California has two state university systems: California State Universities, and Universities of California. The University of California (UC) system includes nationally ranked schools in Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Davis. However, the state’s educational offerings go beyond brick-and-mortar institutions. Online learning is growing faster than ever in California, with the state’s community colleges leading the way. As the largest higher education system in the United States, California Community Colleges enrolls 2.1 million students in its 114 schools. The school system will soon add an entirely online community college, in an attempt to help the 2.5 million adults in California who are unable to attend college in-person. California Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2018-19 budget plan devoted $120 million to the online community college, which will enroll its first students by late 2019.
This guide provides an introduction to online education in California, including the state’s best and most affordable online colleges. It also includes information on higher education tuition, scholarship and financial aid opportunities, and job outlooks for graduates.
A Brief Overview of Higher Education in California
California has more colleges and universities than any other state in the country. In the 2015-16 school year, the state’s 448 schools composed nearly 10% of all degree-granting, postsecondary institutions in the United States, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The NCES breaks down higher education institutions into three categories: public, nonprofit, and for-profit. California has an even distribution of the three, including 150 public schools, 148 nonprofits, and 150 for-profit universities. These institutions enrolled 2.7 million students in 2016 — the highest student enrollment of any state in the nation, according to the NCES.
Tuition and fees at California’s four-year public schools are comparable to most other state school systems. During the 2017-18 school year, California’s in-state students paid $9,680 in tuition and fees, while out-of-state students paid $32,590, according to data from the College Board. That same year, in-state students at the University of California’s flagship institution, UC Berkeley, paid $13,928 in tuition and fees, while out-of-state students paid $41,942.
Students attending online schools in California have several different grant and aid options. In the 2015-16 academic year, the state’s primary need-based grant program awarded students more than $1.85 billion, according to the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP). Other need-based grants provided more than $44.2 million in aid that year. The state also awards grants to students not in need. According to the NASSGAP, the California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program gave about $2.45 million to nearly 400 recipients in the 2015-16 school year.
The State of Online Higher Education in California
Online higher education was slow to gain traction in California at first, but has picked up steam in recent years. The Babson Survey Research Group’s 2017 Distance Education State Almanac found that 9% of undergraduate and graduate students in California’s degree-granting higher education institutions were enrolled in fully online programs in 2015. At the same time, 23% of California’s students took at least one distance class in fall 2015, an 18% increase from the fall of 2012.
The California Community Colleges system aims to increase its student population taking online courses, and it plans to do so through California’s Online Education Initiative (OEI). The OEI improves student access to online education by providing community colleges with resources to develop online courses. California Community Colleges has worked in recent years to improve online learning programs, after a 2015 UC Davis study found that students enrolled in online classes between 2008 and 2012 had lower grades and course completion rates than their on-campus counterparts. Since introducing more resources, including online student counseling and tutoring, performance has improved. About two-thirds of online students finished their classes in the 2015-16 school year, when only about half that number did so a decade prio. Additionally, the number of community college students who enroll in online courses has doubled in the past decade: Now, around one in three students takes at least one online class.
Students evaluating online schools in California can expect an increase in online learning opportunities in the coming years. The OEI announced in June 2018 that it increased the number of colleges in its consortium from 23 to 56. This means nearly half of all California community colleges have expanded, or are in the process of expanding, their online program offerings, allowing more students to take advantage of distance learning.
Tuition Breaks for Out-of-State Students
High out-of-state costs for California universities may be off-putting to some students, but many students who are not California residents qualify for tuition breaks, thanks to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). The WICHE is a nonprofit organization that facilitates resource-sharing among higher education institutions in 16 western states, including California.
The WICHE coordinates the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE) and the Western Regional Graduate Program (WRGP), which allow students from member states and U.S. territories to attend schools outside their home states without having to pay out-of-state tuition. The WUE allows undergraduates to attend any of the 150 participating two- and four-year public schools for 150% of resident tuition. The WRGP includes more than 400 graduate programs at 60 public institutions, and allows out-of-state students to pay resident tuition. The WICHE estimates that graduate students saved $24.1 million and undergraduate students saved more than $365.4 million in tuition from these programs in the 2017-18 school year.
Best Online Colleges in California
Below, you will find our rankings of the best online four-year programs in California. Our profiles look at how schools approach online education and then list out their services for distance students and their popular, fully online degrees. After reviewing the best online schools in California, explore our state resources, like a database of every college and university in California or our index of popular in-state scholarships.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||Cost||Address & Contact Info||School Links||Acclaim for Online Programs||School Description|
|1||University of California - San Diego||La Jolla||$$$$$||9500 Gilman Dr|
La Jolla, CA 92093
Situated on a 1,200-acre campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean, UC San Diego is a very large research institution with over 36,000 total students. The school offers over 100 degrees and programs, such as engineering, global policy, medicine, oceanography, and social sciences. The university also provides distance education through UC San Diego Extension. Founded in 1966, UC San Diego Extension aims to expand the reach of the university's academic programs. Extension enlists business professionals and an advisory committee to assist with program development. Among the most comprehensive online colleges in California, the school currently offers more than 4,700 extension courses, many of which students complete online. Extension students can also earn a variety of certificates in a hybrid or fully online format.
Students interested in technology can complete online certificates and individual courses in areas like data mining, web design, JAVA programming, and business intelligence analytics. Additionally, students interested in healthcare might choose a certificate in nutrition, healthcare informatics, or medical communication. Business students can pursue online certificates in fields including management, marketing, and accounting. Distance learners may also choose programs and courses in several other disciplines like data analysis, mathematics, sustainability, writing, and law. While completing a certificate does not guarantee admission to UC San Diego, many extension courses can be transferred to UC San Diego or other universities.
