Best community colleges in California
Ever since President Obama introduced America's College Promise in 2015, a proposal to make community college tuition-free for qualifying students, legislators and education administrators in California have been working to make that dream a reality in the Golden State. The California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office (CCCCO) reported in 2016 that 23 regional Promise programs were active in the state, and that the program's reach was expected to extend to even more students in the coming years.
It's important with us that we stay up to date with our rankings, and we wanted to crunch the numbers to find out which schools are the best community colleges in California. More precise details of our methodology can be found at the bottom of the page, but the long and short of it is that we gathered a mountain of data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the CCCCO, the University of California and California State University systems and analyzed how the schools compared to one another, then scored them accordingly to find out which schools stood out from the crowd.
Check out our survey of online schools in California if you're looking for info on four-year colleges, but for now we're focusing on the two-year side of the aisle. Read on to learn about the top community colleges in Los Angeles County, the greater Bay Area and beyond.
1. Las Positas College (Livermore)
Las Positas College may not have run away with any of the individual categories in our statistical survey, but its appearance in the upper percentiles nearly across the board was enough to place it at the head of the class. Its retention, graduation and transfer rates all fell among the top 20 schools out of 113 statewide on those metrics, and the Livermore school's percentage of distance education students put it at No. 3 among the best community colleges in California in that category. On-campus day care and alternative tuition plans gave it a boost on the flexibility metric, and its proximity to booming job markets in the Bay Area can be an additional plus for graduates.
- Small-school feel: If you're the type of student who doesn't like to navigate big crowds on campus, LPC might be the right school for you. The total enrollment headcount in fall 2014 was just 8,835 students — around 4,000 fewer than the next-smallest school on our list.
2. Citrus College (Glendora)
Strong affordability numbers and a transfer rate in the statewide top 10 combined to put Southern California's Citrus College at No. 2 overall and in the top spot among community colleges in the Los Angeles area. The Glendora institution placed second on our list for affordable tuition cost as well as average net price — an affordability measure that takes into account the overall cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board and other expenses and subtracts from it the average amount of grant and scholarship aid awarded to students. Its rank among the top 20 schools statewide for graduation rate and the top 30 for retention rate also helped cement its place as the No. 2 school in the state.
- Community commitment: Citrus College maintains a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called the Citrus College Foundation, which works to advance students' educational goals, provide education and vocational training and offer cultural opportunities for the greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.
3. Santa Monica College (Santa Monica)
It is no secret that students often use community colleges as stepping stones to four-year degrees, and Santa Monica College students had considerable success in this category. SMC produced more University of California and California State University transfer students than any of the other top community colleges in California. This may be due in part to its student body of more than 30,000, but its rate of transfers per 1,000 students was still high enough for the No. 7 spot statewide in that category. Affordability of tuition, fees, books and supplies was another standout statistic at SMC — no other school on our list posted a lower aggregate cost for the 2015-16 academic year.
- Maps to the stars' homes: SMC students have access to the John Drescher Planetarium, which has stood in its current incarnation since the late 1990s. Planetarium operators also put on public star shows on Friday nights and open their doors to school groups and other learners for occasional daytime events.
4. Pasadena City College (Pasadena)
If student-faculty ratio can be seen as a predictor of a student's chances for one-on-one or small-group interactions with professors, Pasadena City College students may not have to work too hard get personalized instruction. PCC posted the lowest student-faculty ratio among not only the top community colleges in Los Angeles County but of any school that made our top 10 list, and its rates of successful student graduation or transfer to UC and CSU schools placed in the top 20 statewide. What's more, if you prefer on-campus classes but your work or family life demands some scheduling flexibility, PCC offers entire degree programs that can be earned through weekend or evening coursework.
- Prestigious company: PCC has a history of educating or employing people who go on to do great things. Among them: sports legend Jackie Robinson, who attended in the 1930s, and adjunct music instructor and Grammy-winning harpist Alison Bjorkedal.
5. Glendale Community College (Glendale)
Glendale Community College had the best net price ranking among all the best community colleges in California, despite an average tuition figure that fell on the less affordable side of average, which suggests that students at the medium-large Glendale institution might be able to obtain grant and scholarship assistance without a great deal of difficulty. It was also the No. 2 school on our list for its rate of transfers to state system universities, and its avenues for life experience credit, on-campus day care and alternative tuition plans made it more accessible to campus-based students than certain other top community colleges in California.
- Green campus: Faculty and administration at GCC have been working together for several years to outfit the campus with substantive sustainability measures, including a large solar panel array that supplies 10 percent of the campus's electricity from atop a parking structure.
6. San Joaquin Delta College (Stockton)
A college's percentage of students enrolled at least partly in distance education courses is often a fair measure of its commitment to enhancing student access, and San Joaquin Delta College was one of the most inclusive two-year online schools in California — only 12 community colleges across the entire state had a greater rate of online course enrollment than this Stockton institution. Delta's campus-based flexibility measures included available credit for life experience and degree plans that can be earned entirely through weekend or evening classes, and it also came away with the best retention rate of any school on our list.
- Focus on the arts: Students at Delta are treated to multiple visual and performance art exhibitions per year at the LH Horton Jr. Gallery and the Delta Center for the Arts, as well as an annual jazz festival on the first Saturday in December.
