Top 15 Cheapest Small Colleges in California

small college in california

This list consists of the top 15 cheapest small colleges in California. For those students who are looking for a small school with a more intimate and personal feel, every school on this list has a student population of under 3,000. Most of these schools are private Christian universities only because religious schools tend to be the least expensive small schools. However, you will also find some small secular liberal arts schools, private schools and even one state university on this list.


The following list of schools was compiled using information from the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database as well as the individual schools’ websites. The order of this list is based on each school’s tuition rate, ranking the highest rate No. 15 and so on.

15. Marymount California University

Rancho Palos Verdes, CA


This Roman Catholic college can be dangerous to your finances because once you see the campuses, you might not care about the fact that this school has the highest tuition on this list. In California, just because something is among the “most affordable” doesn’t always mean it’s cheap. The Oceanview, Waterfront and Lakeside campuses offer a diverse array of experiences. While the campuses are beautiful, the school itself is committed to providing students with a rigorous, well-rounded liberal arts education. Marymount offers four majors: business, liberal arts, media studies and psychology.

Tuition: $31,932
Room and Board: $12,998
Acceptance Rate: Open Admission
Student Population: 1,037

14. Vanguard University of Southern California

Costa Mesa, CA


Vanguard University is a small Christian liberal arts university located in what many might consider a prime area–the Orange County city of Costa Mesa–right in between LA and San Diego. Students will enjoy a rich experience in Costa Mesa, and the education offered by Vanguard has been named one of the Princeton Review’s( “Best in the West” for 2014.

Tuition: $30,050
Room and Board: $8,870
Acceptance Rate: 70%
Student Population: 2,415

13. La Sierra University

Riverside, CA

La Sierra University offers an extensive catalogue of programs including four major pre-professional programs and over 20 pre-health profession programs. The Seventh Day Adventist faith is the cornerstone of education at this university and is infused into the 120+ undergraduate programs. U.S. News & World Report( has named La Sierra University the most diverse university in the west for five years running.

Tuition: $29,895
Room and Board: $7,650
Acceptance Rate: 47%
Student Population: 2,440

12. Master’s College and Seminary

Santa Clarita, CA

This small Christian liberal arts college is highly focused on developing students in their Christian faith. Every program is taught from the Christian perspective with the goal of enabling the student to benefit themselves and the their church. The school offers 13 majors and 60 areas of study within those majors. Two undergraduate programs–a BA in Biblical Studies and a BA in Liberal Studies–and 25 general education courses are offered online.

Tuition: $29,860
Room and Board: $9,720
Acceptance Rate: 61%
Student Population: 1,499

11. Pacific Union College

Angwin, CA

Pacific Union College is another Seventh Day Adventist school, but this one is located in the heart of California’s Napa Valley. The school’s strong liberal arts tradition has earned it recognition as a National Liberal Arts College by U.S. News & World Report, a distinction maintained since 2009. For 17 years before that, PUC was ranked as a top regional college in the west.

Tuition: $28,131
Room and Board: $7,485
Acceptance Rate: 51%
Student Population: 1,647

10. Hope International University

Fullerton, CA

Hope International University is an evangelical, non-denominational, Christian university with campuses in Anaheim, Fullerton and a graduate/continuing-ed extension up in Washington State. One of the primary goals of HIU is to integrate faith and commitment to service into the education of students. The school offers both traditional and online options.

Tuition: $27,130
Room and Board: $8,750
Acceptance Rate: 47%
Student Population: 1,356

9. San Diego Christian College

El Cajon, CA

SDCC is a non-denominational evangelical college. The traditional program at SDCC offers undergraduate degrees in biblical studies, aviation, biological science, business and communication among many others. The school also offers online and night class programs for students over the age of 20; though no information was provided on which programs are included in those options.

Tuition: $27,090
Room and Board: $10,100
Acceptance Rate: 49%
Student Population: 892

8. Laguna College of Art and Design

Laguna Beach, CA

Many art and design colleges are for-profit and not regionally accredited. This doesn’t always matter to students, as the most important thing offered by such schools are the skills and knowledge for students. However, Laguna is both non-profit and regionally accredited, which is one reason why it’s not as expensive as many of the other art and design schools out there. This is a great choice for the aspiring designer, graphic artist or any student who wants to work commercially in artistic fields.

Tuition: $27,300
Room and Board: $12,002
Acceptance Rate: 43%
Student Population: 544

7. Fresno Pacific University

Fresno, CA

Fresno Pacific University is the only accredited Christian college in the Central Valley. Despite its small size FPU boasts 26 undergraduate majors and 31 minors. While the school was originally founded by the Mennonite Brethren in the 1940s, the school became more non-denominational in its teachings in the 1980s. The school now caters primarily to protestant students.

Tuition: $26,638
Room and Board: $7,360
Acceptance Rate: 78%
Student Population: 2,586

6. William Jessup University

Rocklin, CA

William Jessup University is a small Christian liberal arts university. The school is reasonably priced, especially for a private school in California. The school features eighteen undergraduate majors and an Air Force ROTC program. The goal of the school is to develop each student as a whole person and to instill each individual with the requisite skills for success in their chosen field.

Tuition: $24,990
Room and Board: $10,000
Acceptance Rate: 69%
Student Population: 1,095

5. Simpson University

Redding, CA

Simpson University is a school of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Christian denomination. The school has 26 undergraduate majors and 24 minors. The community is described by the school as “Christ-centered” and committed to “developing the student in mind, faith and body.”

Tuition: $24,300
Room and Board: $7,900
Acceptance Rate: 55%
Student Population: 1,255

4. Life Pacific College

San Dimas, CA

Life Pacific College offers five undergraduate programs, and three of them are specifically bible and ministry-oriented. The religious programs are worship arts & media, a BA in transformational ministry and a BA in biblical studies. The professional programs are in human development and psychology and business, both of which are taught from a Bible-centric perspective. While degree program selection may be limited, the incredibly reasonable price means if you are looking for a school offering these programs from this perspective you should consider LPC.

Tuition: $12,860
Room and Board: $7,036
Acceptance Rate: 75%
Student Population: 627

3. Humphreys College–Stockton and Modesto

Modesto, CA

Humphrey’s College was founded in 1896 and has well over a century of dedication to higher education under its belt. Indeed, while the curriculum used at the school is kept current, its roots go all the way back to the curriculum and philosophy of the school on the day of its founding. The school’s multiple campuses all share the common goal of community-centered values.

Tuition: $12,456
Room and Board: $11,493
Acceptance Rate: Open Admission
Student Population: 990

2. Azusa Pacific University College

Azusa, CA

Azusa Pacific University College is a special case on this list. The tuition listed here is that of its online programs, which are incredibly low. Basically, it’s not as low as the tuition for the schools on the list of online programs, but those are also massive schools. Azusa is a small private school with great online tuition, and it is the only school on this list included for its online tuition rates.

Tuition: $10,300
Room and Board: N/A
Acceptance Rate: Open Admission
Student Population: 726

1. California Maritime Academy

Vallejo, CA


California Maritime Academy has a low student population because it has a unique and narrow focus concerning the programs it offers, which primarily have to do with ships, shipping, ports and other maritime matters. However, the programs offered are some of the best available. So, if the sea is your calling, this is an incredibly affordable way to learn the skills for success in maritime professions.

Tuition: $6,536
Room and Board: $11,670
Acceptance Rate: 75%
Student Population: 1,045

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