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2023 Best Online Community Colleges in California

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 1/4/2023


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Each year, millions of students enroll in online community colleges in California for occupational training, associate degrees, and transfer credits. California community colleges are collectively the state's largest workforce training provider, preparing students with diverse industry-specific skills through certificate and two-year degree programs that satisfy education goals and meet employer needs. One of the main benefits of online community colleges is that they're often less expensive while still offering quality credentials. There are also a great number of California online colleges — both public and private — that may offer more options for certain degree programs. 

Our ranking list of the best online community colleges in California includes online enrollment data to allow each community college's popularity, allowing prospective students to compare schools and program sizes. View our methodology for more details about our list or learn more about OnlineU.

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List Of Accredited Online Schools

School Online Enrollment Annual Tuition
Coastline College 8,818 8,818 $6,670 $6,670
Saddleback College 6,093 $9,590
Foothill College 5,439 $9,528
American River College 5,223 $8,928
San Joaquin Delta College 3,415 $8,708
Santa Barbara City College 2,432 $8,326
San Bernardino Valley College 2,332 $5,500
Barstow Community College 1,510 $7,464
Rio Hondo College 1,430 $8,584
Merced College 852 $6,318

Coastline College

  • Annual Tuition: $6,670
  • Locations: Fountain Valley (and 3 others)
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Coastline Community College is a public college located in Orange County, CA. The institution offers 33 associate degrees and 21 certificates, each featuring a broad range of majors — from Building Codes Technology and Digital Media to Anthropology and Physics. Some majors, such as Digital Media, feature several options, like a Certificate of Specialization in Digital Media Audio Video and an Associate of Arts in Digital Media Design. Coastline offers online programs through the Canvas learning management system (LMS). If desired, advisors can work with students to create a plan for transferring their credits to a four-year university upon the completion of an AA or certificate program.

Saddleback College

  • Annual Tuition: $9,590
  • Locations: Mission Viejo
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Saddleback College (SC) is a public college situated in Mission Viejo, CA. The school features dozens of fully online degrees — including associate degrees, transfer degrees, certificates, and occupational skills awards. Some examples include an Associate of Science for Transfer in Business Administration and an Associate of Arts in English LIterature. There are many other subjects to pick from as well, such as Web Design, Retail Management, Early Childhood Education, and Anthropology.

Each course within these programs is delivered through the Canvas learning management system (LMS). While students may take classes asynchronously (at their own pace), students must adhere to any deadlines from their instructors. Individual online classes are also available in hybrid learning formats for locals who wish to study partially on campus. Once enrolled, remote students have access to a variety of online resources, including tutoring, counseling, and technical assistance.

Foothill College

  • Annual Tuition: $9,528
  • Locations: Los Altos Hills
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Foothill College is a public community college located in Los Altos Hills, CA that offers education programs for the underserved and underrepresented demographics of the Bay Area. The community college offers Career and Academic Pathways (CAPs) through associate degrees. Some examples include an Associate of Arts in Accounting; an Associate of Arts in Science for Film, Television, and Electronic Media; and an Associate of Arts in Kinesiology.

Each of these programs, along with the 47 other programs, is available online through the Canvas LMS. Classes are delivered synchronously or asynchronously, depending on the instructor's preference. Enrolled distance learners have access to the school's technology hub, which includes live chat, video, and phone support.

American River College

  • Annual Tuition: $8,928
  • Locations: Sacramento
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

American River College — a public institution with a campus in Sacramento, CA — offers over 1,000 online courses through associate degrees and certificate programs. Examples of available classes include Fundamentals of College Accounting, Medical Language for Health Care Providers, and Cultural Anthropology. These courses, along with many others, are delivered through the Canvas LMS.

The school notes that students must be located in California in order to take advantage of the remote learning programs it offers. Furthermore, some programs may require students to participate in person at certain times. Many students use American River College to gain foundational credits before transferring to a four-year university, such as California State University or the University of California.

