Top 25 Community Colleges In California

California community colleges are important — not just to California, but to the entire nation. According to a 2015 report from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, this 112-campus system is the largest higher education system in the country, training one in every five U.S. community college students.

California community colleges are also vital for the state's future economic success. It seems like water isn't the only thing the state may be lacking in the future: The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) projects that by 2025, California's college-educated workers will fall one million short of employer demand. Night and weekend classes, aid programs and flexible scheduling makes it easier for even working professionals to enroll in community college and develop the skills California so desperately needs. The fact that community colleges also account for many online schools in California helps, too.

All community colleges can be valuable, but in California, some earn higher marks than others in areas like affordability, accessibility, retention, and graduation and transfer rates. Which ones? We used key success indicators from the National Center of Education Statistics, and the University of California and California State University systems to find and rank the best community colleges in California.

> Read our ranking methodology here

Top 25 California community colleges

1. Saddleback College (Mission Viejo): There are a myriad of reasons Saddleback College claimed the no. 1 spot on our list, but its ability to do more with less ranks chief among them. According to the NCES, Saddleback ranked in the top 10 percent of all California community colleges for affordability in 2013-14, yet managed to produce one of the highest graduation rates. Part of its secret: Hefty investments in online education, a historically cost-effective way to boost accessibility. Saddleback ranks in the top 20 percent of schools statewide for student distance education participation.

2. Santa Monica College (Santa Monica): It is no secret that students who use community colleges as stepping stones to four-year degrees can shave thousands of dollars off their total education costs. This is precisely where Santa Monica College shines. SMC produced more University of California and California State University transfer students than any other school featured on our list in 2014, and its combined UC and CSU transfer rate fell in the top 10 percent of all community colleges statewide. Another key SMC top-tenth ranking that year: affordability. That means Santa Monica College transfer students had an even bigger advantage than most in terms of four-year cost-savings.

3. Cypress College (Cypress): The PPIC's projected skills shortfall has made the California Community College System's focus on educational accessibility even more important, but for students juggling work, family responsibilities or financial difficulties, even part-time attendance can be unsustainable. Cypress College seems to have cracked the code. The school's part-time retention rate ranked in the top 10 percent of all schools statewide in 2014, and a whopping 80 percent of full-time, first-time students received financial aid. Nearly a quarter of its students also enrolled in distance education courses that year, which might be a major factor in Cypress' part-time student success.

Las Positas College is affordable and boasts a high retention rate, though its proximity to the culture and jobs hub that is the Bay Area might be the biggest bonus to attending the renowned school.

4. Las Positas College (Livermore): Las Positas College also excels in the part-time retention arena, but its full-time retention rate — a full 83 percent in 2014 — is even more impressive. That figure places Las Positas not just in the top 10 percent of all California community colleges for full-year retention that year, but no. 1 among all the schools featured on this list, meaning students seem to love the place! The fact that the school also ranked in the top 20 percent statewide for affordability only reaffirms its status as one of California's best community colleges — though its proximity to the culture and jobs hub that is the Bay Area is a definite bonus.

5. Pasadena City College (Pasadena): If student transfer rate is an indicator of educational quality, Pasadena City College deserves a gold star. According to its official website, PCC ranks in the top five community colleges in California when it comes to students transferring from there to not just to UCs and CSUs, but also to USC, the Art Center College of Design, Caltech and other highly-regarded colleges. The school is also known for its highly regarded faculty members. Among them: adjunct music instructor Alison Bjorkedal, who won a Grammy in 2015 for her percussion group's album, Plectra & Percussion.

6. Golden West College (Huntington Beach): Golden West College is another major transfer all-star; its combined UC and CSU transfer rate placed it in the top 10 percent of all California community colleges in 2014. It also offers a sizable share of online classes — a feature a full one-third of its students flex each year. These distinctions are not the only factors that draw students to Golden West: it's also set in Huntington Beach, the true Surf City USA, home to one of the state's most popular beaches and the laid back lifestyle for which the area is known.

