To be included in our ranking of the best colleges for online degree programs, all colleges had to meet the following five criteria:
- Be an accredited U.S. institution
- Offer either 2- or 4-year degree programs
- Have at least 1 percent of students taking at least some of their classes via distance learning
- Be active in the 2015-16 school year
- Report data for all 15 specific ranking variables included in our methodology
We then ranked the remaining 2,169 colleges and universities and scored each on a 100-point scale on these specific. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average amount of federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Full-time Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Open admissions policy for all or most entering first-time undergraduate-level students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Offers credit for military training
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- California Community Colleges, Chancellor's Office, accessed January 2018, http://ccconlineed.org/
- California Occupational Employment Projections Between 2012-2022, Employees Development Department, State of California, September 2014, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/file/occproj/cal$occnarr.pdf
- California Virtual Campus 2017 Catalog Update, TechEDge, California Community Colleges, https://ccctechedge.org/news/12-miscellaneous3/867-california-virtual-campus-2017-catalog-update
- Higher Education in California, Public Policy Institute of California, May 2014, http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_514HJR.pdf
- Higher Education in California, Public Policy Institute of California, September 2017, http://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/r_0917hebkr.pdf
- How California’s Workforce Is Changing and Why State Policy Has to Change With It, California Budget and Policy Center, September 2015, http://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/how-californias-workforce-is-changing-and-why-state-policy-has-to-change-with-it/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2013-14, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed October, 2017, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Recover: Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020, Georgetown University, Center of Education and the Workforce, page 19, June 2013, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.SR_.Web_.pdf
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Jobs in California, California Labor Market Trends, Employees Development Department, State of California, October 2015, http://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/Publications/Trend-Reports/STEM-California-August-2015.pdf
- The Online Education Initiative: Access and Quality of Online Education in California Community Colleges 2015-16 RP Group, May 2017, The RP Group, http://ccconlineed.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/2015-16OEIDisseminationBriefFINAL.pdf
California caters to a multicultural, multilingual population that tends to be highly tech savvy. In fact, the Golden State is one of the most diverse states in the nation, attracting students and professionals (and tourists!) from all over the country and around the world. California also has the largest higher education system in the country.
Those who want to pursue higher education through California's postsecondary system have plenty of degree choices. California has over 170 online colleges that offer a wide range of majors. The ability to earn a degree, advance your career or just learn something new while being able to balance work, study and personal interests have made online programs attractive for high school graduates, professionals, and those who want to go back to school for degree-completion. Students will find well-known online schools in California that offer academically rigorous associate, bachelor and graduate level programs, often designed to meet the demand of California's growing job market.
Why Earn an Online Degree in California?
According to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), there is likely to be a shortage of about 1 million college-educated workers by 2025. Georgetown University also predicts that by 2020:
- 32 percent of jobs in California will require some college, an associate degree, or a postsecondary vocational certificate
- 24 percent will require a bachelor's degree
- 12 percent will require a master's degree or more
Postsecondary or higher education in California can be a gateway to future jobs offering more than average earnings. According to the PPIC study, those with some college credential make about 20 to 30 percent more than workers with only a high school diploma. These earnings go higher with a bachelor's or master's degree.
Online Degrees and California's Higher Education Scene
There are plenty of good reasons to consider California online colleges and universities specifically, according to Eddie LeMeire, former admissions counselor for the University of California San Diego and Loyola University, and founder of the LaMeire College Consulting firm. Because whatever one's reasons for earning a degree in California, the state delivers through its impressive diversity of higher education degree options — more than 400 public, private, nonprofit and career schools.
The public University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) systems are among two of the largest college systems not just in the nation, but the world. In an effort to meet increasing demand for college graduates in the future workforce, both have jumped on the distance learning bandwagon to offer a number of online programs in California. The University of California now offers close to 3,400 hybrid and online courses that include degree-level and certificate programs.
Legislators in California have also supported this online trend in the state’s community college system as a means of closing its looming education attainment gap. In 2014, they passed legislation and provided funding through the Online Education Initiative. This collaborative effort among California Community Colleges aims to improve online student success rate and has helped students gain access to hundreds of high-quality online programs. According to a 2017 report by The RP Group, the number of first-time bachelor degree earners increased by 8.6 percent between 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Other California colleges — of all types and prestige — also offer online programs, including credit-based options. Students can explore the state-supported California Virtual Campus website to see the more than 1,375 online programs offered by California's community colleges, University of California, California State University and independent colleges.
"Online and hybrid classes make learning infinitely more convenient," says LaMeire." This is specifically the case for students interested in computer science and software engineering, since these academic fields lend themselves better to online programs." In other words, several of California's tech-centric, high-demand fields are particularly well suited for online learning. And in 2013, under the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI) funded by the state, University of California created new undergraduate online courses in high-demand subjects. This initiative continues to add more career-focused online courses and degree programs to meet the growing workforce needs in California.
Top Online Colleges in California
Interested in earning a bachelor's degree that can help you be job-ready in a competitive employment market? Or perhaps you want to earn an online master's degree to help you seek higher positions in your field? Pooling data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCSE), we set up a methodology to evaluate online colleges in California that offer 2- and 4-year degree programs. Our methodology includes factors such as in-state tuition and fees, retention rates, graduation rates, percent of students awarded financial aid, whether the online school is accredited, as well as placement services for graduates.