San Joaquin Delta College

  • Annual Tuition: $8,708
  • Locations: Stockton (and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Students at San Joaquin Delta College — a public college located in Stockton, CA — have access to more than 60 online degrees and certificates. Each major is part of a track that makes up the school's Transfer and Career Pathways, which includes Agriculture; Business and Law; Arts, Humanities, and Multimedia; Communication and Languages; Health and Fitness; Science, Engineering, Computer Science, and Math; Social Science, Education, and Public Service; and Technical Careers and Trades.

Here are some examples of specific programs the school offers: an Associate of Arts in Business, an Associate of Arts in Computer Science, and a Certificate of Achievement in Real Estate. All online courses are taken via the LMS Canvas. San Joaquin also offers online tutoring and counseling that students can participate in through web chat.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Online Community Colleges in California

What is the Best Online Community College in California

We determined Foothill College in Los Altos Hills to be the best online community college in California using our ranking methodology. We consider retention rate, online enrollment rate, and the number of online associate degrees offered when determining who earns the No. 1 spot on our list.

Are Online Community Colleges Free in California?

No, but with the passing of Assembly Bill 19 in 2018, each community college district can use its discretion to determine how much aid to offer eligible students. Schools could decide to provide grants to help pay enrollment fees, pay for other non-enrollment fees, or reimburse enrollment fees after the successful completion of each term.

Who Can Attend Online Community Colleges in California?

Anyone can attend online community colleges in California — even those living out of state. Students can take classes through their local community college or other public community colleges across the state through the California Virtual Campus program.

Can You Get a Bachelor's Degree Online at a California Community College?

While California community colleges don't generally grant bachelor's degrees, most have online associate degree transfer programs. These transfer programs guarantee a spot in a participating four-year university once a student completes the necessary requirements at their community college. This enables students to transfer as third-year students with only 60 credits remaining to earn their bachelor's.

Overview of Online Community Colleges in California

California has the largest higher education system in the nation, with 73 districts and 116 community colleges serving nearly two million students. The Los Angeles Community College district alone is the largest in the country with nine colleges, and the biggest campus by enrollment is East Los Angeles College. Cumulatively, California community colleges offer over 10,000 online courses, 90 fully online associate degree programs, and 80 fully online certificate programs.

California community colleges offer over 10,000 online courses, 90 fully online associate degree programs, and 80 fully online certificate programs.

Many of California's community college students pursue associate degrees to enter the workforce or transfer to four-year universities. Approximately half of community college students enroll in the California State University system and nearly a third transfer to the University of California system. Nationwide, popular associate degree disciplines include liberal arts, healthcare, business, interdisciplinary studies, social science, and the performing and visual arts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Students can also earn certificates of achievement through the California Virtual Campus program in such areas as public safety, cybersecurity, creative writing, graphic design, and accounting.

View our comprehensive list of the best online community colleges and learn more about the online learning experience.

Cost of Online Community Colleges in California

California has the lowest community college tuition rate in the U.S. As of the 2021-22 school year, in-state tuition averaged $1,430, compared to $3,800 nationally and as much as $8,600 in Vermont. In addition, a 30% boost in funding per full-time enrolled student since 2009 may have been a contributing factor to college affordability in California. As a result, students in California may also carry less student loan debt than students in other states.

California has the lowest community college tuition rate in the U.S.

Tuition for online programs is also generally cheaper than those on campus. Some schools waive campus fees or charge flat tuition rates regardless of state residency for online students. There are also other ways to help mitigate higher education expenses in California. High school students may opt to dual enroll in a community college program, so classes count towards high school diplomas and college credits, potentially saving time and money. Military veterans may use their GI Bill benefits to help pay for school, while others may work for employers who provide tuition assistance to their staff. Applying for private scholarships can also reduce the expense of distance education.

