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Best Online Community Colleges in California

By the OnlineU team | Updated 3/7/2022
2020 Best Online Community Colleges in California Badge

Each year, millions of students enroll in California's community colleges for occupational training, associate degrees, and transfer credits. Our ranking list of the best online community colleges in California includes annual tuition rates to allow students to compare costs and programs when considering enrollment. 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. On this page, we also answer frequently asked questions, provide an overview of California's online community colleges, discuss the cost of attending college, and include information about careers in the Golden State.

View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Locations
# 1 #1 Foothill College $3,555 Los Altos Hills
# 2 #2 Allan Hancock College $1,380 Santa Maria
# 3 #3 Barstow Community College $1,380 Barstow
# 4 #4 Coastline Community College $1,380 Fountain Valley (and 3 others)
# 5 #5 Cerro Coso Community College $1,380 Ridgecrest (and 1 other)
# 6 #6 Citrus College $1,380 Glendora
# 7 #7 Santa Barbara City College $1,380 Santa Barbara
# 8 #8 San Bernardino Valley College $1,380 San Bernardino
# 9 #9 Las Positas College $1,380 Livermore
# 10 #10 American River College $1,380 Sacramento
# 11 #11 Lake Tahoe Community College $1,395 South Lake Tahoe
# 12 #12 Monterey Peninsula College $1,380 Monterey
# 13 #13 West Los Angeles College $1,380 Culver City
# 14 #14 Cosumnes River College $1,380 Sacramento
# 15 #15 Lassen Community College $1,380 Susanville
# 16 #16 Fresno City College $1,380 Fresno
# 17 #17 Los Angeles City College $1,380 Los Angeles
# 18 #18 Hartnell College $1,380 Salinas
# 19 #19 Merced College $1,380 Merced
# 20 #20 Santa Ana College $1,380 Santa Ana
# 21 #21 Rio Hondo College $1,380 Whittier

2020 Online Community 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 Foothill College

  • Annual Tuition: $3,555
  • Locations: Los Altos Hills
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Foothill College is located in Los Altos Hills, California, and offers 15 different online associate degrees. There are 14 different Associate of Arts degrees available in subjects such as Accounting, Art History, Humanities, Psychology, Sociology, and more. One Associate of Science degree is also offered in Geography. Additionally, Foothill College provides opportunities for students interested in earning an online certificate. There are 37 online certificates, including Career Certificates in Entrepreneurship, Financial Accounting, Marketing, Tax Accounting, and Financial Literacy. All online courses are offered through Canvas, and the school teaches all students how to use the system prior to the start of classes. Telecommuting students also have access to online library services, tutoring, and other free materials.

#2 Allan Hancock College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Santa Maria
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California, offers four Associate of Arts and five Associate of Science online degree programs. This selection includes an AA in Social Science, an AS in Business Marketing, and an AS in Fire Technology. Additionally, the California community college offers an online Certificate in Business. Online students complete courses remotely using the Canvas system, and the school provides a variety of tutorials to assist distance learners with common challenges, like time management and communication skills. There are also a variety of digital services available by email, including counseling and assistance from the career center.

#3 Barstow Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Barstow
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Barstow Community College serves approximately 3,700 students annually, offering online degrees and individual courses for distance learners. Students enrolled in online programs must complete coursework on the college's schedule, and classes are available to students for only the duration of the week during which they are delivered. Both fully online and hybrid programs are available, ranging from business management to child development. For those who would like assistance getting set up, the Computer Commons Tutorial Center on campus provides walk-in or appointment-based support. For those who need tutoring online, Barstow Community College offers NetTutor, which is a virtual tutoring resource. Online students graduate with transcripts that are identical to those of traditional, on-campus students, and may progress to the baccalaureate degree level or seek employment with the technical certificate or associate's degree that they receive from BCC.

#4 Coastline Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Fountain Valley (and 3 others)
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Coastline Community College offers more than 70 degree and certificate programs in a fully online format. Whether it's an associate's degree or professional certificate, students can find opportunities that match their educational goals. Additionally, students can take part in the Learning 1st program, which functions as a partnership between Coastline Community College and any of the following universities:Pennsylvania State University, Troy University, University of Illinois-Springfield, or University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Students in this program receive an AA before continuing on to earn a BA or BS at the university they have selected. Most coursework at Coastline Community College can be completed according to students' personal schedule and responsibilities. Online students can take advantage of 24/7 tutoring, online academic advisors, and access to the school's virtual library. These tools are provided to ensure success of enrolled students.

