2017 Guide to Accredited Online Colleges and Universities in Virginia

Students in Virginia have reaped the benefits of the Virginia Plan for Higher Education for decades. The programmatic goals of the plan include provision of affordable access for all students, the optimization of student success after graduation, creating change through investment, and advancing Virginia’s economic and cultural prosperity.
As such, the Restructured Higher Education Financial and Administrative Operations Act of 2005 granted Virginia’s universities greater autonomy, in exchange for their promise to reinvigorate their missions and promises to Virginia students.

In 2010, Governor McDonnell also created the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment with the goal of increasing the number of undergraduate degrees granted in Virginia by 100,000 by 2025. Secondarily, the act aimed to address various financial issues, from need-based financial aid to creating a “rainy day” fund for higher education.

All in all, Virginia has shown steady and significant support for both its colleges and its students. To some degree, the state’s educational progress is paying off; employment in Virginia has shown steady growth since 2010.

Virginia’s Online Education Profile

Virginia has long been an upstanding state for higher education, and has historically been regarded as the epitome of the prestigious “brick building” higher education institutions we picture when we think of high-quality education. However, the style of education in the state is evolving and online colleges in VA are growing, breaking Virginia out of the traditional four-walled classroom. The state’s Board of Education still stands as the major accrediting body in Virginia.

James Madison, George Mason, and Norfolk State are among the online schools in VA with programs in place for the non-traditional college student. Beyond the growing number of schools offering distance learning programs, the number of students participating in online colleges in VA is steadily increasing as well; at least 18.6% of students enrolled in Virginia’s Title IV institutions are enrolled in fully online educational programs.

Number/Percentage Virginia National Average
Number of Title IV 4-year colleges 81 56
Number of Title IV 2-year colleges 48 33
Percentage of students enrolled in distance education 35% 25.8%
Postsecondary education spending per full-time student $4,574 $6,954
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 7.3% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 21% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 15.4% 11.2%

Sources: NCES, SHEEO, U.S. Census Bureau – American Community Survey

Average Cost of College Tuition & Fees in Virginia

Number/Percentage Virginia National Average
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 4-year 11,669 $8,778
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 4-year 21,016 $27,951
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 2-year 4,793 $3,038

Source: NCES

Best Online Colleges in Virginia

While many students thrive in a traditional academic environment, a significant and growing number of adults are faced with juggling their careers and families while they earn their degree, making fixed class times and rigorous schedules an impossibility.

Today, more and more students are opting to take the online route, and as of 2014 roughly 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one online class. That number has continued to rise, trending upwards at about 4% per year since 2012.

It’s clear why online coursework is appealing, but choosing a school that will provide you with the flexibility, program, and degree type you need can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. The following list has been vetted and ranked to assist you in making your selection from the many online schools in Virginia.

Top ranked Virginia online colleges:

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    Virginia’s Higher Education Outlook

    Last year, nearly 431 thousand students were enrolled in higher education programs in Virginia, across the commonwealth’s 129 colleges and universities.

    Among those students, the overall educational outlook is exceedingly positive. 91.3% of students graduated on time last year, and Virginia has the 16th highest number of degree-holding adults in the United States. Virginia is also ranked 11th in the country for the number of bachelor’s degrees conferred within the past six years.

    For those who have chosen to pursue higher education, career possibilities are significantly more open, with more than 22% of jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. All in all, it’s a good time to be a college-educated job-seeker in Virginia; currently, engineering and information security analytics jobs are in high demand, along with a slew of other potential career options.

    Alongside more job opportunities is the potential for higher pay, with bachelor’s degree holders earning nearly 67% more than their high school diploma-holding counterparts, on average.

    While earning potential is substantial, understandably the cost of tuition can still be off-putting to prospective students. Virginia is hoping to mitigate that problem through a variety of channels, like the Early College Scholars program, which allows eligible high school seniors to earn at least 15 hours of transferable credit towards a college degree. Project Discovery and An Achievable Dream are two state-based programs that help qualified students enter and succeed in higher education, furthering the success of the state’s scholars.

