Monthly Archives: May 2015

College Financial Aid Guide from Best School


Financial Aid Guide for Online Students

By Sarah Muthler on Feb 22, 2015
About two-thirds of college students borrow an average of nearly $30,000 for their education. The rate of borrowing is highest at for-profit schools, with 88 percent of those students requiring financial assistance, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Many of these schools are online only. Yet, the growth of online programs means that students have plenty of options to get an education that is within their financial reach. For online students, a public school in their home state — or one that offers in-state tuition to all students — will be the most affordable option.

Student loans are now more likely to be delinquentthan credit card bills, mortgages, and other types of borrowing. Rates of loan defaults are highest for students attending for-profit schools, with nearly half of all defaults coming from these students, even though they make up only 13 percent of college students.The best way to ensure that you can pay back your loan is to graduate on time and land a good job. When considering a school, look at retention and graduation rates, as well as job placement rates. Schools that graduate a higher percentage of students tend to have lower default rates. The White House has a really useful college scorecard that shows graduation rates, loan default rates, and other information for each school.

How can I reduce my loan?

The majority of online students will not get a college fund from their parents when they begin school. Most online students are in their 20s and 30s, according to a survey by Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research, and about 80 percent already have some college credit.

Online students are more likely to need to borrow for college than traditional students because many come from households with less than average income. The median household income was about $52,000 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 60 percent of students earning an undergraduate degree online live in households with income below that level, according to data from Learninghouse and Aslanian Market Research.

If you don’t have money set aside for college but you want to earn an online degree, start saving as soon as you can. Every little bit that you save reduces the amount you have to pay back later. Though President Obama talked about taxing the college savings plansknown as 529s, he dropped that proposal amid an outcry from both political parties. So 529s remains a good tax-free way to save your money.

Both the school you choose, and the work you do immediately after you finish school, can help reduce — or even eliminate — your student loans. Here are some tips to reduce your debt load:

Start at a community college

Many community colleges now offer online classes, and they are a bargain compared to four-year institutions. You get two years of low tuition while you take introductory courses, and then you can transfer for your final two years. Make sure that the four-year schools you would like to attend will accept transfer credits.

Seek an innovative school

Online students tend to have more life experience than the typical college student, and some schools offer college credit for the skills gained along the way. At the revolutionary Western Governors University, students need to prove competency rather than perseverance. As soon as students pass assessments proving that they have learned the required skills, they can move to the next class. This allows some students to finish coursework in less time than at traditional schools.

Work at a job that will help pay

Many students who choose an online program need the flexibility to work while earning a degree. One good way to reduce loans is to work for a company that provides tuition stipends or reimbursement. Many large employers, including Starbucks and UPS, provide tuition assistance.

Commit to public service after graduation

The AmeriCorps program offers education assistancefor people who complete a variety of jobs in schools, public agencies, and nonprofits. The money can be put toward education or be used to pay off loans. Americorps includes programs such as the National Health Service Corps, which sends health workers to under-served areas, and Teach for America, which brings teachers into schools with many low-income students. You can do good for the community and help yourself at the same time.

How is aid different for online students?

Online students have access to the same financial aid as traditional students in most cases. There is one complication: Online students have to determine whether their program is accredited, and proof can be tricky to track down. Accreditation tends to be more obvious with traditional schools. The U.S. Department of Education keeps a list of approved accreditors, so start there. The government has begun to cut off financial aid at some for-profit schools that draw too much of their funding from student loans. So, check the accreditation. Get your loans. And get a degree that employers will trust.

What types of financial aid can I get?

The U.S. Department of Education provides the most student aid, helping about 13 million students pay for college each year. The application for financial aid is free, and there is no age limit for receiving financial aid. There are three types of government aid:

  • loans
  • grants
  • work-study

How do federal loans work?

The federal government runs two student loan programsCounseling is required before you borrow.

The Direct Loan program is the largest and provides four types of loans:

  • Direct subsidized loans — For undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need.
  • Direct unsubsidized loans — For undergraduate and graduate students regardless of need.
  • Direct PLUS loans — For graduate students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to pay educational costs not covered by other financial aid.
  • Direct consolidation loans — For students who want to combine all of their student loans with a single servicer.

The Federal Perkins Loan Program provides school-based loans to students with the greatest financial need.

How much can I borrow?

Undergraduate students can borrow $5,500 to $12,500 per year in direct subsidized loans or direct unsubsidized loans. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year in direct unsubsidized loans.

