Grad School Hub - Most Affordable Online Programs-01

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Those hoping to work in industries devoted to computer science research or education will need an advanced degree, and thanks to online Ph.D in Computer Science programs, students now have the option of earning their degrees through a campus that meets online. While some of these programs have a residency requirement that asks those students to spend some time on the campus, others allow students to do all the necessary writing, research and work over a computer. Hybrid programs are also available. These unique programs combine an online computer science Ph.D with face-to-face instruction. Students can choose to take some classes on the campus and others online.

To give prospective students all the information that they need about these programs, we created a detailed list of the most affordable options. Those students can check out some of the classes they might take and learn about the schools that offer these programs at the doctoral level. We highly recommend that students read through our methodology to see how we selected the top schools.


Before looking at and ranking the top cheap online computer science Ph.D degree programs, we turned to the National Center for Education Statistics first. This organization maintains information on school statistics such as college rankings and tuition costs. We found the 50 highest rated schools that offer Ph.D programs in computer science. These schools offer great opportunities for students and provide them with all the training needed to work in this industry.

We then narrowed down our list to the top 10 most affordable programs based on the costs charged each year. Students can see exactly how much each program costs before submitting an application. Working with the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator allowed us to create a list of affordable options based on specific criteria such as:

  • Which of the more than 50 colleges and universities with a computer science department offer degrees at the Ph.D level
  • The total cost per year charged by each university and college for students enrolled in a Ph.D program

We used that information to create a list of the top 10 most affordable options for Ph.D in Computer Science candidates. Our list ranks those schools in a descending order with the most affordable universities at the bottom.

Ranking Low-cost Online Comp Sci PhD Programs

9. Pennsylvania State University

Online Ph.D Computer Science Program

State College, Pennsylvania


 Average Graduate Tuition: $17,900 per year

Pennsylvania State University is among the top colleges in the country and ranks as the largest university system in Pennsylvania. It has an acceptance rate of less than 30% among undergrads, and its acceptance rate decreases at the higher levels of education. Penn State ranks on both a global and a national scale and is a Public Ivy League, which means it offers an Ivy League education at a more affordable price. Students enrolled in its online Ph.D in Computer Science program have the chance to do independent research and research on its main campus. All students take a colloquium and the same four courses that include foundations in human centered design and interdisciplinary research methods for information sciences and technology. They must also take 12 credits of courses that will help them with their dissertations and courses on advanced research methods.

8. University of California Berkeley

Online Computer Science Ph.D

Berkeley, California


 Average Graduate Tuition: $13,509 per year

Founded in 1868, the University of California Berkeley is one of the largest and most popular colleges in the UC system. It typically goes by the name UC Berkeley, but may go by just Berkeley too. QS World University Rankings placed its information and computer science program at number four on its list of the top programs of this type. Times, U.S. News & World Report and ARWU all ranked UC Berkeley within the top 10 on lists of the best colleges in the world. Berkeley has an Master of Science in Computer Science program that teaches students the fundamentals they will need at the doctoral level, and the university allows students to enroll in the doctoral program near the end of their studies. This program specifically prepares students for working in research positions and in academia.

7. Colorado Technical University – Colorado Springs

Online Doctor of Computer Science

Colorado Springs, Colorado


 Average Graduate Tuition: $10,540 per year

Colorado Technical University is the modern name of the old Colorado Technical College. Founded in 1965, it initially focused on the education of military students and used vocational training as a way to prepare those students for different career paths. The university eventually added programs for more traditional students and now offers a number of majors and degree programs. More than 90% of its students enroll in an online program like its Doctor of Computer Science (DCS) program. Classes typically start every six to eight weeks, which allows students to enroll whenever they want. It features 48 credits of courses and three concentrations that students can select from based on what they want to study and do with their degrees. Concentrations are available in enterprise information systems, big data analytics and cybersecurity and information assistance.

6. University of North Texas

Online Computer Science and Engineering, Ph.D

Denton, Texas


 Average Graduate Tuition: $10,153 per year

One of the more affordable online Ph.D in Computer Science programs is this one from the University of North Texas, which costs a little over $10,000 a year. Like many other colleges, UNT started out as a normal school and educated teachers to increase the number of qualified teachers in the Southwest. It became a state normal college, state teachers college and state college before becoming a full university. The university now offers a computer science and engineering program at the doctorate level that combines elements of both computer engineering and CS. Students will need to take at least 12 credits of work at or above the 6000 level and do an oral presentation in front of a panel of professors after selecting a dissertation topic.

