Cheapest Online Colleges in California

EDsmart presents a curated list of seventeen noteworthy colleges and universities, each renowned for their combination of reasonable tuition fees and prime locations.

From the bustling streets of Los Angeles to the serene landscapes of the Monterey Peninsula, these schools offer diverse settings for every student.

Read on to discover how each institution ranks in terms of cost, graduation rates, retention rates, and median earnings, helping you make an informed decision for your academic future.

Popular Online Programs in California

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Key Takeaways

  • Affordable education is available in both urban and scenic settings in California.
  • Notable low-cost options include California State University-San Bernardino and San Diego State University.
  • University of California-Davis and San Jose State University provide opportunities in regions like Silicon Valley.
  • Private institutions like William Jessup University combine affordability with a community-focused environment.

Ranking Methodology

Our ranking methodology for this list of top California schools was meticulously crafted to ensure a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation.

Our tean considered a range of key factors, including average net price, graduation rate, retention rate, and median earnings of graduates.

These metrics were chosen to provide a holistic view of each institution, focusing on affordability, academic quality, and student success post-graduation.

The data was sourced from reputable educational databases and government resources to ensure accuracy and reliability in our rankings.

17 Most Affordable Online Colleges in California

1. California State University-San Bernardino

  • Average Net Price: $2,232
  • Graduation Rate: 70.21%
  • Retention Rate: 81.82%
  • Median Earnings: $55,258

California State University-San Bernardino offers a variety of online programs and degrees.

  • They have online graduate programs in several areas, including:
    • Business Administration (MBA)
    • Accountancy (MS)
    • Criminal Justice (MA)
    • Cybersecurity and Analytics (MS)
    • Education (MA)
    • Public Administration (MPA) Full list
  • You can also find online programs through Cal State Online, which offers degrees from the entire CSU system. This includes programs in:
    • Applied, Liberal, and Interdisciplinary Studies
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Health Professions and Health Sciences
    • Hospitality, Public and Recreation Administration More info

2. California State University-Dominguez Hills

  • Average Net Price: $3,724
  • Graduation Rate: 65.09%
  • Retention Rate: 74.48%
  • Median Earnings: $49,934

California State University-Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) offers online programs and degrees through its College of Continuing & Professional Education (CCPE).

3. California State University-Fullerton

  • Average Net Price: $4,211
  • Graduation Rate: 77.64%
  • Retention Rate: 87.83%
  • Median Earnings: $58,585

California State University-Fullerton offers a variety of online programs and degrees.

  • Online Degree Completion Programs: CSUF offers online programs to complete your bachelor's degree in Business Administration, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Sociology. You can find more information here: CSUF Online Bachelor's Degree Completion Programs
  • Other Online Programs: CSUF Extension and International Programs offers a variety of online certificate programs, educator courses and programs, online training and courses. There are also programs in leadership development and community engagement. You can explore more here: CSUF Online Programs
  • College of Education Online Programs: The College of Education offers online programs for educators, including a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction, Master of Science in Educational Technology, and Master of Science in Education. More details can be found here: CSUF College of Education Online Programs

4. California State University-Monterey Bay

  • Average Net Price: $5,553
  • Graduation Rate: 71.33%
  • Retention Rate: 81.28%
  • Median Earnings: $54,470

While California State University-Monterey Bay (CSUMB) does not offer a comprehensive online program, they do have some online courses and programs.

  • CSU Monterey Bay website: Mentions that some of their programs are delivered fully online, while others are hybrid with a mix of online and in-person classes. They also have credential and master's programs that use a cohort model for a more collaborative learning experience. https://csumb.edu/teach/
  • Cal State Online: This is the gateway for all online degrees, certificates, and classes offered by the California State University system, including CSUMB. You can search for programs by area of study or filter by "Online Degrees Only". https://online.calstate.edu/Programs

Here are some additional resources that might be helpful:

5. San Diego State University

  • Average Net Price: $6,488
  • Graduation Rate: 79.43%
  • Retention Rate: 89.45%
  • Median Earnings: $61,522

San Diego State University offers a variety of online programs and degrees through its SDSU Global Campus.

