California Online Colleges & Universities – Top Online Schools for 2017

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Best Online Colleges In California For 2017

A growing number of colleges and universities in California added online programs to their degree lists in 2016-2017. Why? To benefit the hundreds of thousands of students in the state who want or need more flexible class schedules. And while California certainly has online program volume, some colleges stand out from their peers when it comes to quality and service. The colleges below have proven excellence in the online classroom, and continue to help students at all levels (and of all types) learn, earn a degree, and move toward career success.

Rank School Name Score Tution & fees # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher Ratio Grad Rate Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services School Information
1 California State University-East Bay 99.78 $$$$$ 12 52% 27:1 38% No Yes Yes

At California State University-East Bay, students can choose from a number of online bachelor's and master's degrees. There are also online credential programs, certificate programs and specific online courses that students can take. The school offers programs that are mostly career oriented, like business administration, recreation, hospitality and tourism, health care administration and education leadership. Students access courses entirely online through the Blackboard system, through which students can access a syllabus, readings, digital group meetings, online discussions and other interactive class features. The school recommends students log in three to four times a week to check in on lectures, assignments and group work.

2 Humphreys College-Stockton and Modesto Campuses 99.62 $$$$$ 21 19% 18:1 68% Yes Yes Yes

Both the Stockton and Modesto Campuses of Humphreys College provide students with an assortment of online class and programs options that all them to build personalized schedules they are comfortable with. Programs come in all levels, ranging from certificate to doctoral. Because Humphreys College is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools Colleges Senior College and University Commission, students will be sure that their education will be valued in all of their future pursuits. Grants, loans, and federal work-study are available aid options for students attending Humphreys College.

3 California State University-Chico 99.51 $$$$$ 9 37% 26:1 59% Yes Yes Yes

California State University-Chico has a number of programs that are offered in an online format. The courses are entirely web-based, though courses can also include live video streaming of lectures. Students must be enrolled in the school to take the courses, and are allowed to take special sessions, summer session or winter session courses to meet degree requirements, though it is not required. The school offers online bachelor's degrees in social science, liberal studies and sociology. An online MS in nursing is also offered, as is a career and life planning certificate.

4 Simpson University 98.77 $$$$$ 6 99% 11:1 52% Yes Yes Yes

Simpson University has a distance learning program to help students fit college courses into their busy lives. The school offers online bachelor's programs in psychology and organizational leadership, as well as an MA in organizational leadership. There are also blended online and on-campus options for an MA in education, an MA in ministry leadership and a master of divinity. The courses can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection 24/7. The online learning system allows students to learn at will and takes breaks, rather than sit through 50-minute to three-hour long courses.

5 University of California-Berkeley 98.42 $$$$$ 3 53% 17:1 91% No Yes Yes

An education at the University of California, Berkeley extends beyond the classroom; students are able to participate in entirely online programs at both the baccalaureate and graduate level. Since 1868, U.C. Berkeley has been one of California's top institutions, and is proud to offer as many as 170 degree programs broken up between 14 colleges and schools. 73 percent of the classes at U.C. Berkeley are occupied by fewer than 30 students, so highly experienced faculty will be able to give each student an individualized schooling experience. All faculty has numerous years of on-the-job experience, and a total of 7 faculty members are Nobel Prize recipients.

6 Alliant International University-San Diego 98.41 $$$$$ 6 88% 14:1 N/A No Yes Yes

Quality higher education is available online with Alliant International University at San Diego. Out-of-state and international students may complete and submit their classwork from wherever they live, and can be certain that the Alliant International University faculty will give their work the same critical attention as would be afforded in-class students. Studying online does not bar students from unique opportunities; internships and other hands-on training are available for many programs. Because Alliant International University students participate in over one million community service hours annually, graduates are known for become functioning and devoted members of their future communities.

