The Three Major Distance Learning Colleges

If you’re just joining us, read the first four parts of the series: 

Most students can benefit from taking at least some CLEP or DANTES exams. Thousands of colleges and universities across the country accept them. Testing out of a course is cheaper, allows you to study at your own pace, use your own (often free!) textbooks and saves time. It is a wonderful way for high school students to get a jumpstart on their college education or for any student to speed up the time until graduation.

However, some of you may wish to earn a degree entirely (or nearly entirely) through distance learning methods. This is the route Joshua and I took, and why we were able to obtain our bachelors degrees for considerably less than $5,000 each.

photo by Mary Gober

There are three major distance learning colleges: Excelsior CollegeThomas Edison State College and Charter Oak State College. These colleges all hold to a similar belief: you don’t have to sit in a classroom in order to learn.

They are geared toward adult learners and self-motivated students. Each college offers some degrees entirely (or almost entirely) through distance learning methods. (Though obviously some degree programs, like biology, require courses with hands-on lab credit which you can transfer from a local college/university.)

They award credit for CLEP and DANTES exams, prior-learning assessments as well as other lesser-known credit-by-examination tests. [Read more about Excelsior’s ECE (which even offer some nursing exams) and Thomas Edison’s TECEP exams.] Each college also offers its own online classes.

The colleges charge per year of enrollment. Upon enrollment, they evaluate your previously-earned credit to see what classes or exams you need to complete your degree and offer telephone support. Enrollment does not actually pay for any courses.

What we, and many other students do (after choosing a college) is look over their accepted exams and take as many as possible before enrolling, so that we only had to pay for one year of enrollment.

Once enrolled, we completed necessary exams and took any courses that college requires. For example, Excelsior, which we “attended”, requires their 1-credit-hour Information Literacy course in order to graduate.

Below are links to important aspects of the three major distance learning colleges. If you are interested in pursuing a distance degree, I highly recommend the Degree Forum (it appears to be down at the moment!) for much, much more information.

Excelsior College

Naturally, I’m rather biased towards Excelsior since that is where we graduated!

Thomas Edison State College (TESC)

For students who want a mentor to guide them through the distance learning process, College Plus! works with Thomas Edison to coach students to a degree.

  • Degrees offered
  • Ways to earn credit: They offer their own credit-by-examination exam (TECEP) as well as accepting credit from numerous other sources
  • Cost: One year of enrollment at TESC is $2,858.00 for out state students ($1,533.00 in NJ) with a $272 graduation fee and various other fees.*
  • Financial aid: TESC students can apply for numerous scholarships and grants (including the Pell Grant.)

Charter Oak State College

Unlike the other two, Charter Oak offers enrollment on a semester, not yearly, basis.

  • Degrees offered
  • Ways to earn credit
  • Cost: Enrollment is only $220 per semester, but you are required to take at least six credit hours through them at $220 per credit-hour *
  • Financial Aid: Charter Oak students can apply for numerous scholarships and grants (including the Pell Grant.)
*prices current as of Feb.2, 2012, to the best of my knowledge. Please do you own research before deciding on a school! 


Next week I’m wrapping up the series with answers to common questions we receive. Have a question? I’ll do my best to answer it. Did you earn your degree non-traditionally? I’d love to hear about it! 
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