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What Impacts the Cost of an Online MSCS Program?

December 16, 2022

Of the various master’s degree options for STEM professionals, the Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) is arguably the most lucrative. Computer science master’s degree holders topped the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ most recent list of starting salaries and were also the only graduates to earn average starting salaries of above $100,000. That’s a compelling argument in favor of seeking out advanced education in computation and related fields, but it’s not the only one. 

The ROI of a Master of Science in Computer Science transcends the financial value of the degree. The MSCS curriculum teaches in-demand practical skills and important theoretical competencies related to computing systems, artificial intelligence, machine learning, database systems and data mining, cloud computing, algorithms analysis and more. Computer science master’s holders are in demand and equipped to meet strategic organizational objectives related to technology and draft innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.  

Online CS master’s programs, such as the 30-credit-hour, non-thesis online MSCS program at Case Western Reserve University, change the ROI calculation further. Students who pursue computer science master’s degrees online receive the same education as peers in traditional programs with the option to maintain full-time employment. Working students may advance more quickly than their peers because they can apply what they learn immediately in the workplace.

That makes calculating the value of an MSCS earned online more complex than simply looking at tuition versus future earnings. Similarly, assessing the cost of a given computer science master’s program involves more than looking at tuition. Finding the right MSCS program is a matter of looking at everything that contributes to the cost of a degree and the value that specific programs offer students before and after graduation.

Four factors that determine the cost of online CS master’s programs


Tuition is the first factor most people consider when researching master’s programs, but there are two caveats to keep in mind when it comes to the cost of any degree. First, while tuition is the “big-ticket” expense, it is not the only one. Second, very few graduate students pay the total sticker price of their degrees. Most master’s degree candidates fund their degrees using a mix of out-of-pocket payments and federal loans, grants and other forms of assistance, including employer sponsorship. While tuition is often an intimidating figure, there are many ways to pay for a computer science master’s.

Technology fees and support services

Studying and working with the latest computer systems and operating systems requires access to reliable modern technology. In an online CS master’s program, you may pay distance learning fees that cover the cost of a state-of-the-art virtual learning platform, 24/7 technology support services and the delivery of online student services. Case Western Reserve’s Case School of Engineering powers its online master’s programs using Canvas, a collaborative learning management system, and around-the-clock tech support is available to students in the online computer science program.

Books and materials

How much you spend on books and materials when pursuing a CS master’s online will depend on which program you choose, but in most cases, you will spend less than your peers studying full-time on campus. In 2020, the average price of a new hardback textbook was $84, while ebooks and digital materials cost just $38. Materials fees may also cover the cost of course materials hosted on university servers, which can include videos and case studies. In some online degree programs, course materials are provided as part of the program and the cost is rolled into tuition. In others, degree candidates pay separately for books and materials.

Opportunity costs

Opportunity costs are what you forfeit (financially or otherwise) when you choose one option over another. For example, if you pursue a graduate computer science degree full time, in person, at a faraway university, you could spend a substantial sum on relocation and forfeit some or all of your income. Factoring lost income, incidental expenses and opportunities for advancement into your cost calculations as opportunity costs can help you understand the true price tag of a degree program. 

Online degree programs such as the part-time MSCS program at Case Western Reserve University tend to have lower opportunity costs than traditional master’s degree programs. You can complete the synchronous and asynchronous coursework when and where it is most convenient—e.g., before and after work, on weekends and during lunch hours—and continue earning income and advancing in your career. You can also enroll in a top MSCS program without having to relocate.

Five factors that may reduce the cost of online computer science master’s programs

Part-time study

Completing a degree program on a part-time schedule decreases the immediate cost burden, potentially making it easier to pay for a portion of your education out of pocket. Choosing part-time enrollment may allow you to take out fewer student loans, which, in turn, means you pay less student loan interest, reducing the total cost of your degree.  

The part-time, online MSCS program at Case Western Reserve is delivered over five semesters or just under two years. Going to graduate school on a part-time schedule does not mean sacrificing quality or opportunity. Case School of Engineering invests significantly in its online and part-time programs, so you can rest assured you get the same benefits as full-time, on-campus students: You will receive a leading-edge computer science education and build relationships with peers and faculty members and can take part in extracurricular activities and join student organizations, such as the Association for Computing Machinery. 


Internal and external scholarships can reduce the cost of an online CS degree program. Many universities offer graduate student scholarships, and you can find external scholarship opportunities using FastWeb or Sallie Mae’s graduate school scholarships tool. Whether you qualify for specific MSCS scholarships may depend on your professional experience, undergraduate GPA, GRE score, region, military background or demographic. 

Once you identify the university scholarships and private scholarships you qualify for, prioritize applying early. Funds are often granted on a rolling basis, meaning early applicants receive more. At Case Western Reserve, for example, about 75% of students enrolled in the online MSCS program receive internal scholarships, and those who apply early often receive larger awards.

Employer tuition reimbursement

Many companies provide some form of tuition assistance or reimbursement for employees, and you should reach out to your organization’s human resources department to determine if yours is one of them. With tuition reimbursement, you foot the bill for your computer science MS degree up front and your employer reimburses you. Other types of tuition assistance may involve direct payments or organizational sponsorship programs. 

Make sure you thoroughly understand any funding arrangement offered by your employer before signing up. Some tuition assistance programs require participants to maintain a certain GPA, choose a program that aligns with a specific advancement pathway or remain with the company for several years after graduation. Many programs have funding caps, so don’t expect that your employer will fund your entire degree. 