  • Types of Online Programs:
    • Degree Completion Programs: These are for-credit programs designed to help you finish your bachelor's degree or pursue a graduate degree. They are offered in various fields like business, criminal justice, public health, and computer engineering.
    • Career Training Programs: These are non-credit certificate programs that provide job-specific skills in areas like construction project management, business of craft beer, and speech-language pathology essentials.
    • Open University: This allows you to enroll in undergraduate and graduate SDSU classes on a space-available basis, without formally applying to the university. This is a good option for personal enrichment or exploring new topics.
  • Key Features:
    • Taught by Experts: Courses are delivered by industry professionals and SDSU faculty members.
    • Flexibility: SDSU online programs are designed to be convenient, with 8-week course blocks and part-time options available.
    • Technology Requirements: Specific computer specifications are provided in advance to ensure compatibility. Some courses even offer free demos.

Here are some helpful links to learn more:

6. California State University-Bakersfield

  • Average Net Price: $6,821
  • Graduation Rate: 57.96%
  • Retention Rate: 79.06%
  • Median Earnings: $55,530

California State University-Bakersfield (CSUB) offers online programs through two main channels:

  • CSU Fully Online: This program allows CSU students to take online courses at other CSU campuses alongside their coursework at their home campus. You can find more details on the CSU Bakersfield website: CSU Fully Online
  • Cal State Online: This is the CSU system-wide online platform offering bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from various CSU campuses. While CSUB might not offer the specific program you're looking for, Cal State Online has a wide range of options. You can explore them here: Cal State Online Degree Programs

Here are some additional resources that might be helpful:

7. California State University-Northridge

  • Average Net Price: $7,944
  • Graduation Rate: 69.57%
  • Retention Rate: 82.74%
  • Median Earnings: $56,375


California State University-Northridge offers various online programs and degrees.

  • Over 20 years of experience in online learning: CSUN is one of the leading providers of online education, with a proven track record of delivering high-quality courses and programs.
  • Variety of degree and certificate options: You can find online programs at both the bachelor's and master's levels, along with certificate programs. Some popular areas include:
    • Business and Economics
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Health Professions
    • Public Administration
    • Humanities
  • Designed for flexibility: Online courses typically feature live class sessions, on-demand materials, and opportunities to network with classmates, allowing you to fit your studies into your busy schedule.
  • International students welcome: CSUN welcomes international students to participate in their online programs. No visa is required specifically for online study.

8. California State University-Long Beach

  • Average Net Price: $8,338
  • Graduation Rate: 80.65%
  • Retention Rate: 88.12%
  • Median Earnings: $60,973

California State University-Long Beach offers a variety of online programs and degrees. Here are some resources to get you started:

  • The CSULB website has a page dedicated to their degree programs: CSULB Degree Programs Here, you can find information on specific programs like the Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administration, and more.
  • CSU Fully Online program allows eligible CSULB students to enroll in online courses offered by other CSU campuses. This can be helpful to fulfill graduation requirements: CSU Fully Online for CSULB Students
  • Cal State Online is the CSU system-wide resource for online programs. You can find information on bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees offered across the CSU: Cal State Online Degree Programs

9. California State University-East Bay

  • Average Net Price: $11,327
  • Graduation Rate: 67.45%
  • Retention Rate: 79.08%
  • Median Earnings: $64,188

California State University-East Bay offers a variety of online programs and degrees designed for working adults seeking a flexible and affordable education.

Key Points:

  • Focus: Cal State East Bay's online campus caters to busy adult learners, offering online and hybrid programs.
  • Format: Programs typically consist of online coursework with some potential for on-campus requirements.
  • Benefits: Flexibility, affordability, and quality education are emphasized.