Financial Aid for Community College Students in California

Many students rely on financial aid to attend college. The first step to determine eligibility for federal assistance is to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students may be eligible for federal grants, scholarships, or may qualify for work-study programs or low-interest federal student loans.

The state awards the highest amount of financial aid in the nation with an average of $1,751 spent per undergraduate student.

California lawmakers have also worked to establish several state financial aid programs to help increase higher education accessibility and affordability. The state awards the highest amount of financial aid in the nation with an average of $1,751 spent per undergraduate student, and approximately 47% of community college students do not pay fees.

California College Promise Grant

Established by AB-19, the CCPG allows for waiving enrollment fees for some students with low income. A total of $46 per unit may be waived.

California Community Colleges Scholarship Endowment

The CCCSE provides more than 3,000 scholarships each year. Students must also qualify for the CCPG to be eligible, must have financial need, be enrolled in college at least part-time, and have completed a minimum of 24 degree-applicable units to apply. Awards are $600 per semester for a total of $1,200 per year and students can opt to renew their awards up to $3,600 over three years.

California Dream Act

Undocumented and non-resident students may qualify for financial aid by completing a California Dream Act Application (CADAA). Qualified students may receive state financial aid, scholarships through California colleges and universities, Cal Grants, and fee waivers through the CCPG. Amounts vary.

Cal Grant Program

There are three types of grants in the Cal Grant program. Grant A is for high school and college students interested in attending four-year universities, Grant B is for students interested in attending community college, and Grant C is for students interested in technical or occupational programs. Awards vary from $1,094 to $12,570 and do not have to be paid back.

California Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ,California's unemployment rate was 6.5% as of December 2021. While this was higher than the 3.9% national average during that time, it has been steadily declining since the highs of 2020. Employment projections in general are high for the following sectors through 2030:

Leisure and hospitality

Health care and social assistance

Professional and business services

A recent survey shows that California's cost of living is significantly higher than the national average. The cost of living index measures how far income goes to pay for living expenses such as food, housing, transportation, and healthcare. California's overall cost of living index is at 150 compared to 100 for the U.S. Housing costs alone are indexed at 239. As a result, students may seek higher education to increase their salary potential to make ends meet.

The California Community Colleges notes that for every dollar spent on education, students could potentially see a $5 increase in future earnings and that those with an associate degree could earn $11,000 more per year than those who only have a high school diploma.

Careers for California Community College Graduates

Major employers in California cover many industries, including government, healthcare, high tech, education, semiconductor devices, and film and television. These employers include NASA, Kaiser Permanente, Google, the University of California-Los Angeles, Intel, and Sony Pictures.

Based on the most current data provided by the BLS and its partner site O*NET Online, the following occupations requiring a minimum of an associate degree expect to see some of the highest job growth:

Medical Sonographers
Median Annual Salary: $104,390
Job Outlook: 28%

Medical sonographers operate scanning equipment to examine patients. They check for image quality, patient comfort, and provide physicians with oral and written summaries of findings.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Median Annual Salary: $61,520
Job Outlook: 14%

Paralegals and legal assistants support lawyers by organizing and maintaining records, conducting research, and drafting legal documents. These professionals may also file legal documents with the court or the opposing attorney in a case.

Radiologic Technologists and Technicians
Median Annual Salary: $93,650
Job Outlook: 16%

Radiologic technologists and technicians perform CAT scans and X-rays while monitoring patients' safety. Technicians may also inject nonradioactive materials into a patient's bloodstream for diagnostic purposes.

Respiratory Therapists
Median Annual Salary: $85,620
Job Outlook: 28%

Respiratory therapists help care for patients with chronic breathing issues, such as COPD, emphysema, or asthma. These therapists may also monitor a patient's progress and consult with physicians, administer treatments, or perform diagnostic tests.

Web Developers and Digital Designers
Median Annual Salary: $89,420
Job Outlook: 17%

Web developers and digital designers create and maintain websites. They measure a site's performance and capacity, create content, and test a site for the quality of user interface and experience.

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