#5 Cerro Coso Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Ridgecrest (and 1 other)
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Students attending Cerro Cosa Community College in Ridgecrest, California, will find multiple online associate degree and certificate programs. Some of the most notable options include an Associate of Arts in Anthropology, an Associate of Science in Cyber Security Technology, a Data Analyst Certificate, and a Paralegal Studies Certificate. All distance learners are provided with online academic resources, including tutoring, as well as career guidance and transfer assistance. For online courses, some classes require proctor testing at an approved location, while others utilize the Proctorio system.

#6 Citrus College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Glendora
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Based just outside of Los Angeles, Citrus College in Glendora, California, is home to various online degree and certificate options. Their online offerings include an Associate of Arts in Social and Behavioral Sciences, an Associate of Science in Business, and three Associate Degrees for Transfer in Administration — Justice, History and Sociology. Online students are provided with nearly all the same support services as on-campus students, including advising, tutoring, and career guidance. All required textbooks and supplies are available for purchase through the school bookstore's e-commerce site.

#7 Santa Barbara City College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Santa Barbara
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Founded in 1909, Santa Barbara City College is one of the oldest community colleges in California. The institution offers six online Associate of Arts degrees, including an AA in Marketing and an AA in International Business, and three Associate of Science programs. The online AA in Liberal Arts and Sciences is available with three concentration areas: arts and humanities, science and mathematics, and social and behavioral sciences. There are also numerous certificates and skills competency awards available to online learners. The distance learning program provides online support services, including tutoring, library services and counseling.

#8 San Bernardino Valley College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: San Bernardino
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

San Bernardino Valley College in California offers online Associate of Arts degrees in Administration of Justice, Anthropology, Business Administration, Liberal Arts, Philosophy and Sociology. Students can also pursue an online Associate of Science in Administration of Justice, along with a variety of online certificates, including a Water Treatment Certificate. Accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC), the community college provides online courses through Canvas, and all remote students have the opportunity to participate in free tutoring sessions through the Tutorial and Writing centers.

#9 Las Positas College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Livermore
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Las Positas College offers unique opportunities for students who are looking for distance learning opportunities. Students can earn degrees in sociology, liberal arts, or marketing, or a certificate of achievement in supervisory management. Courses are generally not self-directed, but each instructor can make independent decisions regarding the structure and scope of the course. Online students at Las Positas College have the ability to complete their coursework using a laptop or desktop computer or a mobile device using the free Canvas app. Students can also take advantage of online resources including online tutoring, technical support, disability services, and counseling.

#10 American River College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Sacramento
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Located in Sacramento County, California, American River College offers a variety of online Associate of Arts degrees in five subject areas, including Accounting, General Business, History of Creative Arts, Management, and the Individual and Society. There is also a long list of online certificate programs, including Activity Coordinator, Tax Specialist, and Internet Marketing. Online students at the community college complete coursework through the Canvas system and have virtual access to tech support. The school is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).<br>

#11 Lake Tahoe Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,395
  • Locations: South Lake Tahoe
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Lake Tahoe Community College offers a number of online degrees and certificates for students who are interested in distance learning. Students can earn an associate of arts in fields such as anthropology, business, humanities, criminal justice, psychology, social science, and Spanish. Available certificates include accounting and computer and information science. Those who are unsure if an online degree is the best fit can find a short quiz on the school's website to determine whether they should pursue an online education. For those who enroll, several tools are provided by Lake Tahoe Community College in order to support students' academic journeys. Counseling, tutoring, academic advising, and financial aid are all accessible resources. In addition, many required textbooks are available in an online format.

#12 Monterey Peninsula College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Monterey
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Monterey Peninsula College offers online opportunities for students to begin or complete degree and certificate programs. Students can select from a general education path, or degrees in business administration, early childhood education, economics, history, or psychology. Many of these programs are designed to transfer to four-year institutions after students earn an associate's degree. Available programs include certificates in nutrition and food, linguistics, and IT help desk/user support training. Options for degree completion are also available for degrees such as administration of justice, and anthropology. Students can find technical support through the MPC online help desk, or the online counseling service to discuss course selection and their education plan.

#13 West Los Angeles College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Culver City
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

West Los Angeles College in Culver City, California, offers an extensive range of online programs, including Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees. Students also have the choice of multiple online Certificates of Achievement and Skill Certificates. The online resources provided by this Los Angeles-based community college are powered by the Canvas platform, and are of great benefit to their telecommuting students. Along with online tutoring, tech support, library services, and academic counseling, the school has a blog dedicated to providing tips and tricks for distance learners.