    Overall, whether it’s degrees conferred or salaries earned, the outlook for graduates with online degrees in VA is consistently upwardly mobile.

    Higher Education Initiatives in Virginia

    Simply put, Virginia wants everyone to be eligible to pursue an education and has many programs in place to make sure students from all parts of the state and country are able to do so.

    Supported by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the state government seeks to enable both traditional students and those seeking online degrees in VA to achieve academically in order to pursue careers after graduation. The council has a four-pronged mission:

    1. To provide affordable access
    2. To optimize student success
    3. To drive change through innovation and investment
    4. To advance the commonwealth

    A number of programs support the council in these goals, all of which are easily accessible to students. The following list outlines some of the resources available to help students navigate their academic journey in Virginia.

    • Interstate Commission (in which Virginia is a member): The interstate commission works with various schools and colleges across Virginia and the country to help them provide more resources and better education for their students.
    • Virginia Humanities Council: The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities aims to help foster connections between students of different cultures and diversities, as well as their communities. The VFH works to not only celebrate diversity, but to act as an educator to all students about various cultures and the issues that many minorities face today, even on campus.
    • Virginia Adult Education Board: This program is in place to help adults attain High School Equivalency (HSE) credentials. They also have adult high school diploma programs. The ultimate goal of the Virginia adult education board is to allow more of Virginia’s adults to access college, whether that’s on campus or at a Virginia online school.
    • Virginia’s Community College System: The community college system in Virginia is dedicated to “ensuring college access for all,” a mission the state supports through numerous affordable traditional schools and online colleges in VA. The system recently partnered with Walmart to help even more students reach their goal of earning a degree through any of Virginia’s campuses or online classes in VA.
    • Virginia Library Agency: The Virginia library system aims to provide students and educators with all the resources they need to successfully learn, teach, and advance in their careers. The library system supports not only Virginia’s campuses, but also many of the online schools in VA, making it an excellent resource for both traditional and nontraditional students.
    • Virginia’s Vocational and Technical Education Board: This group provides many programs such as High Schools That Work (HSTW), CanDo Project, Project Lead the Way (PLTW), and Virginia Automobile Dealers Association – Automotive Youth Education Partnership (VADA/AYES). All of the board’s programs are intended to help career-minded students earn their higher education credentials in less time, at a lower cost.
    • Virginia Financial Aid: Helping students access schools and online colleges in VA is only the first step of the equation; it’s also imperative to provide support in paying tuition. That’s where Virginia’s centralized financial aid resource comes in, helping students find scholarships and loans to ensure their continued ability to pursue their degree.

    College Savings Plans

    While any college saving initiative is a good idea, a 529 plan is one of the most reputable college savings plans available to students in Virginia and nationwide. The 529 plan provides tax advantages, ultimately helping you save more, in a shorter amount of time. Created in an effort to encourage future students to begin saving for their education, 529 plans, or “qualified tuition plans,” are sponsored by the state in which you live—in this case, Virginia.

    529 plans are broken into two basic types, either college savings plans or prepaid tuition plans. While not all states offer both kinds, Virginia does, giving you plenty of opportunities to save for your education. Virginia is also unique in that you aren’t required to be a resident in order to start a college savings 529 plan in the state, however, you are required to be a state resident if you would like to start a prepaid tuition plan.

    Like any account that’s set aside and monitored for a single, specific purpose, it’s a good idea to check in with the financial institution that governs your account about whether the degree plan of your choosing can be funded from your 529. Generally, 529s are flexible and cover any degree, though it’s best to make sure before you start funding your account.

