Breaking Down the Cost of an Online Course

US News

I may not be a financial planning whiz, but I do know this much: My budget is not in a place to absorb the cost of an online course.

But I don't have to worry about that, thankfully, because U.S. News & World Report will be funding my foray into online learning.

That said, I couldn't just sign up for the first class I found. Before I got the corporate credit card, I had to do a little research into the cost of a typical online personal finance class.

[Learn why online MBAs offer an easier admissions path.]

The overall pricing wasn't a shock: The three-credit courses I was looking for ranged from about $935 to $1,320 for out-of-state students, although one community college class was about $515. In-state tuition for the courses was generally lower, though at least one school gave scholarships to out-of-state students that offset the increased price.

What did surprise me, though, was the makeup of the costs. As a full-time undergrad and graduate student, I never paid attention to all of the fees tacked onto a single class.

Each university online course cost around $300 or $400 per credit hour. On top of that, several classes had application fees in the $30-$50 range. Others had "online course" fees or "technology'' fees, presumably to pay for the learning management systems and other kinds of computer-related infrastructure. Two schools charged about $160 for books. One school was even going to charge me a parking fee, even though the only place I'm parking myself this semester is in front of the computer.

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The course I ended up enrolling in cost more than $1,300, including fees. It took me maybe two minutes to pay online with my boss's American Express.

In theory, U.S. News would have had to fork out less money had I qualified for student aid. But to do so, I would have needed to enroll in an entire degree program.

As much respect as I have for business majors, I don't think I'm ready for that time commitment. And I don't think U.S. News is ready to write that check.

Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.

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