Examples of Online Programs:

  • Bachelor's Degrees:
    • Business Administration
    • Health Care Administration
    • Liberal Studies
    • Social Work
  • Master's Degrees:
    • Business Administration (MBA)
    • Public Administration (MPA)
    • Health Administration (MHA)
    • Education (MA)

Where to Find More:

  • Cal State East Bay Online Campus:https://www.csueastbay.edu/online/
    • This website provides a comprehensive overview of online programs, including details on specific degrees, application processes, and support services.

10. Fresno Pacific University

  • Average Net Price: $11,531
  • Graduation Rate: 66.75%
  • Retention Rate: 71.43%
  • Median Earnings: $55,044

Fresno Pacific University offers a variety of online degree completion and graduate programs. Here's what you should know:

  • Types of Online Programs:
    • Degree Completion Programs: These are designed for adults who have some college credit but haven't finished their bachelor's degree.
    • Graduate Programs: These are Master's level programs in various fields.
  • Focus on Affordability and Flexibility: FPU aims to make online education accessible with:
    • Lower tuition costs compared to traditional programs.
    • Financial aid options.
    • The ability to take courses from anywhere, at your own pace.
  • Examples of Online Programs:
    • Business Administration: Business Management, Emergency Management, Healthcare Administration, Project Management, etc.
    • Education: M.A. in Mathematics Education, School Psychology, School Counseling, etc.
    • Other Fields: Criminology, Early Childhood Development, Liberal Arts, Psychology, Social Work, and more.

Here are some helpful links to explore further:

It's important to note that this is not an exhaustive list. The university offers over 20 online programs, so you can find more details and specific program information on their website.

11. California State University-Chico

  • Average Net Price: $13,384
  • Graduation Rate: 74.36%
  • Retention Rate: 82.27%
  • Median Earnings: $61,010

California State University-Chico does offer online programs and degrees.

  • Online Undergraduate Degrees: Chico State offers online bachelor's degrees designed for transfer students or returning adults. You can potentially finish your bachelor's in as little as 2 years. Some examples include:
    • BS in Business Administration
    • BA in Social Science (Multidisciplinary Studies Option)
    • BA in Social Science (Specialization Studies Option)
    • BA in Religious Studies
    • BS in Nursing for Registered Nurses (RN-BSN)
  • Other Online Programs: Chico State also offers online programs through its Extended and International Education. These include:
    • Online MS in Computer Science
    • Online certificate programs in various fields
    • Career training programs in areas like graphic design, web design, programming, and business skills.

Here are some links to get you started:

12. San Jose State University

  • Average Net Price: $13,874
  • Graduation Rate: 74.66%
  • Retention Rate: 87.25%
  • Median Earnings: $72,635

San Jose State University (SJSU) offers a variety of online programs and degrees.

Types of Online Programs: 

  • Bachelor's Degrees: SJSU offers several fully online bachelor's degree programs. These are designed for students who want to complete their entire degree online, with no requirement to come to campus. Some examples include:
    • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
    • Bachelor of Science in Public Health
    • Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology
    • Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Data Analytics
  • Online Courses: SJSU also offers a wider range of online courses that can be taken individually, not necessarily as part of a full online degree program. These courses cover various subjects across different disciplines. You can find them through SJSU's Extended Education program or through Ed2Go, a partner platform.
    • Here are some categories of online courses offered:
      • Business
      • Computer Science
      • Information Technology
      • Health and Fitness
      • Teacher Professional Development

Examples of Online Degrees: 

Here are a few specific online bachelor's degrees offered by SJSU:

  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration: This program provides a strong foundation in business fundamentals, with a focus on areas like marketing, finance, and management.
  • Bachelor of Science in Public Health: This program prepares students for careers in public health fields like health promotion, disease prevention, and community health.
  • Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology: This program delves into the study of human cultures and societies, equipping students with critical thinking and research skills.