7 Grace Mission University 98.41 $$$$$ 3 13% 27:1 46% No Yes Yes

Many students who to return to school to earn their degree, but find that the time commitment is too much to manage. With the online programs at Grace Mission University, students will be able to maintain their priorities while also working towards a degree. Faculty who participates in Grace Mission University's distance education makes sure that all online students are provided with the same quality education that is offered at the Grace Mission campus. Readings are supplemented with video recorded lectures, allowing students to get to know their professor without ever actually meeting them.

8 Golden Gate University-San Francisco 98.21 $$$$$ 21 N/A 12:1 N/A No Yes Yes

Distance learning provided by Golden Gate University in San Francisco provides student with a virtual classroom in which they will be able receive a well-rounded knowledge of their field of interest. The most beneficial quality of an online degree is the convenience it affords; students will be permitted to study, listen to lectures, and do their homework at whatever pace they are comfortable with. Students will have full access to all services and resources, and faculty will regularly check in with any student who may be struggling. Online discussions also help students to build a virtual community of academic peers.

9 Life Pacific College 97.91 $$$$$ 3 36% 16:1 47% Yes Yes Yes

Life Pacific College provides programs with the student worker in mind. With online and hybrid courses, a student will be able to work through their degree at a personalized pace while they continue their employment. These students will be provided with all coursework, lectures, supplementary readings, and tests entirely from their online class hub page. Highly trained professors are supportive of their students and willing to work with any who may be struggling with adapting to an online format. Online students will still be a functioning part of their academic community, as they will participate in numerous online discussions.

10 National University 94.64 $$$$$ 138 1% 20:1 40% Yes No Yes

At National University, students can choose from over 70 degree programs online. The programs are 100 percent online in highly interactive learning environments. The course materials are available 24/7. The classes are completely flexible for working adults, so they can be fit in early mornings, during lunch breaks or in the evenings. Classes are delivered through tools like emails, readings, digital presentations, online lectures, quizzes and exams. Students can chose from bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and certificates. Topics students can study an array of topics, from digital journalism to Spanish to sport psychology.

11 Southern California Seminary 91.02 $$$$$ 3 50% 14:1 100% No No Yes
12 Pacific Oaks College 90.35 $$$$$ 6 N/A 10:1 N/A Yes No Yes
13 Brandman University 87.80 $$$$$ 47 10% 15:1 N/A Yes No Yes
14 World Mission University 87.53 $$$$$ 6 50% 7:1 45% Yes No Yes
15 Bethesda University 87.46 $$$$$ 12 2% 6:1 75% No No Yes
16 SUM Bible College and Theological Seminary 87.05 $$$$$ 3 100% 9:1 21% No No Yes
17 Epic Bible College 86.41 $$$$$ 3 33% 9:1 50% Yes No Yes
18 Azusa Pacific University College 86.32 $$$$$ 14 N/A 21:1 N/A Yes No Yes
19 Horizon University 86.25 $$$$$ 6 N/A 7:1 N/A Yes No Yes
20 John F. Kennedy University 86.00 $$$$$ 12 N/A 5:1 N/A Yes No Yes

A Guide to Online Colleges in California

In California, many schools now offer distance learning programs as part of their already diverse curriculum. Students have flexible alternatives to traditional post-secondary studies, allowing them to continue their education remotely even with other responsibilities top of mind. The California State University system, for example, boasts an increasing collection of online degree options at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Twenty-three of the campuses manage fully online programs from accountancy and administration to public health and water management.

Private not-for-profit online colleges in California also offer flexible higher education for post-secondary students, as well. The University of Southern California’s USC Online, one of the largest providers, has more than 80 fully online programs in areas such as business and accounting, communication, computer science and education. USC Online focuses exclusively on graduate programs with a majority of degrees and courses at the master’s level. USC’s online wing also places significant emphasis on digital innovation, with new technology and approaches integrated into programs each year.

Another way to explore online college options in California is to examine some of the state’s major cities with a clear academic presence. Let’s take a look at two California metropolitan areas making strides when it comes to online learning.

