A Guide to Online Colleges in Florida

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The Sunshine State is highly popular and well-loved for many reasons. As a tropical coastal peninsula the state holds beautiful beaches along the longest coastline in the country, which grants access to two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean — a diversity rarely seen anywhere in the world. At the southern tip of the state are the Florida Keys, which is one of the most traveled vacation destinations on the planet. With this remarkable tourism industry and the third largest populous in the country, Florida’s economy is booming and is performing well above the national average. At the center of this economic activity is Jacksonville, the most populous city in Florida, and the largest city by area in the U.S. Jacksonville and the state itself are also renowned internationally for breathtaking golf courses, thriving tennis leagues, and ever-developing water sports, making it a dream destination for students all over the world.

As a state defined by ethnic diversity, Florida is uniquely accepting of students from all ethnic backgrounds. Education policies are immigrant-friendly with the state requiring teachers to be trained in teaching English for speakers of other languages. These features combined with a statewide wealth of online learning opportunities make Florida a highly attractive destination for both current and prospective residents seeking online education. So while one of the paramount features of online education is the freedom to learn from anywhere, there are many reasons why students might prefer to obtain their online degree in their own state, or in this case, Florida.

In-state tuition is often applied to public schools offering online programs. Many online programs require some face-to-face time, or more numerous support services at their brick and mortar locations. Intensive study experiences–often on the weekends or in several week long bouts–enable many online students to accelerate their time until graduation. And students looking at online education can drastically expand their educational options if they also look to hybrid degrees (degrees where degrees can be taken partially, or mostly online). Finally, one of the most common stipulations in scholarships is that students be from a certain state or region, often more funds are available to students seeking degrees in-state.

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Featured Online Schools

The Florida public school system offers some very impressive colleges and universities, which offer online degree options at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate level. Among the most popular and probably well-known is the University of Florida, which also acts as a state economic stimulus, generating over 100,000 jobs in Florida every year. As one of the largest universities in the country, its online division is both massive and well-developed, earning impressive national rankings from various ranking institutions. With 97 online degree programs offered it is the largest online degree department in the state, so there is likely something for everyone at the University of Florida. The University of South Florida is a similarly massive school, serving nearly 50,000 students annually. It prides itself on a unique dedication to actionable research, which is a common thread throughout its many online degree programs, which number close to 40. For students seeking affordable associate’s, bachelor’s, or certificate programs there are nearly 20 community colleges that offer online tracks, though they lack the number of options that the larger universities are able to offer.

Public universities outnumber the state’s private universities, and for the most part, the private universities are smaller, however, they offer impressive student-to-faculty ratios, flexibility features, and retention rates that indicate quality programs. Among these is the Florida Institute of Technology which offers over 60 total online degree programs and is dedicated to granting its distance-learning students both affordability and flexibility — a task which it has reportedly succeeded at according to numerous ranking entities. Though it offers a smaller pool of online degree options, Lynn University makes up for its smaller size with highly attractive admission and financial aid features, making it a great option for both out-of-state students and international students. This evidence by the fact that 25% of the University’s student population is comprised of international students. While these programs may lack of the size of the larger public Universities, they certainly make up for it through various features that increase affordability, flexibility, or quality of education.

For a variety of reasons, a student may look to move to the state of their online college program whether specifically required by the program or not — be it for a job, love of the area, or for school benefits, etc. Different states have different policies, however, and some of them can be rather demanding. To declare residency in Florida you must show evidence of residing in the state for at least a twelve month period. According to state education institutions, the student must show that this residency was of importance beyond that of education received — this is to prevent students from simply moving to Florida for the sole purpose of gaining in-state tuition. For students looking to become residents of Florida and enjoy the perks of its education systems, their interest in residency must run deeper than a simple desire for education; there must be evidence of career ties, family needs, or personal needs — which will likely not be too problematic for those looking to build their lives in Florida amidst their online education.

