In a Nutshell: Student loan debt has reached crisis levels in the U.S. even as the number of educational opportunities available has soared. OnlineU helps potential students determine which online schools and programs deliver the best value while meeting their educational goals. The website, a product of Optimal which is a leading higher education researcher and publisher, presents easy-to-understand rankings as well as data reported by students and alumni. OnlineU also provides abundant information about financial aid resources and offers a number of scholarships for a wide range of students.
Student loan debt in the U.S. has reached crisis levels, according to many experts. The amount of outstanding debt currently sits at around $1.6 trillion. In fact, student loan debt has surpassed credit card debt and is second only to mortgage debt in the U.S.
A 2019 survey reported that 34% of respondents indicated that they are putting off establishing emergency savings, 29% are delaying retirement savings, and 27% put off paying other debt such as credit cards. Student loan debt has also caused individuals to delay purchasing a home or vehicle.
Millennials have been particularly affected by the rising debt crisis. The same report shows that a whopping 31% of millennials have delayed buying a home and 17% have delayed marriage plans because of student loan debt.
But there is hope for those looking to further their education without accruing a mountain of debt in the process. Prospective students have more options available to them than ever before thanks to in-person and online learning opportunities. Of course, with so many options it can be challenging to know which schools and programs may be the best fit for one’s budget and career goals.
Thankfully, those looking to further their education without taking on an unmanageable amount of debt can turn to OnlineU. The resource has been helping connect students with the online degree that meets their educational goals with the best value. OnlineU is a product of Optimal, a leading higher education researcher and publisher.
“By providing manually researched tuitions and salary data from alumni in our college rankings, as well as collecting over 13,000 reviews from online students, we hope to empower more Americans to go to college while lowering the overall cost of earning a degree,” according to the OnlineU website.
We recently spoke with Nicole Hopler, Lead Marketing Manager at Optimal, to learn more about OnlineU and how our readers can use its resources to find an online program that fits their budget.
Helping Students Save Money Since 2004
Hopler said that, since 2004, OnlineU has helped aspiring students accomplish their educational goals by giving them tools to find the online degree with the best value.
“Affordability is an area we really try to focus on because with a lot of online programs it’s very unclear what the tuition rates are actually going to be,” Hopler said. “And it’s not super easy to compare from program to program because a lot of the government data that’s out there is for campus-based programs and not for online programs.”
She said the cost difference can be very significant between certain types of programs.
“We always manually research our tuition rates to show students what they can actually expect to pay in a year for that online program,” Hopler said. “That’s one of the things that we do to stand out from our competitors.”
OnlineU knows that when it comes to making a decision about education in general, and especially online education, people really want to understand what it will cost them.
The free guide researches on thousands of online degrees each year to provide accurate, detailed cost information and alumni salary information, according to the OnlineU website.
Hopler said one method OnlineU uses to collect data is via College Scorecard data from the U.S. Department of Education.
“It’s really useful for us because they show — on a specific school level and program level — the amount of debt that students have monthly, and then also the salary they can be expecting based on actual alumni who graduated from those programs,” she said.
This data is particularly useful because it comes directly from the alumni and can easily be compared to other programs and program costs, Hopler said.
Creating More Transparency Around Online Education
“We wanted to create a website that delivered more transparency around all data related to online education to help prospective students determine what their actual outcomes could be,” Hopler said.
By providing this valuable data and important resources that are often difficult to find, OnlineU aims to empower more Americans to seek a college education while lowering the overall costs of earning a degree.
“We want to be part of the solution to the student debt crisis that has been plaguing our nation for years,” according to the OnlineU website. “Getting a degree might be necessary, but it shouldn’t break the bank.”
OnlineU publishes rankings for hundreds of online degree programs across a wide range of career fields. It has collected reviews from more than 13,000 online students, and it publishes comprehensive guides and news articles to help students find the best degree for their goals and budget.
“Our focus is on researching and sharing hard-to-find, impactful data. That’s why we manually research the tuition for each specific degree for colleges in our rankings, collect reviews from actual graduates of online programs, and provide salary information of alumni of our ranked schools.” — OnlineU
OnlineU matches over 63,000 students with schools annually, and it has independently researched more than 37,000 tuitions.
“OnlineU is trying to provide data that is super clear about how we’re ranking these colleges and what outcomes people can expect after graduation,” Hopler said. “We’re not only focusing on elite colleges — we’re focusing on factors like affordability and accessibility. So transparency is a big thing.”
Valuable Information on a Wide Range of Programs and Financial Aid Options
Visitors to OnlineU will find a wealth of information that is easy to access and sort in a number of ways.
“OnlineU’s rankings are the first of their kind to evaluate colleges based on alumni salaries and debt reported to the government,” according to the website. “For thousands of online degrees, we calculated a 10-year ROI score to highlight the colleges that lead to the best financial outcomes for graduates.”
Front and center on the OnlineU website is its primary college rankings which focuses on institutions that offer a great value for its programs.
“You don’t need to break the bank to find the right degree,” according to OnlineU. “Our best online colleges offer tuitions as low as $7,000 per year and have high salaries reported by their alumni. We have manually researched tuitions at every college to provide accurate, up-to-date information for over 250 programs.”
And it’s not just about bachelor’s degrees. OnlineU offers rankings and data for master’s degrees, associate programs, and doctoral degrees.
“Whether you’re seeking military-friendly colleges, schools with open admissions, non-profit colleges, or other specialized online degree programs, we’ve got you covered,” according to the website. “We understand that each person’s needs are unique and have done our best to create specialized lists to help.”
And anybody who has dealt with the sometimes overwhelming maze of financial aid options, paperwork, and requirements will likely appreciate OnlineU’s attention to providing clear information about financial aid resources.
“It’s easy to be intimidated by hefty tuition fees, but paying for school is not an impossible feat,” according to the website. “Careful planning and access to the right resources can help minimize student debt. There are billions of dollars given each year in financial aid to make college more affordable. One simply needs to find them.”
OnlineU also offers several scholarships via Optimal, which awards more than $250,000 annually in needs-based scholarships.
Focusing on Offering More Data-Driven Resources
Hopler said that, while OnlineU’s resources provide a robust repository of data and rankings, the company plans to get into even more in-depth explorations of data.
“Some of the things we’re focusing on in the future are continuing to contribute to the most relevant topics with thought leadership and data-driven pieces where we can answer tough questions,” she said.
Some of these pieces may explore topics like whether a master’s degree is worth pursuing, which degrees are the best investments, and more reports focused on earnings potential rather than just ROI.
“Those are some of the things coming up in the future that we’re pretty excited about,” Hopler said.