Best Online Colleges for Adult Learners

Created by Henry Steele

By Henry Steele - June 12, 2018
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Reading Time: 7 minutes

As we work to complete our college degree for our future, remember there is always more than a single path to success. Instead of going right to college after high school, more people today are entering the working world first, and getting their college degree later. The reasons that people do so are many: Some have families, others join the military, and for others, family commitments such as a health problem prevent them from getting a college degree earlier in life.

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Fortunately, with the great advances in technology, it is possible to obtain an online degree with few if any visits to a college campus. Distance learning of this type is extremely useful to busy adult learners. There are some online colleges that particularly cater to the adult learner, too. Below are some of your best options.

#1 University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the leading public universities in the US. In recent years, it has become a top online destination for non-traditional, adult college students who want to earn a degree later in life. Adult undergraduates may obtain their degree or certificate through the Willand  Ida Friday Center of Distance Education. These degree programs are both synchronous and asynchronous. So, you have the option of either taking your courses at your own pace, or having set, live class meeting times, or a combination.

Opportunities for adult online learners are not just for students enrolled to earn a degree. Its program Carolina Courses Online allows students on the web to take classes online in the fall, spring and summer terms. The UNC Online Exchange also encourages students to take classes at other campuses of the university at no added charge.

#2 University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is the major college institution of the UNM school system. Its main campuses are located in Minneapolis and St. Paul. UNM Online provides many online degrees, certificates and continuing education programs. These pathways are offered by three different paths: entirely online, mostly online, and partially online or hybrid. Thus, there is great flexibility available for the online adult learner wanting to earn his or her degree later in life.

Most UNM Online students pay in state tuition, making this program a good value. The university has 17 degree and certificate programs that have been approved by the Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act. This is a federal program that is designed to ease tuition costs for people who are underemployed or unemployed.

Some of the pathways for adult learners in undergraduate programs are bachelor’s in accounting, business management, health management and manufacturing management. There also are opportunities to earn bachelor’s certificates, a master’s degree in occupational therapy and a degree in human resource test prep.

#3 Arizona State University – Tempe

This large public college has a total enrollment of more than 51,000 students at its Tempe campus, and also has almost 30,000 students enrolled through ASU Online, the school’s web based program. According to a Spring 2017 survey, 55% of students taking online classes for a degree were 21 to 30, and 41% were 31 or older. The most popular online degree for the older undergraduates were psychology, electrical engineering, information technology and organizational leadership. For graduate students, the most common fields of study were social work, curriculum and instruction, and homeland security/emergency management.

More than 140 online degree programs are offered, and each incoming adult learner is paired with an enrollment coach to assist them to walk through the process to apply, seek financial aid and choose their academic program.

#4 Northeastern University Global Network

Boston’s Northeastern University has a storied tradition of cooperative education that combines classroom learning with hands on training that is ideal for the adult learner. This tradition is one of the cornerstones of the Northeastern University Global Network, which is a web based alliance of educators and employers in more than 150 countries across the world.

The degree programs have been designed to meet current industrial standards and to bring experiential learning into the curricula. These pathways also are designed for working and nontraditional students. They can choose the course delivery, schedule and location that is best for their needs.

Some of the best online offerings for adult learners is the accelerated BSN program that has a blended format to prepare older students for post degree licensure. This pathway may be completed in as few as 16 months, so it is good option for the busy working adult. More than 12 master’s program are also offered via the Global Network in project management, criminal justice and digital media.

#5 Michigan State University

This large public university in East Lansing has a current enrollment of 50,000. It also offers a huge selection of academic programs for adult and distance learners. There are a total of 45 bachelor’s and master’s programs offered fully online or hybrid. Some of these are in education, nursing, social work and engineering. MSU Online also features a broad selection of online and hybrid certificate programs, many of which do not require you to be enrolled at the university.

The college is an official member of the National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements and is authorized to provide distance education programs to adult learners in 47 states and the District of Columbia. This broad reciprocity agreement ensures that many working adults across the country have the opportunity to participate in traditional and accelerated online degree programs.

#6 Penn State World Campus

Penn State World Campus is the online learning branch of Penn State University, and was officially launched in 1998. The campus has greatly expanded its offerings today to include 120 online degrees and certificate programs. Online classes that are delivered via Penn State World Campus are all linked by four major features:

  • Fully online format
  • Curriculum that is academically the same to the campus based program
  • Interactive and dynamic coursework
  • Experience is conducive to adults and nontraditional students.

