A Guide to Online Colleges in Rhode Island

Updated May 14, 2021 | BestCollegeReviews.org Staff

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Rhode Island or "Little Rhody" is known by many as the smallest state with the largest name. It's full official title is "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. " Little Rhody — though small in physical size — packs a lot of history, tradition, and culture into one small state. From the Narragansett tribes to the colonial era — from the prison state of the mid 19th century to the renaissance in the 1990s — if this state could talk, it would tell you a story of triumph over turmoil. The marine culture is a big part of Rhode Island's heritage and is evidenced by the lighthouses that dot Block Island Sound and the Narragansett Bay. The state also shares some of its maritime border with New York and its portage. Rhode Island is also referred to as "The Ocean State" due to the fact that much of the state consists of large bays and sounds. Though small, the state has a total of over 400 miles of coastline. Rhode Island is home to the Narragansett Bay (named after the native local tribe), a town known as Newport — known for its famous mansions, accompanying yachting community, and its own flavor of local jazz — as well as Pawtucket which is often referred to as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. Providence, the state capital, experienced a Renaissance period in the 1990s with the addition of new parks, restorations, shops and restaurants. It is now known for its eclectic neighborhoods and safe clean streets. When locals are ready to leave, they are just an hour by train from Boston and two hours from New York City. This little state has big opportunities for all who inhabit it, and is a welcoming home to a diverse group of people.

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.

Featured Online Schools

Top Public Schools

Our top public school pick is also the state's flagship university, the University of Rhode Island. As you may have guessed, as a flagship university the programming at URI is broad, highly ranked, and makes a huge economic impact on the state. In fact, the University of Rhode Island is a land and sea-grant university and includes a number of research opportunities for undergraduates as well as graduates including a look at climate change and its effects on Rhode Island, Smart Cities, and other exciting and topical research. Online, there are three programs available including an RN to BSN, M.S. in cyber security and an M.S. in dietetics. Compared to other flagship universities, the University of Rhode Island is more affordable than average. We like URI not only for its affordability but high U.S. News ranking, economic impact, importance and relevance to the state of Rhode Island.

Top Private Schools

The majority of programs offering fantastic online options in the state of Rhode Island are private. Our number one and number two top choices are both private institutions: Salve Regina University and Johnson and Wales University. Students at both of these institutions benefit from small classroom sizes, high quality education, and a number of online options from which to choose. Salve Regina University offers 15 online master's degree programs and Johnson and Wales University offers a total of 12 degrees: 6 bachelor's and 6 master's degrees. Roger Williams University and the New England Institute of Technology are our other two picks for best private schools in the state, and we particularly like both that both institutions have good coverage of technical and liberal arts fields. Students at RWU may select from one of 7 online bachelor's degrees and NEIT offers a total of 8 degrees online: 4 bachelor's and 4 master's degrees in fields like automotive services, criminal justice, construction, and public health.

How to Become a Resident

Those who have established residency in the state of Rhode Island are offered a lower rate of tuition. As with most states, establishing domicile is part of the requirements to obtain residency and in turn a lower tuition rate. In-state status requires domicile which is defined by the state of Rhode Island as your permanent home and where you plan to return to after short periods away. In order to establish domicile, you must live and work in the State of Rhode Island for one full 12 month period. A residence of domicile established for the single purpose of attending a university does not qualify an individual for in-state status. You must have completed a full 12 month period to have established domicile. Those who apply before this period will not qualify. Student who have not reached the age of 18 will be presumed domiciles of his or her parents or legal guardian(s) and a dependent. Individuals who are independent or defined as receiving fewer than 50% of support from parents or guardians and are above the age of 18 must be working in the state of Rhode Island, paying taxes, and have documented proof of the 12 month domicile such as a signed lease agreement where your name is stated on the lease, proof of established utility services such as your electric bill, gas/heating bill, water bill, telephone bill, home/auto insurance and bank account statements as well as miscellaneous documentation like your vehicle registration, voter registration, and W-2 forms (from the previous tax year). Like most state universities, providing in-state tuition is truly reserved for those living in-state. Others who qualify include a student who has attended an approved Rhode Island high school for 3 or more years and continues to live in Rhode Island, those who qualify for federal GI Bill benefits, an active duty member of the spouse of dependent of an active duty member who has been on active duty for a period longer than 30 days.