Undergraduate students can borrow up to $5,500 per year in Perkins loans depending on need and other aid that they are receiving. Graduate students can borrow up to $8,000 per year.

What are the benefits of a federal loan?

  • The interest rates are lower than a private loan, and the rates are fixed.
  • You can wait until after college to repay the loan as long as you are in school at least half-time.
  • If you show financial need, the government will pick up your interest payments while you are in school.
  • You can select flexible repayment plans and have the option to postpone repayment.
  • The government forgives parts of loans for people working in certain jobs.

How do grants work?

Grants and scholarships are gifts that do not have to be repaid as long as the student graduates. Grants are usually need-based, and scholarships are usually merit-based.

There are four types of grants:

  • Federal Pell Grants — Usually for undergraduate students, based on financial need and the cost of attendance. Maximum award is $5,775 for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) — For students with the greatest financial need and administered by college financial aid offices. Award is $100 to $4,000 per year.
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants (TEACH) — For students planning to become teachers. To receive this grant, students must sign a contract agreeing to teach for four years in a high-need field at a school that serves low-income students. Maximum award is $4,000 per year.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants — For students who qualify for Federal Pell Grants and have a parent or guardian who was killed while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Students must have been under 24 or enrolled in college at the time of the parent’s death. Maximum award is $5,311 per year.

How does work-study work?

Federal work-study programs provide part-time jobs to students with financial need to help the students cover the cost of college, and it is available for online students. These jobs tend to be service-oriented or related to the field that the student is studying. Check with your school’s financial aid office for opportunities.

How do private loans work?

Private loans are made by banks or other for-profit institutions. Unlike government aid, these loans are usually based on a credit analysis rather than the FAFSA. They tend to have higher interest rates, and the rates are often variable, which means they might increase. The loan terms are often shorter, so monthly payments will be higher. Students who have concerns about their private loan should contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

How do I apply for aid?

Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Aid is based on the financial resources of the parents of students younger than age 24, unless they can prove emancipation or loss of both parents. There are exceptions for military veterans, married students, and graduate students.

Eligibility for aid

Most people applying for financial aid must meet the following criteria:

  • demonstrate financial need
  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • have a social security number
  • be registered with the Selective Service for males between 18 and 25
  • be accepted in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • be enrolled at least half-time to receive Direct Loan Program funds
  • sign FAFSA statements that you are not in default on a student loan or grant, and agree that you will only use money for educational purposes
  • show that you’re qualified for college with a high school diploma, GED, or proof of approved home-schooling

What does financial aid cover?

  • tuition and fees
  • room and board
  • books and supplies
  • transportation
  • a computer
  • dependent care

What resources are available for minority students?

Remember that there are multiple ways to search for financial assistance. You might qualify for scholarships, internships, and other programs based on your race, major, or extracurricular interests.

For black students, the United Negro College Fund is a great resource. UNCF has lists of scholarships and also helps to administer student internships and fellowships with leading companies. In most cases, students will need to complete the FAFSA to be eligible for these opportunities.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universitieskeeps a list of scholarships for Hispanic students along with internship and work-study opportunities. And the Native American Scholarship Fund provides resources to Native American students pursuing their degree. The Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fundprovides scholarship information and other resources to students of Asian descent.

Many professional organizations, such as the National Black Nurses Association, provide scholarships to minority students based on their field of study. In a similar vein, the U.S. Department of Education is trying to increase the number of minority students who enter STEM fields with its Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Plan, which provides grants for studies in science, math, and engineering.

Though women make up the majority of college students, they continue to be underrepresented in high-earning occupations and leadership positions. There are many scholarship opportunities for womenin their 20s, 30s, and beyond who want to improve their job prospects.
What resources are available for students with disabilities?

Online degrees can be especially attractive to students with disabilities because they offer a more flexible pace and don’t require traveling around a college campus. The resources set up for students with disabilities at traditional schools also apply to online schools.

For more information on federal financial aid, contact the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transition Center. The center serves as a clearinghouse for college information for students with disabilities. The University of Washington has an extensive list of scholarship opportunities for students with disabilities.

Many states offer education grants to people with disabilities through the vocational rehabilitation program. For information on services offered by your state, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network.

What resources are available for veterans and members of the military?

ROTC Scholarships are based on merit

Montgomery GI Bill

  • Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty — Active members who pay $100 per month for 12 months receive monthly education assistance for up to 36 months after they have completed their service obligation.
  • Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve — Those with a six-year commitment who are actively drilling receive up to 36 months of education assistance.