Most online courses are asynchronous, so you can take the courses when they suit your schedule. Degree options for online students includes both popular majors and more niche areas. Undergraduates can choose bachelor’s programs in accounting, criminal justice, finance and nursing, as well as digital and multimedia design, energy and sustainability policy, international politics and turfgrass science.

#7 The University of Alabama

The University of Alabama has its highly regarded Bama by Distance program that is a good choice for adult learners who want to earn their degree later in life. In addition to online and blended options, Bama By Distance students could also draw from classes that use online video streaming and the Intercampus Interactive Telecommunication System.

A major advantage of the Bama by Distance program for adult learners is its reasonable cost. Tuition for online undergraduates is only $355 per credit hour and $375 per credit hour for graduates.

Degree programs for online, adult undergraduate students include the human environmental sciences, RN to BSN, RN to BSN/MSN and degrees in engineering, business administration and commerce. There are also 42 online master’s programs offered.

#8 University of Utah

UOnline is the distance learning program for the University of Utah. One of the newest opportunities for online, adult students is BlockU. This is a one year, intensive program framed around the idea of global citizenship. Students work on community building projects and learn about major issues in the community while also completing their core course requirements. UOnline also has traditional graduate and undergraduate degree programs that are largely self paced for working students and parents.

Undergraduate students may choose from online bachelor’s tracks in economics, RN to BS nursing, sustainable tourism and hospitality management. Graduate students may obtain master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering, information systems, business administration and information systems.

#9 University of South Florida

The University of South Florida is located in the heart of Tampa, and the university offers a huge array of online degree options for the non-traditional learner. Undergraduates online can get a fully or partially online bachelor’s degree in public health, information studies, information technology, nursing, criminal justice and women’s studies.

For graduate students, there are 27 master’s degrees and two doctoral programs offered in online and blended formats. These include 11 degree paths in education, seven in public health and three in medicine.

USF’s Innovation Education program provides oversight of the online degree and certificate offerings, and works with the USF Strategic Plan to ensure positive student outcomes for distance learners. InEd also offers professional development programs for adult learners in fields including human resources, project management and organizational development.

#10 North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University offers more than 300 degree and certificate programs for its students. The current online programs feature 35 online degree options for distance learners. At the undergraduate level, web based adult learners can select from fully online degrees in pre communication, sociology, or human development and family science with optional concentrations in adult, family studies and child and adolescence.

NDSU also has fully online graduate degrees in 11 fields including construction management, software engineering, and transportation and urban systems. There also are blended degree programs in music education, education and public health.

#11 Temple University

Temple University offers a very high quality web-based online degree delivery method. Adult students utilize Blackboard and WebEx so they have access to cutting edge, collaborative learning methods that offer busy parents and professionals the most engaging learning possible. Temple offers more than two dozen graduate degrees and certificate programs, as well as its online bachelor’s degree in business.

For adult learners who do not actually need a degree at this time, the university also offers non-credit courses. These are appropriate for adult students who need the knowledge the course imparts for their work. Or, they can take a non-credit course to obtain knowledge needed to sit for a certification or licensing exam.

#12 University of Florida

The University of Florida has been in the adult online education space since 2001. This means they have years of experience helping older students get the same quality education online that other students get on campus. What makes the University of Florida so good for older students is it is extremely flexible.

The University of Florida features a rolling admission process and more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs, and also offers many non-degree courses for the adult learner who just needs a class or two to increase their job qualifications. Most of the courses are fully online and are asynchronous, so you can view the class on your time and schedule. After you complete your degree program online, the University of Florida boasts a large alumni network which today is 330,000 strong.

#13 Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University is recognized as one of the most innovative non-profit universities by US News and World Report. It has more than 80,000 students online, many of them older adults who are going back to college later in life. Most of the degree programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels at SNHU are 100% self paced and 100% online. This offers adult learners a high level of flexibility. The tuition at SNHU is also very reasonable for undergraduate and graduate students.

Southern New Hampshire University offers dozens of master’s degrees that can be earned in as few as 15 months with two courses per term. Or, you can even take one course per term and earn your degree at your own pace. This type of flexibility is what makes SNHU such a good choice for adult learners.

Each of these high quality online colleges is fully accredited and highly respected. They all offer quality undergraduate and graduate degree programs for the adult learner that will help you to further your educational goals wherever you are in life.

Henry Steele
Managing Editor
Henry is Managing Editor of He is a seasoned business professional who regularly consults with local business's throughout Southern California. Henry pursued his undergrad in Business and Economics at the University of San Diego and gained valuable life changing experience through a unique internship upon graduation.

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