UC San Diego's distance students gain access to online career resources, including self-guided programs, group webinars, and one-on-one counseling. Graduates join an expansive network of more than 170,000 alumni worldwide.
|2||Brandman University||Irvine||$$$$$||16355 Laguna Canyon Road|
Irvine, CA 92618
Founded in 1861, Brandman University is a private, nonprofit institution that offers more than 80 degrees and certificates. Undergraduate and graduate students can choose courses and programs from five schools spanning the arts and sciences, nursing, health, business, and education. The school prides itself on its flexibility and provides courses online and on campus at 25 different locations across California and Washington. Students can complete programs entirely online or through a combination of web and evening classes.
Brandman's distance learners select from dozens of distance programs from the certificate to the post-doctoral level. Many degrees feature several specializations, including the master of business administration (MBA) which boasts 10 concentration areas. Master's in education students can choose from six focus areas. In addition, the school offers an accelerated BBA-to-MBA degree that students can complete entirely online. Unlike some other online colleges in California, Brandman requires incoming bachelor's students to complete 12 baccalaureate credits at an accredited institution. The school also expects applicants to hold at least a 2.0 GPA.
Brandman offers seven online master's and bachelor's degrees through its MyPath program. Designed specifically for full-time professionals, competency-based MyPath degrees let students move quickly through material they already know while spending extra time on principles they need to learn. MyPath programs feature simulations, adaptive learning, and game-based education. They also boast a self-paced format with no set start dates or deadlines.
Rather than paying per credit or per course, MyPath learners pay a set amount every 24 weeks while they work toward a degree; the faster students move through competencies, the less they pay. Brandman offers MyPath degrees in business and information technology.
|3||University of California - Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz||$$$$$||1156 High St|
Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1011
The University of California-Santa Cruz is a public research university located just south of San Francisco. Established in 1965, the university now serves close to 19,000 students through 65 undergraduate majors and 41 graduate programs.
UCSC offers online courses that help students in various fields finish their degrees in a hybrid format. Students can take low-level courses such as introduction to drawing (taught through instructional videos), digital assignment submissions, and online critiques. They can also complete high-level classes in calculus, legal studies, literature, and many other disciplines. Online courses vary each semester, but UCSC consistently offers dozens of distance courses each summer, including courses that fulfill major requirements and general education expectations.
UCSC's online courses follow a rigid structure, and students typically spend 15 hours each week viewing lectures, completing quizzes, participating in discussion forums, and finishing assignments ahead of weekly deadlines. In addition, some courses incorporate 1-3 synchronous discussions throughout the session. UCSC delivers online summer courses in eight-week and 10-week formats during two sessions, offering classes to high school students, incoming freshman and transfer students, and current students.
The school also operates UCSC Extension, which offers courses intended to enhance workforce skills in recent graduates and seasoned professionals. UCSC Extension teaches important job skills through evening, weekend, hybrid, and online coursework designed by industry professionals. Through project-based learning, UCSC Extension learners can build a portfolio and expand their job prospects.
UCSC Extension offers fully online certificates in project management, computer programming, internet programming, paralegal studies, and technical writing. Most certificates require 5-10 core and elective courses, allowing students to earn a certificate in under 12 months. The advanced paralegal studies certificate requires eight, seven-week intensives.
|4||California Baptist University||Riverside||$$$$$||8432 Magnolia Ave|
Riverside, CA 92504-3297
California Baptist University, founded in 1950, is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the California Southern Baptist Convention. The school boasts strong online offerings, and students can choose from more than 40 online bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees.
Unlike some other online colleges in California, CBU features unique bachelor's programs in kinesiology, Christian ministries, cybersecurity, and fitness management. The school also offers online options in more traditional fields such as nursing, information technology, psychology, and business administration. Master's degree options include communication, accounting, and education. Options for doctoral degrees include business and public administration.
CBU boasts a 100% Christian faculty, and all programs incorporate a Christian worldview. Undergraduate business programs feature a course on management with a biblical foundation, which teaches students to make decisions based on biblical principles. In addition, bachelor's programs require introductory religion courses such as overview of the bible and foundations of Christian thought.
CBU's flexible program format allows students to complete a degree quickly, with courses starting every eight weeks during three semesters each year. Full-time CBU students can complete an online bachelor's degree in two years, a master's degree in one year, and a doctoral degree in three years. Courses use various web-based educational technologies, including Blackboard, Telepresence, and Webex.
Applicants to CBU must hold a 2.0 GPA or above. The school prefers applicants with at least 24 transferable units, but it accepts students with a high school diploma or equivalent. Transfer students may apply up to 100 semester units toward degree requirements. A maximum of 70 of these units may come from a community college, and CBU only accepts credits completed with a C- or better.
CBU supports distance learners through career services, its Academic Success Center, and dedicated counselors and advisers.
|5||California State University - Fullerton||Fullerton||$$$$$||800 N State College Blvd|
Fullerton, CA 92831-3599
Enrolling around 40,000 students, Cal State Fullerton ranks as the largest institution in the California State University system. The public research university offers 56 undergraduate programs, 52 master's programs, and two doctoral degrees. CSUF students can choose from many online and blended programs leading to certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees.
CSUF features fully online bachelor's programs in sociology, business administration, and the social sciences. The school delivers its online bachelor's programs in a cohort-based format that allows students to collaborate with peers and connect with professors. Students take eight-week courses one at a time and enroll in two courses each semester to finish in three years. The bachelor's in business administration also boasts an accelerated option for students who earn a GPA of 3.0 or higher in their first semester.
