When you’re weighing the costs of tuition and fees for your online education, you may think the amount of money per student is more than enough. In fact, both traditional and online colleges need money beyond the tuition they charge to keep operating. Traditionally, state funding has offset some of this cost for brick-and-mortar schools, but what about online institutions – and what does your online school’s funding status mean for you?

From Where Do Online Colleges Receive Their Funding?

Just as there are both for-profit and non-profit online colleges, there are also private and public online schools. Public schools across the United States depend on state funding to survive and keep tuition costs down, particularly for in-state students. Online public schools are sometimes eligible for state funding, as well – particularly those that have a brick-and-mortar campus located in the state.

Controversy around State Funding for Online Colleges

Sometimes whether or not an online school will receive state funding becomes a matter of controversy. In North Carolina, for example, state lawmakers debated the possibility of including money for online school Western Governors University into the 2015 state budget, according to N.C. Policy Watch. Some state legislators wanted to offer the school, which caters to students who have taken college courses but never finished their degrees, $2 million. Other legislators advocated allowing North Carolina students who enroll in Western Governors University access to $90 million dollars of need-based state financial aid money, N.C. Policy Watch reported.

Of course, not everyone is for giving funding to the online college, either directly or indirectly. Western Governors University is a private, though non-profit, institution.  Some opponents of the North Carolina legislature’s suggestions would rather see the money go to local schools already in the area, some of which offer online course options of their own, than to a private school with its headquarters and brick-and-mortar campus in Salt Lake City, Utah. Proponents of the idea, on the other hand, see Western Governors University as “a fairly low-cost way for older students who may be busy working to finish their degrees,” N.C. Policy Watch reported – and state funding as a way of connecting those students with the online college.

Funding Your Education

Perhaps the reason state funding of online colleges remains controversial in some situations is because there’s not enough money to go around. Colleges across the country –both traditional and online – are seeing less state funding overall. In 2015, state funding for higher education remained below the funding levels seen before and during the economic recession, according to U.S. News & World Report – even after two years of funding increases.

If your state awards need-based financial aid to students attending a public or private online college like North Carolina is considering doing, this aid could help you earn your degree more affordably if you qualify. However, even if your state doesn’t award such funds, students still have various ways to pay for online college, including traditional and online scholarships.