California’s Most Affordable Colleges & Universities of 2021

Here are the most affordable colleges and universities in California. Our list will help you find the right kind of school for you, at a price you can afford.

California’s Most Affordable Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in California

California’s higher education institutes span across the entire state, allowing students to study by the beach, in the forest, in small towns, and in large cities. The largest university, the University of California, Los Angeles, serves nearly 44,000 students and offers a tuition rate around $13,000. This isn’t the only school with a large student body though. California is home to 23 colleges and universities with student populations of over 20,000 students.

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However, more than half of the state’s schools serve smaller student populations, offering plenty of options for students who crave a more intimate campus experience. Additionally, California boasts 50 religiously affiliated schools. Many of these schools have high graduation rates, though tuition costs can range greatly, from $8,000 at Bethesda University up to $54,000 at Pepperdine University.

Additionally, many of California’s colleges and universities boast influential faculty and alumni, including Neil Armstrong, Jerry Lewis, and Weird Al Yankovic. In addition to famous alumni and professors, California’s schools are also home to some of the country’s top degree programs, including nursing, business, religious studies, education, literature, and law.

Though Hollywood has given an inside look into California’s most popular landmarks and attractions, these one-of-a-kind places aren’t the only reason people flock to The Golden State. With hundreds of colleges and universities to choose from, students have countless opportunities to further their education in California.

To learn more about earning your degree in California, check out some of the state’s top programs and career paths.


What are California’s Colleges & Universities?

California’s Best Overall


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The following list of the most affordable colleges and universities in California is composed entirely of schools offering four-year undergraduate degree programs. There are 58 colleges and universities in California that offer tuition under $16,000/year. The list below of the top 25 most affordable colleges universities in the state satisfies the following three conditions:

  1. It must be fully accredited.
  2. It must offer a broad range of bachelor’s degrees
  3. Its stated tuition and fees must be under $16,000/year.

How do we determine California's most affordable colleges and universities?

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.


California’s Most Affordable Colleges & Universities

  1. #1

    Antelope Valley College

    #3554 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    27%

    Student body

    9K

    Lancaster, CA

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    What is Antelope Valley College known for?

    Antelope Valley College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Criminal Justice
    • Engineering
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Medical
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Solano Community College

    #7986 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    26%

    Student body

    6K

    Fairfield, CA

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    What is Solano Community College known for?

    Solano Community College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Santa Monica College

    #1492 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    31%

    Student body

    19K

    Santa Monica, CA

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    What is Santa Monica College known for?

    Santa Monica College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Medical
    • History
    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Mathematics
    • Sociology
  4. #4

    San Diego Mesa College

    #3450 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    29%

    Student body

    12K

    San Diego, CA

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    What is San Diego Mesa College known for?

    San Diego Mesa College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Business
    • History
    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Earth Sciences

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. #5

    Santa Ana College

    #4435 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    29%

    Student body

    12K

    Santa Ana, CA

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    What is Santa Ana College known for?

    Santa Ana College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • History
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Law
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Modesto Junior College

    #4361 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    20%

    Student body

    12K

    Modesto, CA

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    What is Modesto Junior College known for?

    Modesto Junior College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Biology
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Earth Sciences

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Shasta College

    #6679 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    23%

    Student body

    5K

    Redding, CA

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    What is Shasta College known for?

    Shasta College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Earth Sciences
    • Biology
    • Nursing
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    West Los Angeles College

    #6957 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    22%

    Student body

    7K

    Culver City, CA

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    What is West Los Angeles College known for?

    West Los Angeles College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Social Work
    • Sociology
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    Bakersfield College

    #4824 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    21%

    Student body

    15K

    Bakersfield, CA

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    What is Bakersfield College known for?

    Bakersfield College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • History
    • Communications
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice
    • Political Science
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    MiraCosta College

    #8824 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    36%

    Student body

    10K

    Oceanside, CA

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    What is MiraCosta College known for?

    MiraCosta College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • History
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #11

    Rio Hondo College

    #5736 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    21%

    Student body

    10K

    Whittier, CA

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    What is Rio Hondo College known for?

    Rio Hondo College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Education
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Engineering
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    Skyline College

    #5110 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    22%

    Student body

    4K

    San Bruno, CA

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    What is Skyline College known for?

    Skyline College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #13

    Feather River College

    #7545 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $1K

    Graduation

    30%

    Student body

    1K

    Quincy, CA

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    What is Feather River College known for?

    Feather River College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Earth Sciences
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #14

    Foothill College

    #2214 institution's historical influence

    Tuition + fees

    $2K

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    9K

    Los Altos Hills, CA

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    What is Foothill College known for?

    Foothill College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Law
    • Communications
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #15

    California State University, Fresno

    #592 institution's historical influence
    #1148 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    90%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    21K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1035/19

    Fresno, CA

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    What is California State University, Fresno known for?

    California State University, Fresno’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #16

    California State University, Los Angeles

    #634 institution's historical influence
    #865 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    23K

    Median SAT/ACT

    985/17

    Los Angeles, CA

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    What is California State University, Los Angeles known for?

    California State University, Los Angeles’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Business
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Philosophy
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Medical
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #17

    California State University, Long Beach

    #598 institution's historical influence
    #183 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    73%

    Student body

    33K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1145/23

    Long Beach, CA

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    What is California State University, Long Beach known for?

    California State University, Long Beach’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Literature
    • Education
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #18

    California State University Channel Islands

    #4742 institution's historical influence
    #830 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    7K

    Camarillo, CA

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    What is California State University Channel Islands known for?

    California State University Channel Islands’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Nursing
    • Psychology
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #19

    California State University, Fullerton

    #805 institution's historical influence
    #1441 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    68%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1115/21

    Fullerton, CA

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    What is California State University, Fullerton known for?

    California State University, Fullerton’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Medical
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Communications
    • Computer Science
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. #20

    California State University, Northridge

    #514 institution's historical influence
    #1253 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    55%

    Student body

    33K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1020/19

    Northridge, CA

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    What is California State University, Northridge known for?

    California State University, Northridge’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Communications
    • Literature
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #21

    California State University, San Bernardino

    #2127 institution's historical influence
    #1343 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    78%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    18K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1000/17

    San Bernardino, CA

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    What is California State University, San Bernardino known for?

    California State University, San Bernardino’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Psychology
    • Literature
    • History
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice
    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Biology
  22. #22

    California State University, Dominguez Hills

    #1917 institution's historical influence
    #542 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    81%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    15K

    Carson, CA

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    What is California State University, Dominguez Hills known for?

    California State University, Dominguez Hills’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Communications
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #23

    California State University, East Bay

    #1330 institution's historical influence
    #748 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    73%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    14K

    Hayward, CA

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    What is California State University, East Bay known for?

    California State University, East Bay’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  24. #24

    California State University Maritime Academy

    #6388 institution's historical influence
    #1335 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $7K

    Acceptance

    82%

    Graduation

    61%

    Student body

    1K

    Vallejo, CA

    View profile

    What is California State University Maritime Academy known for?

    California State University Maritime Academy’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Political Science
    • Sociology
  25. #25

    California State University, Stanislaus

    #2909 institution's historical influence
    #624 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    89%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    10K

    Turlock, CA

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    What is California State University, Stanislaus known for?

    California State University, Stanislaus’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Education
    • Medical
    • History
    • Biology
    • Criminal Justice
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Earth Sciences

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Photo By Rennett Stowe from USA - Antelope Valley College, CC BY 2.0