Online programs require that students enter the program with 60-69 transferable credits from an accredited community college or four-year university. Undergraduate applicants must also hold a 2.0 or 2.5 GPA depending on the program and demonstrate a C- or better across four key subject areas: oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, and quantitative reasoning.
In terms of graduate programs, CSUF offers 100% online master's degrees in education, environmental engineering, information technology, and software engineering. The university also delivers a doctorate of nursing practice and a master's in statistics in a hybrid format. The school provides several online certificate programs in topics like data science, digital marketing, and geographic information systems that run 6-12 months.
|6||University of La Verne||La Verne||$$$$$||1950 Third St|
La Verne, CA 91750-4401
Founded in 1891, the University of La Verne offers 60 undergraduate majors, 22 master's and doctoral programs, and many certificate options. The school enrolls students at six satellite campuses across California, including locations in Burbank, Irvine, and Ontario. La Verne also partners with military bases, community colleges, and businesses to make higher education more accessible. The school introduced its first online courses in 2000 and currently operates one of the best online colleges in California -- La Verne Online.
In terms of undergraduate academics, La Verne Online offers six bachelor's programs and an associate in general studies. Distance learners can earn a bachelor of arts in business administration or educational studies or a bachelor of science in criminal justice, information technology, organizational management, or public administration.
Graduate students can choose from options like a master's in child development, a master's in leadership and management, or a master's in business administration (MBA). La Verne features fully asynchronous coursework that follows the campus schedule. However, some online programs require students to complete synchronous coursework. In addition to a traditional MBA, La Verne offers distance students an MBA for experienced professionals, which discusses advanced management theory and applications. MBA students can focus on one of eight concentration areas, while master of science in leadership students can choose from three specializations.
In addition, graduate students and full-time professionals can take part in La Verne's online professional development courses. La Verne offers more than 200 graduate-level courses for educators looking to develop their abilities and advance their careers. Students move through courses independently and typically spend around 45 hours completing a three-credit class. Professional development courses start three times per year.
La Verne's undergraduates studying online or at regional campuses pay a lower tuition rate than students at the main campus.
|7||California State University - Channel Islands||Camarillo||$$$$$||One University Dr|
Camarillo, CA 93012
Founded in 2002, California State University Channel Islands is the youngest school in the California State University system. The university serves around 7,000 students through 26 majors and 26 minors. Through its Extended University, CSUCI offers dozens of graduate and undergraduate degree options in a flexible format. Extended University students can study online or on campus at locations in Camarillo and Goleta.
CSUCI offers two fully online business programs: a bachelor of science (BS) and a certificate in business administration. The BS in business administration, a degree-completion program, accepts junior-level transfer students in the fall and spring semesters. Applicants must hold a 2.0 GPA and a C- in the "Golden Four Courses": oral communication, written communication, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking. BS students take courses asynchronously and do not complete any in-person components. Students complete around 17 courses through eight-week spring and fall terms and a six-week summer term, finishing the program in around 16 months.
The post-baccalaureate business administration certificate covers fundamental business topics such as accounting, economics, finance, and marketing. Students complete the program synchronously through weekly live courses. The curriculum consists of five courses that students finish in 7-9 months. Earning this certificate satisfies the prerequisites for Extended University's master's in business administration program, which students earn through evening classes at the Camarillo campus.
Through a partnership with Fresno State University, CSUCI offers the Collaborative Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership program. Students can choose from two specialized tracks and must attend intensive on-campus residencies during at least three summers. Students typically complete the program in three years.
In addition, through the CSU Fully Online program, students at CSUCI can enroll in online courses at other CSU campuses. To qualify, students must finish at least one term at CSUCI and hold at least a 2.0 GPA.
|8||National University||La Jolla||$$$$$||11255 North Torrey Pines Road|
La Jolla, CA 92037-1011
National University is a private nonprofit institution founded in 1971. The school serves students through its main campus in La Jolla, along with more than 20 campuses across California and Nevada. The school offers over 100 academic programs, with more than 90 delivered entirely online.
National University's broad selection of distance programs includes many unique options not found at other accredited online colleges in California. The school offers several bachelor of arts programs in social science, health sciences, and other fields that lead to a preliminary, single-subject teaching credential. Distance learners can also earn a bachelor's degree in digital journalism that prepares them to report and write stories for various audiences and mediums. Students interested in healthcare can pursue a bachelor's degree in public health, clinical laboratory science, or healthcare administration, among other areas. Other unique undergraduate options include online degrees in film arts, sport psychology, and homeland security.
Students at National also choose from a variety of noteworthy graduate programs, including master's degrees in data science, business analytics, and accountancy. Though National delivers its distance programs in an asynchronous and self-paced format, students must meet predetermined deadlines.
In addition to online degrees, students access online personal development, career training, and continuing education classes through National's Division of Extended Learning. Career training programs cover areas such as construction, health and fitness, computer programming, and design.
National University serves students from 50 states and 65 countries and boasts an alumni network of over 150,000 people.
|9||University of San Francisco||San Francisco||$$$$$||2130 Fulton St|
San Francisco, CA 94117-1080
The University of San Francisco is a private Jesuit Catholic institution established in 1855. The school offers 43 majors and over 70 minors, along with dozens of graduate, professional, and certificate programs. As one of the more flexible online colleges in California, USF offers courses and programs through several satellite campus locations in Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and elsewhere.
USF offers three fully online master's programs in nursing, public administration, and public health. The master of science in nursing program, for registered nurses with an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing, features an asynchronous curriculum that students complete 100% online. The program does not require on-campus coursework, but it does include 400 clinical hours.