Post-9/11 GI Bill is for those who served following 9/11 for

  • The Yellow Ribbon Program provides all resident tuition and fees for a public schools or tuition and fees for a private school not exceeding the maximum rate. This is for servicemembers who became disabled while serving and for their dependents.
  • The Transfer of Entitlement Option allows servicemembers to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse or dependents.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

  • This is for the children of servicemembers who died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The award is equal to the maximum Pell Grant award, which is $5,775 for the 2015-16 school year.

Do your research and begin

Financial aid can look daunting, but you can tackle it the same way you will tackle your college courses — one step at a time. Find a reasonably priced school that has the program you want. Fill out the FAFSA. Contact your school’s financial aid office. Look for scholarships. You’ll soon be past that initial learning curve and able to focus on your education.

Need Education Options?

The Bridge Virtual Academy is offering courses via Edgenuity/ParK City Independent for students interested in high school credits.  Each semester course is $285 plus a one time $50 registration fee!  Start any time. Eighteen weeks to complete each course but can move as quickly as you desire. Live teacher connects with students. Pacing calendar on dashboard to help keep students on task. Mentoring is available at no additional cost. Course is taught via a video teacher.  Please check with yours school counselor before signing up for a course to make sure the credits will transfer.

Homeschooling has just become much easier.  The Bridge Virtual Academy also offers the courses on the list below to parents interested in homeschooling their children in courses created for 6th – 12th grade plus.


To view the scope and sequence of a course, go to the website  Find the course you are considering and click.

For more information, contact Sandy Carl at AD FOR HOMESCHOOL copy

Top Ranking Online Colleges from BEST SCHOOLS

For more information:

California Online Colleges : Interviews of the Best Accredited Schools

Throughout the state of California, there are 36 different colleges offering at least one fully online bachelor’s degree. We narrowed down this list to accredited universities that have at least one fully online bachelor’s degree. Then we crunched the numbers to see how these schools are performing.

We wanted to figure out what makes an online degree program successful for students, engaging for faculty, and sustainable for the university. So we surveyed the top schools using the Best Schools methodology and interviewed admissions directors. Along the way, we learned all about California’s rich history in online education, and the continuing commitment to serving the underserved.

The Top 10 Online Colleges in California

1. Brandman University
2. California Baptist University
3. CSU East Bay
4. CSU Chico
5. Hope International University
6. National University
7. CSU Dominguez Hills
8. Touro University
9. California College San Diego
10. Golden Gate University

We interviewed three of the top 10 colleges in California and this is what we loved about them :

  • #1 Brandman University ​for their adoption of online learning for all students.
  • #3 CSU East Bay​ for their rapid growth and future plans.
  • #4 CSU Chico​ for their rich history and innovative delivery.

Deeply discounted tuition rates for both in-state students and active military students, make any one of these schools a smart choice for California residents looking to finish their college degrees.

Directory of California Online Colleges






Interview: Brandman University

Brandman University
Average In State Tuition: $500.00
Accreditation Status: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
Online Program Information:Website

Joe Cockrell

Brandman University offers online education programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels across thirty locations, and all faculty are trained to teach online. We talked to Joe Cockrell, Brandman’s Chief Communications Officer, about how online education has changed at Brandman and how they have been able to create a successful program for students.
Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:

  • Brandman has invested in creating a strong support system for students that consists of two major components: an academic advisor and a team to help with non­academic questions.
  • Approximately 25% of Brandman University students are either currently serving in the military or are veterans. Brandman specializes in educating non­traditional students.
  • There are several commencement ceremonies that online students may choose to attend for their graduation.

How did Brandman University first get into online programs?

It was a slow to move to online education. For us, online education is not simply taking materials and putting them onto the Internet. It requires a whole separate approach with everything from curriculum and academics, to student services and support.

One of the things we found working with adult learners, whether they are going online or on-­ground, they don’t have the time during the day like a typical college student who is going through the typical process like going to the registrar’s office, the financial aid office, etc. To serve online students, we need a good service model. We came up with what we call “The One Stop Team,” which is essentially our trained student service representatives who are the go­to people for anything students might need in terms of registrar, financial aid, resolving issues with their Blackboard, and that kind of thing. At traditional schools a faculty member is normally your advisor. Here at Brandman, all students have the same academic advisor all the way through their program. The advisor is a trained professional person, who makes themselves available either in person or via phone, email, or Adobe Connect. So, the advisor follows the student through their whole program and The One Stop Team are the people who assist students who have needs outside of academics.

