Online Colleges in Washington: Rankings & Report

#1: Washington State University


washington state university

  • Average In-State Tuition: $316.27 per credit hour (lower than state average)
  • Average Out-of-State Tuition: Same
  • Accreditation Status: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Online Degree Info: http://online.wsu.edu/undergrad/Default.aspx

What we really liked:
Washington State University really knocked our socks off. We appreciated their strong reputation, proven out by placement on all three of our outside rankings, as well as top graduation and retention rates for the state. We also loved their detailed responses to our questions, and the fact that their website contains all the information needed to make an informed decision about applying to the school. Overall, Washington State University is our clear top choice for the state.

What we didn’t like:
Our main suggestion for improvement is the addition of a tuition payment plan.

5.27/5* – Performance Score

* Boosted by raw bonus for placement on outside rankings
  • Graduation Rate: 65% (above state average)
  • Retention Rate: 82% (above state average)
  • Placement on US News Online Rankings: 21
  • Placement on Money 2014 List: 138
  • Placement on Washington Monthly’s Top Colleges: 100
  • Total Bachelor’s / Master’s Offerings: 23

It’s hard to write about Washington State University’s performance without lapsing into superlatives. They are above average in every metric, and their reputation is recognized by all three of our outside rankings. They finish #1 in the state in a broad set of categories, including graduation and retention rates. They finished at the top of our list for a reason: they’re the best in the state.

5/5 – Response Score

All of Washington State University’s responses were comprehensive, and indicated a “next step” to the process. For example, when we asked their career services department about how they help students find internships and jobs, they responded:

All of our services are available at this link: http://ascc.wsu.edu/. Click on Career Services. There is a career counselor specifically for online students: Chris Miller, 509-981-3808, cmiller66@wsu.edu.

– Washington State University Career Services

We appreciated the ability to follow up directly with subject matter experts instead of being lost in email limbo.

5/5 – Transparency Score

Everything on the Washington State University website was clearly marked and easy to find. Consequently, they received a perfect transparency score.

4.25/5 – Career Services Score

We were impressed with the comprehensive approach of the Washington State University career services department. It’s clear that their five-person staff goes above and beyond to help students and alumni:

WSU ranks 25th in the nation for universities where employers prefer to recruit students according to the Wall Street Journal. Our career fair employer booths “sell-out” each semester, and we work to incorporate employers on the waiting list into other career events throughout the year. Overall we have a lot going on!

– Washington State University Career Services

It would be helpful if Washington State University were to develop specific services for online students, such as Skype interviews. However, as it stands, their menu of services and support structure is comprehensive.

3.5/5 – Financial Aid Score

Despite being an affordable $316.27 per credit hour (average for the state), Washington State University’s biggest weakness is the lack of a tuition payment plan. That negatively impacted their financial aid score. Otherwise, we found their financial aid department very helpful:

Aside from receiving funding through the FAFSA process (federal loans, grants and Work Study), students are encouraged to complete the WSU General Scholarship Application which gives them consideration for a variety of institutional scholarships. Also, through the Admission application process, students are considered for academic awards.

– Washington State University Financial Aid

Other responses indicated that Washington State University is considering adding a payment plan in the future. If they did, the financial aid score would jump considerably.

#2: Central Washington University


central washington university

What we really liked:
Central Washington University was a close second, finishing near the top of our list with strong overall scores across the board. We especially liked their detailed responses to our questions, as well as the transparency of their website. They received perfect scores in both categories. And at $264.70 per credit hour for in-state students, this is the most affordable online school in Washington.

What we didn’t like:
The biggest weakness for Central Washington University is the lack of online programs. With 15 total online degrees (9 Bachelor’s, 6 Masters), they trail the state average of 21 total degrees. This impacted their performance score slightly, but not enough to make a significant difference. That being said, Central Washington University scored consistently well across all other measurement criteria.

3.53/5 – Performance Score

  • Graduation Rate: 51% (above state average)
  • Retention Rate: 74% (above state average)
  • Placement on US News Online Rankings:
  • Placement on Money 2014 List: 202
  • Placement on Washington Monthly’s Top Colleges:
  • Total Bachelor’s / Master’s Offerings: 15

With graduation and retention rates slightly above the state average, as well as a performance bonus by ranking on the Money 2014 list, Central Washington University has a better-than-average performance score. But with only 15 total online degrees, it trails the state average of 21 degrees by quite a bit. This performance score will improve if Central Washington University adds degrees to their online school at a faster rate than other schools in the state.

5/5 – Response Score

We found Central Washington University’s responses to be helpful and timely. For example, when we asked them a general question about online degrees, they responded with the typical profile of an online student:

As far as offering degrees 100 percent online, we offer what we refer to as degree completion fully online. By that I mean that our degrees are designed for students who have completed a Direct Transfer AA or have completed the majority of their General Education Requirements.

– Central Washington University Response

This kind of detail is hard to find by simply browsing websites or filling out contact forms. We appreciated the time each respondent spent answering our questions.

