Top Online Colleges in California

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California's public school system includes a massive community college system consisting of 112 colleges in 72 community college districts; the 23-campus California State University system, which, with nearly 450,000 students, is the largest university system in the United States; and the 10 campuses of the University of California research university system. The state is also home to such notable private universities as Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, and the Claremont Colleges. The California Department of Education oversees the state's secondary and higher education systems. Its major goals include increasing degree completion among the state's adults; increasing college-going rates; and overall increasing the number of college-educated workers, as, according to the department's "A Blueprint For Great Schools" report, California's labor market is projected to be short one million college- educated workers by 2025, "leading to the most severe drop in per-capita income in the nation." To combat that, the state is looking to strengthen the pathway to high school graduation and post-secondary degree completion through the newly adopted Common Core Standards initiative, which focuses on the skills needed for success in college and careers, and programs like the California Linked Learning District Initiative, which offers students a multi-year program of study and experiential learning in areas such as engineering, arts, and media, and biomedicine and health.

Distance education can also help increase Californians' access to higher education and degree completion programs. Many of its top institutions, including the University of California system, the University of Southern California, and its community colleges, already offer a range of degree programs and courses online at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Here's a look at some of those offerings in greater depth:

University of California-Los Angeles

The University of California-Los Angeles, more commonly known as UCLA, is the largest university in the state of California in terms of student body. It enrolls about 27,000 undergraduate and 12,000 graduate students, with some notable past students including composer John Williams and actors Tim Robbins, James Franco, and George Takei. UCLA ranks among the top national universities in the country by U.S. News & World Report, which also singled out its business, education, engineering, law, and medical schools. Students have about 130 majors and 3,000 undergraduate courses from which to choose. Through UCLA Extension, students can take classes in the evening, on the weekend, during the daytime, and online at their convenience. Certificate programs, transferable undergraduate degree-credit, and continuing education credits are also offered.

University of Southern California

Founded in 1880, the University of Southern California is the state's oldest research university. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the private school offers bachelor's degrees in 155 undergraduate majors. Notable alumni include architect Frank Gehry, filmmakers George Lucas and Judd Apatow, singers Macy Gray and Mark McGrath, and comedian Will Ferrell. The school is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as among the best universities in the country. Students can take master's degrees online through its distance learning initiative, USC Now. The school's online college degree program in engineering was also noted by U.S. News, which ranked it among the best online programs in its inaugural survey of online colleges.

East Los Angeles College

East Los Angeles College, or ELAC, is the largest campus in the Los Angeles Community College District, with an enrollment of 30,000 students. The community college is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park and offers associate degree programs in more than 25 fields. Students can find occupational programs and academic transfer courses to prepare them for admission to the University of California and California State University system, as well. There are also many online college courses available through the school's distance education initiative in such subjects as art, business administration, counseling, library science, math, music, psychology, and social sciences. Notable alumni include Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles.

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