In 2015-16 the average published tuition prices for Rhode Island public four-year universities was $9,123 for in-state tuition, which is close to the national average for public schools. That being said, there are only three public universities in the entire state and one subsidized by the federal government — the Naval War College. Though the average cost is closer to the national average, the main public university — URI's — annual in-state tuition rate is closer to $12,000 per year. Out-of-state participants pay more than twice the price at $28,800 per year! Some of the highest value schools are also our top picks for online options. The University of Rhode Island is one of the top schools in the nation and the region and has fantastic research opportunities. Though on average more costly than all public universities, when it comes to flagship universities, URI is more affordable than comparative flagships in other states. Rhode Island is certainly home to many more private institutions where the average cost for tuition is about $4,000 above the national cost for private institutions. However, those who choose to study online should factor in an average savings of $15,000 per year on the cost of room and board. That means $60,000 dollars in savings for four-year degree programs. Other expenses that many parent students save on is child care. In fact, the cost of childcare for parents in many states is the same as tuition! In Rhode Island, the cost of child per year is the same as one year of tuition at the University of Rhode Island and often times even more. Student-parents who study online minimize the need for child care and have the potential to save an additional $60,000 or more. In-state parents studying online at public institutions save on average $120,000! For many individuals this is not a pinching pennies choice — these dollar amounts make a significant impact on the individual students and their livelihoods. For all students, and particularly for parent students, there's definitely something to be said for staying in-state for school in Rhode Island. Providence is the capital of Rhode Island and is the most populous city in the state. Providence has recently experienced a renaissance period and is filled with new parks, a plethora of restaurants and shops, and eclectic neighborhoods to match. Originally home to the Narragansett Native Americans, and later settled by an exiled Massachusetts residence, Providence has a very colorful and dramatic past which can still be seen in many forms today. Benefit street and the surrounding area serve almost as a walkable museum featuring a number of colonial homes and buildings. College Hill is home to Brown University, the Providence Athanaeum, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Prospect Terrace Park, and Shakespeare's Head. Federal Hill is another one of Providence's many eclectic neighborhoods that showcases its unique residents and is known specifically for its Italian heritage. Across the bridge is East Providence and home to an entirely different group of locals — a part of town where you'll see fewer tourists and hear more of that famous New England accent. Each neighborhood is unique in its own way which makes up so much of Providence's charm. Needless to say, walking the city and enjoying its beauty street by street is one of locals' favorite activities. Finding a parking spot is comically a fear for most locals and so walking is often preferred to driving. Of course Providence is also a fantastic place to work. Once a town known for its marine industry then later its jewelry making industry, today, Providence's most prominent industries include manufacturing, healthcare, and retail. When locals want to get away they have easy access to Newport, Boston, and New York City.

Just an hour outside of Providence by train is Boston. Boston is the largest city in New England and part of the Greater Boston Combined Statistical Area (CSA) which includes Providence, Worcester and Manchester. Boston has had significant influence on American history and industry and is a part of one of the top 10 largest regions for business impact in the country. Higher education is one of the major areas where Boston has made an impact as it is home to phenomenal institutions like Boston University, Harvard, MIT, and Boston Tech. Boston is known for its collection of distinct neighborhoods that really do show its great diversity as as city. r Dorchester which is considered one of the most diverse, Chinatown is known in part for food, Beacon Hill is known for historic buildings and state government, and Back Bay is known for upscale dining and shopping. Cambridge, home of Harvard is integrated with the Boston and provides further cultural enrichment opportunities. Perhaps one of Boston's better-known industries is sports as Boston and New England are known for their die-hard fandom in a number of professional sports areas. Whether there as a student, a fan, or a professional, Boston is an exciting city that offers great opportunity for all.

Hartford is the capital of Connecticut located about an hour and 30 minutes West of Providence. Located just under 25 miles from Springfield, Massachusetts, Hartford is part of something known as the Knowledge Corridor. The Knowledge Corridor gets its name due to the high concentration of colleges and universities located along this part of New England. In fact, it falls only second behind the Greater Boston area. There are 30 colleges in this corridor alone. Academia and high culture often go hand-in-hand. Hartford is filled with museums, galleries, theaters, music centers, civic centers, a science center and more. It is also the home of the Connecticut State Library, and several other historical attractions including Mark Twain's home. In addition to culture and historical landmarks, there are several unique food and shopping options in Hartford. Between Hartford and Springfield there are 10 schools with fantastic online options.


Population: 179,154
Cost of Living: 95.6%
Top Industries: manufacturing, education, retail, healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1


Population: 81,963
Cost of Living: 93.2%
Top Industries: manufacturing, education, retail, healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1


Population: 24,089
Cost of Living: 116.7%
Top Industries: Accommodation, professional scientific and technical services, education, manufacturing
Local Online Degrees: 1


Population: 81,037
Cost of Living: 93.5%
Top Industries: manufacturing, education, retail, healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1

The Best Online Colleges in Rhode Island

1. Salve Regina University

Online Programs: 15
Type: Private

Salve Regina University is a small Roman Catholic private institution located in Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is a summer resort town known for its beautiful colonial era architecture and private beaches. The campus features architecture typical of the town and beach-side views. Beautiful natural surroundings and intact colonial architecture are just a few perks to studying at Salve Regina University. Academically speaking, Salve Regina University is one of the best schools in the region and additionally one of the best value schools according to U.S. News. There are just 2,758 students currently enrolled who benefit from small classroom sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1. Salve Regina University is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and offers a wide variety of degree programs from the bachelor's to doctoral level. Their graduate and continuing education programs are tailored to the specific needs of adult learners and they offer 15 master's degrees fully online in areas like health care administration, homeland security, and business administration.

