Online Colleges in California (CA): Overview

Employment Opportunities in California

According to the California Postsecondary Education Commission (, 2012), the 20 careers in California with the largest projected growth by 2014 all require formal training above the high school level. Furthermore, the Public Policy Institute of California (, 2009) calculates that two of every five jobs will require a college education by 2025. This statistic is particularly alarming, as the institute estimates that less than one-third of California’s working-age adults will possess a degree by then.

With the growth of online schools, students in California now have more options than ever for attaining higher education. Many public and private universities in California now offer full degree programs online, including prominent institutions like Stanford University and Cal Poly. No longer just for working adults, virtual education has become a viable alternative to traditional campus-based learning. For individuals interested in pursuing a degree, online colleges in California offer a variety of courses and programs at every postsecondary level.

Advantages of California Online Colleges

For Californians, attending college online has several advantages. Most online schools offer flexible scheduling, meaning students can attend courses any time that works for them. This allows adults with career or family obligations to complete degrees at night, on the weekends, or whenever else they can find time. For individuals living far from local campuses, as well as those with limited mobility, online degree programs offer increased access to higher education. Distance education radically reduces travel time to and from campus, which is especially beneficial for commuters, as gas prices tend to be high in California.

Additionally, virtual programs introduce students to new technologies and different forms of communication. For example, those pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in business administration might gain experience using video conferencing to communicate with fellow students and teachers. Familiarity with these technologies can be valuable, as many businesses now have multiple offices around the world and utilize similar telecommunication tools on a daily basis.

2013's Revolutionary Online Programs in California

University of California - Irvine

In 2013, the University of California at Irvine announced the addition of a data science certificate program that can be completed entirely online. The program, which is accepting students for the 2014 winter quarter, was designed to introduce students to the field of data science, while providing existing data scientists with an overview of basic techniques and new developments. Certificate programs in data science are currently in high demand, due in part to exceptional growth in hiring and expansion in the field.

"With recent mention from USA Today indicating that there are only 20 percent of data scientists available to meet the unprecedented demand, there is a great advantage for those interested in shifting gears to join this growing career field," said Dr. Dave Dimas, director of engineering, sciences and information technology at UC Irvine Extension in a statement. "Offering a complete certificate program online helps fill the void as it is not easy to obtain the knowledge and skills needed under a single traditional undergraduate or graduate degree. Program participants will stay ahead of the competition and gain that competitive advantage needed to help impact the success of businesses in various industries."

The University of California at Irvine also announced the addition of a certificate program in sustainable solutions and practices. This online certificate program prepares students to examine sustainability practices in multiple, varied work environments. Geared toward sustainability practitioners, sustainable technology analysts, change leaders, project managers, process managers, entrepreneurial professionals, and small business owners, this program examines the relationship between the environment and big business, with an emphasis on best practices for environmental sustainability.

Foothill-De Anza and Butte Glenn Community College

With the goal of increasing educational attainment in California, Foothill-De Anza and Butte Glenn community college districts were awarded a $16.9 million dollar grant meant to launch Gov. Jerry Brown's online education initiative. Building on the already existing framework of online colleges in the state, the grant will be used to create an online education portal where students can browse, apply for, and register for online courses and degree programs.

Participation in the online education portal will be voluntary for schools in California. However, many are expected to enthusiastically join what is being looked at as the future of education in the state. The online education portal will not create its own courses, but rather serve as a common course management system that allows California students to access and compare online degree programs from participating schools.

Trends in Online Higher Education: Public and Private Online Schools in California

Many schools in California now offer online education options, including some of the largest institutions in the state. While most, such as UC Berkeley, only offer courses or certificates at this time, many are beginning to feature full degree programs online. Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo now has several virtual graduate degree options, and Stanford University offers online Master of Science programs in concentrations such as engineering, statistics, and computer science. The California State University (CSU) system boasts a range of undergraduate and graduate degrees, from B.A. in Communications and M.A. in Education at CSU Bakersfield, to B.A. in Liberal Arts and M.S. in Criminal Justice at CSU Long Beach.

The California Virtual Campus (CVC), an initiative established by the Chancellor’s Office for the California Community Colleges system, provides up-to-date information on online education options from public and private institutions based in California. Potential students can search available courses and programs by school, degree level, or subject. As of October 2012, the number of colleges offering complete online programs is as follows:

  • Online Associate Degrees: 32 schools
  • Online Bachelor’s Degrees: 15 schools
  • Online Master’s Degrees: 26 schools
  • Online Doctorate Degrees: 6 schools
  • In addition, many national online colleges offer programs to students in California. Most of these colleges have featured fully online degrees for several years and typically boast a broader set of subject concentrations. Some of these schools, such as University of Phoenix and DeVry University, also have physical campuses in California where students can attend class as well.

From career-focused certification to advanced degrees for working professionals, online colleges in California feature a wealth of higher education options. Prospective students should research available programs to find the one that best aligns with their academic and career goals.

Entry Requirements and Application Process for Online Programs in California

As with traditional brick and mortar degree programs, application requirements and deadlines differ from school to school. Californians interested in attending college online should speak with an admissions officer to ensure they meet entry requirements. Many of the national online schools have a streamlined application process where students can live chat with counselors online. For those ready to take the next step, see the list of online colleges below and request information to speak with an advisor.


University of California at Irvine, Data Science Certificate Program,

PR Newswire, UC Irvine Extension Launches New Online Data Science Certificate Program,

"Foothill-De Anza to Lead $16.9M Statewide Online Education Initiative," Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Nov. 12, 2013,

View Online College Courses in California Below

This list also contains online colleges that accept students from California.

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