The Keystone State is home to one of the nation’s largest populations, with over 13 million inhabitants as of 2016. Historic in its role as one of United States’ original thirteen colonies and economic hubs, Pennsylvania is known for housing some of America’s most famous political landmarks, including the Liberty Bell, the national icon that can be found in a city park of the state’s largest city of Philadelphia; Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were drafted; as well as the site for the Battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of the American Civil War. In addition to all these landmarks, as well as countless museums in its cities, Pennsylvania’s hinterlands feature a great number of outdoor and recreational opportunities: 121 state parks with free admission, hundreds of square miles of public land for hunting and fishing, as well as at least 15 amusement parks.
The State of Pennsylvania also plays host to the second-largest number of in-state learning opportunities in the Northeast with a university system that maintains 14 public colleges and universities and over 130 private colleges, universities, and institutes. Of course, one of the best parts about living in the twenty-first century is that residents from almost anywhere can choose to attend a college or university from almost anywhere, so that someone in Pennsylvania’s more rural northern half could attend an institution in the state’s urban southern half, and vice versa, all from the privacy of their home. So whether you’re a longtime resident or a recent mover, there are a number of reasons why you might want to obtain a degree online as an in-state resident. If you’re trying to figure out how to do so, this guide is for you.
One reason to obtain an online degree in your home state is that in-state tuition can often be applied to public schools that offer online programs. Many online programs require some face-to-face interaction, or they provide more numerous support services that local students can avail themselves of by living close to their brick-and-mortar locations. Intensive study experiences — which often take place on weekends or in several weeklong bouts — enable many online students to accelerate their time-to-graduation. Students looking at online education opportunities can drastically expand their options if they also search for locally offered, hybrid online / onsite degrees (i.e., programs where classes can be taken either partially or mostly online), and which students from other locations are unable to gain advantage of. And finally, one of the most common stipulations for obtaining scholarships is that applicants be from a certain state or region, a stipulation that permits far more funds for local students seeking degrees in-state than students applying from out-of-state.
Featured Online Schools
Many of the top public schools in Pennsylvania offer online programs of study from the associate's degree up to the doctorate. Among Pennsylvania’s eighteen public-funded colleges and universities offering such degrees, fifteen offer at least one online bachelor’s degree. These include the Penn State University system at all ten of its commonwealth institutions that offer online degrees — World Campus, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre, New Kensington, Erie-Behrend, Main Campus, College of Medicine, York, Schuylkill, and Worthington-Scranton — as well as Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and California University of Pennsylvania. For those looking to obtain an associate’s degree, or save funds and transfer into four-year programs, four of Pennsylvania’s fifteen community colleges offer at least one fully online associate's degree. All offer transfer programs into four-year programs around the state. Penn State University’s Main Campus, New Kensington, Erie-Behrend, and College of Medicine tied for offering the greatest number of online master’s degrees among public colleges and universities at 39, as well as the greatest number of bachelor’s degrees for the same group at 23. All four of these institutions also offer 1 doctoral degree.
A great number of online courses are made available through private universities in Pennsylvania. Offering degrees that sometimes range all the way from the associate’s degree to the doctoral degree, 37 private colleges and universities offer online degree programs across the state. In terms of a range of offerings from an associate’s to a doctorate, Baptist Bible College and Seminary leads the pack, offering at least one associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral program online, including 28 master’s degrees and 2 doctoral degrees. Robert Morris University and DeSales University follow closely, with Robert Morris offering online programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level, and DeSales offering online programs from the associate’s level to the doctoral. Villanova University is the most prestigious private university in the state with online offerings, providing access to 9 online bachelor’s programs as the number one ranked regional university in 2017, according to U.S. News.
For a variety of reasons, online learners may move to the state that hosts their online college program, whether specifically required by the program or not — be it for a job, love of the area, or for scholarship benefits, etc. Different states have different policies on what defines a resident, and some of them can be rather demanding. Pennsylvania is one of these. To declare residency in the state for tuition purposes, an incoming student must reside continually in a Pennsylvania domicile for at least 12 months prior to attending the university, and that student’s presence in the state must not be primarily for educational purposes. This means that an online learner who moves to Pennsylvania expressly to receive in-state tuition will not earn the perk of in-state tuition just by renting an apartment on the border. However, if a student were to relocate (or already be relocated) to the state for job or career purposes, family ties, or personal needs such as those involved with healthcare and has paid taxes at least once to the state government, they are much more likely to be considered a resident in the public university system’s eyes. Military personnel on active duty in the state residing in a Pennsylvania domicile are also granted in-state tuition without needing to have lived there 12 months prior.