5. University of Memphis

Online Ph.D Computer Science

Memphis, Tennessee


Average Graduate Tuition: $9,125 per year

The University of Memphis is a major center for academic research and education in Tennessee. Founded in 1912 in the neighborhood of Normal Station, the area around the campus expanded over the years to offer more resources and opportunities for students. Those enrolling in an online program like its computer science Ph.D program will have access to some great resources too. This program assigns incoming students with an adviser to ensure that the student takes all the proper classes. Those students will need to take a final examination that is comprehensive in nature and covers subjects they studied while in the program. Students must also pick a topic for their dissertations and get permission to use that subject. All students will defend their dissertation in front of a panel of experts before getting a degree.

4. Missouri University of Science and Technology

Online Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science

Rolla, Missouri


Average Graduate Tuition: $9,057 per year

The Missouri University of Science and Technology, also known as Missouri S&T, opened in 1870 as a school that offered programs in metallurgy and served as a College of Mines. As the mining industry fell out of favor, the college expanded its course offerings to appeal to a larger number of students. Washington Monthly and U.S. News & World Report both rank Missouri S&T as one of the top colleges in America. During the first year of its computer science program, students will need to take and pass a written exam. They will take an oral exam within two years of starting the program. The program awards students more than 20 hours of credits for their dissertation and research work.

3. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Online Ph.D in Computer Science

Raleigh, North Carolina


 Average Graduate Tuition: $8,880 per year

North Carolina State University at Raleigh is one of several college campuses that make up the Research Triangle in the city. NSCU is one of the biggest colleges in North and South Carolina with an enrollment of more than 34,000, and more than 9,000 of those are graduate and doctorate students. The university ranks as a top global and national university on lists produced by U.S. News & World Report, ARWU, Washington Monthly and others. It offers an online Ph.D in Computer Science that provides students with opportunities to attend conferences and other events in the United States and abroad. Students will need to take 12 credits of courses on computer application and science theories and systems. They will also need to take a qualifying exam that is a written test.

2. Mississippi State University

Online Ph.D Computer Science

Starkville, Mississippi


Average Graduate Tuition: $7,780 per year

Though most call this school Mississippi State University, its official name is the Mississippi State University of Agriculture and Applied Science. That name dates back to the founding of the college, which then offered programs in mechanical arts and agricultural studies. The Social Mobility Index ranked MSU as the nation's 36th best university, and Forbes named it one of America's Best College Buys. Forbes, Washington Monthly and U.S. News & World Report believe MSU is one of the nation's top schools too. Mississippi State University hires professors with a high level of experience because their experience allows students to learn skills that they need at the professional level. This provides students with more personalized support when it comes to picking a dissertation topic and when doing work on the dissertation. The university offers a Master's in Computer Science and allows students to easily transition from the graduate program to the doctoral program when ready.

1. University of Idaho

Online Ph.D Computer Science

Moscow, Idaho


 Average Graduate Tuition: $7,232 per year

The University of Idaho is the main university in Idaho and also ranks as both its oldest college and its largest campus. Founded in 1899, U of I was home to the first law school in the state and the first accredited college degree program. Also called UI, it ranks as the 61st best college in the United States, according to a report released by Washington Monthly. Both Forbes and U.S. News & World Report ranked it as a top school too. The university's computer science program requires that students complete 78 credits above the bachelor's level but will accept credits completed in a master's program towards that number. Students will need to complete two semesters of classes at either a University of Idaho Residence Center or on its main campus in Moscow. UI also has a final examination and a teaching requirement. Students must agree to spend at least one semester teaching on a college campus before earning a degree.

Additional Ph.D in Computer Science Degree Offerings

Nova Southeastern University

Average Graduate Tuition: $28,736 per year


Syracuse University

Average Graduate Tuition: $45,022 per year


Clarkson University

Average Graduate Tuition: $46,132 per year


Boston University

Average Graduate Tuition: $50,240 per year


Southern Methodist University

Average Graduate Tuition: $50,358 per year


What Jobs are Available with an Online Computer Science Degree?

