Online Colleges That Offer Open Enrollment
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Open enrollment allows students without strong academic backgrounds to gain admission to community colleges and some four-year colleges.
Strict admission requirements can make it difficult for some learners to gain entry to college. Open enrollment provides students without strong academic backgrounds greater access to education, broadening the pool of potential schools and programs available to degree-seekers.
This guide provides information on how open enrollment works and ranks the best online colleges offering open enrollment. It also covers other important information for prospective students, including answers to frequently asked questions.
What Is Open Enrollment?
Many online colleges use open enrollment in place of more selective or competitive processes. First implemented in the 1970s to reduce discrmination, open enrollment increases educational access by removing restrictive measures that might prohibit some learners from attending school. Open enrollment is most often offered by community colleges and other two-year institutions.
In practice, open enrollment typically means eliminating most admission criteria, such as standardized test scores and minimum GPA requirements. Most online colleges with open enrollment require only a high school diploma or GED for admission.
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Who Should Apply Through Open Enrollment?
Students without strong academic backgrounds or those who otherwise lack access to higher education benefit the most from open enrollment. Like schools with more strict admission criteria, open enrollment colleges and universities provide a pathway for students to advance their careers and go on to pursue further study.
Other Ways To Enroll
Colleges and universities may have a variety of enrollment policies in addition to open enrollment, including regular decision, rolling admissions, and early decision. The following sections outline these and other common enrollment policies.
Schools that practice rolling admissions accept applications at any time throughout the year. Many online colleges use this option. Individual policies vary by school, but in most cases, prospective degree-seekers can apply anytime within a specified window and receive a decision within several weeks.
Schools with open door policies do not have strict admission requirements, such as standardized test scores and minimum GPAs. Some versions of the policy also eliminate reference requirements. Qualified learners only need a high school diploma or equivalent.
While standard admission policies usually require learners to submit application materials on or before January 1, early action policies have earlier deadlines -- usually sometime in October or November. Early admission degree-seekers receive a decision much earlier than standard applicants, too. Learners with a clear sense of where they want to attend benefit most from this policy.
Early decision is similar to early action, but it also requires binding commitments from admitted degree-seekers to attend the institution. This means applicants cannot apply to other institutions. Many large, prestigious institutions, like those in the Ivy League, use this policy to attract and retain learners with a clear top choice.
Most colleges and universities use regular decision, including those with open enrollment. Online colleges that adhere to this policy place no restrictions on the number of other schools learners can apply to. Most learners use this method because it broadens their options and financial aid prospects. Most regular decision application deadlines are in January, with admission decisions following in late spring.
Can I Start Online College Anytime?
Prospective learners may wonder: When do online classes start? Most online colleges offer flexible start dates, but they do so within a clear scheduling structure. Some online schools use a traditional semester system, while others use quarter or trimester terms.
The semester system generally consists of two 15-16-week terms in the fall and spring. Quarter systems usually use four 10-week terms in the fall, winter, spring, and summer, while the trimester system comprises three 12-13-week terms in the fall, winter, and spring.
Learners can typically begin taking online courses at the start of any term. However, some schools require students to start in the fall, while others offer monthly start dates. There are also self-paced online colleges, where students access and complete materials entirely on their own schedules, those these are relatively rare.
Multiple Start Dates
Many online college courses have multiple start dates. Individual departments or programs usually set these dates individually at various times within the academic year. Accelerated courses often use multiple start dates to accommodate the varying needs of busy learners, but some traditional and self-paced classes also offer them.
Online colleges with weekly start dates are rare, though they do happen, usually for certificate or vocational degrees. It's more common to see monthly or quarterly start dates.
Independent Study Course Schedules
Independent study courses let learners explore their areas of interest through opportunities not formally offered in curriculum catalogs. The content of these courses is usually determined between the degree-seeker and an instructor; they arrive at a mutually agreed-upon plan of study. This option works best for degree-seekers whose needs are not met by traditional curriculum offerings. These courses usually begin at a convenient time for both the learner and the instructor.
Online Colleges That Offer Open Enrollment
Founded in 1885, well before Arizona gained statehood, Arizona State University is now one of the largest universities in the country, enrolling over 51,000 students at its main campus in Tempe in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. The university also offers numerous online degree programs through its ASU Online platform. ASU Online offers plenty of start date options, with two 7.5 week sessions and one 15 week session per fall, spring, and summer semesters.
Since 2007, Colorado State University Global has offered a variety of entirely online degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Founded as the distance education wing of Colorado State University, the Global Campus enrolls over 12,000 students from all over the country, and even internationally. CSU Global’s programs utilize eight-week accelerated courses that start every four weeks, allowing for plenty of scheduling flexibility.
Columbia College, a private, liberal arts college established in 1851, enrolls over 13,000 students in a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Though non-sectarian, it remains connected to the Disciples of Christ. Columbia College’s online degree programs utilize eight-week accelerated sessions, with six start dates per year.