7. MiraCosta College (Oceanside)
MiraCosta College is another college on our list with a firm place among online schools in California — 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 a UC/CSU transfer rate that places it in the top 15 percent of two-year schools in the state, and its graduation rate placed it among the top 20 schools in all of California for associate degree earners. On top of all that, the average net price at the Oceanside school, while not quite at the top of the affordability category, was still less expensive than about 60 percent of California community colleges.
- Serious recreation: Oceanside is located in coastal San Diego County, putting MCC students within easy access of several popular beaches, famous attractions like the San Diego Zoo, world-class road cycling and outdoor activities like hiking, surfing and kayaking.
8. Moorpark College (Moorpark)
Affordability and flexibility were the two signature metrics for Moorpark College, shown by an average net price that ranked No. 3 on our list and campus-based flexibility measures that include weekend/evening degree plans, on-campus day care and alternative tuition payment schedules for students who qualify. This evident commitment to student access may have helped the Ventura County institution record a 2014 graduation rate that was No. 1 among the top 10 community colleges in California and a percentage of successful transfers to state system universities that took the top spot among all two-year schools statewide.
- Scholarships galore: Thanks to funding provided through the Moorpark College Foundation, students at MC can qualify for more than 60 scholarship awards. The scholarships on offer cover a wide range of subjects of study, and some are designed to help artists, continuing students and other specific groups.
9. College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita)
Santa Clarita's College of the Canyons had the second-best graduation rate among the top community colleges in California, and that wasn't all that made this Central Coast school one of the top community colleges in California. It also boasts the same student-faculty ratio as the No. 1 school on our list, has a retention rate that ranks among the top 10 percent of similar institutions statewide and features a distance education percentage that places it in among our list's top five online schools in California. COC also charges in-state students an average tuition that's around $250 more affordable than the statewide average as calculated by The College Board.
- Sporting chances: COC offers its students a broad spectrum of opportunities to exercise their bodies and their competitive natures in organized athletics. The school's eight men's and eight women's sports teams have won a total of 25 state championships between them since 1981.
10. Ventura College (Ventura)
Online enrollment at Ventura College was more pervasive than average, ranking it at No. 5 among schools with distance education that made our list, and its approach to educational flexibility didn't stop there. On-campus students at the Ventura school can make use of degree programs available exclusively through weekend and evening courses, alternative tuition payment plans for qualifying students, and affordable child care services for students, staff and the local community through the campus's Child Development Center. The transfer rate for VC students to four-year schools ranked among the top 10 percent of similar schools in the state, which was another impressive figure in its portfolio.
- College Promise program: Graduates of Ventura County high schools who choose to attend VC can have their tuition and fees covered by the Ventura College Promise program, provided that they apply for college within one year of graduation, set an educational goal, fill out a FAFSA and remain continuously enrolled for at least two semesters.
Final thoughts about the best community colleges in California
We worked with hard data to come up with our best community colleges in California, but it's important to point out that numbers can't take individual student preferences into account when ranking schools. Make sure to look around, if you can, before choosing among the top campus-based or online schools in California for yourself.
We ranked the 113 California Community Colleges member schools on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points and the weights specified:
- The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 15%
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014 and 2015: 30%
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
- The number of transfers per 1,000 students to the University of California System, California State University System, and in-state private and out-of-state colleges, 2014-15: 30%
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 10%
- Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
- Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students' children
- Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren't limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
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3. California Community College Transfers by Institution of Origin 2014-15, The California State University, Accessed August 10, 2016, http://asd.calstate.edu/ccc/SummaryYear.asp
4. Transfer Volume to In-State Private (ISP) and Out-of-State (OOS) Baccalaureate Granting Institutions Report, 2014-15, California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office Management Information Systems Data Mart, Accessed August 10, 2016, http://datamart.cccco.edu/Outcomes/Student_Transfer_Volume.aspx
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9. School pages, accessed August 29, 2016: Net Price Calculator, Bergen Community College, http://bergen.edu/Portals/0/calculator/npcalc.htm; Citrus College Foundation, Citrus College, http://www.citruscollege.edu/foundation/Pages/default.aspx; History of Our Planetarium, Santa Monica College, http://www.smc.edu/AcademicPrograms/Planetarium/Pages/history.aspx; Achievements, Pasadena City College, http://pasadena.edu/about/achievements.php; History, Pasadena City College, http://www.pasadena.edu/about/history.php; Energy and Electricity, Glendale Community College, http://www.glendale.edu/index.aspx?page=3402; Current Exhibitions, Horton Gallery, San Joaquin Delta College, https://deltacollege.edu/div/finearts/dept/dca/gallery/Current_Exhibitions.html; Delta Jazz Series, Delta Center for the Arts, San Joaquin Delta College, https://deltacollege.edu/div/finearts/dept/dca/jazz_series/index.html; About MiraCosta College, MiraCosta College, http://www.miracosta.edu/officeofthepresident/pio/aboutmcc.html; Foundation Scholarships, Moorpark College, http://www.moorparkcollege.edu/community/foundation/foundation-scholarships; Athletics, College of the Canyons, http://canyons.prestosports.com/landing/index; Child Development Center, Ventura College, http://www.venturacollege.edu/departments/student-services/child-development-center; The Ventura College Promise, Ventura College, http://www.venturacollege.edu/departments/administrative/foundation/programs/vc-promise;
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