2018 Guide to Accredited Online Colleges and Universities in Washington State

From the 2008 recession until about 2013, Washington’s education funding deteriorated dramatically, reducing higher education funding per student by 38% and increasing tuition by 61% – the second largest increase in the nation – and amounting to a whopping $4,190 per student. In 2014, the state saw funding stabilize, and since 2015, Washington State has been one of the best places to be when it comes to education legislation and job prospects. The 2015-17 budget saw the Legislature cut four-year college tuition costs by 15-20% and community college tuition by five% by 2016 – making Washington the only state in the country to lower tuition for public universities and colleges that year.

Data also shows that state funding was up 6.1% in Washington during the 2016-2017 year, amounting to $1,878,116,000 dollars; funding has increased steadily over the past five years, up a significant 37.9% since the 2011-2012 year. Job growth in Washington State has also seen positive growth – adding an estimated 84,600 new jobs from January 2016 to January 2017. The private sector grew by 2.9%, or 73,800 jobs, and the public sector increased by 1.9%, adding 10,800 jobs.

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This positive upswing experienced by the state, combined with the popularity of online learning as a means to earn a degree with flexibility, has made online schools in WA an increasingly popular option for students.

Washington State’s Online Education Profile

Education in Washington State has seen positive growth in recent years. As of 2016, Washington State University had experienced its highest spring semester enrollment ever, registering 27,093 students statewide, up 2.1% from the spring semester of 2015.

When it comes to the popularity of online colleges in WA, 18.1% of students are enrolled in distance courses. Though that number has been steadily rising, it was lower than the national average in 2016, which was 25.8%.

Overview of Washington State’s Higher Education Profile

Number/Percentage Washington State National Average
Number of Title IV 4-year colleges 49 56
Number of Title IV 2-year colleges 36 33
Percentage of students enrolled in distance education 18.1% 25.8%
Postsecondary education spending per full-time student $5,973 $6,954
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 9.8% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 20.9% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 12% 11.2%

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

Average Cost of College Tuition & Fees in Washington State

Number/Percentage Washington State National Average
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 4-year $7,782 $8,778
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 4-year $34,412 $27,951
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 2-year $3,771 $3,038

Source: NCES

Best Online Colleges in Washington State

Seattle is one of the most wireless cities in the nation. This highly internet-accessible city speaks to both the demand and opportunity for online schools in WA. In fact, with the growing demand for online classes in WA, it’s no surprise that a number of online schools in Washington State have emerged and begun offering online degrees and technical programs at the certificate, undergraduate and graduate level.

Many notable schools like the University of Washington have also developed distance courses and online degrees in WA. Through the school’s Professional & Continuing Education Program, students can earn a bachelor’s degree online, or study one of the 16 master’s degrees offered from the Washington State online school, in areas including public health, civil engineering, and special education. There are also 53 online professional certificates available.

This ranking of the best online colleges in Washington State will provide insight to help you find the right fit for your educational needs.

Top-ranked Washington State online colleges:


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Washington State’s Higher Education Outlook

Higher education in Washington State has a positive outlook; enrollment is steady, funding is solid, and graduation rates are holding strong.

In fact, Washington state has become incredibly popular among international students. As reported by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the number of international students studying in the state grew by 11% from 2011-12 to 2012-13, and 55% over four years. The 25,500 international students enrolled in the 2012-13 year accounted for 7% of the state’s college population.

The state graduation rate is also on the higher end of the national average. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, four-year public colleges in the state of Washington had a 44.1 % four-year graduation rate for the 2009 starting cohort, meaning they graduated in 2013; the rate for those that graduated within six years of the 2009 start date was 68.1%. In comparison, the NCES reports a 29.5% national graduation rate for those that began a four-year public college in 2009; the national average is 58.6% for those graduating within six years of starting.

Numbers for private four-year colleges were slightly higher, with 57.8% completing the program in the standard four years and 70.8% completing it within six years of their start date.

Legislature also cut four-year college tuition costs by 15-20% for 2016-17 – making Washington the only state in the country to lower tuition for public universities and colleges last year.

Higher Education Initiatives in Washington State

Within the state of Washington, legislature, higher education agencies, and governing boards, as well as nonprofits, are aligned in their fight to keep higher education tuition fees affordable and stable for students.

Across the state, there is a focus on making higher education accessible to everyone. Efforts to help fund low-income families in the pursuit of a college education are a priority for many organizations.

The state is unified in its efforts to provide a high-quality education to its residents, preparing them for strong job prospects and a thriving career.

Within the State of Washington, several resources exist – from funding to development – to support prospective students in their pursuit of a higher education that will serve them well.

Resources for Washington State

  • Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education: Washington State is one of 16 members of WICHE, which contributes to higher education through innovation, cooperation, resource sharing, and public policy in the West.
  • Humanities Washington: An organization that sparks conversation and critical thinking with the objective to nurture thoughtful and engaged communities across the state events and programs led by cultural experts, scholars, and storytellers, discussing everything from history to philosophy to current social issues.
  • Washington State Adult Education Advisory Council: The Washington State Adult Education Advisory Council (AEAC) is a governor-appointed body whose members work collaboratively and as individuals to achieve its vision, mission, and values, such as partnering with stakeholders to build college and career pathways and developing inclusive policies.
  • Washington State’s Community & Technical Colleges: This board advocates, coordinates, and directs Washington state’s system of 34 public community and technical colleges.
  • Washington State Library: The library collects, preserves, and makes material accessible to Washingtonians in the areas of government, culture, and natural resources of the state. It also serves as the primary source within the region for published information from the federal government.
  • Washington State’s Workforce Training & Education Board: This board is a state agency committed to sustaining Washington’s economic vitality through a highly skilled workforce.
  • Washington State Student Achievement Council: This Council helps to administer student financial aid programs, which are known collectively as Opportunity Pathways. These programs help tens of thousands of students annually to earn college credits, certificates, and degrees.

