Online Colleges in California

Education is a serious matter in the Golden State, and 2016 data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) makes it clear just how much value Californians place on institutions of higher learning. There were no fewer than 771 campus-based and online colleges and schools in California counted in the recent NCES report, and some of those California schools rank among the most illustrious institutions on the planet.

Read on for info about California education, including:

California education: A snapshot

Here's a table that shows how many of each type of school can be found across our nation's largest postsecondary education ecosystem:

Campus-based schools in California
Institution type No. offering bachelor's degrees No. offering associate degrees No. offering certificates and other non-degree awards No. offering advanced degrees (master's, Ph.D., etc.)
Public 32 115 127 35
Private nonprofit 102 40 64 133
Private for-profit 60 111 313 38

Cities where students are well-represented within the permanent resident population may have more readily available academic services and other perks of college life than places with a limited base of students to serve. Here's some NCES and U.S. Census data on student presence in various cities around the state:

City Total estimated population
(U.S. Census, 2015)
No. of enrolled students
(NCES, 2016)
Student presence as a percentage of permanent resident population % of residents with bachelor's degrees
(U.S. Census, 2015)
San Diego 1,394,928 200,275 14.36 percent 42.3 percent
Los Angeles 3,971,883 175,808 4.42 percent 31.5 percent
Santa Barbara 91,842 42,714 46.60 percent 43.1 percent
Malibu 12,985 7,632 58.86 percent 60.3 percent
San Francisco 864,816 81,010 9.37 percent 52.9 percent
San Luis Obispo 47,339 31,485 66.51 percent 49.6 percent
Davis 67,666 35,186 51.99 percent 71.0 percent
Berkeley 120,972 45,353 37.49 percent 70.2 percent
Irvine 256,927 57,662 22.44 percent 65.6 percent

The College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges found that four-year California schools charged a statewide average of $9,270 in tuition and fees for 2015-16, although the range between the most and least expensive schools is rather large. Harvey Mudd College in Claremont and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles were the state's highest tuition costs, averaging to $52,916 and $52,217 in 2016, respectively, while the state's lowest average belongs to the Monterey campus of California State University, where students were charged just $6,119 the same year.

Online education in California

The long list of California schools also offers a robust selection of digital distance education options, which can be a big help to prospective students whose educational goals might otherwise be difficult to fit into their schedule. Whether you're looking for a lower-cost route to a degree or a curriculum that's flexible enough to dovetail with your established routine, here's a detailed count of the schools offering online programs in California as of 2016:

Online schools in California
Institution type No. offering 4-year degrees No. offering 2-year degrees No. offering certificates and other non-degree awards No. offering advanced degrees (master's, Ph.D., etc.)
Public 4 16 39 14
Private nonprofit 33 15 11 53
Private for-profit 25 26 16 17

Ranking information for traditional and online California schools

Several colleges and universities in California have won recognition from national and international education ranking agencies. Here are a few of the traditional and online colleges and schools in California that have performed especially well on recent rankings lists:

Rankings for campus-based and online California schools
School name
Ranking agency
Stanford University No. 2 Global Universities Center for World University Rankings
University of California, Berkeley No. 7 Global Universities Center for World University Rankings
California Institute of Technology No. 11 Global Universities Center for World University Rankings
University of Southern California No. 23 National Universities U.S. News & World Report
University of California, Los Angeles No. 24 (tie) National Universities U.S. News & World Report
University of California, Irvine No. 23 (tie) Best Colleges for Veterans U.S. News & World Report
Santa Clara University No. 2 Regional Universities (West) U.S. News & World Report

Top degree programs at online colleges in California

Multiple degree programs at online schools and colleges in California are esteemed among the highest-regarded study plans in their respective categories. Check out these U.S. News & World Report rankings for the top online programs available in California schools:

Top-ranked online programs in California
School name
Degree program
University of Southern California Computer information technology No. 1

The same elite faculty members that teach in USC's top-20 traditional computer science program also run the institution's online classes, which operate under the same criteria as the on-campus variety.

University of California - Los Angeles Engineering No. 1 The top-ranked online engineering program at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science ensures that students get the same challenges that on-campus students do.
University of California - Irvine Criminal justice No. 4 International criminal justice experts teach the online courses in this program at UC Irvine, where occasional on-campus courses can help deepen students' interactions with their classmates and professors.
University of San Diego Graduate business No. 9 This online-hybrid program can allow USD students to earn a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management in approximately 25 months, including around 10 days per year of on-campus study.

