2018 Guide to Online Colleges and Universities in California

Higher education in California is one of the largest educational systems in the United States. California colleges and universities are divided into five primary categories: private non-profit, private for-profit, University of California schools, California State University schools, and community colleges. Each of these public branches have different missions and goals for their students; for example, UC schools are primarily research institutions offering graduates opportunities through classes at 10 major campuses, five medical centers, and three laboratories at locations across the nation. CSU campuses focus more energy on their undergraduate population, though this system also has a number of graduate programs available – most of California’s K-12 teachers come out of the CSU system. Community colleges in California make up the largest higher education unit in the country with an enrolment population of more than 2.1 million students over an expansive 113 campus system in 72 districts. According to the BLS, in 2016, 69.7% of high school graduates in the state of California were enrolled in some form of higher education.

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California’s Online Education Profile

Online colleges in California have been steadily rising as students desire more freedom in their schedules and as online programs become increasingly more sophisticated. As a whole, California has more than 619 postsecondary education institutions, and of these institutions, 113 offer online schooling/distance learning opportunities. Many established brick and mortar schools offer online degree programs, but the state also boasts 11 stand-alone, online colleges in CA; these online schools in CA are accredited by The Accrediting Commission for Schools (ACS) and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Number/Percentage California National Average
Number of Title IV 4-year colleges 249 56
Number of Title IV 2-year colleges 205 33
Percentage of students enrolled in distance education Exclusively distance courses: 12.5%; Some but not all distance courses: 13.3% 25.8%
Postsecondary education spending per full-time student $7,122 $6,954
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree or some college 48.1% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree or higher 32.3% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree 12% 11.2%

Sources: NCES, SHEEO, U.S. Census Bureau – American Community Survey

Average Cost of College Tuition & Fees in California

Number/Percentage California National Average
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 4-year $18,632 $8,778
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 4-year $9,586 $27,951
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 2-year $37,990 $3,038
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 2-year $24,317 $3,038

Source: NCES

Best Online Colleges in California

The following list of the best online colleges in CA is meant to give you a jumping-off point to finding the right online college in California for you. With the growing prevalence of online colleges in CA, it is crucial to weed out programs that don’t serve your needs. The online schools in California listed here have consistently proven themselves to be excellent institutions of higher education with a diverse range of programs for associate, bachelor’s, and graduate online California degree programs. Online classes in CA are often structured to be exactly like classes taught on campus; this similarity in California online schools and California brick and mortar schools allows for many hybridized programs, in other words, programs completed both online and in the classroom.


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California’s Higher Education Outlook

As the nation’s most populous state, unsurprisingly, California also has the highest population of students enrolled in higher education. With over 619 colleges and universities, California boasts a student population of well over two million with a graduation rate of over 70%. Legislators in the state of California are adamant about making higher education more available to all students, and as tuition rates continue to rise, so do efforts to increase financial aid opportunities through scholarships, private and federal loans, work-study programs, and more. As a state, California is also working to alter the foundation of “tenure” programs to help ensure higher teacher performance by increasing the tenure trial period from 18 months to three years. California colleges are unique in the level of diversity students are able to experience on campus and through online classes. With the largest population in the United States, it should come as no surprise that the state’s highest level of diversity can also be found here, including on campus.

Higher Education Initiatives in California

Many students in today’s world may be unsure about how to take the first step toward furthering their education – be it higher education or earning a high school diploma or its equivalent. The state of California recognizes that no two students have the same background and accordingly, no two students will have the same needs when it comes to fulfilling their education goals. The following agencies and commissions have set out with the common goal to make earning an education as simple as possible to all knowledge-seekers, either through traditional classroom learning or via an online college in CA:

Resources for California

  • Interstate Commission: This commission is known in California as the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. WICHE encompasses 16 states and territories throughout the U.S. The commission’s focus is to expand access to education as well as to enhance the quality of education students receive.
  • California Humanities Council: The CHC is a grant-making and programming council with the mission to expand the reach of the humanities from the classroom to the real world. Humanities, according to the CHC, are crucial studies for the advancement of cultural understanding and acceptance as well as providing students with a foundation for civic participation.
  • California’s Adult Education Board: CAEB is a foundation designed and implemented to make getting an education more accessible to people who have aged out of the high school system. The CAEB gives adults 18 and older a chance to earn their high school diploma or their GED. This Board also helps to provide English classes and similar coursework to adult international students.
  • California’s Community College System: As the largest community college system in the country, the CCCS has over 2.1 million students enrolled in 114 schools across the state. The mission of this system is to empower its students through advocacy, leadership, and support.

