2020 Best Online Colleges in California

By OnlineU Staff | Updated 6/18/2021
2020 Best Online Colleges in California Badge

These are the best online colleges in California. Golden Gate University is ranked #1 with an annual tuition of $20,460 and a reported alumni salary of $93,100. Ranked #2, California State University-Chico offers a tuition rate of $17,622 and has the second-highest alumni salary, at $92,700. California Baptist University offers 29 online bachelor's degrees, the most of any school on the list. Students at CBU can study business administration, psychology, cybersecurity, public health, education, and more. On this page, we've also provided an overview of online learning in California, in addition to information about the cost of an online degree and careers in the state for graduates.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 Golden Gate University $20,460 $93,100
# 2 #2 California State University-Chico $17,622 $92,700
# 3 #3 San Diego State University $7,510 $90,100
# 4 #4 Loma Linda University $13,455 $90,700
# 5 #5 California State University-Sacramento $12,750 $90,100
# 6 #6 California State University-East Bay $6,984 $88,800
# 7 #7 California State University-Northridge $6,972 $86,100
# 8 #8 California State University-Fullerton $7,650 $86,100
# 9 #9 California State University-Fresno $6,589 $85,000
# 10 #10 Humboldt State University $5,742 $83,200
# 11 #11 California State University-Stanislaus $5,742 $81,800
# 12 #12 Mount Saint Mary's University - CA $41,592 $85,000
# 13 #13 California State University-Bakersfield $9,600 $79,800
# 14 #14 California State University-Channel Islands $5,742 $78,200
# 15 #15 Concordia University-Irvine $14,850 $79,000
# 16 #16 California State University-San Bernardino $11,340 $78,400
# 17 #17 University of La Verne $19,350 $78,200
# 18 #18 California State University-San Marcos $9,867 $76,200
# 19 #19 Point Loma Nazarene University $36,350 $77,300
# 20 #20 California Baptist University $18,390 $68,000
# 21 #21 California State University Monterey Bay $15,750 $65,000
# 22 #22 Palo Alto University $17,456 $62,500
# 23 #23 Hope International University $13,500 $55,200
# 24 #24 San Diego Christian College $14,012 $52,300
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges in California Ranking Details

For each school, we conducted manual research to provide prospective students with more details about the schools' online programs. Explore online degrees offered and accreditation information below.

#1 Golden Gate University

  • Annual Tuition: $20,460
  • Median Salary: $93,100
  • Locations: San Francisco
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Golden Gate University (GGU) offers a broad range of online certificates, undergraduate, and graduate degree programs across a variety of academic areas. Programs are available in subjects such as accounting, business analytics, management, finance, financial planning, general studies, human resources, international business, IT management, law, leadership, marketing, project management, psychology, public administration, supply chain management, and taxation. Courses are delivered through the Moodle eLearning online learning platform. Distance learners access the online learning platform, transcripts, account balances, course records, and other information through GGU’s web portal, GGU4YOU.  Struggling students are encouraged to utilize free online and in-person writing and math tutoring assistance.

#2 California State University-Chico

  • Annual Tuition: $17,622
  • Median Salary: $92,700
  • Locations: Chico
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Chico (CSU Chico) offers eight online degrees across the academic areas of agricultural education, liberal studies, nursing, religious studies, social science, and sociology. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard Learn online learning platform. CSU-Chico hosts its own web portal that gives distance learners access to student webmail, grades, class schedules, recorded workshops, and more. Additional student support resources include academic advising, career counseling, financial planning, and technical support. CSU Chico provides a flexible learning environment, which allows students to combine distance learning with on-campus, special session, summer session, and winter session learning to meet their program requirements.