USF's students can complete the general master's in public health track entirely online. Students earn the degree in two years while studying part time and complete most coursework asynchronously. Students can satisfy a residency component through on-campus seminars or virtual webinars. Similarly, the master's in public administration includes 13 courses and takes two years to complete.
In addition, USF offers hybrid master's degrees in public leadership and legal studies. The master of arts in public leadership blends online instruction with five in-person seminars, while the legal studies degree features many web-based courses.
Distance learners at USF can take advantage of several services adapted for online students. USF boasts an online Learning and Writing Center that assists online students through tutoring, academic support, and writing help. The online Career Services Center provides counseling, industry information, and job listings, among other resources. USF's Counseling and Psychological Services, available to online students, provides individual and couples therapy.
USF's online students pay the same tuition rate per unit as on-campus students. New students can begin programs in the spring, summer, and fall semesters.
|10||Fresno Pacific University||Fresno||$$$$$||1717 S Chestnut Ave|
Fresno, CA 93702-4709
Established in 1944, Fresno Pacific University is a private Christian institution affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren Church. The Central Valley's only accredited Christian university, FPU offers faith-based education through five schools and more than 100 areas of study. FPU enrolls around 4,000 students through its five campuses and online programs. Roughly 10,000 additional students participate in the school's professional development opportunities.
In terms of online undergraduate education, FPU offers several bachelor's degree-completion programs that accept students with at least two years of postsecondary education. Applicants must hold 60 transferable baccalaureate-level units along with a 2.4 GPA. They may transfer up to 70 credits from an on-campus or online community college in California or another state.
Students can complete bachelor's programs in early childhood development, business administration, and healthcare administration entirely online in 18 months. The bachelor of arts in criminology and restorative justice, on the other hand, follows a hybrid format that includes weekly face-to-face meetings. Learners progress through the curriculum alongside a cohort of 7-20 students. The healthcare administration curriculum includes 41 units, while all other bachelor's degrees require 39 units. FPU guarantees that degree-completion students can graduate in two years or less.
FPU also offers several online graduate programs including, master's degrees in athletic training, sport administration, educational technology, and organizational studies. All of FPU's distance master's degrees boast a 100% online curriculum that students complete in 17-24 months. FPU does not require the GMAT or GRE, but students must hold either a 2.75 or 3.0 GPA depending on the program.
Through its biblical seminary, FPU provides an online certificate in Mennonite Brethren studies and an online master of arts (MA) in ministry, leadership, and culture. Students complete the certificate entirely online, but the MA requires a few one-week residencies and 10 hours of church service per week.
|11||California State University - Chico||Chico||$$$$$||First and Normal Sts|
Chico, CA 95929-0150
Established in 1887, Chico State is the second oldest of the 23 schools in the California State University system. The school serves close to 18,000 students through 12 colleges and schools -- along with 27 centers and institutes. Students can choose from over 300 undergraduate and graduate programs of study, including majors, minors, credentials, certificates, and graduate programs.
Chico State offers several bachelor's degree-completion programs with online components; some programs allow students to study online only, while others require on-campus coursework. Distance learners can view lectures at any time and attend some courses in real time. Students complete the bachelor of arts (BA) in social science entirely online or through a combination of web and community college classes.
The school delivers the multidisciplinary studies track in a blended format, while the sociology and life planning specializations feature a fully online format. BA in sociology students finish most coursework online, but they must participate in an internship. Likewise, students take the majority of the BA in social work courses online and report to campus twice each semester.
Students complete bachelor's degrees in liberal studies and religious studies entirely online. Chico State's degree-completion programs accept students with at least two years of college experience. Students enter the program with 60-70 credits and study for 2-3 years at Chico State to earn the required 50-60 additional credits.
Chico State also offers a 30-unit, online master of science in nursing. Students move through the curriculum in a cohort and take six courses per semester for five terms.
One of the best online colleges in California for aspiring career counselors, Chico State boasts a three-course online program that leads to a career and life planning certificate from the National Career Development Association.
|12||Vanguard University of Southern California||Costa Mesa||$$$$$||55 Fair Dr|
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
VUSC, a private, Christian liberal arts university in Costa Mesa, offers more than 30 undergraduate degrees across 14 departments. The school also offers master's degrees in six areas, including education, leadership, psychology, and theology. One of the best accredited online colleges in California for full-time professionals, VUSC delivers several professional studies programs to help students complete their degrees.
Students can choose a professional studies bachelor's program in business, nursing, psychology, religion, or early childhood. Students finish general education coursework on campus or through seven-week online sessions. In addition, students can complete many electives online, and Vanguard delivers the majority of web-based courses asynchronously. Aside from online options, students take required courses through weekly, four-hour evening classes. The university recommends that students set aside 15-20 hours each week per accelerated course.
Distance learners can earn a certificate or bachelor of arts in early childhood education entirely online through accelerated seven-week courses. Likewise, Vanguard University offers religion courses in a fully online, synchronous format. Registered nurses can take the bachelor of science in nursing through seven-week and eight-week hybrid classes. Professional studies students can finish a bachelor's degree in as little as 22 months.
Professional studies programs require at least a 2.0 GPA, and applicants should boast at least three years of work experience for most programs. Prospective business, religion, psychology, and early childhood students must submit an essay, and all applicants sit for a final admissions interview. Students may transfer up to 80 units from a community college. New online classes begin every seven weeks.
|13||California State University - Northridge||Northridge||$$$$$||18111 Nordhoff Street|
Northridge, CA 91330
Located in Fernando Valley, California State University, Northridge has educated students for over 60 years. The second-largest CSU facility, the Northridge campus serves nearly 40,000 students each year. While traditional students can access 68 bachelor’s programs, 58 master’s programs, and two doctoral programs, CSUN also accommodates the needs of nontraditional learners through distance education. The school's online programs provide learners with a comprehensive education complemented by practical learning experiences.
