Top 20 Best Online Colleges in California

Best online colleges in CaliforniaContinuing our series of best online college by state rankings, we have examined all online colleges in California and chosen to showcase the top 20 schools, based on the methodology stated below.

We have researched each of the California colleges that offer online academic programs to distance learning students. We have created this Top 20 college ranking because there are various reasons why a student might want to enroll into a school in a particular state. One such reason is the student might live in that state and might want to participate in various on-campus school activities or events, but still wish to have the flexibility that an online college program offers.

Methodology

We have ranked the schools that are located in California and which offer online programs to distance learning students based on the following criteria:

  • 50%: Freshmen Retention Rate and;
  • 50%: Graduation Rate

We used these two rates because they are the best indicator of how well a school performs overall. Ties between schools were broken based on the alphabetical ordering of each school that is tied. To find these two rates for the schools that we ranked we used each respective school’s website whenever possible and if the information for our ranking criteria was unavailable we utilized U.S. News and World Report‘s database.

We also referenced our own ranking of the top 100 best online colleges when ranking these colleges.

Top 20 Best Online Colleges in California

20: California Lutheran University

Cal Lutheran

California Lutheran University is a private, not-for-profit liberal arts and sciences university based in Thousand Oaks with additional locations throughout California. Cal Lutheran, which was established in 1959, is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and welcomes and serves students from a wide variety of faiths as a part of its Lutheran tradition. The student-faculty ratio is approximately 10:1, with roughly 4,000 enrolled students being taught by more than 400 faculty members. In addition to the university’s excellent student-faculty ratio, Cal Lutheran was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the 16th best Regional University in the West in 2016. The university operates the Kwan Fong Gallery of Art and Culture, the William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art and the Barbara Collins Arboretum. Cal Lutheran is also separated into five different academic divisions, through which the university offers undergraduate degree programs that include 36 majors and 36 minors to choose from as well as many graduate programs and a selection of professional academic programs.

School’s Website https://www.callutheran.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 84.0%
Graduation Rate: 60.0%
Final Score: 144.0/200

19: Biola University

Biola

Biola University is a private, not-for-profit and Evangelical Christian-affiliated university which is located approximately 16-miles from downtown Los Angeles in the town of La Mirada, California. Biola University was originally established in 1908 as the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles (BIOLA) by Lyman Stewart, Thomas C. Horton, and Augustus B. Prichard. Biola University is organized into six schools: the Crowell School of Business, the Rosemead School of Psychology, the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, the Cook School of Intercultural Studies and the Talbot School of Theology. Through these, the university offers students a selection of undergraduate degree programs, graduate degree programs, and professional certification programs. The undergraduate programs are comprised of 40 majors with 80 concentrations and 145 professional areas-of-study. A variety of these academic programs are available online, such as their Bachelor’s in Applied Psychology program and their Master’s in Teaching – Special Education program.

School’s Website https://www.biola.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 86.0%
Graduation Rate: 54.0%
Final Score: 140.0/200

18: California State University, Fullerton

CSUF

California State University, Fullerton, which is commonly referred to simply as CSUF, is a public research university which is located in Fullerton, California. CSUF was originally established in 1957 and is a part of the California State University System; of which it is the second-largest campus based on student enrollment size (with more than 39,000 enrolled students). The university is designated by the United States Department of Education as being a Hispanic Serving Institute (HSI) and as being an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI), and CSUF is the top provider of Bachelor’s degrees to Hispanic students in the state and the fifth-highest in the nation. CSUF is organized into eight colleges and operates a satellite campus in Irvine, California. Additionally, CSUF is the only college in the state of California that offers to students a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in School Nursing degree program. CSUF is also the first campus in the state to have a LEED Platinum student housing complex.

School’s Website http://www.fullerton.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 89.0%
Graduation Rate: 54.7%
Final Score: 143.7/200

17: Whittier College

Whittier

Whittier College is a private, not-for-profit liberal arts university which is located in Whittier, California. Whittier was originally established in 1887 by members of the Religious Society of Friends and was historically a Quaker-affiliated school, although it is a nonsectarian school today. Approximately one-third of Whittier’s student body identifies as being Hispanic, and a quarter of the school’s academic faculty identify as being a minority. Whittier operates a satellite law school–the Whittier Law School–in Costa Mesa, California, and the law school has been accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) since 1978 and also has been a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) ever since 1987. Whittier has also produced many notable alumni, the most famous of which is 37th President of the United States Richard Nixon. Other alumni include Albert R. Behnke (a United States Navy physician who established the U.S. Naval Medical Research Institute) and Zilpha Keatley Snyder (a Newbery Award-winning author who is best known for writing The Egypt Game) among others.