Distance Learning in Los Angeles: Online Colleges & Courses

For distance learners, there are 331 online degree programs in California, with many available in Los Angeles. The online graduate computer information technology program at the University of Southern California (USC) was named the 2014 top online program by U.S. News & World Report, and the non-profit University of La Verne ranked among the top online bachelor’s degree programs. U.S. News also named UCLA second in the nation for its online graduate engineering program. A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of students agree that online learning makes higher education more affordable and more accessible. All LACCD colleges offer online courses, and West Los Angeles College has an extensive online learning system, including its hybrid degree program options.

Los Angeles is a magnet for individuals seeking a relaxed life style in a city rich in cultural diversity and entertainment — only 59.4 percent of residents were born there. Educational opportunities, including flexible options for online learning, contribute to the many attractions of the City of the Angels.

Online Learning at San Diego Colleges

Many San Diego schools and colleges offer certificates and degree programs that are wholly web-based or hybrid, blending on-campus and online instruction. San Diego State University, for example, serves up more than 20 certificates and five master’s degree programs entirely online. The University of San Diego offers its Master of Education (MEd) degree program in an e-learning format. “Pause, rewind, replay” is the catchphrase at UC San Diego Extension, which presents more than 30 fully online professional certificate programs. Certificate specialty areas include biofuels, business, computer programming, emergency department nursing, project management and wireless engineering.

San Diegans also have access to private colleges and online schools dedicated solely to delivering degree programs over the Internet. Privately owned Columbia College offers 800 classes and 27 degrees entirely online to some 24,000 students a year. When San Diego students aren’t facedown in the books, they may be hang-gliding off the cliffs at Torrey Pines, careening along mountain bike trails, or driving down to beaches where the waves are steady and strong.

Tuition & Cost of Living in California

Tuition is typically one of the first things potential college students think about when they begin their journey into higher education. Although tuition varies by the type of college, location and state residency, Californians paid an average of $12,550 per year for tuition in 2012. The state’s strong community college and public university systems help make online learning an affordable option for many.

Though tuition has the biggest financial impact, individuals must also consider living expenses when making a college-related decision. The cost of living in California is about 32 percent higher than the national average. Below is the cost of living (COL) for some of California’s largest cities, compared to the national mean (100%):

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Fort Smith 3.4% -1.6% 7.6% 4.3% 11.3% 7.2% 3.1%
Riverside City 12.5% 36.3% 4.9% -0.1% 13.4% 4.4% -0.9%
Sacramento 16.2% 35.7% 14.7% 9.6% 14.4% 10.8% 2.8%
Fresno 17.3% 31.2% 15.8% 23.6% 14.5% 6.8% 5.9%
Palm Springs 21.8% 54.2% 11.5% 12.7% 10.2% 0.8% 6.1%
San Diego 32.3% 94.4% 5.5% 1.9% 13.1% 11.5% 5.8%
Long Beach 36.40% 107.10% 6.00% 1.70% 13.60% 9.10% 7.00%
Oakland 39.10% 98.80% 16.80% -5.30% 13.60% 19.90% 19.00%
Orange County 46.40% 142.80% 4.50% 3.20% 14.60% 11.60% 5.20%
Truckee-Nevada County 46.90% 108.30% 32.20% 14.30% 21.50% 12.00% 20.50%
San Jose 56.10% 160.30% 15.30% 37.20% 14.00% 19.00% 3.60%
San Francisco 64.00% 181.00% 11.90% -5.50% 13.00% 17.00% 24.30%

Accreditation Standards in California

It’s important to research a college’s accreditation, especially if a student plans to receive federal assistance. Most funding sources require that a student’s school meets minimum quality standards verified by an independent accrediting agency. California colleges should hold accreditation from organizations such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the region’s primary accrediting body. In addition, many California universities seek accreditation from specialized agencies, mostly to illustrate quality of schools and programs in a certain field. For instance, Stanford’s School of Medicine holds accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, a national accrediting body for educational programs that lead to an M.D.

