Top 10 Best Online Colleges in California

Home of the University of California and California State University systems – two of the nation’s most prestigious public university systems – as well as some of the most elite private universities in the world, such as Stanford, USC, and the University of San Francisco, California’s higher education is an embarrassment of riches.

California’s competitive job market and growing economy has led thousands of working professionals and other adult students back to school to improve their credentials, learn new skills, and increase their job market value. As the home of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and the American wine industry, California’s options are many and diverse, but its huge population means breaking in and advancing is tough in just about any field.


Adult students by and large find online degree programs to be the most convenient and flexible option, allowing them to plan their schoolwork around their work schedules, as well as find time for family needs and other responsibilities. However, many online educators are happy to take their students’ money and provide little or no real education or opportunity.

Value Colleges has ranked the top ten online colleges in California to guide students to regionally-accredited, highly respected, and market-proven values. All of the schools on the Value Colleges list provide students with a reliable balance between cost, quality, and value, as well as the promise of a strong return on investment. All prices are the lowest in-state tuition rate available; the cost of specialized programs may vary.


California State University System

One of the largest and most respected public higher education systems in the US, the California State University system includes 23 campuses and educates nearly half a million students. With a student body made up of more than half members of minority groups, Cal State is one of the most diverse systems in the nation, more realistically representing the state and nation’s demographics than any peer. CSU educates many of California’s students, who are drawn by affordability and excellence.

Many of CSU’s students are served by Cal State Online, an online division that in many ways stands as an equal member institution to the system. Cal State Online helped develop online education from its earliest days, and CSU Online brings together programs from all of Cal State’s campuses to provide students across California with the best possible options. With a strong focus on professional, technical, and practical education, Cal State Online offers more than 100 fully online degree programs from a range of member institutions, so online students can obtain just about any degree they need.

Cost: $6,564 per year


National University

Founded in 1971 by David Chigos, a retired Naval lieutenant commander, National University’s mission from the very beginning involved military personnel, veterans, and working adults, providing continuing education in practical, highly in-demand fields for people returning to the civilian workforce or retraining for a new career. As a private, non-profit institution, National is regionally accredited and has been acclaimed for its diversity, value, and commitment to excellence.

With their emphasis on adult education, it’s no surprise that National would have a highly-developed online presence, with more than 80 fully online degree programs, including bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate programs. National’s online programs run the gamut from the humanities (Creative Writing and English, for example), to business administration and engineering technology. National’s strong reputation in California and across the west coast makes it a top online choice.

Cost: $12,744 per year


Brandman University

Brandman University, a large, multi-campus private system headquartered in Irvine, CA, specializes in professional education for non-traditional students. Founded in 1958, Brandman was originally an extension program for Chapman University dedicated to providing education for the personnel at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Today, Brandman is still affiliated with the Chapman system as a separate institution, and is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top online college and a top military-friendly institution.

Brandman’s iDEAL model (Design for Engaged Adult Learning) offers more than 80 degree programs, providing working professionals and non-traditional students with flexible, self-paced learning in a variety of market-ready programs. Brandman’s online offerings include dozens of business programs, both bachelor’s and master’s programs, in fields such as Accounting, Entrepreneurship, and Supply Chain Management; many education, nursing, and other programs offer a wide selection of opportunities for credentials and advancement.

Cost: $12,240 per year


University of Southern California

As the oldest private university in California, the University of Southern California has its roots deep in California history and played a major role in building Los Angeles into the world-class city it is today, educating many of California’s business and government leaders over a century and a half. Strong relationships with Pacific Rim businesses and the dynamic entrepreneurship of southern California have made USC one of the best universities in the world for professional education.

USC Online offers more than 40 fully online degree programs, including more than two dozen in their strongest areas, computing and engineering, from aerospace and biomedical engineering to software engineering. Numerous medical and healthcare degree programs and certificates are available online, as are USC’s highly-ranked MBA and other business degrees. USC’s reputation is stellar, in California, the US, and the world, making it one of the most secure choices possible for an educational investment.