How have the online programs evolved since you launched online education?

We wanted to make sure that all of this was in place for online learning to be successful. How this evolved, we started adding new programs that were available online. Of course, we’ve worked with our accreditor and they have to review everything thoroughly. It’s a long process.

We’ve incorporated Lumina’s Degree Qualification Profile (DQP) and AAC&U Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative outcomes into the general education and baccalaureate programs; changed course design process to include a team headed by faculty, as subject matter experts, and instructional designers / technology specialists, dedicated to each program; and established a Center for Instructional Innovation to provide faculty training, oversight of courses and continuous improvement.

Do students who are applying for one of your online programs have the same admissions criteria as your other students?


Is there a “typical” profile of a Brandman online student?

We serve non­traditional students. The typical student is a working professional. Almost 25% of our student body are active military or veterans. A lot of active duty students attend online from combat zones.

Also, we have moved to the blended model for all of our on-­the-­ground classes. What that means is if you attend one of our campuses and you come to class one night a week, you have supplemental work that you have to do online during the week.

The US Department of Education issued a meta-­study that the blended approach is the most successful approach. We have now made all on­-ground courses blended.

How have you tackled creating community with your students? Has the fact that so many of your students are in active duty changed how you create a community?

For most students, they interact with each other and faculty in Blackboard and discussion boards. Outside of that, we’ve created networking groups on LinkedIn. We think social media presents a great opportunity to do that. We’ve been experimenting with Facebook and LinkedIn because if you’re an online student, the only interaction you have with the university is on the website, by email, or Blackboard. This is one of those things that we’re continually looking at.

Some of our doctoral programs, like education and nursing, offer what we call “Immersion Sessions” where they do their clinical and internships in their hometown where they live, but they come to Irvine about twice per year over long weekends.

Who teaches online courses?

Most, if not all, of our faculty teach on­-ground and online classes. Because of the blended model, all of our faculty have to be trained in online courses. As a result, most of our faculty are able to do both. We have a number of adjunct faculty who teach in the fields they are experts in. What we try to do with adjuncts is use what’s called “practitioner faculty” where they are experts in the field they are teaching and they have at least a master’s degree.

Are diplomas and transcripts for online students the same as on­-ground students?

Yes. One thing people like is that it doesn’t designate on your degree if you earned it online. The metrics for what you have to accomplish are the same.

Can any Brandman student walk at graduation?

Yes. I think we have seven different commencements. We have twenty­six campuses and four co-­locations. A co-­location is where we have a presence at a community college so community college students can come right to Brandman without having to leave the campus where they have done their community college work. It allows them to start working on their bachelor’s degree while they’re still in community college. Six of our campuses are located on military installations. So, we have a graduation ceremony for each of those military campuses and two big ones for Northern and Southern California.

I’ve seen a lot of online students at graduation. The cool thing about online students coming to commencement is that they’re getting to meet some of their faculty and classmates for the first time face­-to-­face.

Besides school accreditation, what would you tell a prospective online student about what to evaluate when determining what school to go to?

I would also encourage students to look at the graduation rates of a school, whether they are for-­profit or non­profit, and the student loan default rate because that’s core informational data about the health of a university. It signals the value of that degree. You want to make sure you’re attending a school with strong graduation rates and low default rates. I also recommend reaching out to your family and friends and asking people for their advice. There is inevitably someone who has gone to school online. Don’t just look at advertising.

Interview: CSU East Bay

CSU East Bay
Average In State Tuition: $162.40
Accreditation Status: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
Online Program Information:Website

CSU East Bay serves the eastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Oakland, Concord, and Hayward. The online program has an interesting benefit for regional students: they don’t have to fight the Bay Area traffic. All California residents benefit from CSU East Bay’s steeply discounted in-state tuition. Currently, they offer five online degree programs, but that number is expected to grow as those programs expand.

Steve Andrews
We sat down with Steve Andrews, the Marketing Manager for the College of Business and Economics and a marketing professor in the department. He talked about some of the things that make CSU East Bay stand out.
Here’s the rundown:

  • They invest in teacher training. All online instructors take a course to help them navigate the differences between the traditional and digital classrooms.
  • Because people want to avoid commuting to on-campus locations in Bay Area traffic, enrollment in the online programs are growing rapidly.
  •  Students have a dedicated advisor for all academic issues, and IT support for technical issues.