Deans Talk: Inside California Online Colleges

To get a better sense of the true landscape of online learning in California, we asked each of the colleges on our list to answer a few questions about what makes their programs unique. We heard back from a few of the state’s best institutions. See what they said below:

Online Departments in CALIFORNIA

Brandman University

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

Brandman's approach to online education is to provide high quality, flexible, accessible, and cost efficient degree programs to adult learners. In a spectrum where for-profit universities dominate, we provide a non-profit institution that uses its revenue to better the student experience and not the stockholders.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

We provide high demand degrees such as a BSN or DNP in nursing and teacher credentialing. We also provide personal coaching, an advisor for each student, and student services provided by one-stop experts so that students won't need to navigate the phone system to receive the attention they need.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

We plan to be an innovative provider of competency based education programs by the start of 2015. Students can enroll in a program that measures "what you have learned" rather than credit hours or classroom seat time. This allows a student a self-paced program that could turn their work experience into a degree once they pass a set of competencies. The cost for a competency-based degree would be significantly less and so would the time it takes to complete the degree.

California State University-San Bernardino

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

We take a measured, intentional approach to online learning, utilizing best practices in instructional design to develop and deliver highly interactive online courses and programs. We provide these courses and programs to enable those who could not physically attend classes to gain the same quality education as our on-site students. Our mission to serve our region and beyond drives our commitment to online learning.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

The ability to gain a high quality Cal State education despite challenges of location, job commitments and family commitments makes our programs highly valuable for students. Beyond our regional accreditation, many of our programs are members of an elite group of nationally accredited programs. All of our courses are taught by experienced and world-class faculty.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

We expect to continue to expand our offerings beyond our current graduate programs in Education, Criminal Justice, Public Administration, Business, Nursing and Social Work. We anticipate adding undergraduate degree completion programs in social work, liberal studies and other disciplines in the social sciences. We anticipate significant growth in student enrollments in both graduate and undergraduate programs.

Palo Alto University

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

We actually have a hybrid undergraduate program, which combines two online courses per quarter with one course taught one evening per week on campus. We believe in the flexibility and convenience of online learning but also feel it's critical for students to connect with their professors and one another. This creates and solidifies their learning community. Palo Alto University's two-year-long, bachelor degree completion programs are taught using a cohort model, and so students take some 22 course together over a two year period, further enhancing their sense of community and their support for one another. 85% of our students graduate with their bachelor degree in two years. Our masters programs are offered in a hybrid format or all online.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

We teach our undergraduate courses online, but all of our students are local. They can meet with their professors or TAs, visit the PAU library, work with tutors, and participate in any campus activities they wish. In our graduate masters programs we have students from across the United States and often all seven continents.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

Palo Alto University's bachelor degree completion programs are taught in partnerships with local community colleges. We recruit students who have already completed their freshman and sophomore years at the community college, and they complete their junior and senior coursework with PAU. Currently, PAU has partnerships with De Anza College, Foothill College and the College of San Mateo. Over the next 5 years, PAU plans to develop other partnerships with bay area community colleges. In our masters programs we offer the counseling programs worldwide using the global advancement of counseling excellence initiative: education globally online, train locally on the ground. In PAU's science masters programs, courses are didactic in nature and are offered online to a global student body, however, students have the option to come to Palo Alto University for summer intensives or summits. A big piece of Palo Alto University’s future includes a masters program in partnership with Stanford University at a reasonable cost.

Great Resources for Online Students in California

For students taking an online class for the first time, having a solid collection of free resources at the ready can make a difference. These resources could be strictly devoted to online learning techniques, or go beyond the digital classroom to encompass time management skills, financial aid information, or how to make the transition from California college student to career seeker. The following resources are 100% free, and allow both new online students and seasoned online program veterans find the information they need in one convenient place.

Major California Educational Resources