7. Folsom Lake College (Folsom): Folsom Lake College, officially launched in 2004, may be one of the newest community colleges in California, but the hard data shows it is a quick study. FLC's full-time retention, graduation, and combined UC and CSU transfer rates placed it in the top third of all community colleges statewide in 2014. The school also takes great pride in its facilities, which include more than 200,000 square feet of high-tech instructional space, the Falcon's Roost student hub, and the renowned Harris Art Center, which not only supports a thriving theater arts program, but draws artists and performers from all across the globe.

MiraCosta College in the San Diego area had nearly 40% of its students using distance education programs in 2014 — more than any other institution on our list.

8. MiraCosta College (Oceanside): MiraCosta College is known for its flexible programming in general and its online course options specifically: Nearly 40 percent of its students enrolled in distance education courses in 2014, more than any other institution featured on our list. It also boasts one of the highest combined UC-CSU transfer rates in the state. According to the school's official website, those students typically earn higher GPAs than non-transfer students. MiraCosta College is in Oceanside, putting its students within easy access of several popular beaches, park attractions like the zoo, and many more cultural perks that make San Diego County a major tourist destination.

9. Napa Valley College (Napa): Napa Valley College offers students a truly one-of-a-kind learning experience — not just because it is set in the popular Napa Valley wine country. Of all the California community colleges featured on our list, Napa Valley College's student-to-faculty ratio is the lowest. Smaller class sizes allow instructors to give students more personalized support, which might explain why the school also happens to have one of the best graduation rates in the state. Students attending Napa Valley can choose from dozens of academic programs, including several related to wine-making (naturally). Other unique school features include its robust Career-Technical Education program, on-site childcare and a full battery of student support services.

10. El Camino Community College (Torrance): El Camino Community College's top-10 California community college status is well earned. In 2014, ECCC ranked in the top 10 percent of schools statewide for overall affordability, full-time student retention and CSU transfer rate. Its First Year Experience Program, designed to make the transition to college easier for new high school graduates, is so effective that it earned honorable mention for the Academic Senate for California Community College's Exemplary Program Award in 2009. El Camino may be a large school in the bustling L.A. metro, but it considers its open campus a true student-centered community unique unto itself.

11. Irvine Valley College (Irvine): Irvine Valley College describes its college environment as "small," but one could never say the same of its list of accomplishments. Once part of the no. 1 community college on our list, Saddleback College, Irvine Valley ranked in the top 10 percent of all California community colleges for its full-time retention, total graduation, and overall combined UC-CSU transfer rates in 2014. The school credits much of its success to its student support services, including its Transfer Center, which draws more than 50 four-year colleges to its annual Transfer Fair.

12. Cosumnes River College (Sacramento): Cosumnes River College holds the distinction of being one of the most affordable community colleges in California, but its top-fifth ranking for full-time student retention suggests it is also effective. Every first-time college student attending Consumnes River College must complete its unique "Steps to Success" program featuring an orientation, an education planning session and other steps designed to make the transition to college easier. On its official website, Consumnes describes itself as small enough to offer personalized instruction, but large enough to offer a comprehensive catalog of academic options, and with more than 170 certificates and degrees across 50 distinct areas, its point is difficult to dispute.

Orange Coast College is just five minutes from the beach — a nice perk — but for the school, this coastal proximity was the key that helped it develop one of the nation's largest and most acclaimed public nautical programs.

13. Orange Coast College (Costa Mesa): Orange Coast's accomplishments cannot be overstated. In 2014, the school ranked in the top 10 percent of all California community colleges for its part-time retention rate, total graduation rate and combined UC-CSU transfer rate. It also ranked in the top fifth statewide for affordability and full-time retention rate. Some students might consider the fact that Orange Coast is just five minutes from the beach a nice perk, but for the school, this coastal proximity was the key that helped it develop one of the nation's largest and most acclaimed public nautical programs.

14. Woodland Community College (Woodland): Serving fewer than 3,000 students each year, Woodland Community College is the smallest school featured on our list, but because of this, it also boasts one of the best student-to-faculty ratios. Another claim to fame: the school's combined UC-CSU transfer rate placed it among the top 10 percent of all community colleges statewide in 2014. Woodland's president, Dr. Michael A. White, describes the institution's faculty as its greatest asset in his President's Message, though the school's emphasis on ongoing academic support and counseling likely played a role in its success, too.