Compared with the rest of the nation, Pennsylvania is one of the most expensive states in terms of cost of higher education. For 2015-2016, the state’s average annual tuition for a full-time undergraduate student was $20,527, which is $6,941 higher than the national average. During that year, Franklin and Marshall College was the most expensive institution to attend at $50,300 per year, while Penn State Main Campus was the most expensive popularly attended university at $16,572 per year. On the other hand, these prices are fairly average as far as national norms go for cost of attendance at private colleges and universities. And for a state where part-time and online options abound, online students will not pay sticker prices near this high, especially those who can find public colleges or universities that afford in-state rates or offer special scholarships for continuing education. Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania for example, a 104th ranked regional university, came in well under the state average tuition at $7,060, which is largely representative of other public offerings in the state.
Fifty-four Pennsylvania-based traditional four-year universities offer online degrees. Popular online offerings include include the Bachelor of Nursing, Bachelor of Psychology, and Bachelor of Business Administration at Penn State University-World Campus, as well as that institution’s Master of Business Administration and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs. Other notable universities in Pennsylvania that are consistently recognized for top-ranked online programs include Carnegie Mellon University and its fully online MBA program, Villanova University and its fully online MS in Engineering, as well as Temple University and its BS in Business Administration.
Seven traditional four-year universities and one community college offer online degrees in the Philadelphia metro area. Notable offerings include Drexel University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice, St. Joseph’s University’s Master of Science in Special Education, as well as Peirce College’s Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. Other schools based in Philadelphia that are consistently recognized for their online programs include Temple University, La Salle University, and University of the Sciences.
Four traditional four-year universities and one community college offer online degrees in Pittsburgh. Notable online offerings include a Master of Science in Nursing at Duquesne University, a Master of Science in Business Administration at Carnegie Mellon, and a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Chatham University. Other schools offering online programs based in the area include Point Park University and its Master of Science in Health Care Administration and Management, as well as the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science and its Associate in Specialized Technology and Funeral Service Arts and Sciences.
Cost of Living: 105%
Top Industries: Health Care and Social Assistanace, Retail Trade, Educational Services
Local Online Degrees: 8
Cost of Living: 95%
Top Industries: Health Care, Educational Services, Retail Trade
Local Online Degrees: 5
Cost of Living: 92%
Top Industries: Health Care, Manufacturing, Retail Trade
Local Online Degrees: 2
Cost of Living: 100%
Top Industries: Health Care and Social Assistance, Manufacturing, Retail Trade
Local Online Degrees: 1
Cost of Living: 95%
Top Industries: Health Care and Social Assistance, Retail Trade, Educational Services
Local Online Degrees: 1
Cost of Living: 101%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Health Care and Social Assistance, Educational Services
Local Online Degrees: 1
The Best Online Colleges in Pennsylvania
Online Programs: 68
Penn State University is the largest public research university located in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With 24 campuses spread across the state, it is consistently touted as one of the top 100 universities in the world for its undergraduate programs, as well as a Public Ivy institution, meaning it is grouped among public universities with the best quality educations in the United States. Its World Campus is particularly noted for being on the cusp of innovative online education. As a public university, Penn State comes with the modest sticker price of $535 per credit hour, while its 68 extensive online offerings range from a popular Bachelor of Nursing program and reputable Master of Business Administration program to a unique and fully online Doctor of Nursing Practice.
Online Programs: 13
Elizabethtown College is a small liberal arts college located in the Pennsylvania town of it namesake, about 20 miles outside of Harrisburg. Elizabethtown College’s Honors program is endowed by the Hershey Company, which borders the college to the north and has earned the college a place of prominence as an academic program of distinction. Elizabethtown’s 13 online offerings range from Associate and Bachelor of Science in Accounting to Master’s of Business Administration at its School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Many of Elizabethtown’s fully online programs are in business, suiting it well for working professionals in search of extra qualifications. Cost per credit hour for part-time students is $1,055, although most students admitted receive some form of financial aid for attendance.
