Finding the Best Online Higher Education Experience in California
The state of California operates three public university systems: the California Community Colleges system, California State University system, and the University of California system. There are also more than 150 private non-profit institutions and 200 for-profit colleges in the state. For working students, new parents, and other busy individuals thinking about earning their college degree, finding the right fit might mean understanding which colleges offer more flexibility and freedom to learn with online program. Learn more about how the online colleges and universities in California operate and prepare students for career success, with answers to frequently asked questions on college costs and transitioning to school below.
For this year’s college rankings, our analysts carefully reviewed statistical data from multiple sources for more than 7,500 postsecondary institutions so that you could easily evaluate schools based on what matters most to you. For each school, we applied the eligibility criteria outlined below, then ranked schools and programs based on four ranking factors.
Eligibility Criteria for All Postsecondary Institutions:
Must be a not-for-profit institution
Must be regionally or nationally accredited
Must offer at least one online program1
Must be located in a state (schools in US territories and Washington DC were not considered)
Dozens of data points were used to calculate a weighted score for four ranking factors: quality, affordability, flexibility and program (in order of significance). To determine quality, which was the most important consideration for all AS Online rankings, the most impactful data points were acceptance and graduation rates; for affordability, tuition2 and grants; for flexibility, part-time enrollment offerings; and for program, degrees conferred in that program area.
Some of our nursing program rankings used exam pass rates from NCLEX
How to Read Our Rankings Tool:
A dash indicates IPEDS data was not available
Annual in-state tuition is displayed unless stated otherwise
1 Our Best Vocational Programs rankings included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both annual in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our Rankings Tool currently only displays annual in-state rates.
Each online school in California offers different courses, majors, amenities, features and delivery formats. Some schools offer accelerated online courses that allow students to progress through coursework quickly, while others allow busy students to enroll part-time to better balance their education with work and family commitments. But before researching the specifics, students should grasp what truly makes a college or university in California top-quality. From high graduation rates and low student-teacher ratios to access to a multitude of support services, we’ve narrowed down a list of the best colleges to receive an online degree from in California here.
How Can I Find Which Online Colleges Offer the Degree I’m Looking for in California?
Many schools in California are known for their broad range of program offerings. For instance, California Baptist University offers online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs. Most colleges maintain lists of their online program options on their sites, like this directory from California State University-East Bay.
How Much More Do College Grads in California Make?
Students are regularly told that completing a college degree will help them earn more money in the long run. This is certainly the case in California. Professionals with a doctoral degree earn $100,000 more per year than individuals with no formal education. The following table lists the average salary for jobs in California that require a minimum of each level of degree.
California residents who work in positions that require a master’s degree make nearly $55,000 more per year than a person with no formal education. At the same time, individuals with doctorate or professional degrees earn $42,000 more than individuals working in careers that require only a bachelor’s degree. In any case, the numbers show more education leads to higher wages for California degree-earners.
College Education & California’s Job Market
California is home to Silicon Valley, the nation’s hub of technology and innovation. This explains why tech jobs, like those for software developers, have some of the best growth projections in the state. However, many of the fastest-growing occupations in California include positions that require a college education in fields like healthcare, including nurse practitioners and physical therapy assistants.
The Impact of Accreditation for Online Colleges and Universities in California
As students in California seek to earn their college degrees in a more flexible format, the demand for online education has increased, and more schools in California are offering online courses than ever before. As you search for online programs, finding a college or university that is accredited assures it is held to high quality standards.
Paying for Online College in California: Tuition & Financial Aid
Rising college costs are concerning for California students, but in order to land some of the top jobs in the state, a college degree may be required. Here’s a glimpse at what online education costs in California today.
Online Education Costs in California
Some colleges in California may charge different rates for in-state and out-of-state students, while other charge in-state tuition for all students. Here are some of the common payment practices for online college tuition in California:
Credit-based flat rate – Some online college programs in California, such as the University of Southern California’s online MSW degree program, offer a flat tuition rate for students taking 15 to 18 credits
Degree-based flat rate – Online credit costs in California may differ by program, like at William Jessup University, where bachelor’s level credits cost one rate and master’s level credits cost another rate.
Lower rate for online students – At California Baptist University, tuition for an online undergraduate degree can ends up lower per year than standard, on-campus tuition—online students are encouraged to attend school year-round (three semesters per year) as opposed to the standard two semesters per year that on-campus students favor.
Tuition rules are updated annually, so be sure and check with your school each year about the status of payment plans and financial aid. In the meantime, here are answers to some additional questions about the cost of online colleges in California.
What Are California’s Requirements to Qualify for In-State University Tuition?
Students who qualify as financially independent adults can establish residency in California. Candidates must show that they have given up their previous residence to establish residence in the Golden State and that they intend to stay in California. Students must live in California for 366 days before they can qualify as residents for the purposes of tuition. As mentioned above, some schools allow certain online students to pay in-state tuition, even if they have not established state residency.
Are Online Credits More Affordable in California Than Other Places?
For online students researching the cost of earning an online degree from a California school versus an online college located in another state, there could be a big difference in rates.
As an example, graduate students earning an online degree from the University of San Francisco may pay more than $1,100 per credit unit, plus fees. Comparing this with other four-year private universities of the same size in other states, USF ends up coming in less expensive than American University in Washington, D.C., where graduate students can expect to spend $1,700 per credit hour fees. At smaller private colleges in other states however, online tuition rates may be less expensive—Illinois Wesleyan University’s online graduate degrees may cost just over $530 per credit hour.
The best advice is to do your homework on college tuition rates. If you know which degree you’d like to pursue, know that online learning enables you to earn your degree from a college or university outside your home state.
How can I get help paying for online college in California?
California college students have a number of state-specific scholarship and financial aid opportunities available to help fund their education. While the first step is to take advantage of federal grants and loans (by filling out the FAFSA, applying for Pell Grants and more), students should also explore private scholarship opportunities. Here are a few available specifically for California residents:
Latinos in Technology Scholarship: Available through the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley, this scholarship awards $30,000 over three years. The scholarship specifically assists Latinx students who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend college.
Horatio Alger State Scholarship:: This scholarship helps students who have succeeded in the face of challenges and who show career and academic promise. Applicants may receive up to $10,000.
For a complete look at financial aid options available to you, click the financial aid button to the right.
Online Education & Adult Education in California
Whether work and family commitments have kept you from pursuing a college degree, or you feel unqualified or unprepared for college-level courses, there are programs in California set up to help aspiring students bridge the gaps that may be keeping them from achieving their college goals. The California Department of Education offers adult education programs that often help students take the first steps towards earning a college degree.
Adult education programs can help California students:
Academically prepare for college: From basic math and English education courses to English as a Second Language and GED classes, adult education programs can help California students feel academically ready to take college courses online.
Technically prepare for college: Many of California’s adult education locations offer courses to prepare adults for the technical skills needed to be successful in college, from basic computer skills and using Microsoft Office
Transfer to a four-year college: California has developed the ASSIST program to help students transfer credits earned at one college to another.