School’s Website http://www.whittier.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 84.0%
Graduation Rate: 60.0%
Final Score: 144.0/200

16: University of San Francisco

USF

The University of San Francisco (commonly referred to as USF) is a private, not-for-profit and Jesuit-affiliated research university which is located in San Francisco, California. The University of San Francisco was originally established in 1855 by Jesuits as the St. Ignatius Academy. USF is notable for its extensive global education programs offered through their Center for Global Education department. USF has more than 40 institutional partnerships with other universities throughout the world, including ones located in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Chile, China, El Salvador, England, Finland, France, and Germany among others. According to a survey conducted in 2012, 90.7 percent of students felt that the study abroad experience gave them the skills needed to work and study effectively “in a multicultural world.” USF is also home to numerous student-ran organizations and has a robust Greek Life presence, with both sororities and fraternities having a presence on-campus. USF offers various undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees and professional certification programs, many of which are available online to distance learning students.

School’s Website https://www.usfca.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 86.0%
Graduation Rate: 60.0%
Final Score: 146.0/200

15: Point Loma Nazarene University

PLNU

Commonly referred to as PLNU, Point Loma Nazarene University is a private, not-for-profit and Christian-affiliated liberal arts university which is located in San Diego, California. PLNU was originally established in 1902 as a Bible College by the Church of the Nazarene. Point Loma Nazarene University offers to its students more than 60 areas-of-study spanning across numerous undergraduate degree-granting programs, graduate degree-granting programs, and professional certification-granting programs. The degree program that PLNU offers online to its distance learning students is their Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree program, which is fully asynchronous and highly flexible. In addition to the university’s regular academic programs PLNU also offers study abroad programs and honors programs for qualifying students. PLNU has many ministry opportunities for students to participate in as well, such as chapel, community and discipleship ministries, international and worship ministries among others.

School’s Website http://www.pointloma.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 84.0%
Graduation Rate: 63.0%
Final Score: 147.0/200

14: St. Mary’s College of California

St Mary's

St. Mary’s College of California is a private, not-for-profit and Roman Catholic-affiliated college which is located in Moraga, California and which was initially founded in 1863. St. Mary’s College originally began as a diocesan college for boys and was established by the Most Reverend Joseph Alemany, who was a member of the Order of Preachers and who was the first archbishop of San Francisco. Today, St. Mary’s is organized into four schools (the School of Liberal Arts, the School of Science, the School of Economics and Business Administration and the Kalmanovitz School of Education) through which they serve their student body which exceeds 4,000 students in size. St. Mary’s uses something called an Integral Program to teach students; this Integral Program acts as a “college-within-a-college” and is different from a traditional Major. The Integral Program is a complete four-year Great Books course of study, covering all mathematics, science, religious and language requirements and the classes are taught in a Seminar style.

School’s Website https://www.stmarys-ca.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 89.0%
Graduation Rate: 63.0%
Final Score: 152.0/200

13: University of California, Davis

UC Davis

The University of California, Davis, which is commonly referred to as UC Davis or simply as UCD, is a public land-grant and space-grant research university which is located in Davis, California, and which is a member of the University of California System of schools. UC Davis is what is known as a “Public Ivy” school. With more than 36,000 enrolled students, UC Davis has the third-largest campus based on student enrollment size in the University of California system; only being beaten out by the University of California–Berkeley (38,000 students) and the University of California–Los Angeles (45,000 students) respectively. The Carnegie Foundation classifies UC Davis as a Doctoral Research University with a Very High Research Activity rating. UC Davis’s undergraduate departments are organized into four colleges: the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, the UC Davis College of Engineering and the UC Davis College of Letters and Science. The university also has a number of graduate colleges that it is organized into. One such graduate department, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, is the largest of its kind in the United States and has been ranked as being the best of its kind in the nation for two consecutive years in 2015 and in 2016 by U.S. News and World Report. The same publication also named UC Davis as being tied for 10th place as the best public university in the nation in 2017.