Distance students benefit from asynchronous classes, which feature weekly deadlines and allow students to complete assignments at their convenience. Participants engage in discussion boards and complete projects, essays, tests, and quizzes online. Additionally, distance courses follow a cohort format, encouraging more collaboration and networking between students. The university also appoints an academic support coordinator for each program to help students construct individualized instructional plans to graduate on time.
Students can enroll in one of multiple distance programs at CSUN, including the school's master of science in engineering management program. Designed by leading engineers, this degree track teaches professionals to manage large teams in engineering and technical environments. Students develop advanced critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, learning to reduce risks in the workplace. Participants also learn to efficiently optimize output and increase productivity. Students take many practical courses, including leadership of engineering professionals and high-tech firms, which examines the leadership qualities and concepts needed to achieve organizational success.
Students enrolled at CSUN go on to earn a degree from one of the best online colleges in California. The school holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and many of CSUN's individual programs hold programmatic accreditation from well-respected specialty organizations.
|14||University College - Azusa Pacific University||San Dimas||$$$$$||300 North Lone Hill Avenue, #200|
San Dimas, CA 91773
Located in Southern California, Azusa Pacific University has taught students for nearly 120 years. Learners at APU can choose from over 100 programs at varying degree levels. The school offers classes at six different campuses, and distance learners can receive the same quality education through the university’s online programming.
The school’s online programs appeal to nontraditional students looking for flexible, asynchronous coursework. However, distance learners still have ample collaboration opportunities, interacting with professors and peers through online chats and discussion forums. Online students can also receive support from APU’s virtual writing center and learning enrichment center, which provide one-on-one live tutoring sessions. Additionally, the school's online library provides research assistance, and students can even receive one-on-one help through a subject specialist session.
APU’s online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is an especially popular degree track. This program holds specialty accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Participants learn the theoretical concepts and empirical knowledge needed to perform advanced nursing duties. However, as a religious-based institution, students also complete coursework related to spirituality and health, examining religious responses to human suffering and health conditions.
The DNP program requires students to complete a 1,000-hour clinical residency, although students who already hold an advanced degree can transfer in up to 500 clinical hours towards this requirement. Distance learners may carry out residency requirements at an approved local facility. This program also features an intense evidence-based culminating project. APU’s online DNP consists of 39 program units, and students complete up to eight units per 16-week term. By attending three terms per year, full-time students can earn their degree in less than two years.
|15||California State University - San Bernardino||San Bernardino||$$$$$||5500 University Pky|
San Bernardino, CA 92407-2397
California State University, San Bernardino was established in 1965 and now stands as one of the best online colleges in California. CSUSB currently serves over 24,000 students in its bachelor’s and master’s programs. The university is known for its diverse student population, with learners of Hispanic descent representing over 60% of the student population. The school also holds the second-highest African American enrollment rate in California.
Distance learners at CSUSB can access quality online programs that offer multiple concentration areas, allowing students to tailor their degree plans. For example, graduate students can earn master’s degrees in education, nursing, public administration, business administration, and accounting. Among its master's-level programing, CSUSB’s master of science in social work (MSW) stands out as one of the top online programs in the country.
Online learners complete the same coursework as on-campus students. Most learners complete this program in three years; however, students can enroll in an accelerated track to earn their degrees in just two years. Participants may also choose to pursue a specialization that targets a social issue, population, or specific subfield. While not all degrees feature hands-on experiences, the MSW program does require participants to complete a certain number of field hours. However, distance learners can complete this requirement at an approved local institution of their choice. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree in social work receive preference, although students with any bachelor's degree from an accredited university may apply.
Many of CSUSB's online courses follow an asynchronous format, where students interact through discussion boards and group projects. Students also complete standard assignments like quizzes, exams, and essays online. Some courses follow hybrid formats, which also utilize synchronous learning; students in these classes engage in face-to-face instruction about 20% of the time.
|16||Simpson University||Redding||$$$$$||2211 College View Drive|
Redding, CA 96003-8606
Located in Redding, Simpson University provides hands-on learning experiences for students at all degree levels through small classes. Simpson also caters to nontraditional students who require flexible course schedules.
Distance learners share the same interactive experiences as on-campus students by engaging with professors and peers through the university’s online campus. Courses typically follow an asynchronous format where students engage in discussion boards and complete projects, essays, and exams. Some programs offer hybrid courses, which require one-week sessions on campus. Additionally, other classes may require students to occasionally meet at a designated learning center to complete coursework. Most professors hold online office hours or schedule phone conferences with distance students. Depending on the field, some degrees offer more online course options.
Among its online programs, Simpson offers bachelor's degrees in psychology and organizational leadership. Graduate students can choose from master's programs in organizational leadership, education, and ministry leadership. Simpson also offers a master of divinity rooted in the school's Christian heritage, where students complete courses such as personal health of a leader. This class helps aspiring religious leaders analyze psychological, mental, and relational variables to effectively help others.
Simpson holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. For the 2016-2017 school year, the middle 50% of freshman at Simpson scored between 1360 and 1710 on the SAT, and the average freshman GPA was 3.4. The school treats transfer students as first-time applicants and provides resources to make the transition process easier. Transfer students can use the TES system to determine which courses transfer successfully. Simpson also offers financial support opportunities in the form of annual scholarship funds, student research, and tribute scholarships.
|17||La Sierra University||Riverside||$$$$$||4500 Riverwalk Pkwy|
Riverside, CA 92505
Based in Riverside, La Sierra University boasts a diverse learning environment with a student body that hails from more than 19 states and 30 countries. Although La Sierra identifies as a Christian school, the university promotes religious freedom.