5/5 – Transparency Score

Central Washington University’s website was easy to navigate, and we were able to find answers to all six of our transparency questions. As a result, they received a perfect score in this category.

4/5 – Career Services Score

With several career fairs happening each month, along with lots of workshops and counseling sessions, Central Washington University has a strong career services department. We especially like how they cater to online students:

We offer workshops that cover a wide range of job search topics during the school year (these are recorded and made available to those who cannot attend and made available via distance ed), resume/cover letter reviews via electronic/drop in hours/one on one appointments, mock interviews, career assessments, career fairs, on-campus employer interviewing and employer site visits to name a few!

– Central Washington University Career Services

Additionally, we appreciated the way in which the department is dedicated to their students, even going so far as to help with attire:

We are launching a Professional Clothing Closet in the Fall Quarter 2014. We will provide a donated gently used professional outfit for students/alumni to use for an interview/career fair/networking event/first day on the job. Students/Alumni will be able to keep the outfit for future use and will hopefully pay it forward by donating to the closet in the future.

– Central Washington University Career Services

These factors make us confident in their ability to deliver services to online students.

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4.5/5 – Financial Aid Score

Central Washington University has the lowest tuition rate of all the Washington schools that we surveyed, coming in at an average of $264.70 for in-state students. Their scholarships and monthly payment plan help boost the overall financial aid score. We appreciated their detailed responses to our questions. For example, when we asked them about staffing, they responded:

As far as our staff, we currently employ five full-time financial aid counselors at the Ellensburg campus, and one counselor for the CWU Centers. We are in the process of hiring one more counselor for the main campus and another to help our satellite campus students. The team in Ellensburg is assigned student files by alphabet, and the counselors take turns seeing students during drop-in office hours, 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday.

– Central Washington University Financial Aid

Overall, there is room for improvement, especially related to scholarships and counseling methods for online students.

#3: City University of Seattle


city university of seattle

  • Average In-State Tuition: $370.00 per credit hour (average for the state)
  • Average Out-of-State Tuition: Same
  • Accreditation Status: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Online Degree Info: http://www.cityu.edu/about/flexstudy/online.aspx

What we really liked:
City University of Seattle offers a military discount, reducing tuition by over 50% to $166 per credit hour for military veterans. They also received a performance bump from their placement on the US News Top Online rankings, and their 21 total online degrees are right in line with state averages.

What we didn’t like:
With a 29% retention rate, City University of Seattle is well below average. We would also like to see a lot more disclosure on their website about online programs. Additionally, we found their financial aid and career services departments to have average services across the board, leading to mediocre scores in almost all categories.

2.87/5 – Performance Score

  • Graduation Rate: 43.9% (average for state)
  • Retention Rate: 29% (lower than state average)
  • Placement on US News Online Rankings: 46
  • Placement on Money 2014 List:
  • Placement on Washington Monthly’s Top Colleges:
  • Total Bachelor’s / Master’s Offerings: 21

While City University of Seattle’s graduation rate is in line with the state average, their retention rate is significantly below average. This could be due to a high transfer rate, but those statistics are unpublished. As a result, not even placement on the US News Online Rankings could make a significant impact on their performance score.

3/5 – Response Score

While some of the responses we received from City University of Seattle were helpful, other departments simply ignored our questions. We had to make several follow up phone calls just to understand the services they provide.

However, when they do answer, they provide useful details. For example, when we asked about the length of the online semester, they responded:

We have online classes that are five weeks and we have online classes that run the full ten week quarter. All of the online classes work within the quarter timeline. However, there are no set meeting times for online courses.

– City University of Seattle Response

Overall, we would hope for more diligent and timely responses for matriculated students.

3.33/5 – Transparency Score

While City University of Seattle’s website is easy to navigate, it is missing some key information for online students. It’s difficult to locate the tuition and student fees, and they don’t provide faculty bios for the online courses. This kind of incomplete information is not acceptable for such an important decision.

3.25/5 – Career Services Score

We like that City University of Seattle makes their career services available to both students and alumni. They offer a typical menu of interview coaching, resume review, and career counseling. However, it’s unclear what kind of special services they provide to online students, and our questions were not returned. We had to give them a call just to understand their basic services:

Our career services are free to students and alumni as well. Alumni will never have to pay for career help if they ever need us again in the future.

– City University of Seattle Career Services

Overall, it would be helpful to know more information about their career support for online students before enrolling.

3/5 – Financial Aid Score

At $370 per credit hour, City University of Seattle is right in line with average tuition prices for the state. We especially like that they provide a military discount, billing only $166 per credit hour for veterans. Overall, though, the financial aid services provided by City University of Seattle are limited. They have a small staff, and inflexible tuition payment plans.

#4: Golden Gate University


golden gate university

What we really liked:
Golden Gate University has a large financial aid staff and a menu of career services that fit the profile of a school their site. They also provide business cards for their students, adding a level of professionalism that may prepare them for the working world.