How are admissions requirements different for online and on­-campus students?

Admissions criteria for the online program are similar to our on ground program, the exception being that we want them to have finished more of their lower division requirements, as we don’t offer these as part of the online degree completion program. Students should speak with an advisor early on so they can prepare themselves accurately for transition from junior College into the program, or to see which gaps in their education need to be filled before they can move into the program.

What are some ways that you ensure a high quality online experience?

Many of our faculty have gone through the Online Learning Consortium course which focuses on creating online learning communities—something which is much more difficult than teaching in person. Effective strategies include introductory discussion boards for students to get to know each other, and some faculty use live office hours and chat rooms to give students a sense of community. Like on­ground classes, students are expected to collaborate on group projects, and from experience teaching in the program, you see students bonding and taking classes with people they’ve met through other online classes, who maybe they’ve worked on a project with before and have confidence in the person’s ability.

Students have support at several levels, they have a dedicated advisor for all academic issues, they have access to the university’s IT support for any technical issues, and faculty are attentive to the needs of their students in online office hours and asynchronously by email.

How have the online programs grown at CSU East Bay?

The program has grown at a rapid pace over the last couple of years, and we expect to see it continue to grow. Graduations from the program have doubled from one year to the next for the last 3 years and we expect to see a continued growth as we introduce new options. Once we offer an accounting option, a marketing and an HR option we expect to see even greater growth.

We want to grow at a rate that’s sustainable and continue to offer the quality of education we have so far. One of the things we’ve done recently is brought on an online learning coordinator who is going into all of the classes and checking to make sure they meet the right criteria. We’re also promoting faculty to take part in online courses, and have them certified. We don’t want to add extra electives and options to the program until we can be sure of their quality. We don’t want people just reading from powerpoint slides. That’s not good for students. What we’re trying to do is replicate the on­-ground experience as best as possible.

How have the students changed over the last few years?

Students have changed in that initially we had a lot of students who had started their bachelor’s on ground at our Hayward campus before not being able to finish their degrees, so we had quite a few local students, now we see a much bigger interest from other areas of California, and potentially we could see greater interest from around the USA in the coming years.

Do online students receive the same diploma as on­-campus students?

There’s no difference. We have set learning outcomes for courses. The coursework is pretty much the same between an on­-campus and online class. The syllabus is similar, and only the way you deliver it is different. The diploma is the same.

What recommendations do you have for prospective students as they look at different online programs?

Get in contact with the programs to see what they’re doing. Every couple of months we do a webinar where students can get a glimpse of what a class looks like. They can talk to administrators with the program, and in our next webinar, we’re bringing on a student and an alumnus so they can have real contact with people that have been in the program.

It’s a little more difficult to have teamwork and collaboration digitally, but that’s the world we live in now. Project teams aren’t necessarily in the same office. They’re not always in the same time zone or country. That’s the reality that we prepare them for in the online program.

Interview: CSU Chico

CSU Chico
Average In State Tuition: $233.00
Accreditation Status: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities
Online Program Information:Website

CSU Chico has a rich history of distance education, dating back to the 1960’s. Currently, its programs are designed to complement the existing California community college system. A student can enroll at a community college and earn a two year degree for a comparatively low cost. If the student wants to complete a four year program, CSU Chico has several fully online degrees.

We sat down with Jeff Layne to learn more about current and future online educational opportunites at CSU Chico. Jeff, the Director of Distance and Online Education, gave us a glimpse into CSU Chico’s rich history of online education.
A few things make CSU Chico unique:

  • CSU Chico’s program benefits from nearly 50 years of experience with online education.
  • CSU Chico offers degree completion programs designed to compliment a two year degree from a California community college.
  • Originally developed to provide college access to rural students, CSU Chico aims to serve the underserved.

What is the history of your online program?

Back in the 1960’s, the CSU system laid out which regional campuses could serve particular areas of the state. Chico’s area is about the same size as Ohio, but very remote and rural. Everyone’s spread out geographically.

We had a mission, even back in the 60s, to serve people in our region. We used to send people in cars up into the mountains, and over the course of a couple of weekends, they would teach a three unit class in a local town.

Back in the 1970s, we received a federal grant to put in microwave towers throughout the region. For a while, we were sending a signal of our classes into these small towns. Those students gathered in room, typically at a community college, and watched televised lectures. They participated by calling the classroom.