Florida’s public and private university costs are represent some of the more affordable in the country with the average cost of tuition in a public four-year university being just $6,360, ranking as the fourth lowest in the country — well below the national average of $9,410. Country wide trends of inflation in public university costs have also been less apparent in the state, with the average tuition cost having grown by only about $1,300 in the past five years, which is also well below the national average of inflation. The cost of private universities in the state mirror this trend of affordability, however, the range is much wider due. The takeaway here is that as a whole Florida is one of the most affordable states in the country in terms of higher education, for both private and public universities. Moreover, many of theses schools offer financial incentives like in-state tuition to online students, scholarships, or attractive financial aid packages, so that they are affordable to residents and out-of-state students alike.

Jacksonville is the largest city by area in the country, encompassing nearly 750 square miles, whereas Tampa Bay stretches for 100 square miles, and Miami for only about 35. With over 830,000 residents, Jacksonville is simply a massive city, and as such contains a large number institutions of higher education — many of which are some of the state’s premier universities — including the University of North Florida, Jacksonville University, Edward Waters College, Florida State College, Jones College, Florida Coastal School of Law, and The Art Institute of Jacksonville. Schools located nearby but not within the city limits include Flagler College and St. Johns River State College. Considering the unique size of Jacksonville, the city offers students are vast array of educational options, professional networks, and opportunities for exploration. Depending on the exact area of Jacksonville, students can experience active night lives, engaging historical sectors, or quieter and more spread-out areas. This level of diversity in both city-features and educational options make Jacksonville a one-of-a-kind city full to the brim with opportunity.

While Miami may not have the incredible size of Jacksonville in terms of square footage, it is absolutely enormous in terms of population. While only encompassing about 35 square miles, its population is close to 450,000 with over 11,000 residents per square mile. This density of population means that students will have access to an enormous network of connections without having to travel far from their school or home. Some of the top universities for online education in Miami include the University of Miami, Florida International University, Barry University, City College Miami, Brown Mackie College at Miami, Miami International University of Art and Design, Nova Southeastern University, Johnson & Wales University, and Florida Career College. Combined, these programs offer over 100 online degree options at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate level. In terms of online education, however, Florida International University stands out. With 12 separate online degree programs, numerous national rankings, and affordable tuition costs, it is a highly attractive option for the area.

Tampa Bay, Florida holds a large population close to that of Miami’s but over a larger area of about 100 square miles. For students who aren’t attracted to the huge area and spaced out design of Jacksonville and don’t enjoy incredibly compact, highly populated areas like Miami, Tampa offers a happy medium. It isn’t quite as congested as Miami, and not nearly as spread out as Jacksonville, but it still offers a booming economy with an impressive array of higher education options. Over 30,000 degrees are conferred on annual basis in the Tampa Bay region through award-winning private community colleges and universities, and the nationally ranked public university, University of South Florida (USF), which as mentioned above is one of the top public universities in the state both in general and in terms of online education. The area offers over 30 other higher education and post-secondary institutions, making it the state’s most populated of the three in terms of higher ed. entities per square mile.

Jacksonville


Population: 853,382
Cost of Living: 90.6%
Top Industries: Retail Trade, Construction, Transportation and Warehousing
Local Online Degrees: 104

Miami


Population: 430,332
Cost of Living: 118.7%
Top Industries: Construction, Accommodation and Food Services, Retail trade
Local Online Degrees: 64

Tampa


Population: 358,699
Cost of Living: 90.4%
Top Industries: Engineering, computers, science
Local Online Degrees: 85

Kendale Lakes-Lindgren Acres


Population: 341,851
Cost of Living: 99.6%
Top Industries: Sales, office, administrative support
Local Online Degrees: 23

Orlando


Population: 262,372
Cost of Living: 91.5%
Top Industries: Retail Trade, Accommodation and Food Services, Administrative and Support and Waste Management Services
Local Online Degrees: 36

St. Petersburg


Population: 253,693
Cost of Living: 89.4%
Top Industries: Management, Business, Finance
Local Online Degrees: 14

The Best Online Colleges in Florida

  • 1. University of Florida

    Online Programs: 97
    Type: Public
    Website

    The University of Florida is a powerhouse of a school. Students at UF utilize more than 200 research, service, and education centers, bureaus, and institutes. The University emphasizes a strong adherence to progressive research and contributions to real-world issues. As such the University employs some of the best minds of various fields, making it no wonder that the University consistently ranks as one of the nation’s top universities. The University also touts a dedication to delivering affordable tuition prices. The validity and success of this dedication has earned notoriety through various ranking entities, such as 2nd in Forbes’ “Best Value Public Colleges” and 2nd in Kiplinger’s “Best Values in Public Colleges.” The University of Florida also offers 97 online degrees, which is more than entire cities have to offer. Students at UF can rest assured they are receiving a world class education.