Students who currently hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university can earn a master of arts in education from one of the best online colleges in California. La Sierra offers focuses in elementary and secondary education. Advanced courses focus on culture, society, religion, and ethics. To graduate, students must complete a culminating student-teaching experience. Students may find their own placement or seek help from departmental advisers. This program utilizes a synchronous format, which requires students to participate in face-to-face, interactive classes through the university’s learning management system.
The education department boasts small classes, allowing students to engage with their professors and build meaningful relationships with their peers. To apply, applicants should hold a minimum 2.75 GPA.
Distance learners at La Sierra can access multiple resources online. The digital college writing resources page discusses pertinent rules for written assignments, and students may contact the library for assistance with research. La Sierra also provides access to online databases, such as EBSCO and FirstSearch. While online students do not qualify for in-state tuition, learners who belong to the Pacific Union Conference can apply for certain tuition waivers. La Sierra also provides discounted rates to students from certain local districts. The school holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
|18||Touro University Worldwide||Los Alamitos||$$$$$||10601 Calle Lee #179|
Los Alamitos, CA 90720
Located in Los Alamitos, Touro University Worldwide offers multiple online programs. Students beginning their college careers can pursue TUW’s associate of arts in general studies, which provides graduates with higher earning potentials -- compared to workers who only hold a high school diploma -- and shortens the time commitment needed to earn a bachelor’s degree should graduates decide to continue their education. In addition to many online bachelor’s and master’s degree tracks, TUW offers two doctoral programs online.
TUW’s doctor of psychology in human and organizational psychology prepares students to identify problems in professional practice and design research methods that lead to evidence-based solutions. Students engage in rigorous theory and applied research courses. The program uses the scholar-practitioner model -- a course that investigates the conceptual framework of education and organizational operations. Students translate and display how research methods produce applicable solutions. Participants may also pursue a concentration in organizational leadership.
To graduate, students complete 66 credits, including a 15-credit doctoral research dissertation. Students can earn their degrees in just three years. This program does not require students to submit GRE scores; however, students must provide evidence of a master’s degree earned from an accredited university with a 3.4 GPA or higher.
Engagement stands as one of TUW’s primary goals, and distance learners can access multiple resources. The university follows a student-centered model where coaches monitor students’ progress and intervene when needed, and educational advisement professionals collaborate with students one-on-one to outline academic and career goals. While TUW does not provide job placement, students can apply for internships and volunteer opportunities through the school. Additionally, students have 24/7 access to technical support. Online learners do not need to purchase any books; TUW includes the price of e-books in its tuition.
|19||California State University - East Bay||Hayward||$$$$$||25800 Carlos Bee Blvd|
Hayward, CA 94542
For over 60 years, California State University, East Bay has made higher education more accessible to students. Its online campus addresses the greatest needs of many nontraditional learners, using a flexible format to deliver a quality education.
The school's online campus offers nearly 40 bachelor’s and master’s degrees, including one of the best online master’s in hospitality management programs in the nation. Participants learn how to address challenges in the field of hospitality, recreation, and tourism. Students also examine leadership theories and social justice. Notable courses include professional ethics and strategic leadership in leisure. This program includes a graduate synthesis -- an alternative to a thesis or project -- where students conduct research and develop an action plan related to a current issue in the field.
To qualify for this master's program, students must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in a related field. Students without a relevant degree can still earn admittance, but they may need to complete additional coursework. Applicants must hold a minimum 2.75 GPA and at least two years of work experience in hospitality, recreation, recreation therapy, or tourism.
Distance learners in most programs take online coursework asynchronously, participating in discussion forums, student collaborations, and chat rooms. Learners also complete essays, exams, and quizzes through the Blackboard learning management system. Courses typically require students to turn in weekly assignments. Some programs also include hybrid courses, which require occasional in-person attendance. Cal State East Bay holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
|20||Mount Saint Mary's University||Los Angeles||$$$$$||12001 Chalon Rd|
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1599
At Mount Saint Mary’s University, students can earn degrees from a top-ranked online college in California. Located in Los Angeles, MSMU offers local students plenty of networking opportunities. Additionally, the university also strives to meet the needs of nontraditional learners and distance students by providing convenient access to online coursework.
MSMU’s online campus offers degrees at all levels, although the university has earned special recognition for its master’s programs. For example, students can earn a master of arts in creative writing that teaches the critical thinking skills needed to assess cultural, historical, and literary works. Students engage in a holistic approach to writing development. Coursework includes topics like advanced screenwriting, where students engage in intensive workshops to apply foundational techniques related to format and act structure. The program culminates with a 120-page manuscript thesis or 50 pages of poetry, as well as a publishing seminar where students learn about publishing markets. Unlike many other U.S. universities, MSMU allows students to submit final projects in English or Spanish. Participants must complete at least 36 units to graduate. To qualify for admission, applicants must hold an accredited bachelor’s degree earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. While this program does not require applicants to submit GRE scores, students must turn in a sample of their best work and complete a formal interview.
Online students at MSMU receive the same support as on-campus learners. The school provides access to internships and career services, and career specialists facilitate mock interviews, workshops, and job fairs. Students may also participate in the university’s study abroad program. Additionally, MSMU provides access to online databases and research guides, and students can schedule appointments with librarians for research support.
|21||California State University - Sacramento||Sacramento||$$$$$||6000 J St|
Sacramento, CA 95819-2694
Considered a pioneer in the distance learning space, many online students earn their degrees at California State University, Sacramento -- a top online college in California.