#14 Cosumnes River College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Sacramento
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Based in Sacramento, California, Cosumnes River College provides online Associate of Science degrees in the following areas of study: Environmental Studies and Sustainability, Geography, Health Information Technology, and Nutrition and Foods. There are also online certificates available in five areas, including a Certificate of Achievement in Health Information Coding Specialist and a Certificate of Proficiency in Field Data Mapping and Geographic Information. The college offers various resources to assist distance learners, including readiness tutorials and an Online Student Success course.

#15 Lassen Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Susanville
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

A number of online courses are available for distance learners through Lassen Community College. Students use Canvas by Instructure as the platform for their coursework, and use the system to engage in classroom discussions, submit assignments, and take tests and quizzes. Many of the classes that are offered are transferable to four-year universities in the California State University system, or the University of California system. When enrolled in online programs, students can take advantage of many of the same resources as traditional, on-campus students, including the bookstore, career center, and counseling. Students who excel in Lassen Community College's online courses are open-minded, self-motivated, and able to devote 4-15 hours per week to each class in which they are enrolled.

#16 Fresno City College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Fresno
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

At Fresno City College in California, online students have the opportunity to pursue an Associate of Science in Health Information Technology and an Associate of Science in Library Technology. The community college also offers an online Certificate in Retail Management and an online Library Technology Certificate of Achievement. Distance students at Fresno City College have access to free Hoonuit software, around-the-clock online tutoring, and the Peer Assisted Study Sessions program in a digital environment. They also offer academic and transfer counseling services by email, and click-to-chat.

#17 Los Angeles City College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Los Angeles
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Online course offerings at Los Angeles City College include accounting, business administration, kinesiology, social sciences, and law/administration of justice. Students can expect that the online courses that they enroll in are identical to traditional, on-campus courses, and should determine whether an online education is the best fit for them. Once signed up for classes, students receive lesson materials, participate in classroom discussions, submit assignments, and complete testing through the course management system (CMS). An online orientation is available for students prior to beginning their coursework. Throughout their studies, additional resources for distance learning success are accessible online, such as tutoring through Net Tutor, academic advising, the college's bookstore, and 24/7 online reference assistance from campus librarians.

#18 Hartnell College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Salinas
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Located in Salinas, California, Hartnell College offers a 100-percent-online Associate of Science in Administration of Justice. The program offers three specialized tracks so students can focus their studies to advance their career goals. The specializations are correctional science, paralegal/legal assistant, and criminal justice. They also offer a Fast Track program for the criminal justice specialization, where students can earn their degree a semester earlier than the standard program. Students complete online coursework in Canvas and required interactions with academic counselors take place over email, and through virtual meetings. Currently, out-of-state students pay $249 per credit, while California residents receive a rate of $46 per unit.

#19 Merced College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Merced
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Merced College is a community college offering online learning for students who need flexibility in their schedule that traditional classes cannot give them. Online courses range from being fully online, to hybrid courses that involve frequent or infrequent visits to the Merced College campus. All of the available classes are taught by the same faculty members who teach on campus, ensuring that those who are studying online are receiving the same education as traditional students. Students who are enrolling in distance learning courses for the first time can take advantage of video tutorials, a virtual orientation, and a number of online resources for success such as academic support and tutoring, a librarian online chat feature through Merced's campus library, technical support, and financial aid.

#20 Santa Ana College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Santa Ana
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Santa Ana College in California offers an online Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts with optional concentration areas in American studies and arts, humanities and communication. Students planning to transfer to a four-year institution also have the option of an online Associate of Science in Business Administration. All remote degree seekers have access to free course materials and textbooks through the school's Open Educational Resources program. Online students also have the opportunity to access academic counseling and library services, as well as tutoring through the campus Learning Center and NetTutor.

#21 Rio Hondo College

  • Annual Tuition: $1,380
  • Locations: Whittier
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

Online students at Rio Hondo College are supported through a number of online resources such as technology assistance, online counseling and academic advising, and library/research services. While distance learning courses allow for flexibility for students with work or family responsibilities, courses are not self-paced, as instructors will set regular due dates and deadlines that students must stay on top of. Courses are available in accounting, administration of justice, anthropology, business law, childhood development, history, fire technology and prevention, and kinesiology. Online learners can access their classes on their mobile devices, however, they may not be able to complete their coursework that way.

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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