Top 25 Community Colleges in California


by Aimee Hosler | April 26, 2012

Have you ever noticed that most college rankings focus on traditional four-year schools, letting equally valuable alternatives like community colleges fall off the radar? This is a shame because two-year schools are every bit as credible as big-name universities, not to mention often more affordable. This is doubly true for students seeking associate degrees, certificates or a little personal enrichment. The trick is to find the school that best suits your goals and interests, whether they be academic or otherwise. The following list includes our top 25 California community colleges, each chosen for their academic prowess, rich tradition or beautiful surroundings.

  • Ohlone College: Ohlone College's position San Francisco's East Bay puts its students near major cities like San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, not to mention some of the most respected four-year colleges in the country such as Stanford and U.C. Berkeley.
  • City College of San Francisco: City College of San Francisco is the largest community college in the state, serving more than 100,000 students each year across several campuses. Fortunately for students, CCSF's size translates to options: The school offers more than 100 career-focused disciplines.
  • Las Positas College: This picturesque campus is located just 40 miles southeast from San Francisco amidst one of the state's fastest growing science and technology sectors (driven in part by the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory). Its proximity to BART and its online learning options make studying at Las Positas a convenient option for students across the region.
  • De Anza College: Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, De Anza is known for its stellar computer and engineering programs, but it is its commitment to educational excellence across the board that earned it a place among Washington Monthly's top 50 community colleges in the nation in 2010 (, 2010).
  • Cuesta College: Located near California's central coast (and wine country to boot), Cuesta College is surrounded by some of the state's most beautiful sites. California State Polytechnic University, which regularly ranks among U.S. News and Report's best colleges in the west, is just down the road and is often a popular transfer destination for Cuesta students.
  • Sierra College: Snow bunnies and nature lovers rejoice: Sierra College -- and its acclaimed Natural History Museum -- provides students with a respectable education and a healthy dose of the great outdoors. Need a break? Hit the slopes or head to the nearby Lake Tahoe for good, active fun (with a view).
  • Santa Barbara City College: If you want quality views and education, SBCC should make your short list. Not only is SBCC an unofficial feeder school to the ever-popular U.C. Santa Barbara, but in 2011, the Aspen Institute ranked it among best community colleges in the country based on student success and completion rates.
  • Foothill College: Like De Anza College, Foothill College is located near California's Silicon Valley (and all the high-tech jobs it provides). It is also a beautiful campus, and has a plethora of architecture awards to prove it.
  • Southwestern College: Nestled between San Diego and the Mexican border, Southwestern college is the only community college serving San Diego's South County. According to its official website, Southwestern ( consistently ranks in the top 10 percent nationally for the most associate degrees conferred.
  • Cañada College: Cañada College proves that big things really can come in small packages. Not only is Cañada College one of the state's leading community colleges in terms of completion and transfer rates, but this relatively small campus is one of the few nationally to offer bachelor's degrees through its University Center.
  • Cabrillo College: Situated in Aptos, a small beach community in the Monterey Bay Area, Cabrillo College offers students top notch views and educations. Students who can bear to break away from the sights can choose to go to school online or overseas through Cabrillo's active distance learning and study abroad programs.
  • Golden West College: Located in Huntington Beach, or "Surf City," Golden West students can hit the waves between hitting the books. It was also one of the first online schools in California and, according to its official site, remains dedicated to providing students with high quality education online and off.
  • Santa Ana College: California is a melting pot, and few schools epitomize that cultural diversity quite as well as Santa Ana College, which hosts students from more than 40 different countries. Choose from more than 300 subjects and attend on-campus or online, whichever suits your fancy.
  • Cosumnes River College: This Sacramento-based school is one of the fastest growing community colleges in the state. Offering dozens of associate degrees available at several "mini-campuses" across the region, CRC takes its motto, "Seek Knowledge," to heart.
  • Reedley College: Reedley College -- or simply "The College" to locals -- was established on the historic T. L. Reed Ranch and is only a three hour drive from both San Francisco and Los Angeles, which makes it an ideal school for those who want to get away (but not too far). Head up to the Sierra Nevadas (and the legendary Squaw Valley) for a little "you" time.
  • College of the Siskiyous: Situated at the base of Mount Shasta, COS is a nature lover's dream come true. COS offers programs in a diversity of subjects, but the school is especially known for its administration of justice program and fire academy.
  • San Diego City College: SDCC, located in downtown San Diego, serves more than 30 thousand students a year, making it a popular choice among those who can appreciate fast-paced city living. SDCC alumni include professional athletes, accomplished authors and even James Sinegal, CEO of Costco.
  • Irvine Valley College: Irvine Valley College is within 50 miles of no less than nine University of California and California State University schools, so it is a popular school among students hoping to transfer to a four-year college. While IVC offers programs in a wealth of subjects, its performing arts programs -- especially its dance curriculum -- are particularly notable.
  • Pasadena City College: Pasadena City College is a bustling school and an unofficial feeder school to major schools like UCLA, Cal Poly Pomona and CSU Los Angeles. Notable alumni include big-name actors and musicians (including David Lee Roth), professional athletes and even a Nobel laureate.
  • College of Marin: The College of Marin is located in beautiful Marin County, making it as much a scenic getaway as it is a beacon of learning. In addition to its impressively diverse course catalogue, the college offers dozens of community education courses designed to encourage personal enrichment without the stress of homework or tests.
  • Chaffey College: Founded in 1883, Chaffey is the oldest community college in California. Serving much of San Bernadino County, Chaffey is a popular transfer school for schools like Cal State San Bernadino, Cal Poly Pamona and cal State Fullerton.
  • San Diego Mesa College: The largest community college in San Diego, Mesa College isn't just a college; it's a sports and fine arts powerhouse. Take advantage of the school's state-of-the-art labs, athletics complex and theater facilities.
  • Columbia College: If you have ever wanted to channel Ansel Adams, Columbia College -- and its proximity to the picturesque Yosemite National Park -- is an excellent place to start. In addition to its top-notch views and diverse course catalog, CC offers one of the best fire academies in the state.
  • Monterey Peninsula College: Situated near the scenic Monterey Bay Peninsula, MPC is a true education destination. In addition to its competitive classes, MPC hosts a plethora of student services designed to help you do everything from choosing a major (and, eventually, a career) to funding your education.
  • College of the Canyons: According to the school, College of the Canyons is one of the fastest growing schools in the nation, and with good reason: COC's is so picturesque that a number of television shows -- like Weeds or NCIS -- have filmed on its campus. Its diverse course catalogue doesn't hurt, either.
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About the Author

Aimee Hosler is a freelance writer specializing in career, education and culinary topics. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism with an emphasis on media law.