College Savings Plans

Along with financial aid and scholarship opportunities, individual states have 529 plans in effort to ease the financial burden of paying for higher education. Essentially, a 529 plan is a state-run, tax-advantaged investment account system that you can pay into and can eventually put that money towards you or your child’s college education. Each state in the U.S. offers a 529 plan, but each state’s plan is different. Regardless your place of residency, you can decide which state’s (if any) 529 you choose to contribute to. More than half of U.S. states offer state-income tax deductions to residents contributing to in-state 529 plans; At this time, the state of California does not reduce contributor’s state income tax rates, but California does not put restrictions on which aspects of higher education this money can be used for. In other words, some states mandate that 529 funds must go directly to classes and only for specific degree programs; California allows 529 money to be used on aspects of education like books and housing in addition to tuition, as well as allowing this money to be put toward an online college in CA.

Educational Nonprofit Organizations in California

Another route to look at in the process of pursuing higher education is to look into nonprofit organizations. Many nonprofits have the goal of helping individuals earn their education either by providing access to school resources or by spreading awareness about a given topic that is important to both the foundation and the public. The following three nonprofits are examples of foundations whose missions include furthering the education and awareness of the learning community.

  • Erowid: The mission of this nonprofit is to further the education of pharmaceutical students interested in taking a more homeopathic rather than traditional route into medicine. Erowid provides online classes and tutorials about plants, technologies, chemicals, and more. Erowid aims to expand public knowledge and culture by providing information about alternative medicines.
  • ProCon.Org: ProCon was founded in response to the relatively weak political/civic action citizens have taken over the past two decades. This nonprofit aims to widen public knowledge of current events on a non-partisan platform to further encourage citizens to take a stand. For every $1 spent on ProCon.org, more than 35 people will receive a free education.
  • The Marine Science Institute: As the name would suggest, the MSI has the goal of teaching students (and everyone else) about the importance of our marine life and aquatic environment. This nonprofit offers free classes and seminars to teach students about marine ecosystems and their invaluable contributions to environmental health everywhere.

Accrediting Bodies in California

To anyone unfamiliar with the concept of accreditation, the difference between accredited and non-accredited universities probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. That being said, attending an accredited university or college is extremely important; accreditation committees ensure that a school offers students a certain level or quality of education that guarantees your degree will be recognized and valued by potential employers (it is likely that potential employers will check to see if your degree comes from an accredited university).

There is more than one variety of accreditation: regional and national. National accreditation is seen as less-prestigious as this type of accreditation requires fewer restrictions and standards in order to accredit a school. National accreditation is most commonly applied to distance learning schools or community colleges, including California online schools. Regional accreditation, alternatively, is considered extremely prestigious. As guidelines are regionally specific, accrediting bodies are given the freedom to be more selective in the schools they choose to accredit, thus creating higher standards for higher education. A potential downside to attending a regionally accredited institution is the higher price tag.

In choosing an online school, it can be all the more difficult to determine whether a school’s accreditation is legitimate or counterfeit. To make sure that an online school’s accrediting body exists, make sure to check if the agency is legitimized by either the Department of Education or The Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Some examples of accrediting bodies found in California are:

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Job Outlook for California

Top Industries in California

Industry Description
Professional/Business Services With the boom of technology, primarily in Silicon Valley, technological business development and management positions employ 18% of the state’s total workforce.
Educational and Health Services Health care, including nursing and medical practice, is an industry that rarely experiences major fluctuation, as much of health-care-spending is considered non-discretionary.
Financial Activities Output in the finance sector is usually disproportionate to employment (the finance industry in CA creates 19% of state revenue, but employs only 5.9% of the state’s workforce). Positions in this field include realtor, credit facilitator, and more.

Top Employers in California

Top Employers Number of Employees
The Naval Base, San Diego 40,951
UCLA Health System, Los Angeles 35,543
Disneyland 26,001

California by the Numbers

Per capita income:

  • State: $29,906
  • US average: $29,979

Median household income:

  • State: $63,636
  • US average: $55,775

Gross Domestic Product:

  • State: $2.448 million
  • US: $18.57 trillion