What we didn’t like:
Golden Gate doesn’t publish performance statistics, so it’s very difficult to know the quality of education being delivered. At $610 per credit hour, it is one of the most expensive schools in Washington. And their lack of any response to our surveys indicates they may be more concerned with student volume than meaningful interactions.

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2.33/5 – Performance Score

  • Graduation Rate: Unpublished
  • Retention Rate: Unpublished
  • Placement on US News Online Rankings:
  • Placement on Money 2014 List:
  • Placement on Washington Monthly’s Top Colleges:
  • Total Bachelor’s / Master’s Offerings: 39

The only reason Golden Gate University has an average performance score is because of the wide variety of online programs offered. Otherwise, with unpublished statistics about graduation and retention rates, we recommend proceeding with caution.

1/5 – Response Score

Golden Gate University did not respond to any of our questions. We had to make phone calls just to get basic information.

5/5 – Transparency Score

Golden Gate University’s website is clear, with full information about programs and faculty members. It would be helpful to break out the online faculty from the general departments, but otherwise they do a good job of disclosing relevant information.

3.75/5 – Career Services Score

It’s clear that Golden Gate University wants to prepare students for the professional world. However, it is not clear what services they actually provide. Since they did not respond to our questions, we gave them a call to find out:

Online students can set up an appointment with an advisor anytime over the phone…we also have video tutorials online. They teach different things that students should know when looking for a job or career.

– Golden Gate University Career Services

In the future, it would be helpful to publish this information on the website.

3.25/5 – Financial Aid Score

While Golden Gate University provides a full staff of financial aid counselors, their high tuition rates, coupled with the lack of a monthly payment plan, brings down their financial aid score. The university provides a range of financial benefits, ranging from merit scholarships to veteran benefits. However, we recommend looking closely at any aid package to make sure it offsets the high cost of tuition.

#5: Heritage University


heritage university

What we really liked:
Heritage University has an easy to navigate website, with lots of information about online programs available to the public. Their career services department is available through the school’s intranet, and offers a menu of services including career advising, job search assistance, and scholarship application assistance.

What we didn’t like:
At $736 per credit hour, Heritage is the most expensive school that made our list. They offer a variety of English degrees online, but the diversity of their online programs is limited. Overall, their responses to our questions were limited or missing.

2/5 – Performance Score

  • Graduation Rate: 18% (below state average)
  • Retention Rate: 57% (below state average)
  • Placement on US News Online Rankings:
  • Placement on Money 2014 List:
  • Placement on Washington Monthly’s Top Colleges:
  • Total Bachelor’s / Master’s Offerings: 7

Heritage University performs below state averages on all performance metrics, including graduation rate (18%), retention rate (57%), and total number of online programs (7). However, for students wishing to study English or Creative Writing, they offer a number of options. When it comes to online education, Heritage University should be considered a specialty school.

2/5 – Response Score

We had a difficult time getting basic answers to our questions from Heritage University representatives. The one exception was financial aid. Their responses were helpful. For example, when we asked them about scholarship options, they told us:

Beyond our Eagle Scholarship used to equitably distribute institutional funds, we have a single scholarship application used to award our nearly 200 scholarships. We encourage students to complete the HU Academic Scholarship Application to be considered for these scholarship dollars that include funds from private donors. There are also a number of program on campus that target students in need and support them with a number of added services as well as scholarship support. These programs include CAMP, TRiO, Mellon Mays, Act Six, and Soar.

– Heritage University Financial Aid

However, we would have like to know more about how they manage online courses and provide career services without having to pick up the phone.

3.33/5 – Transparency Score

The Heritage University website is clear and easy to navigate, but it is missing key information. In the future, we would like to see admission requirements and program curricula without having to inquire.

3/5 – Career Services Score

Heritage University offers a standard menu of career services, including career advising, resume reviews, and workshops. They also provide online professional development, but were unresponsive to our inquiries.

Emailing or calling us for an appointment is how distance students contact us now.

– Heritage University Career Services

We would like to see more disclosure about information available to online and distance learning students to better understand the nature of the services that Heritage University provides.

2.75/5 – Financial Aid Score

At $736 per credit hour, Heritage University is the most expensive school that made our cut. While they offer a handful of unique scholarships, the expensive tuition, coupled with the lack of a monthly payment plan, give us concern about the financial aid assistance that they offer.

Honorable Mention (Four Year Programs)

The University of Washington, with its 83% graduation rate and tuition hovering around $200 per credit hour, gets our honorable mention for four year programs. They didn’t make our initial list because they only offer two online Bachelor’s degrees. If you are interested in studying Early Childhood Education or Integrated Social Sciences, we recommend adding the University of Washington to your list.

Schools That Did Not Make Our Cut

The University of Washington only offers two online Bachelor’s degrees, so they did not make our cut. If you are pursuing a graduate degree, however, they offer 13 online Masters degrees. Also missing is Gonzaga University because they do not offer any online degrees.

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