#3 San Diego State University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,510
  • Median Salary: $90,100
  • Locations: San Diego
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

San Diego State University (SDSU) offers eight online degree programs across several academic areas, including business administration, educational leadership, hospitality and tourism, public administration, and public health. SDSU also offers online career advancement and self-enrichment courses in several areas, including accounting, management, and web design. Most classes offer free orientation programs so that students are prepared for technology requirements and class assignment schedules. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. Student support resources at SDSU include access to its WebPortal, where distance learners can retrieve their grades, transcripts, and registration information.

#4 Loma Linda University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,455
  • Median Salary: $90,700
  • Locations: Loma Linda
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Loma Linda University (LLU) offers over 25 online certificate, graduate, and undergraduate programs across several academic areas, including health care administration, nutrition, respiratory care, nursing, public health, and therapy. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. LLU hosts its own dedicated web portal, which gives distance learners access to student webmail, grades, transcripts, and other materials. This Seventh-day Adventist institution bases its education model on Christian values, so programs include biblical elements and students are encouraged to view online church services. LLU has employed a task force to evaluate the school’s future digital needs and make sure their programs are able to meet expectations; meaningful adjustments are expected to be made once the six-month evaluation is complete. 

#5 California State University-Sacramento

  • Annual Tuition: $12,750
  • Median Salary: $90,100
  • Locations: Sacramento
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Sacramento (CSU Sacramento) offers four online degree programs in areas such as accounting, criminal justice, and career and technical studies. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard Learn online learning platform. CSU Sacramento hosts its own web portal, My Sac State, that gives distance learners access to student webmail, grades, class schedules, and other information. Additional student support resources include academic advising and career center services. CSU Sacramento offers affordable tuition and access to job opportunities with some of the most influential public and private institutions in the U.S.  

#6 California State University-East Bay

  • Annual Tuition: $6,984
  • Median Salary: $88,800
  • Locations: Hayward
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-East Bay (CSU East Bay) offers over a dozen online graduate and undergraduate programs across several academic disciplines, including business administration, education, women’s studies, health care, hospitality, and human development. Their online bachelor's in business administration is available with several concentrations, including finance, operations and supply chain management. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. Student support resources include career counseling, financial planning, and technical support. Prospective students can take an online readiness assessment to determine if distance learning suits them. Students also have access to the on-campus Learning Commons, a study space in the Library Lower Mall with 83 desktop computers and five workstations with assistive technologies.  

#7 California State University-Northridge

  • Annual Tuition: $6,972
  • Median Salary: $86,100
  • Locations: Northridge
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Northridge (CSUN) offers online degree programs and certificates in several academic areas, including assistive technology engineering, educational administration, humanities, communicative disorders, liberal studies, public administration, public health, nursing, social work, and speech-language pathology. The programs are designed for working adults and courses are accessed through the Canvas online learning platform. Students work in cohorts to develop a strong learning community with their peers and instructors. CSUN hosts its own web portal, myNorthridge, which gives distance learners access to student resources, like academic advising and course records.   

#8 California State University-Fullerton

  • Annual Tuition: $7,650
  • Median Salary: $86,100
  • Locations: Fullerton
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Fullerton (CSU Fullerton) offers online certificate, graduate, and undergraduate degree programs across several academic areas, including business administration, education, environmental engineering, humanities and social sciences, information technology, statistics, human resources, sociology, and software engineering. Over 10,000 courses are also offered online through Cal State Online, so students needing to fulfill a California State University general requirement will find numerous options to fit their schedule. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. CSUF strives to prepare a diverse student population to excel in their careers and become leaders in their communities.  

#9 California State University-Fresno

  • Annual Tuition: $6,589
  • Median Salary: $85,000
  • Locations: Fresno
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Fresno (CSU Fresno) offers several online certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs in fields such as nursing, reading, and language arts instruction, liberal arts, and water resource management. Courses are delivered through the Canvas online learning platform. CSU Fresno hosts its own dedicated web portal, My Fresno State, and issues Bulldog student ID cards to its distance learners. Full-time CSU Fresno students have access to online courses at other CSU campuses through the CSU Fully Online program. Students are given an online test to determine if they're ready to begin learning at a distance, and student admission is dependent on whether or not they have had at least one academic semester spent on campus.  