College Savings Plans

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. All 50 states offer at least one of the two types of 529 plans available. Washington State offers GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition), a 529 prepaid college tuition plan that helps families with young children save for future expenses. In response to the College Affordability program, which dropped tuitions for public higher education in the state in 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, new purchases under the 529 GET program were placed on a temporary hold. However, new legislation calls for the program to reopen in the last six months of 2017 when GET will resume prepaid selling units. Each unit purchased is redeemable for 1% of the resident undergraduate tuition at the highest-priced public university in Washington and can be used for any eligible education institution in the country.
Although restrictions may apply based on specific criteria, GET credits can also be used for graduate school, community colleges and vocational schools, part-time studies and study abroad programs, and online colleges in WA.

Educational Nonprofit Organizations in Washington State

Within the state of Washington, several nonprofit organizations exist to help families move towards their higher education goals. These organizations may help students based on need or on merit.

Here are a few of Washington State’s nonprofit organizations:

  • The Passport to College Promise Scholarship Program: This nonprofit helps foster children reach higher education; over 300 students are awarded a scholarship annually.
  • Student Success Centers: These exist in 13 states across the country, including Washington. The mission of the Student Success Center is to assist faculty, administrators, and staff to work together to develop a culture of academic and career success for all Washington state community and technical colleges. This nonprofit works hand-in-hand with the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges.
  • Washington State Trio Association: This nonprofit supports the success of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students to obtain a high-quality education. In order to best serve this demographic and improve the changing needs of these populations, WSTA sponsors professional conferences, meetings, training, mentoring, and other educational forums for its members throughout the calendar year.

Accrediting Bodies in Washington State

It’s important to attend an accredited college or university in order to ensure that the institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards of quality. Accrediting bodies exist both nationally and regionally, and help to determine the criteria that is most important for universities to meet, as well as ensure all those deemed as accredited are meeting such criteria.

For students, seeking an accredited institution will help to ensure that you enroll at a school that will provide a high-quality education and prepare you properly for your career field.

It’s particularly valuable to research accredited programs when you’re looking at online schools in WA, as both lesser-known programs and renowned institutions alike may offer online courses. There are several recognized accrediting bodies within brick and mortar and online schools in WA – some that accredit nationally, and some that accredited regionally. Regionally accredited institutions can be academic- or career-oriented, non-profit or for-profit state-owned or private institutions. Nationally accredited schools can also be academic- or career-oriented for-profit or non -profit institutions of higher learning offering programs in business, health science, nursing, computer science, and liberal arts. Both regional and national accreditations are recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDoE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Recognized accrediting bodies in Washington State include:

  • The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU): An independent, non-profit membership organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the regional authority on educational quality and institutional effectiveness of higher education institutions in the seven-state Northwest region of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
  • The Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS): A regional, nonprofit membership association that provides accreditation, professional development, and support services to over 110 schools in Alaska, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
  • The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB): A national board that provides to students and the public the primary means for a professional degree program within the study of architecture to ensure a high-quality education in the field.

    The University of Washington’s architectural program is NAAB-accredited; and in fact, as is often the case within specialized fields, most state registration boards in the United States require any applicant pursuing licensure to have graduated from a NAAB-accredited program.

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Job Outlook for Washington State

The Employment Security Department of Washington State reports that between January 2016 and January 2017, the state added an estimated 84,6000 new jobs to 12 of the state’s 13 industry sectors. Manufacturing was the only sector to report job losses (-6,400). The private sector grew by 2.9% or 73,800 jobs, and the public sector increased by 1.9%, adding 10,800 jobs.
The three industry sectors with the largest employment gains year-after-year, and not seasonally adjusted, were:

  • Education and health services, with 17,900 new jobs;
  • Retail trade, with 17,500 new jobs; and
  • Leisure and hospitality, with 11,500 new jobs.

Top sectors overall in the state are outlined below.

Top Industries in Washington State

Industry Description
Trade/Transportation/Utilities Combined, these businesses generate more than half a million jobs in a state of seven million.
Education and Health Services The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed this as a field with a positive growth curve in terms of earning potential.These industries show steady growth in per-hour rate and a low unemployment rate.
Professional and Business Services Results from the U.S. Bureau of Labor for December 2014 indicated these fields were at a 10-year high, generating just below 376,000 jobs in Washington. That is more than 68,000 additional jobs compared to December 2004.

Source: BLS

Particularly in the growing areas of education, health services, and business services – there are many online colleges in WA that prepare you for these fields through specialized degrees and certificates.

The top employer in Washington State (Boeing) is from the transportation sector; a summary of the top three employers is below.

Top Employers in Washington State

Top Employers Number of Employees
Boeing 78,225
Joint Base Lewis-McChord 58,074
Navy Region Northwest 46,693

Source: Puget Sound Business Journal

Washington State by the Numbers

Per capita income:

  • State: $51,146
  • US average: $29,979

Median household income:

  • State: $63,439
  • US average: $55,775

Gross Domestic Product:

  • State: $446,417 million
  • US: $18.57 trillion