School’s Website https://www.ucdavis.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 93.0%
Graduation Rate: 59.0%
Final Score: 152.0/200

12: University of California, San Diego

UCSD

The University of California, San Diego is a public sea-grant and space-grant research university which is located in San Diego, California. UC San Diego, as the university is commonly referred to, was originally established in 1960 as the University of California, La Jolla. UC San Diego is a member of the University of California System and is the seventh-oldest member out of the ten system member institutions. UC San Diego is organized into six undergraduate colleges, three graduate schools, and two professional medical schools. Through these colleges and schools, the university offers to its 33,000 plus students more than 200 academic programs to choose from, including their career-broadening Biostatistics certification program. UC San Diego is also home to Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which is one of the first centers dedicated to oceanic, earth and atmospheric science research and education and the university is also home to UC San Diego Health, which is the regionís only academic health system.

School’s Website https://ucsd.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 95.0%
Graduation Rate: 58.0%
Final Score: 153.0/200

11: University of San Diego

USD

The University of San Diego was originally established in 1949 as the San Diego College for Women by the Reverend Charles F. Buddy (the then-bishop of the Diocese of San Diego) and Reverend Mother Rosalie Hill (a Superior Vicaress of the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) using money and resources drawn from their respective organizations. The University of San Diego today is a private, not-for-profit Roman Catholic-affiliated university which is located in San Diego, California. It is affiliated with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration (CONAHEC). The university comprises seven different academic colleges, through which more than 42 Bachelor’s degrees and a number of graduate degrees are offered to the approximately 8,000 attending students. Many of these academic programs, including several professional certification programs, are also available in an online and asynchronous format for distance learning students to choose from, allowing a sizeable amount of flexibility in obtaining an education from a religious-centric educational institution.

School’s Website http://www.sandiego.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 89.0%
Graduation Rate: 66.0%
Final Score: 155.0/200

10: Loyola Marymount University

LMU

Loyola Marymount University is a private, not-for-profit and Roman Catholic- and Jesuit-affiliated coeducational university which is located in the neighborhood of Westchester in the city of Los Angeles, California. LMU, as the university is commonly known as, was originally established in 1911 as the Los Angeles College. The university has undergone a number of name changes over the years. It was renamed to St. Vincent’s College in 1911, to Loyola College of Los Angeles in 1918, to Loyola University of Los Angeles in 1930, to Marymount Junior College in 1932 and Marymount College in 1948 before finally being renamed to its current name in 1973. These name changes reflect how the university has evolved over the past 100 plus years since its establishment. Today, Loyola Marymount University is one of the largest Roman Catholic universities located on the West Coast based on student enrollment size; with numbers exceeding 9,000 students in total. LMU is committed to being a leader in sustainability; the university has a solar electric rooftop array which is used to generate 868,000-kilowatt hours of electricity annually; providing 6% of the yearly electricity needs of the campus. Additionally, LMU ensures that all new construction projects on-campus meet or exceed the requirements of LEED Silver certification standards.

School’s Website http://www.lmu.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 90.0%
Graduation Rate: 70.0%
Final Score: 160.0/200

9: University of California, Santa Barbara

UCSB

The University of California, Santa Barbara, which is commonly referred to as UC Santa Barbara or simply as UCSB, is a public space-grant research university which is located in Santa Barbara, California. UC Santa Barbara was originally established in 1891 as an independent teacher’s college, and the university joined the University of California System in 1944. UCSB is what is known as a “Public Ivy” university, which is to say that it is capable of offering academic programs that are on par with the Ivy League schools. Additionally, the Carnegie Foundation has classified UC Santa Barbara as being a Research University with a Very High Research Activity rating. The U.S. News and World Report name UC Santa Barbara as the 37th best public university among all national universities and as the 24th best among global universities in the publication’s 2016 rankings. UCSB operates twelve national research centers, and the school itself is organized into five schools and colleges, through which students are provided with a selection of 87 undergraduate degree-granting programs and 55 graduate degree-granting programs with a myriad of professional certification programs also being available.

