 81% in 2012.

Though UniversityNow charges more than University of the People, it may be ideal for the employed whose company provides tuition reimbursement. The IRS allows employers to compensate employees up $5250 without having to claim this benefit as wages or other compensation.

Obviously, these two institutions of higher education are just a sampling of those offering more reasonable tuition. Course selection is not as diverse as many schools, however, for working adults they merit further investigation.


For Further Reading: 

Top 10 Graduate Degree Programs in Criminal Justice