2018 Guide to Accredited Online Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania

Compared to the national average, Pennsylvania has a wide and varied selection of colleges and universities at which to study. With 262 options available, there’s a college that meets your needs. Access to education within the commonwealth feeds directly into what the Bureau of Labor Statistics names as some of the top occupations in the state: office and administrative support, sales, healthcare, education, to name a few.

So are any online colleges in Pennsylvania right for you? The SARA interstate educational commission makes it easier to transfer credits from one state to another. Additionally, the Pennsylvania 529 savings plan helps students save for college. Theres also are a variety of high-quality colleges and universities to choose from, including the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Carnegie Mellon University, Bryn Mawr College, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and Allegheny College, among many others. Pennsylvania may just be the keystone to your higher education.

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Pennsylvania’s Online Education Profile

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are over 260 degree-granting institutions and online colleges in PA. This gives students in the Keystone State a higher-than-average number of institutions from which to earn a degree. Per the U.S. Department of Education’ Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, most of the post-secondary educational institutions in Pennsylvania are accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. For the most part, the MSCHE also handles accreditation for online schools in PA.

By comparing U.S. census data, it is easy to see that education is on the rise in Pennsylvania. Maybe it is due to the sheer number of online colleges in PA or to supportive staff at colleges and universities, but, whatever the case, students in Pennsylvania earned 11.81% more associate degrees (up 73,932) and 9.92% more bachelor degrees (up 138,604) than were earned in 2010.

Number/Percentage Pennsylvania National Average
Number of Title IV 4-year colleges 160 56
Number of Title IV 2-year colleges 102 33
Percentage of students enrolled in distance education 21.67% 25.8%
Postsecondary education spending per full-time student $3,567 $6,954
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 7.9% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 17.4% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 11.2% 11.2%

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

Average Cost of College Tuition & Fees in Pennsylvania

Number/Percentage Pennsylvania National Average
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 4-year $13,516 $8,778
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 4-year $37,237 $27,951
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 2-year $4,791 $3,038

Source: NCES

Best Online Colleges in Pennsylvania

With so many colleges and universities in the area, it can be difficult to pick the Pennsylvania online school that best suits your needs. To help you navigate the varied choices available, we’ve put together this list of the best online colleges in Pennsylvania.


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Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Outlook

According to U.S. News & World Report, of the 262 degree-granting institutions in Pennsylvania, over 60 of them are on a best-of list. Many of these colleges are some of the best-known names in higher education, including Penn State and Villanova, and many also offer online degrees in PA.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there are roughly 796,000 students enrolled in higher education in Pennsylvania, with 172,671 students currently taking at least one online college course. This is a higher percentage of online students than in the general college student population throughout the U.S. Roughly 28.6% of the population of Pennsylvania has a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Per a July 2012 press release from the Department of Education, Pennsylvania currently is pushing toward a 2020 goal of 986,000 to 1,080,000 college graduates, or 60-66% of total enrollments. To help meet this goal, the state now has a policy in place to align high school standards with the expectations of college and career, but no policies for college- and career-ready standards nor for college or career assessment. Online colleges in PA make higher education even more accessible.

Higher Education Initiatives in Pennsylvania

As mentioned before, Pennsylvania is currently working toward a 2020 goal of 986,000 to 1,080,000 college graduates per year, or between 60% and 66% of total college enrollments. This will require a minimum increase to 1,493,939 enrolled college students to meet these goals, an increase of 87% over current enrollment numbers in just four years’ time. To facilitate this, the state has a plan in place to ensure that high school curriculum aligns well with college and career expectations, and they have also joined the SARA interstate educational commission to guarantee standards for postsecondary education across multiple states, including PA online colleges.

Resources for Pennsylvania

There are many governing bodies ensuring a high quality of education is attainable from online schools in Pennsylvania.

  • Interstate Commission: Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania is a member of SARA, an interstate educational commission establishing comparable standards for postsecondary education. This is especially influential upon distance education courses and online colleges in PA. A full map of all member states can be found here.
  • Pennsylvania Humanities Council: The Pennsylvania Humanities Council, in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Humanities, advances knowledge and understanding of the humanities and increases public awareness of, access to, and support for the humanities in Pennsylvania. In 2013, the organization refocused on impacting civic engagement and education.
  • Pennsylvania Adult Education Resources: The Pennsylvania Adult Education Resources website offers information for teachers and students alike. Prospective adult education students in particular can benefit from the Workforce/Career Pathways content.
  • Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges: The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges in a nonprofit staffed with volunteers. The association advocates for the 14 community colleges in the state.
  • State Library of Pennsylvania: The State Library of Pennsylvania governs the various library systems throughout the state, including college and university libraries.
  • Pennsylvania’s Vocational and Technical Education Board: There are over 80 career and technology centers and more than 120 school districts that offer Pennsylvania Department of Education-approved career and technical education.
  • Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency: Financial aid in Pennsylvania is handled by this organization. You can find funding opportunities for online colleges in PA.