#10 Humboldt State University

  • Annual Tuition: $5,742
  • Median Salary: $83,200
  • Locations: Arcata
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Humboldt State University (HSU) offers several online certificate, undergraduate, and graduate programs in fields, including leadership studies, teaching, geospatial, and social work. Courses are accessed through the Canvas online learning platform. Student support resources include access to the myHumboldt student web portal, academic technology tools, career counseling, financial planning, and tech support. Located roughly 275 miles north of San Francisco, HSU offers an affordable, high-quality education that promotes understanding of social, economic, and environmental issues.  

#11 California State University-Stanislaus

  • Annual Tuition: $5,742
  • Median Salary: $81,800
  • Locations: Turlock
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Stanislaus offers several online graduate and undergraduate degree programs in the fields of business administration and nursing. Popular online degrees at Stanislaus State include an MBA with either a general concentration or one in finance. Courses are accessed through the Blackboard online learning platform. Stanislaus State hosts its own web portal, myStanState, which allows distance learners to create to-do lists, access their account balance, and view class schedules. Additional student support resources include access to the Academic Success Center, career services, and technical support. Distance learners also receive a Warrior student ID card. Students can take an online learning readiness assessment, which allows them to gauge how prepared they are for distance learning.  

#12 Mount Saint Mary's University - CA

  • Annual Tuition: $41,592
  • Median Salary: $85,000
  • Locations: Los Angeles
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Mount Saint Mary's University-CA (MSMU) offers online degrees in fields such as business administration, criminology, liberal arts, pre-health science, and creative writing. The school also offers an online certificate in nursing. Courses are delivered through the Moodle online learning platform. MSMU hosts myMSMU, a Microsoft-driven web portal that gives distance learners access to student resources, like school webmail, transcripts, and class schedules. Each student is assigned a success coach that will assist them throughout their academic career with any scheduling issues or learning struggles.   

#13 California State University-Bakersfield

  • Annual Tuition: $9,600
  • Median Salary: $79,800
  • Locations: Bakersfield
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Bakersfield (CSU Bakersfield) offers online certificate, undergraduate, and graduate degree programs in fields such as administration, communications, nursing, education, and management. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. Full-time CSU Bakersfield students have access to online courses at other CSU campuses through the CSU Fully Online program. Before completing registration, students must take a tutorial to learn how to use online resources. CSU Bakersfield has a low student-to-faculty ratio and is known for its cutting-edge research.  

#14 California State University-Channel Islands

  • Annual Tuition: $5,742
  • Median Salary: $78,200
  • Locations: Camarillo
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-Channel Islands offers an online bachelor's degree in business and a certificate in business administration through their online campus, Extended University. Before beginning distance learning, students must have completed at least one semester of on-campus classes at CSU Channel Islands. Courses are delivered through the Canvas online learning platform. CSU Channel Islands hosts its own web portal, myCI, that gives distance learners access to resources, like student webmail, grades, and transcripts. Community Education classes are also offered online for students that are just interested in learning “for fun.”   

#15 Concordia University-Irvine

  • Annual Tuition: $14,850
  • Median Salary: $79,000
  • Locations: Irvine
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Concordia University-Irvine (CUI) offers over a dozen online graduate and undergraduate degree programs and several certificates across academic areas, including business administration, healthcare management, counseling, organizational psychology, executive coaching and consultation, international studies, nursing, and theology. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. Student support resources include academic advising and career services. CUI's ‘real time’, synchronous learning experiences comprise a certain percentage of every online course, bringing distance learners face-to-face with faculty.