    Educational Nonprofit Organizations in Virginia

    • JustChildren Program: This is Virginia’s largest child advocacy law program. It is unique in that it assists those able to help the state’s most vulnerable youth population in a variety of ways: through individual representation, community education and organizing, and statewide advocacy. They help students stay in school, and give them the resources they need to finish school and live successfully in their communities.
    • Reading Connection: The Reading Connection, serving all of Northern Virginia, aims to reach the 120,000 children living in poverty in the Metro DC area. They have faced lags in language development because of the “book deserts” they tend to live in: only one book for every 300 children. Reaching the children who do not have access to books or who are not regularly read to can make all the difference in their educational success or failure. For 27 years, this program has reached those who are at risk through reading programs and training for families, as well as books and materials to encourage literacy.
    • An Achievable Dream: An Achievable Dream seeks to provide low income students and at risk youth with all they need to not only achieve their educational goals but to climb higher than they dreamed possible. The program has a 100% on-time graduation rate; nearly all of the students pursue rigorous academic courses and outperform their counterparts on state exams. The program helps them through tutoring, training, and community service to succeed in school and in life.

    Accrediting Bodies in Virginia

    Schools that are regionally accredited are more widely accepted, and thus credits are easier to transfer and degrees are held in higher esteem. It’s easy to assume that national accreditation is better, but regional accreditation is older and carries more weight, and is more prestigious.

    Regionally accredited schools are usually academic based, non-profit and state run institutions. They tend not to easily accept credits from national accrediting agencies because they don’t have the same strict standards or faculty qualifications and library resources.

    Some of Virginia’s accrediting bodies include:

    • ACCSC: Celebrating 50 years, The Accrediting Commision of Career Schools & Colleges includes the accreditation of post-secondary, non degree programs and degree institutions with the purpose of educating students for occupational, trade, and technical careers with a focus on creativity, innovation, and collaboration. This agency seeks to serve the public and uphold public accountability to keep standards high.
    • ACCET: The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training has been officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a “reliable authority” for high quality education and training. They have received back-to-back five-year grants of recognition, the longest period provided to an accrediting agency.
    • The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the main accrediting agency for the Southern states region, including the state of Virginia. It is viewed as the common denominator of shared values and practices even though it covers a diverse body of institutions in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Latin America, as well as other international sites approved by the Commission. Key goals include fostering integrity, continuous quality improvement, student learning, and transparency.

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      Job Outlook for Virginia

      All in all, it’s a good time to be a job seeker in Virginia. On top of the state’s leading industries of food processing, aerospace, and plastics & advanced materials, other industries are beginning to take the lead, especially in the tech and military spaces. In fact, the burgeoning tech industry has lead to computer chips becoming the state’s most profitable export, and Virginia is now the home of more employees in tech than any other state.

      Additionally, several major military centers are located in Virginia, including one of the country’s largest naval bases, located in Norfolk. Some of the most well known military facilities are located here, as well as the CIA headquarters and Quantico, a leading marine training facility.

      Top Industries in Virginia

      Industry Description
      Food Processing Historically and still today, one of Virginia’s largest industries is in the manufacturing sector: food processing. The industry is made up of 219 beverage manufacturing firms, 174 bakery manufacturers, 145 licensed breweries, and 85 other food manufacturing firms. With 35,000 Virginia residents in its employ, this massive industry is the most proliferate in the state.
      Aerospace Virginia’s aerospace industry employs about 28,000 of the state’s residents across nearly 300 firms. In fact, the state’s 106 aerospace tech and 70 other aerospace firms make up 64% of the total number of aerospace companies in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, thanks to its large military presence, Virginia is the top state in the U.S. for Department of Defense prime contracts. Some of the state’s key aerospace companies include Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Goodyear, Orbital Sciences, and Rolls-Royce.
      Plastics & Advanced Materials Another massive industry in the state, Virginia’s plastics & advanced materials industry includes more than 200 businesses, which employ over 20,000 of the state’s residents. Since 2006, the plastics industry has generated more than $1 billion for the state and has created 4000+ jobs for its residents.

      Top Employers in Virginia

      Top Employers Number of Employees
      Heart & Vascular Institute 20,540
      Huntington Ingalls Industries 20,000
      University of Virginia 20,000

      Virginia by the Numbers

      Per capita income:

      • State: $53,723
      • US average: $29,979

      Median household income:

      • State: $66,262
      • US average: $55,775

      Gross Domestic Product:

      • State: $494.3 billion
      • US: $18.57 trillion