Online Programs: 12
Lehigh University is a private research university located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The university hosts four colleges, and is considered among the “best-kept-secret” universities in the Northeast as a Hidden Ivy school. This means it is grouped among some lesser-known universities attributed with some of the best quality educations in the United States. All of Lehigh University’s 12 online programs are at the graduate level, ranging from a Master of Business Administration to a Master of Science in Molecular Biology. Most of its programs are tailor-made for degree holders from the STEM fields, including its Flex MBA for engineering grads, which make it the perfect fit for practicing engineers who are looking for ways to augment their experience with additional qualifications. Cost per credit hour depends on degree program, with the MBA weighing in at $1,050 per credit hour, and all graduate engineering programs weighing in at $1,350 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 15
St. John’s University is a private Catholic university with two campuses in Philadelphia. Among some of the largest religiously affiliated schools in the world, St. Joseph’s University has repeatedly been recognized as one of the Northeast’s best institutions of higher learning, placing inside U.S. News’ top 20 best schools in the North for at least three years running. St. John’s School of Business is particularly well-known for its undergraduate programs in marketing, accounting, and risk management and insurance, as well as its MBAs in marketing and finance. St. Joseph’s University’s 15 online offerings range from Bachelor of Science in Professional and Liberal Studies to a Master of Business Administration for Executive Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Marketing. Cost per credit hour depends on program of choice, with the bachelor’s program weighing in at $557 per credit hour, graduate programs in business weighing in at $974 per credit hour, and graduate programs in education weighing in at $732 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 11
Drexel University is a private research university with three locations in Philadelphia and one satellite location in Sacramento, California. In combination, these four locations are known to produce some of the most innovative and knowledgeable graduates in the Northeast. Drexel plays host to over 30 centers and institutes designed to push the envelope in terms of Information Science, Public Health, and Entrepreneurship. Drexel’s 11 online offerings range from a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (RN-to-BSN) to several Master’s of Science in Nursing degrees with various concentrations and specializations, as well as two doctoral degrees: one in Health Science and Rehabilitation, the other a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Cost per credit hour depends on program of choice, with the bachelor’s at $547 per credit hour and the master’s and doctoral at $887 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 20
Robert Morris University is a private university located in the Pittburgh suburb of Moon Township. Named after the Revolutionary War financier and Declaration of Independence signatory, Robert Morris, when it was founded in 1921, RMU is noted for its innovation-driven curriculum. Its 20 online offerings range from a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration to a Bachelor of Science in Cyber Forensics and Information Security to several MBA programs and related business areas such as Human Resource Management and Organizational Leadership. Robert Morris University also offers a unique Master of Science in Competitive Intelligence Systems. Cost per credit hour depends on program of choice, with the bachelor’s at $710 per credit hour, the master’s in information technology at $845 per credit hour, and the master’s in business administration at $855 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 10
Immaculata University is a private Roman Catholic University located west of Philadelphia in Malvern, Pennsylvania on 375 acres of land, much of it undeveloped and ripe for exploration. Immaculata University is known for its Leadership Institute, which trains students to grow in religious leadership and is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church through the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Immaculata University’s 10 online offerings range from an Associate’s in Business Administration to a number of Bachelor of Science degrees in Business Management, Finance, and Emergency Planning and Management. Cost per credit hour is $530, although different courses have different course fees ranging anywhere from $10 for a Credit for Prior Learning to $725 for the third and final Nursing Clinical.
Online Programs: 13
King’s College is a private Catholic liberal arts college located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Known as one of the most consistent top-ranking liberal arts institutions in the nation, King’s College has appeared on U.S. News’s Best Schools rankings for 16 consecutive years. Among King's College’s 13 online offerings are 10 bachelor’s degrees, including a Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration, and Bachelor of Science in Health Informatics. King’s also offers three Master’s three master’s degrees: two MBAs and one Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization as Nurse Educator. Cost per credit hour depends on program of choice, with the bachelor’s at $550 per credit hour, graduate programs in Healthcare Administration at $540 per credit hour, and graduate programs in Education at $352 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 16
DeSales University is a private Catholic university located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. DeSales places consistently among U.S. News’ Top 100 graduate programs in the Northern region of the nation. Its 16 online degrees range all the way from an Associate’s in Criminal Justice to several Bachelor’s degrees in disciplines as diverse as Accounting, Nursing, and Theology, to five graduate degrees, including a Doctor of Nursing Practice. The graduate degrees also include a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Master of Education in Education Technology. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with most undergraduate online courses at $474 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 7
Cedar Crest College is a private liberal arts and college in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Although primarily a women’s college, Cedar Crest College does permit men to attend during day hours and of course online. In addition to this special interest, it is known locally for its Communications program in New Media. Cedar Crest College’s 7 fully online offerings include four Bachelor of Science degrees in Business Administration, as well as a Master of Education in the Art of Teaching. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with the bachelor’s at $521 per credit hour and the graduate program in education at $793 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 12