#16 California State University-San Bernardino

  • Annual Tuition: $11,340
  • Median Salary: $78,400
  • Locations: San Bernardino
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-San Bernardino (CSUSB) offers six online graduate and undergraduate degree programs and several certificates in academic areas, including business administration, criminal justice, education, health, public administration, and social work. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. CSUSB hosts its own web portal, myCoyote, which gives distance learners access to student resources, like transcripts, account balances, and course records. Additional student support resources include academic advising, a technology support center, and free software, including Microsoft 365, Portfolium, Zoom, SAS, and ESET Antivirus.  

#17 University of La Verne

  • Annual Tuition: $19,350
  • Median Salary: $78,200
  • Locations: La Verne
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The University of La Verne offers online graduate and undergraduate degree programs across several academic areas, including accounting, finance, business administration, management, criminology, and public administration. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform and class sizes are kept small to allow for individualized support. The University of La Verne hosts its own web portal, MyLaVerne, which gives distance learners access to student webmail and class schedules. Additional student support resources include academic advising, career services, and technical support. An online learning readiness assessment is available for students to help determine if distance learning is right for them.  

#18 California State University-San Marcos

  • Annual Tuition: $9,867
  • Median Salary: $76,200
  • Locations: San Marcos
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University-San Marcos, one of the newest and fastest-growing schools in the CSU system, offers online graduate and undergraduate degree programs dedicated to enhancing the cultural, economic, and social development of the San Diego region. Bachelor's and master's degrees are offered in the fields of education, health, cybersecurity, fire protection services, nursing, and sociology. Courses are delivered through the Moodle online learning platform. Full-time CSU San Marcos students have access to online courses at other CSU campuses through the CSU Fully Online program. All students who plan on taking online courses must complete at least one on-campus semester at CSU San Marcos before they can enroll.   

#19 Point Loma Nazarene University

  • Annual Tuition: $36,350
  • Median Salary: $77,300
  • Locations: San Diego
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) offers online undergraduate and graduate degree programs for distance learners interested in organizational management, nursing, and kinesiology. The school also offers online certificate programs in subjects such as adapted physical education, autism, and instructional design with technology. Courses are delivered through the Canvas online learning platform. A private, liberal arts school located in San Diego, PLNU provides challenging coursework, hands-on experience, and professional resources for distance learners. While all education is online, students are required to spend at least one night a week in a classroom with their peers but locations and times are flexible. 

#20 California Baptist University

  • Annual Tuition: $18,390
  • Median Salary: $68,000
  • Locations: Riverside
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California Baptist University (CBU) offers more than 40 online degrees across several academic areas, including business administration, public administration, accounting, Christian ministries, communication, criminal justice, cybersecurity, early childhood studies, healthcare administration and management, human services, marketing, organizational leadership, psychology, and sociology. Courses are delivered through the Blackboard online learning platform. Most classes are asynchronous, allowing students the flexibility to balance other responsibilities. CBU offers a Christ-centered education that brings spiritual and social opportunities into the student’s educational experience. Distance learners are assigned a “One-Stop” advisor who will work with them throughout their program.  

#21 California State University Monterey Bay

  • Annual Tuition: $15,750
  • Median Salary: $65,000
  • Locations: Seaside
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) offers several online graduate and undergraduate degree programs in the academic areas of business administration, computer science, nursing, and instructional science and technology. Courses are accessed through the Blackboard iLearn online learning platform. Student support resources include access to the school’s library, advising, and financial planning. Students are encouraged to partake in online tutoring, which lets distance learners upload their work for review by a tutor who will record a short video with feedback. Distance learners also have access to lectures, dance, jazz, theater and film performances at the CSUMB World Theater. CSUMB boasts a low student-to-faculty ratio as well as varied educational and instructional approaches.  

#22 Palo Alto University

  • Annual Tuition: $17,456
  • Median Salary: $62,500
  • Locations: Palo Alto
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Palo Alto University (PAU) offers online undergraduate and graduate degrees that are focused on the disciplines of counseling and psychology. Bachelor's degrees in psychology are available with a focus on psychology and social action, or business psychology. A master's in counseling degree is available with an emphasis in clinical mental health, or marriage, family and child. Courses are delivered through the Canvas online learning platform. All online classes at PAU include weekly live video-conferencing to give distance learners the chance to interact with their professors and classmates. Student support resources include career counseling and technical support. Online students at PAU also have access to all residential student resources, online career fairs and orientation programs, and doctoral-level assistant instructors and teaching assistants.   