  • 2. University of South Florida-Main Campus

    Online Programs: 39
    Type: Public
    Website

    The University of South Florida is a public research university located in Tampa, Florida and was founded in 1956. It is the fourth-largest public university in the state of florida with a total student body of nearly 50,000. It is considered by the Carnegie Institution to be a top-tier research university, and is only one of three to hold this distinction in the state. With 39 online degree options, students have a variety of options to choose from. And regardless of their choice, the University draws from an impressive network of companies, research centers, and other organizations to create valuable professional opportunities for its students both during and after their time at the University.

  • 3. Florida Institute of Technology

    Online Programs: 40
    Type: Private
    Website

    The Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) is a private research university located in Melbourne, Florida. FIT consists of six academic divisions with emphases on science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and aviation. Fit is the only independent technological university in the Southeast, and thus offers residents of Florida, who are interested in pursuing an education in STEM, a truly unique and valuable opportunity. FIT has received impressive accolades from countless ranking entities, but most notably was ranked a ‘Tier 1 Best National University’ by U.S. News & World Report and was named one of the nation’s top technological institutions in the Fiske Guide to Colleges.

  • 4. University of Central Florida

    Online Programs: 41
    Type: Public
    Website

    The University of Central Florida is the second largest university in the nation and is located in Orlando, Florida. UCF is comprised of 13 colleges and serves about 63,000 students through 210 degree programs. UCF has 10 regional campuses, stationed around key research centers or community hubs to increase the University’s academic and professional networks. The University is also encouraging of international and out-of-state students evidenced by a student body representing all 50 states and 148 countries. UCF offers 41 online degree options with hybrid learning options as well, which might be the perfect middle ground for a Florida resident engaging in one of the University’s online degree programs.

  • 5. Florida State University

    Online Programs: 24
    Type: Public
    Website

    Florida State University (FSU) is a public research university located in Tallahassee, Florida that was founded in 1851, making it one of the state’s oldest universities. The University is recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to have ‘Very High Research,’ a distinction only three of Florida’s universities have earned. The University is comprised of 16 colleges and over 110 centers, facilities, labs, and institutes, which combined offer over 360 degree programs. While only 24 of these are fully online programs, the FSU has received national recognition for its online programs through various ranking entities such as U.S. News & World Report. FSU’s athletic teams, known by their “Florida State Seminoles” nickname, have won over 20 national athletic championships and are constant competitors across various Division I sports, which is likely a treat for any student sports fan who is able to attend the games.

  • 6. Florida Atlantic University

    Online Programs: 29
    Type: Public
    Website

    Florida Atlantic University is a public university located in Boca Raton, Florida and operates 5 satellite campuses located in Dania Beach, Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Jupiter, and in Fort Pierce. This allows online student Florida residents to have an extended reach in terms of a professional and academic network. Also, despite being a smaller university, it offers nearly 30 online degree programs, which is more than some of the universities with twice its size. This indicates the University’s commitment to online education. Further illuminating this fact is the University’s online MBA program, which has been ranked among the top three programs in the world. For Florida students looking to pursue an online MBA, this program is likely too good to pass up.

  • 7. Lynn University

    Online Programs: 19
    Type: Public
    Website

    Lynn University is a private university located in Boca Raton, Florida and was founded in 1962. As mentioned in the intro, a major barrier for many students seeking the affordable costs of Florida’s university systems is residency. Lynn University, however, has gone to great lengths to remove this barrier and actually incentives in place to encourage both out-of-state students and international students. This is evidenced by 25% of the student body being comprised of international students. While it was one of the smallest schools on this list, it offers 19 online degree programs, which demonstrates it dedication to developing its distance-learning options.