Among its many offerings, Sacramento State's online education programs have received special recognition. The university’s master of arts in educational technology holds particular value in an increasingly global and tech-savvy society. Participants focus on ways to utilize technology in the classroom, learning to foster quality learning. Some courses examine recent innovations related to instructional design and learning, while others emphasize problem solving, project development, student evaluation, distributed knowledge acquisition, and different teaching methodologies. To complete this program, students must submit a culminating technology-based project or thesis. This degree requires students to accumulate a total of 24 units, which students can complete in 18 months. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students also need to complete Sacramento State's writing placement exam for graduate students -- this program requires intensive writing.
Sacramento State uses the Canvas learning management system, which students use to access course materials online. Some programs follow a cohort structure, allowing students to build strong relationships with their peers, and small class sizes offer ample opportunities for one-on-one interactions with professors. Most courses last eight weeks, and students typically take two classes per semester.
Online students can access 24/7 technical assistance and online databases. While most librarians offer general support, distance learners can also contact specialty librarians for additional assistance. Sacramento State holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
|22||Hope International University||Fullerton||$$$$$||2500 E Nutwood Ave|
Fullerton, CA 92831-3199
Regarded as one of the top online universities in California, Hope International University attracts students from all over the country, and its online campus draws learners from all over the world. The school's flexible coursework meets the needs of nontraditional and international learners. While HIU identifies as a Christian institution, the school welcomes students from all religious backgrounds.
HIU hosts an esteemed online bachelor of science in human development program with a concentration in mental health and counseling. Participants learn how to use pertinent theories, manage mental health intervention, and provide consultations. Students may also choose to concentrate in family studies, which provides learners with an overall understanding of cognitive, social, and physical development from childhood through adolescence.
Online programs follow a cohort-based structure, allowing students to develop strong relationships with their peers. Class sizes range from 12-16 students, enabling professors to provide one-on-one support in the form of office hours and pre-arranged phone conferences. Most courses consist of three credits, and learners take one class every eight weeks. Asynchronous formatting allows students to complete work at their convenience. HIU provides multiple support services for online students, and academic advisers help students figure out their educational and career goals to develop an individualized course of study. Additionally, HIU’s eCollege software provides access to library resources, and students can contact librarians during business hours for research support.
To qualify for undergraduate programs at HIU, students need to hold a minimum 2.5 GPA. HIU also welcomes transfer students who have earned a 2.0 GPA or higher at an accredited college or university. Applicants can view HIU’s transfer guide for specific details.
|23||San Diego Christian College||Santee||$$$$$||200 Riverview Parkway|
Santee, CA 92071
San Diego Christian College is a respected online college in California. Despite its Christian foundation, the school welcomes students from any faith. SDC is recognized for many of its bachelor’s programs, including those in business, psychology, and religious. Its online bachelor of science in business management stands out among its undergraduate offerings.
The curriculum of this business management degree track utilizes a Christian-centered approach. Notable classes include business law, corporate finance, and principles of management. SDC also offers multiple emphasis areas, including marketing and global business. While most classes consist of three credits, students also complete a four-credit business senior seminar before graduating. Students earning this BS complete a total of 123 credits, and the average class takes five weeks to finish. Most learners earn their degrees within four years. SDC boasts small class sizes with an eight-to-one student-to-faculty ratio, which allows distance learners to receive ample one-on-one assistance from professors. Distance learners can also access 24/7 technical assistance support and online databases for research.
While out-of-state students do not qualify for in-state tuition, distance learners do qualify for discounted rates. SDC also provides multiple institutional scholarships that can help reduce the cost of an education. First-time applicants must hold a minimum 2.75 GPA, and transfer students should have a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Learners with at least 24 credits from another accredited university should speak with a transfer specialist. SDC holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
|24||California College San Diego||San Diego||$$$$$|
San Diego, CA
California College San Diego meets the needs of nontraditional learners who value a quality and flexible education. CCSD also boasts accelerated programs that allow students to graduate quickly.
Online students at CCSD can choose from degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s levels. Popular programs include respiratory therapy, business management and accounting, and business administration. CCSD also supports bachelor of science in computer science programs that offer emphases in software and mobile applications development, teaching students the creative and analytical knowledge needed to meet programming and software demands. Notable courses include ethics, critical thinking, and world cultures. This program also features a culminating capstone experience. Most courses consist of three or four credits, and some students can earn this degree in just 36 months.
CCSD provides multiple support resources to reinforce learning. Students can schedule one-on-one appointments with tutors, and staff members in the student services department work closely with learners to develop action plans and uncover ways to build an individual’s professional network. CCSD hosts social media sites, a student portal, and newsletters to regularly inform students of opportunities at the school. Additionally, CCSD includes all course materials in its tuition prices. Students without laptops may even qualify for a new computer through the school, which they can keep after graduation. The university also employs career coaches who help students revise resumes, practice mock interviews, and find meaningful employment. CCSD holds national accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
|25||Golden Gate University - San Francisco||San Francisco||$$$$$||536 Mission Street|
San Francisco, CA 94105-2968
Regarded as a pioneer in adult education, Golden Gate University boasts top-ranked online programs that offer challenging curricula. The school provides students with career-related skills while also emphasizing the importance of professional ethics, diversity, and social awareness.