The two most common career paths open to computer science Ph.D holders are those in academia and those in research. Research positions are available with top firms like Apple and Microsoft. Many of these companies seek out students while still enrolled in programs and offer them jobs before they graduate. Those who specialize in research also study things like ergonomics and find ways to change the way people do work on computers and similar devices. Ph.D holders can also work in academia and as professors in community colleges, traditional colleges and vocational schools. Many professors have the chance to do their own research too. A small number may also find work in coding and working for companies to identify bugs and glitches in products before those programs reach the general public. Finance companies, the government and video game developers also hire Ph.D holders.

Are There Any Specific Skills That Students Need?

Before checking out computer science doctorate online programs, students may find it helpful to take a look at some of the skills that they need in these programs. While not all programs require a Master's in Computer Science because students can get that degree and immediately start a doctoral program, all do require that students know computer language and that they have skills relating to the development and creation of computer programs. Other necessary skills relate to studying online such as strong time management skills and good organizational skills. Students must know how to organize all the materials they need in their classes and find time to work on assignments while also handling any other commitments like a full-time job. Online students must have a dedicated Internet connection too.

What are Some of the Expenses That Students Have?

Far too many students assume that the only cost of getting a computer science Ph.D online is the tuition charged by the college or university. They are also responsible for paying any fees charged by the school such as a distance education fee that any student not taking classes on the campus will need to pay. Online students usually pay less for textbooks and other materials but may need to buy some textbooks from the school or a website. They can rent those books for the semester to save some money. Computer science students can use a combination of grants, scholarships and loans to pay their costs.

Are There Any Benefits to Going to Grad School Online?

There are some great benefits to going to grad school online in addition to saving money. Cheap programs charge less than $20,000 per year, and there are some programs that charge less than $10,000 a year. Some students may work for employers who offer tuition reimbursement for those going back to school or scholarships that students can use for any type of training. Getting a Ph.D can help students qualify for better jobs and make more money too. Those working in research positions for major colleges and facilities can earn more than $100,000 a year. Other jobs pay in the high five-figure range.

How Much Can Computer Science Professionals Make?

Those working in research positions are among the highest paid professionals in this industry. The highest paid workers in this field bring home more than $150,000 a year, but even the bottom 10% of those workers earn more than $80,000 a year. Government workers generally earn less than those who work in private facilities do, and public institutes pay their research workers a little less than private groups do too. The amount that these professionals make can also vary based on where they live. California is home to a number of top colleges and research institutes that pay workers a high rate.

What is a Computer Science Dissertation?

One aspect that a Ph.D in Computer Science online program and a traditional program share in common is a dissertation. In the same way that graduate students often do a thesis or a final project, those at the doctoral level will also need to do a final paper or project. A dissertation is essentially a long research project that allows a student to conduct research and write up his or her findings. Those students will work with an adviser and get approval to research a specific topic and one that is unique from the work done by any other student in that program. Some colleges public the dissertations that students write and keep copies on hand in the university library. This provides future students with the chance to read the work that alumni wrote in the past.

What is a Final Examination?

Few students realize that these programs usually include some type of final examination. This is an in-depth exam that tests the knowledge they have and the skills they picked up over the course of their studies. Most colleges have an exam that students take after finishing the first year of the program, and virtual colleges offer an online version of this test. Those who pass have permission to continue with the program and begin working on a dissertation project or paper. Students will then need to take a final examination after completing and presenting that dissertation. Passing both exams is a requirement to graduate.

What is the Job Outlook for the Computer Science Industry?

The career outlook for the computer science industry and those who have a Ph.D is quite high. Think of it this way: technology is something that constantly evolves and changes. It wasn't that long ago that cell phones could only work in certain parts of the world and could do little more than make and receive phone calls. Smartphones now act like miniature computers that let people do everything they want with that device. Those who remain up to date on new forms of technology will have a better chance of finding a good job and earning a high salary. The need for professors capable of teaching computer science and the need for those who can conduct research in the field is high too.

Smart students know that looking at online Ph.D programs is a great way to see what options are available for those who don't have the time to deal with traffic just to take a few classes on a local campus. Those students will find it helpful to look at how much these programs cost too. Our list includes the best programs that students of all ages and types can afford when pursuing an online Ph.D in Computer Science.

GSH Staff
December 2017

This concludes our ranking of the Top 10 Affordable PhD in Computer Science degree programs for 2018.