15. Chabot College (Hayward): When actor Tom Hanks penned an open letter for The New York Times in 2015 stating he owed all of his success to community college, he was talking about Chabot College. Hanks is one of many famous alums to attend Chabot, but it is Chabot's record, not its star power, that cements the school's position among the best community colleges in California. Chabot ranks in the top 20 percent for affordability and full-time retention, and nearly three-fourths of its 2014 full-time, first-time college students received financial aid. It offers more than 100 degrees and certificates in over 175 distinct academic areas, student-run radio and television stations, and a fair share of notable faculty. Its position in the Bay Area is another bonus, especially for working professionals who want to invest in more training without giving up their day jobs.

Top California community colleges, continued
Fast facts

16. Cuesta College (San Luis Obispo)

A short drive from the scenic coastline, but its transfer rate is even more impressive.

17. American River College (Sacramento)

More than three-fourths of American River's full-time, first-time college students received financial aid in 2014.

18. Merced College (Merced)

Notable alumni include judges, politicians, professional athletes and even a mixed martial arts fighter.

19. Reedley College (Reedley)

One of the few community colleges in California to offer on-campus housing.

20. San Joaquin Delta College (Stockton)

Only one on the list eligible for the Aspen Institute's Prize for Community College Excellence in 2011, 2013 and 2015 — every year the award has been offered.

21. Fresno City College (Fresno)

Oldest existing community college in California and the second oldest in the United States.

22. Glendale Community College (Glendale)

Has a long list of famous alumni and one of the highest CSU-UC transfer rates in the state.

23. Sacramento City College (Sacramento)

Ranks in the top 10 percent statewide for affordability.

24. Fullerton College (Fullerton)

Earns high marks for part-time student retention and total CSU transfers.

25. Citrus College (Glendora)

One of the few California institutions deemed eligible for the Aspen Prize in 2015.

How to find the right California program

This ranking highlights excellent schools, but all traditional and online colleges in California their own philosophies, goals and programs. Finding the right one takes a lot of research. Begin by browsing campus-based, hybrid and online schools in California in our directories.



We ranked the 112 schools in the California Community Colleges system, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points and weighted values, indicated in parentheses:

1. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education (15%)*
2. Total cost of attendance, including tuition & fees plus books & supplies (30%)*
3. Student-to-faculty ratio (15%)*
4. Retention rate for both full-time and part-time students (5%)*
5. Graduation rate (5%)*
6. Number of transfers to the University of California and California State University systems per 1,000 students (30%)**

*National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
**California State University, 2013; University of California, 2013; National Center for Education Statistics, 2013

> Return to top of article



1. "2009 Exemplary Program Awards," Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 2009, http://asccc.org/2009Exemplary
2. Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, The Aspen Institute, http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/college-excellence/overview
3. "California's Need for Skilled Workers," Public Policy Institute of California, 2014, Sarah Bohn, http://www.ppic.org/main/publication_quick.asp?i=1112
4. "Key Facts about California Community Colleges," California Community College's Chancellor's Office, January 16, 2015, http://californiacommunitycolleges.cccco.edu/PolicyInAction/KeyFacts.aspx
5. IPEDs Data Center, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed April 2015, https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/
6. "I Owe It All to Community College: Tom Hanks on His Two Years at Chabot College," The New York Times, January 14, 2015, Tom Hanks, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/opinion/tom-hanks-on-his-two-years-at-chabot-college.html?_r=0
7. "News: PCC Music Instructor Wins Grammy Award," Pasadena City College, February 10, 2015, http://www.pasadena.edu/news/newsitem.cfm?id=5840
8. “University of California Origin of New Undergraduates, Academic Year: 2013,” California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, Report Issued Oct. 29, 2014, Accessed April 2, 2015, https://www.elcamino.edu/administration/ir/docs/acadperformance/New%20EnrCCCUCCampus13-14.pdf

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