#23 Hope International University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,500
  • Median Salary: $55,200
  • Locations: Fullerton
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Hope International University (HIU) offers a variety of online graduate and undergraduate degree programs and certificates across several academic areas, including business administration, criminal justice, Christian ministry, teaching, and human development. Courses are delivered through the Canvas online learning platform. HIU hosts its own web portal, myHIU, which gives distance learners access to Canvas as well as student resources like student webmail and the school library. Additional student support resources include career development and technical support. Students interested in HIU's online programs are encouraged to test a course using their free portal to help determine if distance learning is a good fit for them.  

#24 San Diego Christian College

  • Annual Tuition: $14,012
  • Median Salary: $52,300
  • Locations: El Cajon
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

San Diego Christian College (SDCC) offers busy students a flexible, high-quality, Christian education. Multiple online undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available in fields such as liberal studies, business management, Christian ministries, communication, human development, leadership, teaching, and psychology. Courses are accessed with a secure Microsoft login and password. SDCC hosts a Summer Online Institute, which offers complete courses during the summer months to help distance learners interested in speeding up or maintaining their graduation goals. Student support resources include career development, local and global mission trips, dedicated pastoral staff, and trained counseling services. 

Overview of Higher Education and Online Learning in California

California has more residents than any other state and a significant number of higher education institutions to match. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), California is home to 214 colleges offering bachelor's degrees. Of these schools:

  • 47 are public (including two state university systems)
  • 106 are private non-profit (including four that are exclusively online)
  • 61 are private for-profit (including four that are exclusively online)

Just over 400,000 first-time undergraduates enrolled in California Title IV schools for the 2018 academic year, most of whom were state residents. Nearly half of the state's bachelor's graduates earned their degree through the California State University (CSU) system, the largest public university system in the country. About 80,000 transfer students each year move from the state's community college system to the CSU or University of California (UC) system. Note that the UC system doesn't offer any fully online bachelor's degrees.

Online Education

According to our manual research, there are 159 schools in California offering fully online degree programs. The state's eight fully online schools enroll over 50,000 students combined, and dozens of traditional public and private institutions offer degrees with at least some online elements.

The state's eight fully online schools enroll over 50,000 students combined.

Distance programs, which are increasing in popularity, deliver courses through online learning platforms where students can usually sign in asynchronously to complete coursework. Asynchronous learning allows students the flexibility to complete assignments, watch recorded lectures, and interact in forums at their convenience. Some courses and degree programs feature live lectures or class discussions over video technology, and others run on a hybrid model with a mix of in-person classes and online elements.

Accreditation

It's important to consider accreditation when researching bachelor's degree programs. Colleges achieve accreditation by passing a voluntary quality check by an accrediting body at the national or regional level. This allows schools to offer federal financial aid and makes transferring credits easier among accredited institutions.

Schools that offer bachelor's degrees usually seek regional accreditation because the academic standards are higher. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is the regional accrediting agency in California, so prospective students can check the WASC directory for institutions they want to research. Another possible accrediting body is the Distance Education Accreditation Commission (DEAC), which reviews colleges that offer more than 51% of their courses via distance education. Most schools also list their accreditation on their websites.

Online College Costs and Financial Aid in California

The cost of an online or in-person bachelor's degree varies widely in California, ranging from relatively low costs for in-state students at public schools to almost $60,000 a year at some private colleges. Interested applicants should research individual programs, because the costs can differ by program, delivery mode (on-campus or online), or residency (California resident or non-resident) even within the same school or university system. For example, CSU charges identical tuition across campuses to its in-person students, but the costs for its online degrees vary by program.