Cost: $50,277 per year


Golden Gate University

Golden Gate University was founded in 1901 as a business school; like a number of professional institutions of the time, when colleges generally focused on liberal arts, GGU grew out of students meeting at a YMCA. GGU’s programs are still centered on law, business, accounting, and tax, with a strong reputation as one of the most respected institutions of its kind on the west coast.

GGU has offered online education since 1997, making it an early adopter of the form, and more than two dozen of their degree and certificate programs are available fully online. U.S. News & World Report has recognized GGU as one of the top 100 online educators in the nation. Online students can earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in any of GGU’s most sought-after fields, including finance, taxation, and management, at a surprisingly reasonable cost for an institution of its caliber.

Cost: $14,640 per year


California Baptist University

A mid-sized, private Christian institution, California Baptist University is recognized as one of the most successful and acclaimed colleges of its kind, having immense influence on the theology and policy of the Southern Baptist denomination and in evangelical Christianity in general. CBU is regionally accredited, and many of its individual programs are accredited by the standard agencies in their respective areas. CBU is especially recognized for its business and nursing programs.

One major part of extending CBU’s name and brand recognition has been their enthusiastic embracing of online degrees at CBU Online. Students can choose from more than 40 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, in a variety of fields, from Christian ministry and counseling to business administration and nursing. Their wide network of alumni and partners gives graduates a strong support system on the job marketing, making CBU a trusted choice for evangelical students.

Cost: $30,384 per year


Concordia University - Irvine

Part of the Lutheran Church’s Concordia University system, a collection of 10 colleges and universities, Concordia University Irvine was founded in 1976 to offer Christian education in a region lacking a strong Lutheran presence. CUI has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a top regional institution, and is widely seen as a fast-growing university on the rise, expanding in enrollment and influence in the region.

Much of CUI’s name recognition comes from its highly-regarded online degree programs, a major area of emphasis for the Concordia system that has made the Concordia brand a nationally-known quantity. Concordia’s online programs include real-time interactions to build networks and community, along with the convenience of online coursework. Many of Concordia’s most trusted programs are available fully online, including nursing, education, and leadership, all with the reputation of a rising star.

Cost: $31,690 per year


Azusa Pacific University

The second-largest evangelical Christian university (after Virginia powerhouse Liberty University), Azusa Pacific University has made its name known nation-wide through its commitment to accessible education. APU was formed through a unique collaboration between Quaker and Methodist educators, and today retains affiliation with the Wesleyan-Holiness denomination, though APU is technically non-denominational. APU encourages a diverse and religiously faithful student body.

Like other private Christian colleges, Azusa Pacific has extended its message and reputation through many strong online degree programs. With more than 30 degree and certificate programs, APU provides students with the opportunity to earn their credentials in a number of APU’s strongest fields, especially business, education, and healthcare, with both master’s and bachelor’s programs. Whether traditional or non-traditional students, APU’s online degree programs are a trusted value.

Cost: $34,754 per year


Fresno Pacific University

Founded in 1944 as a Mennonite seminary, Fresno Pacific University has developed into a small, regionally-accredited university with a strong commitment to leadership and service to the community and the church. FPU is recognized as one of the most respected small liberal arts universities in the region, with an exceptionally high four-year graduation rate and strong student support network.

Fresno Pacific offers several bachelor’s degree-completion programs (designed for students who have already earned an associate’s degree or equivalent) and fully-online master’s degree programs, as well as online seminary degrees. FPU’s offerings are diverse, including education, sports and health, and leadership. With a manageable tuition rate and excellent job market prospects, Fresno Pacific is a top online educator.

Cost: $27,954 per year


University of San Francisco

A private Catholic institution, the University of San Francisco has been a central part of the life and identity of San Francisco since its founding in 1855, due to its dedication to and partnership with the city. USF’s combination of Jesuit rigor and educational excellence, combined with a strong connection to the community, government, and industry of San Francisco, has made it one of the most respected names on the west coast and one of the strongest choices for career opportunity.

As part of its commitment to the people of San Francisco and to the business and public sectors, USF offers many online graduate degree programs designed especially for working professionals to increase their credentials in a convenient way. Master’s programs include Public Health, Public Administration, Healthcare, and Nursing, preparing students for careers of service and growth. The USF reputation makes their online degree a perfect entry point or career boost.

Cost: $42,634 per year