  • 8. Florida International University

    Online Programs: 12
    Type: Public
    Website

    Florida International University (FIU) is Miami’s first and only public research university to offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Designated a top-tier research institution, FIU incorporates research methods and learning principles across its many degree programs. At the center of these research initiatives are two schools, The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and the School of Computing and Information Science Discovery Lab. These two areas of research serve as the foundation for the University’s most impressive and well-received online degree programs. While these areas are highly focused, interested students will find the highly affordable tuition costs of the programs hard to ignore.

  • 8. Saint Leo University

    Online Programs: 46
    Type: Private
    Website

    One of the top-ranked universities in Florida, Saint Leo is a private, nonprofit University established in 1889 and located in Saint Leo, Florida, which is just 35 miles north of Tampa. Saint Leo is one of few Universities in Florida to incorporate its religious roots into teaching philosophy. Specifically, the University adheres to a Roman Catholic worldview, though the school is clear that it does not force a worldview on it students. Beyond the location in close proximity to the booming mecha of Tampa, the University also holds 17 continuing education centers in seven states including California, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. The University is also one of only a few on this list to run its online learning department as a separate department, allowing deliberate allocation of faculty and resources to online learning that is sometimes lacking in other schools. Both Saint Leo and Tampa offer students of the program a wealth of professional and academic networks to tap into, as well as entertaining night lives, fascinating historical sites, and beautiful national parks.

  • 10. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach

    Online Programs: 27
    Type: Private
    Website

    Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a nonprofit, independent institution that offers degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate level. The main areas of focus at the University are Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering, and Security & Intelligence. What makes the University highly unique is the fact that it houses the first and only undergraduate space physics program in the nation, the first College of Security and Intelligence program in the nation, the first commercial space operations program in the nation, and the first unmanned and autonomous systems engineering program in the nation. Students interested in these subjects will likely be elated to know that most of them do have online degree options.

  • 11. Everglades University

    Online Programs: 25
    Type: Private
    Website

    Everglades University is a fully-accredited, private, nonprofit university that offers both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Some of the specialized areas offered are: Alternative and Renewable Energy Management, Environmental Policy and Management, Construction Management, Land and Energy Management, Surveying Management for Construction and Roadway, International Business, Alternative Medicine, Aviation/Aerospace, Hospitality Management, Business Administration, and Crisis & Disaster Management. Nearly all of these degree programs are offered in a fully-online format. So while the subject areas are rather focused and niche, they will be fantastic options for anyone interested in them.

  • 12. Hodges University

    Online Programs: 30
    Type: Private
    Website

    Hodges University is a private, nonprofit institution of relatively new creation, having been founded in just 1990. It is located in Naples, Florida and regardless of online or on-campus tracks, the degree programs are designed to accommodate busy, working adults, who might not be able to attend traditional degree programs. Thus programs are built around principles of flexibility, affordability, and convenience. Thus students should find that they can complete their degree programs amidst full-time jobs, or demanding personal obligations. And with over 30 online degree options, students also have the opportunity to complete choose when, where, and how they learn.

  • 13. Florida Gulf Coast University

    Online Programs: 10
    Type: Public
    Website

    Florida Gulf Coast University is a public university located in Fort Myers, Florida. The University is part of the 12-campus State University System of Florida and offers various associate’s degrees, 51 different bachelor’s degrees, 29 master’s degrees, and 6 doctoral degrees. Established in just 1991, is one of the youngest in the state, however that makes it all the more impressive the level of impact it has had on its region’s economy. Through more strict admission requirements, the University is able to maintain a rigorous academic environment with a career-oriented focus. Thus the University ranks as one of the best in the state in terms of alumni employment and success measures. While only 10 degree programs are entirely online, students can be confident that any program at this University will be both challenging and rewarding. Not to mention, the local area of Fort Myers is one of the fastest growing cities in Florida, making it an ideal place for career-minded students to lay down professional roots.

