By: CSDH Staff
Computer science is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative professions in the modern economy. If you’re looking for a degree that will allow you to enter a cutting edge field that is at the forefront of developing the newest and most relevant technology, then a computer science degree might be for you. And an associate’s degree in computer science is a great place to start. Let’s be honest–college is expensive. And this ranking is here to present the five cheapest online associate’s degree programs in computer science on the market. All of the tuition prices in our ranking are what you will pay as an out-of-state student. If you happen to live in the same state as any of these schools, the cost will reduce even further. The five schools ranked here by tuition are:
- North Hennepin Community College
- Grantham University
- South Texas College
- Blinn College
- Ivy Tech Community College
Earning an associate’s degree online from a community college and then transferring it to a four year university is a great way to save money. Not only that, but most community college computer science programs are specifically designed to transfer seamlessly into four year programs. Following are some descriptions of each program. An FAQ and sources can be found at the end of the article.
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1. North Hennepin Community College
North Hennepin Community College offers an affordable online associate’s in computer science transfer pathway option which will prepare students to transfer to a computer science bachelor’s program. Students can also earn certificates in application programming, game programming, internet programming, .NET programming, object-oriented programming, or web graphic design programming and e-commerce.
2. Grantham University
This cheap online associate’s degree in computer science covers the basics of programming and web development. Graduates of this program have worked as web developers, computer network specialists, software developers, and computer information systems managers. Students will take courses on computer networks, data structures, programming languages, and security operations.
3. South Texas College
Students graduating from the affordable online computer science associate’s degree at South Texas State have worked as computer programmers, programmer analysts, software engineers, computer and information scientists, computer hardware engineers, and information security analysts. The program is 62 credits, and students can work closely with advisors to ensure all of the credits will transfer to a four year program.
4. Blinn College
Students in Blinn College’s affordable associate’s in computer science online degree have full access to academic and student support services just like face to face students. Those enrolled in the online computer science program will take courses like programming fundamentals I, II & III, computer organization, and various creative arts electives, philosophy elective, and calculus.
5. Ivy Tech Community College
Ivy Tech Community College has special transfer agreements for computer science students with universities like Purdue, Northern Kentucky University, and University of Evansville. Students in these programs will take courses like computer logic, student success in computing and informatics, computer science I & II, software development using Java, software development using Python, and systems/software analysis and projects.
What exactly is the computer science field?
One could be forgiven for being confused about what exactly computer science encompasses. After all, it’s often used as a catch all term to describe anything to do with professional computing. Information technology, computer engineering, programming, and web development have all been described as “computer science” at some point. There’s a reason for this. All of these fields do contain elements of computer science. However, the study of computer science itself revolves more around the broader study of computers, hardware, software, how it works, and how it is developed. Basically, if you have a computer science degree, you will be capable of working in just about all computing fields, including research. If it sounds to you like all this is beyond the scope of an online associate’s degree, you’d be right. Which brings me to our next question.
Should I stick with an online associate’s degree or transfer into a bachelor’s program?
Are there industrious coders who create an app in high school and get hired by a major tech giant? Absolutely there are. You don’t technically need a degree to get most non-education jobs in the computer science field. But in order to succeed without a degree, you have to have something better–a portfolio of successful creations that demonstrate your abilities. So most people will want to earn their degrees. An associate’s degree just barely sets you on the computer science path. Bachelor’s degrees are the standard entry level education requirement for most jobs in the field. Graduate work can be required for the highest level positions. That’s not to say you can’t do anything with an associate’s degree. But not earning your bachelor’s will limit your options in the field. The good news is that starting out with earning an associate’s degree for an affordable price is a great way to save money on the first half of your undergraduate education. In most cases you will want to go ahead and spend the extra two years to earn your bachelor’s degree. Even better news for you, once you graduate with that computer science degree, a great number of high paying jobs become available to you, which brings me to the next question.
How much do computer science professionals make? Is the industry growing or shrinking?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following professions along with their median pay.
- Computer Network Architect: $104,650
- Computer Programmer: $82,240
- Computer Systems Analyst: $88,270
- Database Administrator: $87,020
- Software Developers: $103,560
Of all these, the software development field is the fastest growing, the BLS predicts 24% job growth between 2016 and 2026, and an additional 302,500 software development jobs.
How do I pay for this online associate’s degree in computer science?
Associate’s degrees earned from community colleges are the cheapest form of higher education available in the United States. They are especially cheap if you are a resident of the state in which the school is located. Often times federal grants will cover almost all tuition costs. Obviously you should take advantage of any scholarships offered by the community college, your high school, local organizations, or the state. Your next best option if those don’t cover your costs will be federally subsidized student loans. These are magnitudes better than private student loans. The interest on federal loans is lower and doesn’t fluctuate much (or at all in some cases). Fill out all relevant forms at FAFSA to determine your eligibility for federal financial aid. Most students qualify for something.
Federal loans are also very flexible with repayment plans, so if you end up on difficult financial times for a little while after graduation, the federally subsidized loans give you lots of flexibility in how you repay them. The last option you should look at is private student loans. Taking these out is often still worth it in moderation, especially if you are already heavily invested in the degree, but because the other options are so much better, you should work to minimize the amount of privately-held student debt you accrue.
Is online learning right for you?
Online learning can be a godsend because of its flexibility. Most students who earn their degrees online are older than the traditional college age (though in some cases they are younger). The variety of degrees offered online continues to grow, and the first generation to grow up with the internet is hitting college age, which means the online option is going mainstream fast. How do you know if it’s the right fit? That’s not an easy question to answer. Can you learn by watching videos? Would you be comfortable taking tests online? Can you handle not having any face-to-face interaction with your professors? If these things aren’t ideal for you, traditional university might be a better choice. However, if you need the flexibility and are comfortable with the format and technology, online education offers unprecedented levels of flexibility for anyone seeking to earn a degree.
Sources and Resources
National Center for Education Statistics: Tuition and graduate rates.
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