Time spent on campus

Commuting to and from campus for in-person classes costs money. A 2021 report from the College Board estimated that the average college student pays between $1,060 and $1,840 annually for transportation costs, which can include gas, parking and vehicle wear and tear. Plus, the degree requirements of some MSCS programs include immersions, residencies and lab work. Choosing an online CS master’s program will almost always reduce—if not eliminate—your commuting costs. Case Western Reserve’s computer science master’s program is delivered 100% online so you can meet graduation requirements without ever visiting the Cleveland, Ohio, campus, though you may choose to visit to gain access to the university’s state-of-the-art facilities in person.

The ROI of the MSCS

The return on investment of the MSCS is high, which helps put costs into perspective. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, there is a 32% difference in starting salaries between those with undergraduate degrees in computer science versus those with master’s degrees in computer science ($77,000 versus $104,000). 

Jobs in computer and information technology are expected to grow by 13% over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If your career goals include moving up in software engineering, data analytics, or artificial intelligence, completing a graduate program in computer science can help you compete for prestigious jobs at notable companies—or interesting jobs in fast-growing startups. 

“Every single industry requires programmers,” Sam Gavis-Hughson, the CEO and founder of Byte by Byte, told U.S. News & World Report. “For example, you could do software development and work for Warby Parker and be in fashion, or work for Google doing artificial intelligence type projects. If you are into cars, you could work for a big auto company and write the software for their vehicles. The possibilities are endless.”

How to value online MSCS programs

Class size

Small class sizes facilitate one-on-one instruction, personalized mentorship, peer-to-peer networking and robust student support when coursework and careers get challenging. Online Master of Science in Computer Science programs with large classes are less expensive to deliver, but the tradeoffs include decreased access to faculty, student collaboration and mentors. 

Case Western Reserve purposefully restricts class sizes so students receive the individualized support they need to excel. Professors in the program not only connect with students but also find ways to help students connect with each other. “That means breaking students into small groups to solve problems, then returning to the larger group to discuss the solution and compare thought processes,” explains Associate Professor Harold Connamacher. “The community aspect is essential. In graduate school, you need the support of everyone around you, helping you through.”

Student engagement

Experiential learning, or learning by doing, is one of the best ways to take in and retain new information. Top online programs include hands-on learning and real-time collaboration in the standard syllabus because an engaging student experience is crucial in programs that serve busy working professionals. Live chat and presentation features let you ask questions and get feedback quickly so you can apply what you learn immediately in your organization.

The online Master of Science in Computer Science program at Case Western Reserve prioritizes student engagement. “[The master’s program] goes beyond textbook learning and taking exams,” explains Associate Professor Michael Lewicki. “You’ll apply what you learn to a problem of your choice or read a bunch of papers to assess the state of the art in a particular field. It’s high-level, and it promotes genuine mastery.”

University innovation

The best schools for computer science have faculty who are influential researchers doing revenue-generating, paradigm-shifting work in fields such as cryptography, distributed systems, robotics and Big Data. Distance learners in Case School of Engineering’s online programs not only receive an educational experience comparable to that offered on campus, but they also benefit from the availability of new technology and findings from ongoing research at the Case School of Engineering.

The Case Western Reserve MSCS aligns with industry needs and the latest innovations. “We’re applying new techniques to new problems in new areas like data science, figuring out how to use developing knowledge,” adds Associate Professor Lewicki. His own research combines techniques in machine learning, probabilistic modeling and information theory and has applications in various fields, including sensor technology. “This is an area that computer science students don’t generally get to study,” he said. “It’s something that distinguishes Case Western Reserve’s program from others.”

Pre- and post-graduation support

Robust student support services can add to the total cost of a computer science master’s program, but they also provide long-lasting value. Career guidance, mentorship and access to student associations all enhance online MSCS programs. Access to a broad and active alumni network provides myriad career-building opportunities, opening doors to more job offers, better hires and new perspectives. 

Case Western Reserve University provides access to career services while you are enrolled in the online computer science master’s program and alumni networking opportunities after graduation. The Case Western Reserve Alumni Association has 24 domestic and six international chapters, and the Case Alumni Association serves science and engineering program graduates. Alumni can also join affinity groups, attend local networking events and nominate peers (or be nominated) for alumni awards.

How much does the cost of an online CS master’s degree matter?

You should always take the time to weigh the cost of any CS master’s against the potential benefits. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How well does the program align with my career goals?
  • Will it work for my schedule?
  • How will the skills the program prioritizes enhance my earning potential?
  • Does the program offer value beyond the curriculum?
  • Will I qualify for financial aid that lowers the cost of the degree? 

Keep in mind that while the cost of an MSCS is an important consideration, it should not be the most important factor in your decision-making. What matters more is what you can do with a computer science master’s. Think in terms of ROI. Top-paying computer science jobs have senior, director or principal in the title, and these roles often go to STEM professionals with significant experience and advanced credentials such as the Master of Science in Computer Science. 

Keep employer expectations in mind, too. About 25% of professional developers have master’s degrees, according to a 2021 Stack Overflow survey. That number increases when you look at senior engineers or tech professionals in management, suggesting that if pursuing a graduate computer science degree is optional today, it may be mandatory in the future for anyone who wants to advance beyond a mid-level individual contributor role.

Case Western Reserve’s Enrollment Advisors are available via email at and phone at 216.859.9922 to tell you more about this degree and about the benefits of earning a part-time online MSCS at Case School of Engineering.