When our degree completion programs moved to online delivery in 1999 the sense of community decreased. During the last sixteen years, as social media tools have been created, students are now able to make connections. They also build a sense of community in the University’s Learning Management System through discussion boards and other tools. Additionally students keep connected through online communication tools like Google Hangouts and Skype.

Who teaches your distance education programs?

The courses are usually taught by the same faculty that teach on campus.

What is the online student profile at CSU Chico, and how has it evolved over time?

The majority of students admitted to our programs are female and over 25. That has remained constant through the years. The students we attract are the students that are going to do well. They are more mature. They know exactly what they want. They’re very focused on their degree.

Students are definitely more tech­savvy than when we started offering online degree programs in 1999. Dial up modems were how computers connected and YouTube was still six years from being launched. We were delivering many of our lectures through video streaming. The student login information we provided was deliberately very detailed. What has not changed is how grateful students are that we offer online degree completion programs.

What is the online classroom like?

We’ll have a classroom full of students on campus, and we’ll video feed that class to another group of 50­70 students remotely. We videostream the lecture so they can watch it just like they would on YouTube.

What else should a student know about your program?

We have a lot of support systems here on campus. The faculty see it as their mission to serve underserved students. Not just in the rural areas, but everywhere.

Our online program graduation rate is comparable to our on campus graduation rate. This is because the students we attract are the students that are going to do well. They are more mature. They know exactly what they want. They’re very focused on their degree.

Highlights of the Top Ranked California Colleges

California has a strong public school system with a great reputation and a number of prestigious private universities for students to pick from. While some of the most familiar names in California higher education are lagging behind when it comes to online learning, we still found an impressive list of colleges in the state offering fully online degree programs.

Unfortunately, many of the schools we found with the best online degree programs come at a high cost. On the plus side, our research suggests your investment won’t be wasted. These schools have strong reputations, a wealth of online degree programs to choose from, and national recognition for their programs.

Brandman University
Letter grade: A-
Average in-state tuition $500 per credit hour
Website: Link

Brandman University tops our list because they combine a solid reputation with a massive selection of online degree programs. The college has shown a real commitment to online learning – all of their faculty members are trained to teach online. So students know they’ll get teachers with the same knowledge and skills as their on-campus counterparts.

The emphasis on online learning makes sense for the school, as a large portion of their student body is made up of nontraditional students. They’ve made a real effort to understand the distinct needs of these students and develop a service model that works for them. They have what they call a “One Stop Team” of student service representatives available to help students with any questions and needs they may have.

The one big downside to Brandman University is the cost – that’s where the minus in our grade comes in. In most other states, that $500 per credit price tag would knock them further down the list, but many of the other impressive colleges in California are comparably priced. The 53 fully online bachelor’s and graduate degree programs they offer helped balance out the cost to give them the top spot.

Placements on other rankings

  • US News Online Bachelor’s 2014 Ranking: 41
  • US News Online Bachelor’s 2015 Ranking: 31
  • WA Monthly 2013 Ranking: N/A
  • WA Monthly 2014 Ranking: N/A
  • Forbes 2014 Ranking: N/A
California Baptist University
Letter grade: B+
Average in-state tuition $495 per credit hour
Website: Link

While California Baptist University unfortunately shares Brandman’s issue with cost (it comes in just $5 per credit hour less than our top college), they’ve got a lot of good things going for them to help make the price tag worth it. With a graduation rate at 58% and a retention rate at 78%, they beat out just about every other school in the state in both categories.

They also offer a nice, long list of fully online degree programs – 33 total. Online students can choose from most of the mainstays: accounting, business, marketing, education, counseling, and many more. To top it all off, they perform well on the US News list of best online programs, which suggests a strong reputation that students can count on.

Placements on other rankings

  • US News Online Bachelor’s 2014 Ranking: 37
  • US News Online Bachelor’s 2015 Ranking: 23
  • WA Monthly 2013 Ranking: N/A
  • WA Monthly 2014 Ranking: N/A
  • Forbes 2014 Ranking: N/A
CSU East Bay
Letter grade: B+
Average in-state tuition $162.40 per credit hour
Website: Link

California State University East Bay makes our list largely because they have the most attractive tuition rate of any of the schools we researched in California. At less than half the cost of our other two top choices, the school is a great pick for the more value-minded California students.

They only offer 9 fully online degree programs at this time, but those include some of the most popular subjects for online learning, like business and education, along with a couple of more niche areas, such as hospitality and tourism.