  • 14. Seminole State College of Florida

    Online Programs: 35
    Type: Public
    Website

    Seminole State College of Florida is a public state college with four campuses in Central Florida, and is the eighth largest member of the Florida College System. Florida residents will be interested to know that graduates of the college are guaranteed admittance into the University of Central Florida, as well academic guidance by the university advisors. Thus this program grants a unique opportunity to students who might not otherwise have access to the University of Central Florida and its impressive degree programs. That is not to discount Seminole State College itself, however, as it offers a clearly evidenced dedication to online education with more than 30 fully online degree options available. The College is also ranked as one of the most affordable on this list, making it an ideal option for students looking to either obtain their degree or set themselves on a guaranteed track for UCF without breaking the bank or taking of enormous student debt.

  • 15. Miami Dade College

    Online Programs: 10
    Type: Public
    Website

    Miami Dade College is a state college in Miami, Florida with eight campuses and twenty-one outreach centers located throughout Miami-Dade county. It is the largest College in the Florida College system with over 165,000 students, thus making it the largest institution of higher education in Florida, and the second largest in the United States. The College’s main campus is located in Downtown Miami, meaning that students have access to all the wonders of one the state’s most entertaining and active cities. Though only 10 online degree programs are available, students will find that the College is designed to accommodate even the busiest of schedules, so that students can succeed in their degree programs while taking advantage of the resources of Miami and the numerous outreach and research initiatives of the College.

Monitoring the accreditation of a university you are interested in attending is incredibly important. Accreditation ensures your credits can transfer that you can receive Federal financial aid, and most importantly that certain standards of educational quality are during your schooling. The highest accreditation standard for most programs in the United States is provided by regional accreditation agencies. The regional accrediting agency for Florida is Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Latin America, and other Commission approved international sites.

Making sure that a University you’re hoping to attend is regionally accredited — or accredited by a real and respected accrediting agency — is one of the most important choices you can make in ensuring the quality of your education.

Three Steps for Securing Financial Aid

  • Submit your FAFSA.
  • Check to see if additional forms are needed at your university of choice.
  • Search and apply for private scholarships.

Through the previous three steps most students find themselves offered some sort of federal grant, work study, private grant, scholarship, or stipend.

Great Florida Higher Education Resources

  • You can find an extensive list of Florida College System campuses here. The site provides addresses, maps, site information, and contact information.
  • The State University System of Florida includes twelve universities with an enrollment of over 300,000. You can find an extremely helpful resource guide for the large University system here. You can access a wealth of information by area of study, financial aid, employment information, etc.
  • Here you can find interactive university data of the State University System of Florida. You can search by enrollment, degrees, credit hours, or analysis of instructional expenditures.
  • ThinkFlorida is a site dedicated to providing information and resources for the 12 universities of the Florida State University System. The site follows developments, collaborations, and opportunities that arise in the partnership between the universities.
  • Here you can find various maps and resources for finding the right college in Florida. Maps, university analyses, and other information make this an invaluable resource for any prospective florida college student.
  • State of Florida is a site covering the various higher education entities in florida with information on financial aid, grants, scholarships, college majors, online learning and more.
  • FloridaSchoolCounselor is a site dedicated to providing helpful resources for Florida college students. Its information varies widely, but it all seems highly relevant and helpful for a student at any level of high education in Florida.
  • At this site, you can find an exhaustive list of Florida-specific state scholarships and grant programs available to students of higher education. You can find this list Here.
  • Take Stock in Children is a nonprofit organization in Florida dedicated to guiding low-income youth and students through education, scholarships, and other opportunities.
  • This article explores the various options and factors of higher education in Florida with an emphasis on issues important to international students.
  • Here is the official portal of the state of Florida. You can find breakdowns of all information important to the state and its high ed. Institutions with directories to various state entities tied and higher education departments of Florida.
  • ReadWorks is a learning resource and guide for both improving your own reading comprehension, and teaching others how to do the same. As reading comprehension is a fundamental aspect of higher learning, this is likely an invaluable resource for those looking to brush up on their skills.
  • CPALMS is the brainchild of Florida State University, and is a resource for both students and teachers to develop advanced study and organizational skills.
  • Florida Students is a resource site dedicated to providing SAT preparatory courses and guides, along with over a thousand resources for learning the in the areas of English and Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies — an excellent resource for students who may have taken a long break between high school and college.

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