Eastern Kentucky University enrolls over 16,000 students in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. Its online bachelor's degree and online master's degree programs serve the needs of busy students locally and abroad. Founded in 1874 as Central University, the institution went through numerous changes before becoming EKU in 1966. Most online degree programs at Eastern Kentucky University Online utilize eight-week sessions and offer six start dates per year.
Founded in 1971 by Evangelist Jerry Falwell, Liberty University enrolls a massive student population of over 75,000 in a full array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, with many online degree programs among them. The private, Christian university is especially well known for its connection with American conservative politics and Evangelism. Liberty University Online offers numerous start dates throughout the year, with fall, spring, and summer semesters each divided into three eight-week long sub-terms and one semester-long sub-term.
Regis University, a private Roman Catholic university established in 1877, enrolls over 8,000 students in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. Dating back to a small college founded by exiled Italian Jesuits in 1877, the institution has seen major growth and change over its history. Depending on the program, Regis University Online offers six start dates per year.
Robert Morris University enrolls a tight-knit student population of around 5,000 in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs, including online degree programs through its RMU Online platform. Founded in 1921, the private research university got its start as the Pittsburgh School of Accountancy. The university’s calendar offers five start dates every year.
Rochester Institute of Technology, a private non-profit university established in 1829, enrolls over 16,000 students through its RIT Online platform in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs, with numerous online degree programs among them. The university offers five seven-week sessions per year.
Southern New Hampshire University, a private university established in 1932, enrolls over 90,000 students in a full array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. The university’s massive student population can be attributed to its wide selection of online degree programs; only eight percent of the school’s undergraduate student population attends classes on campus. SNHU offers six sessions per year, starting roughly every two months.
Thomas Edison State University, a public university established in 1972, enrolls approximately 16,200 students in a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. The university is named in honor of the famous inventor who gained encyclopedic knowledge of many subject areas without attending college classes. Online associates degree and online bachelor's degree programs at Thomas Edison State University have course start dates every month of the year, and most online master's degree programs start four times per year, with the master’s degree programs in the business school offering six start dates.
Tiffin University, a private university established in 1888, enrolls over 3,000 students in a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The university offers six start dates per year for its online degree programs, in January, March, May, July, August, and October.
The University of Arkansas, a public, land-grant, research university established in 1871, enrolls over 27,000 students in a full array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. Its Global Campus allows students from all over the world to complete online degree programs entirely from their own homes. University of Arkansas Global Campus also offers a variety of self-paced courses that students can enroll in at anytime.
University of Maryland University College, the distance-education wing of the University of Maryland, enrolls around 60,000 students in a variety of online degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels. Established in 1947, the University College has offered distance and evening education programs for the better part of a century. The University College meets the needs of busy, nontraditional students through rolling admissions and online degree programs that start nearly every month of the year.
A public research university founded in 1883, the University of North Dakota is the oldest institution of its kind in the state, preceding the statehood of North Dakota by six years. The university enrolls over 14,000 students in a full array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional on-campus and online degree programs. UND Online offers a wide selection of online college courses that students can enroll in at anytime, and complete entirely at their own pace.
Upper Iowa University, a private university established in 1857, enrolls around 5,000 students in a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Though initially affiliated with the Methodist church, Upper Iowa University is now nonsectarian. The university’s self-paced degree programs allow students to earn their education on a schedule that meets their unique needs.
Weber State University, a public university established in 1889, enrolls around 28,000 students in a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Though initially established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the state of Utah acquired the college from the church in 1931. Weber State University offers numerous independent study courses that can be started anytime and completed on a self-paced schedule.
Western Governors University is a private university that enrolls nearly 100,000 students in a wide selection of undergraduate and graduate online degree programs. Founded in 1997 with the goal of competency-based learning, WGU serves non-traditional students with its entirely online education model. The university provides students with plenty of scheduling flexibility, with six month terms that can begin on the first day of any month.
Online Programs with Open Enrollment Guidelines
The online colleges featured below offer a variety of flexible start date options including multiple start dates year-round, individual courses that start anytime, and online degree programs that can be completed entirely on your own schedule. Some schools listed may offer a combination of these options.
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The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- ACT/SAT requirements
- Cost in-state / out of state
- Undergrad, grad, or both offered
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Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
Common Questions About Open Enrollment
According to PayScale, graduates with four-year degrees in engineering and computer science enjoy the highest median salaries nationwide.
The right time to enroll in college varies by each student's needs and interests. Some learners enroll immediately after high school graduation, while others prefer to gain professional experience before attending college.
Online classes start at different times depending on the school. Some online colleges offer just one or two start dates per year, while others offer monthly or rolling start dates.
Self-paced classes allow students to access and complete coursework at their own pace, offering maximum flexibility. These differ from asynchronous classes, which allow students to access course materials on their own schedules but still have set deadlines.
Many community colleges and two-year schools use some form of open enrollment, but not all. Some four-year institutions may also have open enrollment policies.
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