Their graduation and retention rates are decent: 38% and 75%, respectively. And they managed spots on both the US News and Forbes college rankings lists this year, meaning we’re not the only ones noticing the quality they offer for the value.

Placements on other rankings

  • US News Online Bachelor’s 2014 Ranking: N/A
  • US News Online Bachelor’s 2015 Ranking: 153
  • WA Monthly 2013 Ranking: N/A
  • WA Monthly 2014 Ranking: N/A
  • Forbes 2014 Ranking: 537

The Next Highest Scoring Colleges (4th-10th place)

4. CSU Chico: B+
5. Hope International University: B
6. National University: B
7. CSU Dominguez Hills: C+
8. Touro University: C+
9. California College San Diego: C
10. Golden Gate University: C

Additional California Colleges

The University of California system has seven campuses ranked in the current US News and World Report’s listing of the nation’s top 50 colleges. Several of these campuses offer online courses both for college credit and personal enrichment.

Starting in Fall 2014, the California Community College Online Education Initiative (OEI) began a pilot program aimed at expanding online college education across the state, reducing the costs of earning a college degree, and improving retention rates among students enrolled in online college courses. Two-dozen community colleges signed on to participate in the program through 2016.

Foothill College

Foothill College
Summary: Foothill College is one of the California community colleges actively involved in the OEI.
Website: Link

At Foothill, you can earn your associate’s degree entirely online. They have degree programs in accounting, anthropology, art history, economics, general studies, graphic and interactive design, history, humanities, music or music technology, psychology, sociology, and women’s studies. The associate’s degrees can then be used towards a bachelor’s degree from one of the universities in the California State system.

Butte College

Summary: Another participant in the OEI pilot is Butte College.
Website: Link

You can view a list of the courses they are currently offering on their Distance Education website.

California State University

Summary: California State University offers several online degree programs through different campuses within the university system.
Website: Link

Cal State offers bachelor’s degrees in business administration, applied studies, quality assurance, computer science, and information technology. Cal State also has a master of public administration degree with concentrations in criminal justice policy and administration, health care policy and administration, and public and not for profit management. It is also possible to earn a master’s degree in instructional science and technology. The Cal State system offers a large number of online courses that can be applied to traditional on-campus degrees.

University of California – Los Angeles

University of California - Los Angeles
Summary: Many of the University of California campuses offer individual online courses, as well as certificate programs.
Website: Link

For example, the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) offers a number of online coursesthat can apply towards a degree. Online certificates in subjects such as communications, education, information systems, real estate, writing, English as a second language, and building and construction are available at UCLA.

University of California – Berkeley

University of California - Berkeley
Summary: University of California – Berkeley offers a number of undergraduate courses and certificate programs online through UC Berkeley Extension.
Website: Link

Formal admission to UC Berkeley is not required; these courses may be taken after completing a simple registration form.

University of Southern California
Summary: The University of Southern California (USC) offers a large number of online graduate programs.
Website: Link

USC offers graduate degrees in business, communication, education, computer science, technology, medicine, library science, social work, pharmacy, psychology, public policy, and geographic information science.

Online College Admission Requirements in California

For most online programs, you will need to gain admission to the university or college offering the coursework. However, some programs may have their own admissions procedure, so it is worth reviewing the requirements for the programs you are considering.

For example, Cal State requires all students to have completed at least 60 hours of course credit prior to applying to its online bachelor’s degree programs.

Tuition for California Online Programs

California boasts many highly ranked schools; therefore tuition for online programs at public universities in California is higher than in many other states.

For UC online courses, students register for online courses separately from on-campus courses, and pay tuition rates that vary between courses.  Depending on the course, number of units, and host campus, cost per course can range from $99 to over $3000. The average cost of courses is between $700-$1000.

At Cal State, tuition varies depending on the type of program and the campus where it is offered. For Cal State undergraduate programs, resident tuition is $5,472 per year for students enrolled in more than 6 units per term and $3,174 for those enrolled in 6 or fewer units. Out of state students must also pay $372 per semester unit or $248 per quarter unit. For graduate programs, the cost of tuition is $6,738 for more than 6 units and $3,906 for 6 or fewer units. Each CSU campus has mandatory fees that all students must pay, and these vary by campus.