Based in San Francisco, GGU offers online degrees at all levels. The school may be best known for its quality law degrees, which it has offered for nearly 120 years. Online programming in the law department focuses on practical training and experiential learning. Students can earn a doctorate in international legal studies with an emphasis on cultural, sociological, legal, and business engagements of the Pacific Rim. Learners can also pursue a joint online juris doctor and master of business administration. Additionally, GGU hosts a master of laws program that accepts students year round. Participants can specialize in environmental law, estate planning, intellectual property law, international legal studies, taxation law, or U.S. legal studies. To qualify, students must hold a current LSAC Credential Assembly Service Report and acceptable LSAT scores.
GGU's academic development program works to ensure the success of its law students. Faculty provide skills training and workshops to reinforce classroom learning. Similarly, GGU’s bar exam services provide students with free study materials and support to help them pass their exam.
GGU offers different online learning formats depending on the program. Many degree tracks can be completed entirely online, although students usually need to take at least one proctored exam at an approved site each term. Alternatively, mixed-mode courses require at least one in-person session, and blended courses require students to meet in person once a week. Some of GGU's programs also use a cohort format, fostering collaborative opportunities. Class sizes remain small and many professors offer one-on-one office hours to distance learners. Students may also set up phone conferences with their instructors.
Most Affordable Online Colleges in California
Below you’ll find a list of online colleges in California sorted by lowest tuition rates.
|Rank||School Name||School Logo||City||School Link||Cost|
|1||California State University - Fullerton||Fullerton||School profile||$$$$$|
|2||California State University - Dominguez Hills||Carson||School profile||$$$$$|
|3||California State University - East Bay||Hayward||School profile||$$$$$|
|4||California State University - Sacramento||Sacramento||School profile||$$$$$|
|5||California State University - Chico||Chico||School profile||$$$$$|
|6||Touro University Worldwide||Los Alamitos||School profile||$$$$$|
|7||California State University - Channel Islands||Camarillo||School profile||$$$$$|
|8||Fresno Pacific University||Fresno||School profile||$$$$$|
|9||University College - Azusa Pacific University||San Dimas||School profile||$$$$$|
|10||National University||La Jolla||School profile||$$$$$|
|11||California College San Diego||San Diego||School profile||$$$$$|
|12||San Diego Christian College||Santee||School profile||$$$$$|
|13||Hope International University||Fullerton||School profile||$$$$$|
|14||California Baptist University||Riverside||School profile||$$$$$|
|15||Vanguard University of Southern California||Costa Mesa||School profile||$$$$$|
|16||Concordia University - Irvine||Irvine||School profile||$$$$$|
|17||University of La Verne||La Verne||School profile||$$$$$|
|18||Pepperdine University||Malibu||School profile||$$$$$|
Job Outlook for College Graduates in California
After earning their degree from online colleges in California, students may qualify for many different job opportunities there. California is a large and populous state, and a major job supplier: it employed nearly 16.7 million workers in May 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The state had a 4.2% unemployment rate in May 2018, which is slightly higher than the 3.8% national average. California jobs tend to pay well, too, with California’s mean annual salary reaching $57,190 in May of 2017.
Graduates starting a career in the personal care and service industry might have the best chances of finding a job in California. According to the BLS and the California Employment Development Department, this industry experienced a 47% employment growth from May 2011 to May 2016 — the highest employment growth in the state during that time. Personal care aides represented the fastest-growing occupation in the personal care and service industry. California’s construction and extraction industry grew the second-fastest in that time period (31%), with carpentry being the fastest-growing job in that industry.
Computer and mathematical occupations marked the third fastest-growing industry in California from 2011 to 2016. In 2017, software developers composed the largest portion of these workers, according to the BLS. Business and financial operations came in fourth place, with business operations specialists occupying most of the field. Food preparation and service-related occupations came in fifth place, with food preparation service workers populating most of the industry.
|May 2011 Employment||May 2016 Employment||Percent Change||Annual Mean Wage|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||377,720||496,500||47.0%||$28,810|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||458,240||601,680||31.3%||$58,010|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||447,600||580,040||29.6%||$105,380|
|Business and Financial Occupations||754,430||938,330||24.4%||$83,500|
|Food Preparation and Serving-Related Occupations||1,246,720||1,506,480||20.8%||$28,270|
Source: California Employment Development Department/BLS
Scholarships and Financial Aid in California
Pine Cone Foundation
Up to $5,500 over three years; open to high school seniors with financial need, who have learning disabilities and plan to attend a California community college.
P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education
$3,000; available to women whose education was interrupted for at least two years, who are now within two years of completing a certification or degree program.
California Association of Collectors Educational Scholarship Foundation
$1,500 to $2,500; open to high school juniors or seniors planning to attend an accredited college, university, or trade school. Applicants must write an essay on building and preserving good financial credit throughout college.
Friends of the California State Fair Scholarship Program
$1,000 to $2,500; open to high school and college students in California. Requirements vary by scholarship category.
Horatio Alger State Scholarship
$10,000; open to high school seniors with at least a 2.0 GPA, who have critical financial need and intend to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship
Amount varies; applicants must be San Francisco Bay Area residents pursuing higher education in the culinary and hospitality field.
Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship
$1,000; applicants must be Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society members with a GPA of at least 3.5.
Ralph Hale and Martha L. Ruppert Educational Scholarship
Up to $10,000; applicants must be graduating high school seniors or high school graduates, and have at least a 3.3 GPA. Applicants must be from San Mateo, San Francisco, or Santa Clara counties.
The Trustee Scholarship is available to incoming transfer students at Dominican University of California. The award is renewable for up to 3 years, or until recipient completes their undergraduate degree. A minimum GPA of 3.5 is required.
Ed Romeo SCTA Scholarship
$200; available to undergraduate students at four-year schools who are members of the Student California Teachers Association.
Find Schools in California
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