2. Johnson and Wales University

Online Programs: 12
Type: Private

Johnson and Wales is a private institution with five campuses including their online campus. The largest and original campus is in Providence. Providence is the most populous city in Rhode Island and home to many colonial era buildings, unique cuisine, and some of the best schools in the country. The New England Association of Schools accredits Johnson and Wales to offer undergraduate and graduate level programming. Originally founded in 1914 as a business college, today Johnson and Wales enrolls 9,454 students who study from 9 different academic schools and colleges: the college of arts and sciences, college of business, college of culinary arts, college of engineering and design, college of health and wellness, college of hospitality and management, the center for physician assistance studies, graduate studies, and the college of online education. A number of degrees offered are career-oriented and appropriate for both traditional and online learners. In fact, there are an additional 10,000 student enrolled through their online learning school. There are 12 fully online programs offered through their online school — 6 bachelor's degrees and 6 master's degrees in fields like culinary arts and food service management, criminal justice, and more.

3. University of Rhode Island

Online Programs: 3
Type: Public

The University of Rhode Island is a public land and sea-grant institution located in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence is the capital of Rhode Island known for its picturesque streets and ample dining and shopping options. This flagship university enrolls 16,613 students and the student-to-faculty ratio is 16:1. According to U.S. News, the University of Rhode Island is the 83rd best school in the nation. The university offers over 80 degree programs including bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees and is fully accredited through the New England Association of Schools. As a research university, the University of Rhode Island provides ample hands-on research opportunities for both students and faculty in many subject areas including smart technology, pharmaceuticals, climate change, architecture, volcanoes, youth services, secularism and much more. We like the high quality of education you receive through the University of Rhode Island as well as the great value. Additionally, the University of Rhode Island has developed three fully online degree programs: an RN to BSN, M.S. in Cyber Security, and an M.S. in Dietetics.

4. Roger Williams University

Online Programs: 7
Type: Private

Roger Williams is a private liberal arts university located in Bristol, Rhode Island. Bristol is a port town with historic architecture and a very active marine industry. There are 4,808 students enrolled who benefit from small classroom sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. According to U.S. News, Roger Williams University is the 35th best school in the region, 19th best college for veterans, and has the 69th best engineering program. The New England Association of Schools accredits Roger Williams University to offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs. There are over 45 undergraduate and 15 graduate programs to choose from. Though a liberal arts college, Roger Williams University also includes programming for professionals, and utilizes project-based, and experiential learning approaches. There are many student organizations to choose from and this campus does a fantastic job celebrating diversity and using green initiatives. Forbes Magazine recognizes JMU for their green practices. Online students may choose from one of 7 bachelor degree programs in fields like technology leadership and management, administrations, and industrial technology.

5. New England Institute of Technology

Online Programs: 8
Type: Private

The New England Institute of Technology (NEIT) is a private nonprofit university located in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. East Greenwich is a small quaint historic town with a high GDP per capita. There are nearly 3,000 students enrolled at NEIT who may choose fro over 50 associate, bachelor's, and master's degree program. The New England Association of Colleges and Schools fully accredits NEIT. Each program has been designed by both educators and industry experts. NEIT also offers accelerated option where students may complete associate degrees in as little as 18 months and bachelor's degree programs in a little as three years. Degree programs are career-ready and focus on fields like occupational therapy, construction management, interior design, marine technology, health care management, and video game design. Formats for learning include traditional, hybrid, and fully online. Online, there are 8 programs: 4 bachelor's degrees and 4 master's degrees all in varied career-ready fields.

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 Rhode Island is the New England Association of Schools and Colleges , one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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 Rhode Island Higher Education Resources

Rhode Island Department of Education
Rhode Island Department of Education includes resources for students, parents, and teachers and the latest in education policies, climate, and more.
Community College of Rhode Island
The Community College of Rhode Island has 6 locations throughout the state including Warwick, Lincoln, Providence, Newport County, and Westerly.
Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority
Click here for further assistance in finding your degree, college counseling, and more.
Way to Go Rhode Island
Way to Go Rhode Island is an online tool that assists high school students, higher education students, and professionals plan for the future.
Rhode Island Department of Education
The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) will keep you up-to-date on educational standards and assist individuals seeking credentials.
Rhode Island Scholarships
Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a database filled with local scholarships.
University of Rhode Island Scholarships
Click here for a list of federal and state grants for the The University of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island Promise
Click here for more information about how you can receive two years of free tuition in the state of Rhode Island.
Salve Regina University
For a list of scholarships to Salve Regina University click here .
Merit Scholarships for Johnson and Wales University
Click here for a list of Johnson and Wales University scholarship awards.
Good Neighbor New England
Do you live in New England? Obtain a break in tuition price at the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island through this regional program.

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