College Savings Plans

Saving can be difficult, but with some planning, it’s possible to graduate with little debt. One of the keys to this is the 529 Savings Plan, and the Pennsylvania 529 is especially great when saving to enroll in the online colleges in PA.

For starters, all contributions to a Pennsylvania 529 are tax-deductible, and the value of the account is exempt from state inheritance taxes. As an added bonus, funds in a 529 savings plan in Pennsylvania are not counted when determining a student’s eligibility for financial aid (in other states, these funds usually count). Pennsylvania 529 savings plans are protected from creditors. As of 2016, it is possible for your state income tax refund to be deposited directly into your 529 savings plan, too, making it even easier to save for college. Finally, when used in conjunction with the SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards program, it is possible to receive discounts on over 300 private colleges throughout the U.S.

There are two kinds of Pennsylvania 529 savings plans: the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan and the PA 529 Investment Plan. Which one is best will vary based on your situation; however, the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan is lower-risk than the PA 529 Investment Plan. A comparison chart is available here.

Educational Nonprofit Organizations in Pennsylvania

There are several programs for helping aspiring college students find funds for their classes through online colleges in Pennsylvania. Most have scholarships or grants listed on the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency Website. Listed here are a few notable, statewide opportunities:

  • Pennsylvania Chafee Education and Training Grant Program: This grant is offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and is for undergraduate students aging out of foster care who are attending college. Currently, the maximum award for the 2017-2018 school year has not been determined.
  • Postsecondary Educational Gratuity Program: This program honors those individuals who lost their lives protecting Pennsylvania and its citizens. Open only to the children of police officers, firefighters, rescue or ambulance squad members, corrections facility employees, or active National Guard members who died after January 1, 1976, this program provides waivers for the tuition, fees, and on-campus room and board costs at public universities.
  • Blind or Deaf Higher Education Beneficiary Grant Program: Offered only to those currently eligible to receive benefits from the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, this grant offers up the $500 for deaf or blind students attending college at least half-time.

Accrediting Bodies in Pennsylvania

School accreditation in Pennsylvania is determined by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). MSCHE is part of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of six regional institutional accrediting agencies responsible for accreditation in the U.S. Pennsylvania schools with MSCHE accreditation maintain a level of excellence that ensures quality faculty, courses, and course materials. Online universities in Pennsylvania without accreditation by the MSCHE or an equivalent accrediting body may not have the same level of excellence.

More specialized education may use different accrediting boards, such as:

More info on the various accrediting bodies used throughout Pennsylvania and the rest of the United States can be found here. Make sure to choose one of the accredited online schools in PA to receive the best education possible.

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Job Outlook for Pennsylvania

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data, employment in Pennsylvania has remained steady since 2016. Additionally, the average hourly wage for the state is $22.85.

Below is an overview of the current state of industry and employment in Pennsylvania, as outlined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.

Top Industries in Pennsylvania

Industry Description
Natural Gas Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. Production rose over 2,400% between 2005 and 2014, and Royal Dutch Shell has plans to build an ethylene plant in the state.
Manufacturing Manufacturing in Pennsylvania no longer means steel. Nowadays, it is medical devices, organic foods, nanomaterials, and many other manufactured goods that are possible due to the digital revolution and additive technology.
Agribusiness Agribusiness is the leading driver of the Pennsylvania economy, and includes a vast number of products. From dairy and livestock to paper goods and beverages, Pennsylvania ranks among the top producers for many agricultural products.

Top Employers in Pennsylvania

Top Employers Number of Employees
Walmart Associates, Inc. 51,998
Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania 17,500
City of Philadelphia 25,000

Pennsylvania by the Numbers

Per capita income:

  • State: $51,275
  • US average: $29,979

Median household income:

  • State: $53,599
  • US average: $55,775

Gross Domestic Product:

  • State: $724.9 billion
  • US: $18.57 trillion