Chatham University is a private women’s college located in Pittsburgh, with a branch campus for its newest addition, the Falk School of Sustainability, in Richland Township. Chatham is recognized for its College of Women, which has helped it place among the best colleges in its region for both U.S. News and The Princeton Review. The college’s 12 online programs include a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, an RN-to-BSN program, and a Bachelor of Arts in Infant and Toddler Development. Its graduate offerings include a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, a Doctor of Nursing Practice, and a Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with the bachelor’s at $805 per credit hour and the master’s at $877 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 8
Widener University--Harrisburg is a branch campus of the small private research university based in Chester, Pennsylvania. Widener University is known for placing consistently among U.S. News top 200 universities, as well as among the list of colleges that most benefit the nation in terms of affecting social mobility and public service. Among its 8 online offerings are an RN-to-BSN program and six master’s degrees, of which 4 are MBA programs with various concentrations, and the other two of which are Master’s of Social Work, one with a specialization in Trauma. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with the bachelor’s in nursing at $944 and the master’s in business administration at $984 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 9
Villanova University is a private research university located northwest of Philadelphia in Radnor Township. Villanova University is known for being the oldest Catholic university in the state, as well as for placing consistently among U.S. News’ best national and regional universities, for which it ranks first in 2017. Among its 9 online offerings, all of which are graduate programs, its graduate business programs are ranked 10th best in the nation, while its graduate engineering programs, which are some of its most popular, are ranked 27th in the nation. The latter include online Master of Science programs in Biomechanical Engineering, Sustainable Engineering, and Water Resources and Environmental Engineering. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with the graduate business at $920 per credit hour and the graduate engineering at $1,210 per credit hour.
Online Programs: 31
California University of Pennsylvania is a public research university based in California, Pennsylvania with a satellite campus in Canonsburg. Increasingly recognized for its virtual school, Cal U is known for its Global Online program, which places consistently among the best online schools. California University of Pennsylvania’s 31 online offerings include a Bachelor’s of Land Management, a Bachelor of Legal Studies, and a Bachelor of Arabic Language and Culture. The bulk of its online offerings come in the form of its 25 master’s programs, which include a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education, a Master of Science in Legal Studies and Criminal Justice, as well as a Master of Science in Nursing. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with the bachelor’s at $294 per credit hour (in-state), graduate education at $479 (in-state), and graduate criminal justice and graduate nursing at $470 (in-state).
Online Programs: 5
La Salle University is a private Roman Catholic university located Philadelphia. It is known for the customizability and independence of its degree programs, as well as for placing consistently well among regional schools in the North. La Salle’s 5 online offerings include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-to-BSN), as well as Master of Science programs in Information Technology, Nonprofit Leadership, Instructional Technology Management, and Economic Crime Forensics. Cost per credit hour depends on program of study, with the nursing bachelor’s at $1,265 per credit hour, graduate information technology at $875 per credit hour, graduate nonprofit leadership at $640 per credit hour, graduate instructional technology at $735 per credit hour, and graduate Economic Crime Forensics at $785 per credit hour.
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 Pennsylvania is the Middle States Commission of Higher Education, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and other geographic areas in which the Commission conducts accrediting activities.
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 Pennsylvania Higher Education Resources
- The Associate of Independent Colleges & Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) maintains over $50 million in endowment from business donors to its Foundation, from which it draws to provide scholarships to students at Pennsylvania’s private colleges and universities. Here’s a comprehensive list of the organization’s member colleges and universities, many of which offer scholarships made possible through AICUP.
- Pennsylvania’s 529 college savings plan is PA529. If adopted early on, the plan allows parents, grandparents, and guardians to receive tax benefits for making contributions to their student’s future from the get-go.
- The state government’s Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is in charge of overseeing a wide range of grants and initiatives for increasing accessibility to Pennsylvania colleges and universities. Check out their site for some of these opportunities.
- Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is the site to visit for any and all information pertaining to public higher education in the state.
- For students who want to finish a degree or start an entirely new one at one of Penn State’s locations, PA Universities Online is an excellent resource that demonstrates the accessibilty that comes from there being a college or university that offers an online education in every corner of the state.
- The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges maintains 14 institutions, 4 of which offer online degrees. See their site for more general information on locations, credit-granting mechanisms and policies, as well as funding and workforce development.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Education provides list some general resources for students interested in learning more about how public Pennsylvania colleges and universities are governed and which ones are accredited.
- PennLive offers a live newsfeed of information pertaining to the ever-changing state of education in the state of Pennsylvania.
- The Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education provides abundant resources for students looking for assistance with career and technical education both in and around the City of Brotherly Love.
- Penn State offers a list of rules for classification as a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
- The Pennsylvania DMV furnishes new residents with a wealth of information as to how to go about becoming an official resident of the Keystone State.