If you're considering earning an online bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree, these are the online schools that rose to the top of our study.
Top Ten Online Degree Programs in California
Want to choose degree programs in California that might align with the needs of its job market? We've taken data from the NCSE to come up with this list of top 10 online programs. Consider accredited online colleges that offer these popular degrees.
Quality of Online Education in California
Unlike other states, California does not have a single coordinating body for its postsecondary systems. Instead, a board of regents or a board of trustees along with the state government and other agencies and organizations govern the California higher education system. While the absence of a single governing body can prove to be very challenging for setting goals and coordinating its systems, collectively they are able to maintain a high standard of academics for courses and degree programs offered on-campus and through online schools.
Independent oversight is also provided by accreditation agencies such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
Hybrid and online courses offered by the University of California system are being continuously reviewed by the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative to give students the best possible online experience steering online students toward degree-completion. The goal is to ensure that online students are engaged in courses that are academically rigorous and on par with on-campus courses with high level of interaction between online students and professors. You'll find online programs at the associate, bachelor's or graduate-level are generally comparable to a college's on-campus degree programs. Comparing graduation rates between campus and online programs may give you an indication of the success of an online program.
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in California
"Students come to California for] the sophistication in terms of diversity, technology and entrepreneurship. This is California's appeal in a nutshell," says LaMeire. He notes students looking for "tradition" or "Wall Street" might be less drawn to the West Coast, but for "progressive-minded thinkers interested in looking for peers with different perspectives, California is a wonderful place to go to college."
While geographical location and program highlights are certainly key considerations when evaluating campus or online degrees in California, LaMeire advises his clients to dig a little deeper. He recommends researching school size, rankings and cost, but keep in mind, thanks to California schools' stellar reputations, many of the more prestigious institutions may be highly selective.
For many students, college is as much a stepping stone into the state as it is a source of personal or professional enrichment. Prospective students can learn more about online programs in California by researching colleges online, or by contacting institutions directly to speak with an admissions representative. Enrolling in an accredited institution or program should be a strong consideration in choosing an online college. Not only does it have the potential to add market value to your degree, but may also qualify you to apply for various financial aid resources.
Another factor to consider when picking a degree is the resource a school offers its online students such as career counseling, tuition payment programs, and placement services. Some online colleges may offer credits for life and work experience. Prospective students may want to take a look at the faculty for online programs to know how responsive they are, their accessibility and their experience teaching online.
Top Occupations in California
By 2022, the state of California expects to add more than 2.4 million jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), STEM-related jobs will account for 13 percent of all jobs in the nation with California having the largest percent of STEM workers in the nation. About 1.4 million STEM jobs are expected to join the workforce from 2012 to 2022. The fastest-growing STEM occupations include software developers, market research analysts and marketing specialists, computer user support specialists, cost estimators, environmental scientists and specialists, Including health, health specialties, postsecondary teachers, environmental engineers and biomedical engineers.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||2,484,780||$41,820|
|Sales and Related Occupations||1,626,530||$43,500|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||1,558,050||$28,270|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||1,120,230||$37,970|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||1,014,020||$63,620|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||978,370||$83,500|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||899,410||$28,810|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||827,030||$96,130|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||622,290||$58,010|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||590,550||$105,380|
|Personal Care Aides||520,660||$26,220|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||519,260||$52,680|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||478,080||$32,980|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in California
Both federal and state financial aid may be available for qualified students in the form of grants, scholarships, work study programs, or loans. Aid may be based on financial need, your income and your family's income, or merit. Prospective students should remember that most scholarships and financial aid are available to students enrolled in an accredited institution.
Federal financial aid programs are administered by the United States Department of Education and may be available to both full-time and part-time students. Learn more about what's available by visiting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) site.
State financial aid programs are administered by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) for students in private and public universities, colleges and public schools. Options include Cal Grant, a need-focused program for students who also meet certain GPA requirements. According to a 2017 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, "[this] program, one of the largest in the country awards about $2 billion annually to students." Funds may be applied to tuition, fees and/or living costs depending on the clause of the grant. Here are some of the other state programs available:
- California Chafee Grant for Foster Youth
- California Dream Act for Undocumented Students
- The Middle Class Scholarship
- California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program
- John R. Justice (JRJ) Program
- University of California's Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan
- Berkeley Undergraduate Scholarship
- UCLA Department Scholarships
- UC Davis Undergraduate Scholarship Funds
- Golden Gate University Lois Myers Endowed Scholarship
Read more about scholarships and grants in California. The list below has been compiled using the most recent data from Wintergreen Orchard House, a provider of information on scholarships and grants for higher education across the country.
Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
Tests You May Need to Take
Apart from common entrance examinations applicable to most colleges and universities in the United States, like the SAT and ACT, admission to four-year online programs in California State University (CSU) or the University of California (UC) requires you to complete:
- Four years of college-preparatory English
- Three years of mathematics including algebra, geometry, and intermediate algebra
- Two years of history–social science
- Two years of laboratory sciences
- Two years of the same foreign language
- One year of visual and performing arts
- One year of academic electives
To apply for admission to California's four-year community colleges, prospective online students are required to be a resident of California with a high school diploma or equivalent (like the GED, the General Equivalency Diploma). Exceptions may be made to admit non-residents over the age of 18 if the student meets certain criteria.
Most colleges in California look at your high school grades along with other entrance requirements, which may be different for each college.