Where to Find More: 

13. University of California-Davis

  • Average Net Price: $14,920
  • Graduation Rate: 88.88%
  • Retention Rate: 92.02%
  • Median Earnings: $74,305

The University of California, Davis offers a variety of online programs and degrees through different platforms.

  • Online Courses:
    • UC Davis partners with online learning platforms like Coursera and edX to offer free online courses and specializations in various subjects. These include:
      • Data Science and Business
      • Social Sciences and Humanities
      • Computer Science
      • GIS and Mapping
      • Health and Medicine
      • Many more
      Here are some specific examples: * Beer Quality Specialization (Coursera) * Coaching Skills for Managers Specialization (Coursera) * Data Visualization with Tableau Specialization (Coursera) * Learn Spanish: Basic Spanish Vocabulary Specialization (Coursera) * Computational Social Science Methods (edX)
    • You can find more UC Davis online courses on these platforms:
  • Online Degree Programs:
    • UC Davis offers online graduate degrees through 2U. These are full-fledged programs designed for working professionals. Some examples include:
      • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
      • Master of Science in Business Analytics
      • Master of Science in Food Science
    • You can find more information on the 2U website: https://2ucd.onlinemba.ucdavis.edu/

14. Hope International University

  • Average Net Price: $18,248
  • Graduation Rate: 46.30%
  • Retention Rate: 76.38%
  • Median Earnings: $43,659

Hope International University offers a variety of online programs and degrees. Here are some examples:

  • Undergraduate Degrees: 
    • Associate of Arts (A.A.)
    • B.A. in Criminal Justice
    • B.A. Liberal Studies: Teacher Preparation
    • B.A. in Business Administration
    • B.A. in Christian Ministry
    • B.A. in Psychology
  • They also offer B.Sc. degrees in Business Administration, Human Development, and Christian Ministry.

For more information, you can visit their website:

15. Vanguard University of Southern California

  • Average Net Price: $20,181
  • Graduation Rate: 65.45%
  • Retention Rate: 74.90%
  • Median Earnings: $53,394


Vanguard University of Southern California does offer online programs and degrees. Here's what you should know:

  • Variety of Online Options: Vanguard offers online programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as professional studies certificates.
  • Subject Areas: Their online programs span a wide range of subjects, including:
    • Business and Communication (e.g. Business Administration)
    • Science (e.g. Biology, Chemistry)
    • Humanities and the Arts (e.g. Communication, English)
    • Social and Behavioral Sciences (e.g. Clinical Psychology)
    • Theology and Ministry
    • You can find a full list here: Vanguard University Academic Programs
  • Examples of Online Degrees: Here are a few specific online degree examples:
    • Online Master's in Clinical Psychology
    • Online Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration
    • Anti Human Trafficking Certificate

Key Points about Vanguard's Online Programs: 

  • Christ-centered: The university has a Christian foundation, which is integrated into the curriculum.
  • Student Support: They provide dedicated online student support services, including academic advising, counseling, and career development.
  • Engagement Opportunities: Vanguard fosters virtual student engagement through online groups, mentorship programs, and interaction with faculty.

It's recommended to visit the Vanguard University website to explore the full range of online programs they offer and their specific details: Vanguard University Online Learning

16. Touro University

  • Average Net Price: $22,550
  • Graduation Rate: 55.12%
  • Retention Rate: 88.64%
  • Median Earnings: $47,806

Touro University does offer a variety of online programs and degrees.

  • Variety of Fields:Touro University Worldwide (TUW) boasts over 40 online programs in a diverse range of fields, including education, health sciences, technology, and law.
  • Examples of Online Degrees:There are Master's level degrees available online, such as:
    • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
    • Master of Science in Information Technology
    • Master of Arts in Education
  • Other Online Options:  Besides full degrees, they have online programs for certifications like:
    • Bilingual Education and Services
    • Gifted and Talented Education
    • Teaching Students with Autism & Disabilities
  • Resources:

17. William Jessup University

  • Average Net Price: $27,799
  • Graduation Rate: 66.35%
  • Retention Rate: 65.54%
  • Median Earnings: $52,890

William Jessup University offers a variety of online programs and degrees, including both undergraduate and graduate levels. Here's what you should know:

Key features of Jessup's online programs:

  • Flexible format: Designed for busy adults, with accelerated programs that can be completed in just seven weeks and multiple start dates throughout the year.
  • Faith-based environment: Integrates Christian values into the curriculum.
  • Personalized support: Provides guidance from professors and access to academic resources.
  • Multiple program options: Offers a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs.