School’s Website http://www.ucsb.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 92.0%
Graduation Rate: 70.0%
Final Score: 162.0/200

8: Pepperdine University

Pepperdine

Pepperdine University is a private, not-for-profit and Churches of Christ-affiliated research university which is located in Malibu, California. Pepperdine was originally established in the year of 1937 in Los Angeles as a Christian liberal arts college by Christian philanthropist and humanitarian George Pepperdine during the height of the Great Depression. Pepperdine moved from its location in Los Angeles to Malibu in 1971 (the same year that the school obtained university status) and that location opened in 1972 upon the completion of construction. Pepperdine’s five graduate campuses are located in various areas surrounding Malibu, including Encino, Irvine, Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Westlake Village. Arguably, the most notable graduate campus is the Frank R. Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, which is further organized into eight academic divisions and which has 40 majors and 37 minors available from which students can choose. One of the more nationally respected groups under the Frank R. Seaver College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences campus is the Religion Division which offers undergraduate and graduate academic programs in the areas relating to ministry. This sect administers a Center for Faith and Learning and an Office of Church Relations and which publishes the non-profit quarterly journal Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry. Additionally, Pepperdine also operates six international branch campuses, which are located in Heidelberg, Germany; London, England; Florence, Italy; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shanghai, China and in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

School’s Website https://www.pepperdine.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 93.0%
Graduation Rate: 76.0%
Final Score: 169.0/200

7: University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is a public land-grant research university and is the flagship campus of the University of California System. Additionally, the University of California, Berkeley (which is commonly referred to simply as UC Berkeley) is the oldest research university of the ten member institutions that comprise the University of California System, having been originally established in 1868. The university was originally called the University of California, and its creation resulted from the merger of the private College of California and the public Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College. UC Berkeley offers to its students (of which there are more than 38,000 enrolled) approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate degree-granting program–in addition to a myriad of professional certification programs–which combined span across a wide-range of various disciplines and interdisciplinary studies. Many of the university’s professional certification programs are also available online in an asynchronous format in order to cater to the university’s numerous distance learning students; two such certifications that are available is their Accounting certificate program and their Finance certification program.

School’s Website http://www.berkeley.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 97.0%
Graduation Rate: 73.0%
Final Score: 170.0/200

6: University of California, Los Angeles

UCLA

The University of California, Los Angeles, which is the second-largest campus in the University of California System based on student enrollment size, with an enrollment size that exceeds more than 45,000 students in total. The university, which is commonly referred to just as UCLA, is located in Los Angeles, California and was originally established in 1881 as the Southern Branch of the University of California. UCLA became a member institution of the University of California System in 1919, which makes it the second-oldest member, being beat by UC Berkeley, which was the system’s founding organization. UCLA has a selection of 337 undergraduate and graduate degree-granting programs, in addition to offering a plethora of professional certification programs. Many of these academic programs are available in an online and asynchronous format, allowing distance learning students to obtain a career-defining degree from a widely respected institution. These degree and certification programs are provided to students through UCLA’s six undergraduate colleges, seven professional schools, and four professional Health Science schools. Of the university’s undergraduate colleges, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science is one of the more well-known, having been ranked consistently as one of the top 10 schools in various rankings by multiple different reputable publications for the best public engineering schools in the United States.

School’s Website http://www.ucla.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 96.0%
Graduation Rate: 74.0%
Final Score: 170.0/200

5: Santa Clara University

SCU

Santa Clara University is a private, not-for-profit and Jesuit-affiliated research university which is located in Santa Clara, California and which was originally established in 1851 as the Santa Clara College. The school would later change its name to the University of Santa Clara in 1912–when it was granted the authority to bestow eligible students with graduate degrees–and again to its present-day name in 1984. SCU, which is what Santa Clara University is commonly referred to, is the oldest continuously operating institute of higher education located within the state of California. The university is organized into six professional schools. These are the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Education and Counseling Psychology, SCU Leavey School of Business, School of Engineering, Jesuit School of Theology and the School of Law through which a large selection of professional certification programs, Bachelor’s degrees, Master’s degrees and Doctoral degrees are offered to attending students. The university is recognized as being one of the top producers of Fulbright Scholars and has produced Rhodes Scholars in the past, which is a true testament to the quality education that Santa Clara’s dedicated and experienced faculty impart upon their students.

School’s Website https://www.scu.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 95.0%
Graduation Rate: 77.0%
Final Score: 172.0/200

4: Stanford University

Stanford

Stanford University is a private, not-for-profit and nonsectarian research university which is located in Stanford, California. Stanford was originally established in 1885 by Leland (a railroad tycoon, industrialist, and politician) and his wife Jane Stanford in memory of Leland Jr., their only child, who tragically died at the age of 15 the preceding year due to typhoid fever. Jane Stanford almost single-handedly funded and operated the university until the time of her death in 1905. Stanford University is organized into three academic schools and four professional schools, through which the university offers undergraduate degree-granting programs, graduate degree-granting programs and professional certification programs to the approximately 16,000 enrolled students. Many of the available certification programs are available online, such as their Advanced Computer Security certification program, their Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies certification program and their Innovation and Entrepreneurship certification program among others that distance learning students can enroll into in order to advance their careers.

