College Costs: Online College vs Traditional College

College Costs: Online College vs Traditional College
Campus is the new alternative to online community college that provides a 100% live and online Associate of Arts in Business Administration degree program. We’re on a mission to maximize access to a world-class education, starting with our career-focused business program that equips students from across the U.S. with a solid foundation in core business principles to set them up for success no matter what their next step is.

When a student decides to attend college for an on-campus degree program, the first concern they tend to have is about the total college costs that they’ll have to pay off. Some may not even realize that college costs go beyond tuition. The true cost of attendance also may include room and board, books, meal plans, institutional health insurance, transportation, supplies, and miscellaneous fees.

To determine your true cost of attendance, you will have to think specifically about your institution and program of interest. The college costs for all degree programs vary significantly. For instance, you may have a public university within the state, a public university outside of the state, or a private institution – and that’s only a few examples.

You might then be thinking that after summing up all of these costs, you’ll have to pay a fortune for a traditional degree. Considering the seemingly never-ending list of additional costs that some students may face, there are several quality institutions out there that offer cost-effective online degrees. While an online degree isn’t traditional, it has certainly become more common in the last several years and will only get more popular thanks to its generally lower costs and greater flexibility. That’s why at Campus we offer an online associate degree in business program where you can earn your degree remotely, all the while keeping your out-of-pocket costs low.

Want to learn more about Campus?

Our admissions advisors can answer your questions.

Without further delay, let’s get into the details of how online degree programs can help you get the degree you want without breaking the bank.

What Is the True Cost of Attendance for Traditional Colleges and Universities?

An undergraduate trying to estimate the total cost of attendance for their college has to deal with a lot of unknowns. The annual sticker enrollment price at a four-year institution published on college websites doesn’t always necessarily highlight all of the additional costs you may specifically need to cover.

Due to that, students may estimate the wrong amount. As a result, some students begin attending their institution and later realize that they can’t actually afford the true cost of college. Therefore, they end up having no option left but to bury themselves in debt or drop out before completing their degree.

That’s why, for students who can’t pay for their degree even after receiving financial aid, an online degree program is an incredible option. We’re going to help you better understand the true costs of attendance at college in general, and how an online degree program could possibly save you some of that money.

Cost of College Tuition and Other Added Fees

The cost of attending college for classes and instruction is known as tuition – a term you’re probably already very familiar with. What you may not know is that some universities may have a fixed tuition price, while others may charge by the number of credits. It’s important to know which pricing convention your college uses.

Below are a couple of other key costs that you might encounter when trying to estimate your total cost of attendance:

  • Housing (aka Room and Board): Depending on the amenities provided, various on-campus living accommodations will cost different amounts. This factor has a significant impact on the overall cost of college.
  • Meal Plans: Colleges charge for meal plans in multiple ways; some give meal credits, while others charge by the item. Some even require particular kinds of students, such as on-campus students or freshmen, to enroll in a meal plan.
  • Institutional Health Insurance: This may cost several thousand dollars and will be automatically charged to your account if it is mandatory for admission.
  • Additional Fees: These are extra costs like lab, orientation, campus, or technology fees. These also vary based on the college you decide to attend. Be sure to look out for them!
  • Miscellaneous Costs: Textbooks, transportation, dorm furnishings, and other personal expenses are more indirect costs that must be added to your estimated costs.

The total cost of college tuition, including the above direct and indirect costs, has gone up and may likely continue to rise. Therefore, it could get more expensive for students to attend and complete college. These expenses potentially force parents or independents to make hard sacrifices in the pursuit of higher education.

Now, there is a significant difference between the cost of college tuition for traditional and online education. To resolve this issue, specific institutions have online degree programs offering affordability to people across the world. Students can access high-quality education by pursuing their educational objectives without bearing heavy financial burdens. For example, according to Education Data, private institutions, on average, charge around $60,000 for an online degree while charging more than twice as much for an in-person degree. The report even directly concludes that “when tuition and the cost of attendance are compared between an online degree and an in-person degree, the online degree is $36,595 cheaper over 4 years.”

Knowing this, we offer an online associate degree in business with tuition that’s below the maximum federal Pell Grant, and there are no added or hidden fees. Our online degree programs are potential money-savers because of factors like lower tuition prices, the elimination of travel and lodging expenses, flexible study locations, access to financial aid, and cost savings on course materials.

To help you understand better how much money you’ll be saving for your future, we’ll break down the average costs in the section below.

Average College Room and Board Cost

The average college room and board cost is a major factor that can cause your college costs to fluctuate. That is because you’ll need to pay for the space each year, as well as the college meal plan if you’re enrolling in one. That’s why some may think living off-campus can occasionally be more economical, especially if it is possible to divide these costs with other roommates and choose lower-cost housing options on your own.

Let’s take a look at the average college room and board cost:

Type of Institution Average annual cost of room and board, on-campus Average annual cost of room and board, off-campus
Public four-year $11,557 $10,941
Private, nonprofit four-year $12,857 $10,429
Private, for-profit four-year $9,092 $8,556
Public two-year $7,111 $9,902
Private, nonprofit two-year $11,804 $9,558
Private, for-profit two-year $8,910 $8,468

As you can see, even two-year institutions also vary in their costs, with a generally lower cost range than their counterparts.