Industries and degrees to get in California

The California career market is expected to be one of the fastest growing in the nation over this next period of statistical projections, with the state Employment Development Department (EDD) projecting overall employment growth of 15.1 percent between 2014 and 2024. Here's some detail on a few of the hottest jobs for graduates of traditional and online schools and colleges in California:

Hot degrees and top jobs for California graduates
Why it's hot
Degrees that can help
Web developer High-quality Web development can be a great benefit to a business or other organization with a focus on public outreach, and Web development degree programs are popping up at schools all over the country. California's market for Web developer jobs is especially booming, with the California EDD projecting 48.3 percent employment growth in the state by 2024. California is also one of the highest-paying states for Web developers in the U.S., offering a reported mean annual salary of $81,610 in 2015. The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that some Web developers can find work in the field with just an associate degree and a strong portfolio, suggesting that it may be one of the highest-paid associate degree jobs in the country. Positions of enhanced difficulty or responsibility tend to come with enhanced compensation, however, so preferred candidates for the most desirable jobs are likely to hold at least a bachelor's degree. IT certifications such as Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) may also help in hiring situations.
Nurse practitioner The changes in the health care system caused by increasing specialization and expanded access to insured care are creating a skills gap near the top of the field, and trained nurse practitioners are well-poised to help close that gap. California hospitals and other health care facilities are expected to increase hiring of nurse practitioners by 38.9 percent over the next several years, faster growth even than the 31 percent national average. What's more, California paid its nurse practitioners more than every other state in 2015, with residents reporting a mean salary of $120,930 for the year. Nurse practitioners are members of a larger occupational group known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), of whom all need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree before they can be cleared to officially practice. The typical path to an APRN degree is earning a diploma or associate degree to qualify as a registered nurse (RN), working in the field for several years, then returning to school to complete a bachelor's degree before going on to the full-fledged nursing master's. Some schools may offer online or accelerated RN-MSN programs for students who wish to remain working full time while they advance their careers.
Operations Research Analyst The role of mathematical analysis and other quantitative methods has been expanding right alongside widespread access to big data and massive computing power, and numerous organizations are on the hunt for analysts who can help them investigate complex problems and make better decisions. Employment growth of 42.4 percent is expected for operations research analysts in California between 2014 and 2024, and wages are on a rapid rise as well. The 2015 mean annual salary of $94,360 is up nearly $10,000 from the 2011 figure of $84,980 reported by the BLS.

Comparatively few schools offer dedicated degree plans in operations research and analysis, but graduates in many related fields are likely to have the necessary knowledge and skills. Computer science, mathematics, engineering and statistics are a few of the most closely related disciplines, as employers are likely to look first for quantitative analysis and precision calculation abilities. Some employers may prefer candidates with master's degrees, particularly at larger firms where the data involved in individual problems may be especially dense or complex, and some positions, particularly at government agencies, may require a background check.

Electrician Jobs for electricians are expected to grow about 14 percent nationally by 2024, but the numbers put out by the California EDD suggest that statewide growth will far outstrip that figure. Current projections show that the field is poised to see a 32.5 percent increase in employment in the next statistical period -- more than double the nationwide expected growth. Electrician salaries in California also left the national average in the dust, with the 2015 mean annual statewide wage of $66,950 sitting comfortably at about $11,000 more than the national average for the same year. Electricians may once have been taught and trained primarily by the master-apprentice model, and such an arrangement may still be available in some parts of the state, but most modern electricians learn their skills through a degree or certificate program at a technical school, community college or career academy. The length of an electrician training program depends on the institution where it's offered, although in some apprenticeship-style programs it may take as many as four or five years to fully complete your training. California also requires its electricians to pass the National Electrical Code (NEC) exam to become certified.

Featured schools in California

It can be a daunting task to pinpoint the right choice for you out of the hundreds of campus-based and online schools and colleges in California, but chances are good that numerous schools around the state offer a degree program in the subject you want to learn. Here are a few of the highest-rated programs available at top California schools:

Campus-based and online programs in California
Institution name
Online degrees?
Top programs
University of Southern California Yes Computer science (on campus and online), engineering (on campus and online), physical therapy, public affairs, law, clinical psychology, English, chemistry, health care management, fine arts, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physician assisting, social work
Stanford University No Graduate education, business, engineering, law, medical research, biological sciences, chemistry, physics, computer science, earth sciences, economics, English, history, math, statistics, fine arts, political science, psychology, sociology
University of California, Los Angeles Yes Engineering (on campus and online), primary care medicine, medical research, clinical psychology, graduate nursing, chemistry, computer science, fine arts, history, math, social work, public affairs, earth sciences, economics, library and information studies
University of California, Berkeley No Computer science, engineering, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, graduate education, business, law, political science, history, English, biological sciences, economics, math, physics, public affairs, social work, sociology, public health, statistics
California State University, Long Beach Yes Health care management, public administration (on campus and online), social work, fine arts, physical therapy, public affairs, speech-language pathology
University of San Diego Yes Graduate nursing, doctoral nursing, graduate business (on campus and online), law, part-time MBA, graduate education (on campus and online), undergraduate engineering


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