School’s Website https://www.stanford.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 98.0%
Graduation Rate: 75.0%
Final Score: 173.0/200

3: University of Southern California

USC

The University of Southern California is a private, not-for-profit, sea-grant and space-grant research university which is located in Los Angeles, California. The University of Southern California–or USC, as it is commonly known as by most people–was originally established in 1880; which makes it the oldest private research university located within the state of California. USC is a nationally-recognized provider of higher education and is a highly reputable conductor of cutting-edge research. The Carnegie Foundation classifies USC as being a Research University with a Very High Research Activity rating, and the university has utilized the fact that it is located in a bustling Alpha Global City on the West Coast to cultivate research opportunities and partnerships with other institutions located in Asia and the Pacific Rim, further cementing the university’s place as a top researcher. USC is home to the strongest quantum computer in the world, was one of the earliest nodes on ARPANET and was the birthplace of DNA computing, the Domain Name System, Dynamic programming, image compression, VoIP and antivirus software among other groundbreaking achievements. Additionally, USC has received numerous accolades from various publications, such as having their Video Game Design program being ranked as the best in the nation out of 150 programs of its kind by The Princeton Review and USC’s School of Cinematic Arts was ranked as the best in the nation three years in a row by The Hollywood Reporter, for example.

School’s Website http://www.usc.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 97.0%
Graduation Rate: 77.0%
Final Score: 174.0/200

2: Pitzer College

Pitzer

Located in Claremont, California, Pitzer College is a private, not-for-profit liberal arts college. Pitzer College is a member of the Claremont Colleges. The Claremont Colleges is an academic consortium which consists of five conjoining undergraduate schools and two graduate schools and which are all located in Claremont. The consortium allows students that are attending one of the schools to enroll into any academic program that is offered at another of the schools, which provides a vast amount of flexibility. The other Claremont Colleges are Stanford University, Reed College, the University of Southern California and the University of California–Los Angeles and the member institutions are considered by many to be the West Coast’s Ivy League equivalents. Pitzer College was originally established in 1963 by Russell K. Pitzer (an orange grower and a philanthropist) and initially served as a women’s college. Today, Pitzer College is a coeducational college and is commonly highly ranked by various reputable publications, such as being ranked as 32nd best national liberal arts college overall by U.S. News and World Report in 2017 and was ranked as the 8th most selective college in the nation by the same publication in 2016, with an acceptance rate of 12.9%. The college’s low acceptance rate is a clear indicator that they are selective in an effort to ensure that the only students that enroll are those that are willing to work hard and are committed to obtaining a high-quality education.

School’s Website http://pitweb.pitzer.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 92.0%
Graduation Rate: 83.0%
Final Score: 175.0/200

1: California Institute of Technology

Caltech

The California Institute of Technology, which is commonly referred to simply as CalTech, is a private and not-for-profit Doctoral Research University with a Very High Research Activity rating, according to the Carnegie Foundation. CalTech is located in Pasadena, California and was originally established in 1891 by businessman and politician Amos Gager Throop with the initial intention of acting as a preparatory and vocational school. Today, CalTech is a nationally recognized researcher and as a provider of high-quality academic programs. The institution is organized into six academic divisions, with each placing great emphasis on the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Through these six academic departments, CalTech offers to attending students the choice of 24 majors and six minors, in addition to having numerous interdisciplinary academic programs being available. These include Applied Physics, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Geochemistry and Planetary Astronomy among many others, with Chemical Engineering, arguably being the most popular choice available. Of the many research centers and institutions operated by CalTech, one of the more recognized centers is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is a federally-funded research and development center and which is owned by NASA and operated as a division of Caltech through a contract between the two entities. CalTech’s stellar freshman retention rate and graduation rate clearly make it the best school in the state of California that offers online programs to distance learning students.

School’s Website http://www.caltech.edu/
Freshman Retention Rate: 91.5%
Graduation Rate: 84.0%
Final Score: 175.5/200

Top 20 Best Online Colleges in California