According to our manually researched data, the median tuition cost for an online bachelor's degree is $13,470 a year. This cost is nationwide and not specific to California, but can serve as a helpful starting point in understanding what a student might pay for an online degree.

According to our manually researched data, the median tuition cost for an online bachelor's degree is $13,470 a year.

In addition to tuition, there are other fees that students should consider. They'll need to pay for books and supplies, for example, including regular access to a computer and a reliable internet connection. However, online students won't need to pay costs associated with campus life, such as room and board, meal plans, and certain fees that only apply to campus students.

Choosing an affordable program is the first step toward lowering college costs, but financial aid is another important consideration. Students should apply for all possible sources of gift aid that don't need to be repaid, such as:

  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Work-study funds

Any student at an accredited California school can apply for federal aid, but only California residents can apply for the state's programs. For the academic year 2018-2019, the state spent an average of about $1,300 on each of these students, all of which was based on financial need.

Some California aid programs are below — check your school's website or talk to a financial aid adviser to make sure you meet eligibility requirements:

Cal Grant: Public college students can earn up to full tuition and fee coverage at a CSU institution ($5,742) or UC institution ($12,570) based on financial need. Students who've left California foster care may be eligible for an additional living stipend.

Golden State Teacher Grant Program (GSTG): Awardees can receive up to $20,000 total if they're currently enrolled in a special education teacher training program and willing to work in California for at least four years after graduation.

Middle Class Scholarship (MCS): Students seeking a teaching credential can earn 10-40% off their tuition if their family income lies within a certain range. This award kicks in after other sources of gift aid are exhausted.

State University Grant (SUG): This need-based grant helps CSU students who haven't received a Cal Grant to earn up to $5,742 (the full price of tuition and fees).

What Will Out-of-State Online Students Pay for College?

In many states, online undergraduates can receive the in-state tuition rate at public colleges regardless of residency, but this is not always the case in California. Instead, costs differ by program. For example, CSU Monterey Bay's Bachelor of Science in Computer Science costs $525 per credit regardless of residency. However, San Jose State University's Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Data Analytics charges four-year online students based on residency but charges a flat rate to online transfer students regardless of residency.

Students in online programs at private schools generally pay the same tuition and fees no matter where they live. For example, neither Golden Gate University nor Loma Linda University distinguish between in-state or out-of-state students when discussing costs. Even if tuition and fees are identical, applicants should determine whether an online program has any in-person commitments requiring their presence on campus — out-of-state travel could add extra costs for non-resident students.

Careers in California for College Graduates

A bachelor's degree confers salary and career benefits, including a median $26,100 more in annual earnings for degree holders than high school graduates. In California, one-third of adults over 25 hold a bachelor's degree, which is slightly higher than the nationwide average. This high rate of educational attainment, could indicate fierce competition for available jobs requiring a bachelor's degree for entry.

In California, one-third of adults over 25 hold a bachelor's degree, which is slightly higher than the nationwide average.

One sector that is thriving in California is technology. Centered in Silicon Valley, this industry is hiring college graduates at steady rates. Nationwide, professionals with college degrees were more likely to keep their jobs during the pandemic. In California, this meant that many graduates with information technology and computer science skills held onto their jobs and even more were able to enter this high-paying, fast-expanding field.

It's unclear how many alumni of online programs in California take jobs at Silicon Valley tech companies. However, of the five California schools that feed the most students to these companies, none offer online bachelor's degree programs.

California has a large and dynamic economy beyond the tech industry. Other major sectors include:

  • Energy
  • Trade and Tourism
  • Government

These industries require educated workers to serve in roles such as engineer, marketing specialist, policy analyst, accountant, and business manager. None of these industries is insulated from fluctuations, though. For example, the state's green energy sector lost 71,000 jobs in 2020, and the industry isn't expected to return to pre-2020 levels until 2023. California is also one of the nation's most expensive states, and even a high salary may not stretch as far as it would elsewhere.

References

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