Students may drastically decrease their accommodation costs by avoiding the option of on-campus housing. The average college room and board cost can be managed by enrolling in online programs. Students can continue to live with their families or in their own homes while still attending classes online because this option allows for remote learning. They have more power over where they can reside and, therefore, how much they want to spend on where they live.

That’s why as compared to on-campus programs, online education is a much more budget-friendly alternative.

As a bonus, online students have the choice to plan and cook their meals, too, rather than paying for a costly college meal plan. Students who cook at home can save money by purchasing groceries and preparing their meals per their preferences.

College Textbooks and Course Materials

Buying brand-new college textbooks, whether in physical copy or digital form, can be expensive, especially if you add them up over time.

Although digital or eBooks are more convenient, many require access credentials to ensure that every student pays the full cost. A student can temporarily access a learning management system containing the course materials using an access code. They need such key resources to work on assignments and pass a course.

In 2022, a brand-new college textbook cost an average of $105.37. College textbooks and supplies can cost more than $1,200.

Similar average expenses for books and materials were reported by public and private nonprofit universities. At private for-profit universities, the average was lower.

College textbooks and course materials vary greatly depending on the program, with some requiring more expensive supplies than others.

Below is the cost of college textbooks at the different institutes:

Type of Institution Cost of College Textbooks and Other Course Materials
Public four-year $1,230
Private, nonprofit four-year $1,228
Private, for-profit four-year $1,065
Public two-year $1,471

Students may require other supplies during college besides college textbooks. Compared to college textbooks, students spend even more money on technology.

During the pandemic, students were forced to shift to online learning; thus, spending on technology increased dramatically. It remained high last year, with an average student spending $700 on technology.

The amount of money college students spend on course materials varies by degree, according to the National Association of College Stores (NACS). The average cost of course materials, such as textbooks, for students majoring in business-related fields like marketing or accounting was above $400. Nowadays, you get an engaging learning experience without the incurred college textbook expenses through online degree programs like Campus’s online associate in business, which uniquely covers all eTextbook and required course material costs.

Want to learn more about Campus?

Our admissions advisors can answer your questions.

Non-Traditional “Commuter Student”

For a student who lives off-campus, transportation is the biggest challenge. Daily commutes are necessary for a commuter student who attends classes on a traditional campus.

The Campus online degree program eliminates the necessity of going to and from a physical campus. This translates to savings on transportation costs like fuel, fares for public transportation, or parking fees. A commuter student who lives far away from campus or in areas with expensive transportation may benefit the most.

Online students can save money on vehicle maintenance by forgoing the commute to a physical college. They need to deal with the ongoing upkeep and repairs, which can pile up over time. As a result, they spend less money on maintenance, oil changes, tire replacements, and other car-related costs.

Students who bring their cars to school are also often charged parking fees by colleges and universities. Students who pursue online degrees avoid these parking costs, which can be expensive, particularly in urban areas or on campuses where the space is limited.

College Health Insurance

Many traditional schools and universities require that students have access to college health insurance, either through a school-provided plan or by presenting qualifying documentation of outside coverage. The student health insurance plan (SHIP), often known as a college health insurance plan, is often created to offer medical services and coverage to enrolled students.

Traditional student health insurance packages might be pricey. These premiums may be included in a student’s overall tuition and fees, adding to their financial load.

While college health insurance plans are frequently made to meet the general requirements of a wide range of students, individuals can, however, have unique healthcare needs that the plan does not sufficiently address. Some college health insurance policies may offer only a few types of protection. They can be subject to larger deductibles, copayments, or restrictions on particular services or therapies.

Outside the plan's network, students may have trouble getting coverage for specialized medical procedures, pre-existing diseases, or particular healthcare providers.

However, if you have an equivalent health insurance plan, you can provide documentation to have this fee removed from your account. Be sure to research your school’s external health insurance policies to see if they accept yours before you make any decision.

Using Financial Aid to Cover the Cost of College for Online Degree Programs

The cost of college can come quite as a shock for many families; some may even feel that it’s impossible for their loved ones to go to college in today’s world. To reduce this burden from the shoulders of students and their families, there are some accessible financial aid options, such as the Federal Pell Grant.

The Pell Grant provides considerable financial support that is not meant to be repaid, allowing students to concentrate more on their education. The maximum Federal Pell Grant award for the 2023-2024 academic year is $7,395.

Campus supports you at every stage of your educational journey by offering thoughtful tuition fees. To help you enroll immediately to start your student life on the right foot, the tuition offered by Campus is below the Pell Grant, and students get access to their course materials and eTextbooks without spending a cent. We offer an associate degree in business which is one of the online degree programs that can give a head start to any student’s career.

All eligible students can benefit from this invaluable opportunity by learning more about the Pell Grant. It can even provide complete tuition coverage for our online associate business degree program if you qualify for the full award.

To learn more about financial aid that may be accessible, check out our Financial Aid Dictionary.


As you can see, the true cost of college goes far beyond tuition, including college costs like housing, transportation, miscellaneous fees and expenses, meal plans, health insurance, textbooks, and more. However, the emergence of online programs has helped so many students thus far kickstart their education without the larger financial burden of traditional college programs.

These programs include our very own online business program, which offers a quality education and student experience, all the while saving you thousands on college costs thanks to our community college tuition and coverage of other fees you might have thought you had to pay – including our application fee, which is $0! In the end, it’s up to you which road you want to take to pursue a degree. However, if you’d like to request more information, Campus is here to help!

Want to learn more about Campus?

Our admissions advisors can answer your questions.