Examples of online programs offered:

  • Undergraduate:
    • Business Administration (Minor, Bachelor of Science)
    • Computer Science (Minor, Bachelor of Science)
    • Criminal Justice (Bachelor of Science)
    • Leadership (Bachelor of Arts)
    • Psychology (Bachelor of Arts)
  • Graduate:
    • Master of Arts in Education
    • Master of Arts in Leadership
    • Master of Business Administration
    • Executive Coaching (Graduate Certificate)
    • Ministry (Graduate Certificate)

Where to find more details:

Popular Online Programs in California

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Insights and Analysis of Affordable Online California Colleges

Our comprehensive analysis of the listed California universities reveals several key insights, particularly regarding their affordability, location, and the impact these factors have on the overall educational experience.

1. Affordability as a Key Factor:

  • Highlighting Cost-Efficiency: The most striking feature across these institutions is their commitment to affordability. Schools like California State University-San Bernardino and California State University-Dominguez Hills demonstrate that quality education can be accessible without exorbitant tuition fees.
  • Private vs Public Institutions: There is a noticeable difference in tuition costs between public universities (like the California State University branches) and private institutions (such as Hope International University and Vanguard University). This distinction underlines the role of state funding in keeping education affordable.

2. Location and Its Implications:

  • Urban vs Suburban Settings: Institutions in urban areas (e.g., San Jose State University in Silicon Valley) offer students extensive networking opportunities and proximity to industries, which can be beneficial for internships and employment. In contrast, universities in suburban or rural areas (like California State University-Chico) provide a more tranquil learning environment and a close-knit community experience.
  • Cultural and Recreational Opportunities: The location of these universities in diverse settings like coastal areas, metropolitan cities, and agricultural heartlands of California provides students with rich cultural and recreational experiences. This diversity enriches the student life and learning experience outside the classroom.

3. Academic Opportunities and Industry Connections:

  • Specializations and Research Opportunities: Universities like University of California-Davis are known for specific academic strengths (e.g., environmental sciences and veterinary medicine), offering students specialized education and research opportunities.
  • Industry Connections in Urban Centers: Institutions in or near major urban centers like Los Angeles and San Francisco offer students the advantage of industry connections, particularly in sectors like technology, entertainment, and business.

4. Student Diversity and Inclusivity:

  • Diverse Student Body: The diversity of the student body in these institutions, especially in urban universities, contributes to a rich cultural exchange and a more inclusive educational environment.
  • Support for International and Minority Students: Many of these universities have robust programs to support international and minority students, reflecting California's commitment to inclusivity in higher education.

5. Impact of Location on Career Prospects:

  • Geographical Advantage for Career Opportunities: Students at universities in or near industrial hubs like Silicon Valley (San Jose State University) or the Los Angeles metropolitan area have a geographical advantage in terms of career opportunities in high-demand industries.

6. Balancing Cost and Opportunity:

  • Strategic Decision Making: Students and families must balance the cost of education with the opportunities provided by the location and the academic strengths of the institution. For instance, a slightly higher investment in universities with prime locations might yield better internship and employment opportunities.

These universities offer a range of options catering to different preferences and needs. While affordability remains a key attraction, the location and specific strengths of each institution play a crucial role in shaping the educational experience and future career paths of their students. This diversity ensures that California's higher education landscape can cater to a wide spectrum of aspirations and backgrounds.

Popular Online Programs in California

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

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