Online College Tuition Comparisons: A Q&A With CSU Chief Marketing Officer Dale Leatherwood

person using a laptop computer to compare online college tuition costs with the CSU Cost Comparison Calculator
Category: Value of Education

By Matt Rowley
Posted on

The top concern for online college students continues to be paying for school. Consider these takeaways from the Online College Students Report 2023 published by EducationDynamics, a study in which 3,022 online college students were surveyed:

  1. By far the most important factor in enrollment decisions (49% of survey respondents) was the cost of tuition and fees.
  2. The most attractive features of schools (38% of survey respondents) was lower tuition.
  3. When researching schools on their websites, the most sought-after information (67% of survey respondents) was the cost of tuition, and the third most sought-after information (61%) was the cost of fees.

Here at Columbia Southern University, we announced in July 2023 the launch of our online college cost comparison calculator available online at Below is our Q&A with CSU Chief Marketing Officer Dale Leatherwood, who led the team that crafted the calculator.

Q: Who was the cost comparison calculator designed to help?

A: For adult students, working professionals or anyone seeking an online degree program, by far the most important factor in choosing a college is cost. We created the cost comparison calculator to provide information to anyone seeking the accurate, full cost of courses in an online degree program.

Q: Is this calculator a better representation of the true cost of tuition and fees than other calculators or rankings already available online?

A: The CSU calculator is the only one of its kind because it provides accurate, up-to-date information on the listed tuition and fees for online degree courses. Fees, which can be difficult to locate on a college’s website, can add anywhere from a few dollars to several hundred dollars to the cost of a course. By including required course fees and tuition in every result, the true cost is available to anyone.

Q: Why hasn’t anyone else created something like this already?

A: Put simply, researching and updating the costs and fees for hundreds of degree programs is a lot of work! Unlike CSU’s costs, the details on tuition and fees aren’t often provided clearly on college websites, putting students seeking a degree at a disadvantage.

Q: Why did CSU decide to create this calculator?

A: As a leader in affordability, accessibility and accredited quality in online learning, we believe creating this calculator can make a real difference in reducing the cost of higher education. Also, we’ve been one of the most affordable universities offering online degrees for decades – and we’ve been telling that to everyone who would listen – but I wanted to show the difference for anyone to see. This calculator communicates that as clearly as possible.

Q: How does the calculator work?

A: The calculator is designed to be extremely simple to use. Users make a few quick choices starting with their degree level of interest – bachelor’s or master’s – and one of the dozens of available CSU programs. The next step is simply choosing a college to compare CSU against in terms of costs along with how many courses to use for the comparison. Users will get an instant result, showing the CSU tuition and fees side by side with the comparison college. Users can adjust the programs and course number to make as many comparisons as they’d like.

Q: Who created it and designed it?

A: The CSU team developed the calculator from the ground up by researching more than a thousand online degree programs at dozens of colleges to get accurate and up-to-date information on listed tuition and fees. Each result is reviewed and updated monthly to ensure accurate results.

Q: How do I know the calculator is accurate?

A: The cost for each school is based on the list price shown on their website. In addition to researching each program individually, a separate team reviews again to ensure accuracy. Also, with each result a link to the tuition and fees for each school is provided so users can see for themselves.

Q: How did you decide which schools to include?

A: We included colleges with large online student populations, as well as those with online programs that are in high demand or programs similar to CSU’s. The calculator will continue adding schools and programs on a regular basis.

Q: Can I suggest other schools to be included?

A: Absolutely! We’d love feedback on all aspects of the calculator, including requests to add colleges that aren’t currently included.

Q: Whom can I contact if I find data in the calculator that’s incorrect?

A: We are confident that the data included is accurate and up to date, but if anyone has a question or feels there is incorrect information, please reach out to us by completing the help form.

Q: What’s the fine print on the calculator?

A: Great question! A few disclaimers are important to know. All costs are listed tuition and fees on the school’s website as of the update date shown. It’s also very important to remember that there may be discounts or additional fees that are specific to each person’s situation.

Finally, keep in mind that everyone should carefully compare programs based on a variety of factors, and the cost is only one consideration. Our cost calculator is merely a comparison of cost, not of graduate outcomes which vary based on a student’s experience, the program, and other factors.

Q: Where can people go to find the calculator?

A: The calculator is available at Give it a try!

The CSU Cost Comparison Calculator supports our vision to change and improve lives through higher education. It empowers students to take charge of their own education, and it provides transparency for online college costs, a topic that can be easily misunderstood.

Here at CSU, we offer online associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees such as business administration, criminal justice, fire administration and occupational safety and health. To learn more about our affordable, accessible and accredited quality online learning options, visit our website.

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