Scholarship and Financial Aid Information

Though most scholarships apply equally to both online and on campus coursework, students are advised to contact the institution at which they plan to complete an online degree to ensure their scholarships will apply as needed. You may be able to apply financial aid to your University of California online courses if you are taking both online and on-campus coursework to total full-time enrollment. Furthermore, there may be financial aid available to those enrolled in a professional certificate program, such as the ones found at UC Berkeley.

Other places to look for financial aid for online programs in California include:

Accreditation Information for California

Attending an accredited online program may be important for your particular degree. Coursework from accredited programs is also more likely to be accepted as transfer credit at other institutions.

The  WASC Senior College and University Commissionaccredits colleges and universities in California.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides a directory of accredited schools and programs.

News on SAT

 AT first glance, the College Board’s revised SAT seems a radical departure from the test’s original focus on students’ general ability or aptitude. Set to debut a year from now, in the spring of 2016, the exam will require students to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of subjects they study in school.

The revised SAT takes some important, if partial, steps toward becoming a test of curriculum mastery. In place of the infamously tricky, puzzle-type items, the exam will be a more straightforward test of material that students encounter in the classroom. The essay, rather than rewarding sheer verbosity, will require students to provide evidence in support of their arguments and will be graded on both analysis and writing. Vocabulary will move away from the obscure language for which the SAT is noted, instead emphasizing words commonly used in college and the workplace.

While a clear improvement, the revised SAT remains problematic. It will still emphasize speed — quick recall and time management — over subject knowledge. Despite evidence that writing is the single most important skill for success in college, the essay will be optional. (Reading and math will still be required.)

And the biggest problem is this: While the content will be new, the underlying design will not change. The SAT will remain a “norm-referenced” exam, designed primarily to rank students rather than measure what they actually know. Such exams compare students to other test takers, rather than measure their performance against a fixed standard. They are designed to produce a “bell curve” distribution among examinees, with most scoring in the middle and with sharply descending numbers at the top and bottom. Test designers accomplish this, among other ways, by using plausible-sounding “distractors” to make multiple-choice items more difficult, requiring students to respond to a large number of items in a short space of time, and by dropping questions that too many students can answer correctly.

“Criterion-referenced” tests, on the other hand, measure how much students know about a given subject. Performance is not assessed in relation to how others perform but in relation to fixed academic standards. Assuming they have mastered the material, it is possible for a large proportion, even a majority, of examinees to score well; this is not possible on a norm-referenced test.

K-12 schools increasingly employ criterion-referenced tests for this reason. That approach reflects the movement during the past two decades in all of the states — those that have adopted their own standards, as well as those that have adopted the Common Core — to set explicit learning standards and assess achievement against them.

Norm-referenced tests like the SAT and the ACT have contributed enormously to the “educational arms race” — the ferocious competition for admission at top colleges and universities. They do so by exaggerating the importance of small differences in test scores that have only marginal relevance for later success in college. Because of the way such tests are designed, answering even a few more questions correctly can substantially raise students’ scores and thereby their rankings. This creates great pressure on students and their parents to avail themselves of expensive test-prep services in search of any edge. It is also unfair to those who cannot afford such services. Yet research on college admissions has repeatedly confirmed that test scores, as compared to high school grades, are relatively weak predictors of how students actually perform in college.

By design, norm-referenced tests reproduce the same bell-curve distribution of scores from one year to the next, with only minor differences. This makes it difficult to gauge progress accurately.

Rather than impose higher education’s antiquated regime of norm-referenced tests on K-12 schools, American education would be better served if the kind of criterion-referenced tests now increasingly employed in K-12 schools flowed upward, to our colleges and universities.

Two objections to such tests are that they presuppose a national curriculum and that they might produce the same disparities as norm-referenced exams.

However, experience with the respected National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that, even without a national curriculum, there is enough similarity across the states to permit development of nationally representative, criterion-referenced exams.

And by rewarding students’ efforts in the regular classroom, criterion-referenced exams reduce the importance of test-prep services, thus helping to level the playing field. They signal to students and teachers that persistence and hard work, not just native intelligence or family income, can bring college within reach. They are better suited to reinforce the learning of a rigorous curriculum in our poorest schools.

College admissions will never be perfectly fair and rational; the disparities are too deep for that. Yet the process can be fairer and more rational if we rethink the purposes of college-entrance exams.

The revised SAT takes promising steps away from its provenance as a test of general ability or aptitude — a job it never did well — and toward a test of what students are expected to learn in school. But the College Board should abandon the design that holds it back from fulfilling that promise.