Irvine Valley College (Irvine)
Irvine Valley College tops the list of the best California community colleges, but that's not all. No other two-year school nationwide put up a better total score on our analysis than this Greater Los Angeles institution.
It won the overall crown in part thanks to the strength of its combination of student success and affordability. California community college tuition is already affordable, and IVC reported the lowest average in-state tuition and fees on our list. It also had one of the highest rates in the country of university success among transfer students, beating all but five schools nationwide in that category.
More than 70 academic majors are available here, in a diverse mix of subjects that includes computer science, journalism, history, dance and laser technology. Around 60 career and technical programs are available as well.
De Anza College (Cupertino)
Only one school had a better record of students transferring successfully to four-year programs than our No. 1 school, and De Anza College holds that honor. The 62 percent transfer rate at this Cupertino institution ranked third on that metric out of all 800+ two-year schools we surveyed.
Programs of study here include high-tech fields like cyber forensics and enterprise computer security as well as traditional majors like English and economics. Students looking to major in the media arts can study animation, production and screenwriting.
De Anza charged just $31 per credit hour of study in 2018, tying it for the most affordable per-credit tuition in the state. It also had the best graduation rate on our list, and 80 percent of all newly enrolled students continue their programs into their sophomore year.
Ohlone College (Fremont)
Ohlone College posted student success rates that were among the state's best, placing third for its percentage of on-time graduates and taking the statewide top spot for first-year student retention. It was also one of California's more flexible institutions in terms of scheduling, offering a range of weekend courses and reporting a distance enrollment rate of 42 percent.
This institution in Alameda County operates two brick-and-mortar campuses and an online division and offers a total of nearly 200 degree and certificate programs for students to choose from. The catalog contains more than 500 individual online courses that can be mixed into the schedules of most associate programs.
Certificate of accomplishment (COAcc) plans available here include advanced photography, paleobiology and interpersonal communication. Associate degrees include business, music and natural science.
Mt. San Jacinto College (San Jacinto)
More than 50 academic and career programs are available at Mt. San Jacinto College, including around 20 associate degrees designed for university transfer. More than 15,000 students attend courses here each semester, and nearly 2,400 associate degrees and 150 certificates were awarded in 2018-19.
MSJC operates a total of four brick-and-mortar locations to serve potential students throughout Riverside County. The main campus in San Jacinto is complemented by a full-service second location in Menifee, an education complex in Temecula and a small satellite campus in Banning.
The degree in environmental studies here can teach students to engage with the human impact on environmental systems. A 2+2 program in business administration allows you to shift smoothly into the second half of a four-year business program at CSU San Marcos at Temecula after graduation.
College of the Canyons (Santa Clarita)
If you're one of the thousands of students choosing to return to school after spending some time in the workforce or the military, College of the Canyons has a few perks that might help you readjust to college life. The Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) support initiative can provide grants for child care and transportation, and course credit can be earned for life experience that's relevant to the degree you're seeking.
The School of Kinesiology at Canyons offers four associate degree plans, in subjects like physical education, sports medicine and recreation management, as well as certificate programs for aspiring personal trainers. A wide range of social science degrees can be earned here, including Associate of Arts (A.A.) programs in psychology, sociology and communication studies.
Taft College (Taft)
Getting the right financial aid package can sometimes mean the difference between graduating and dropping out, and the data for Taft College show this principle in action. Around 86 percent of students at this institution in the San Joaquin Valley were awarded some form of financial aid in 2018, and its graduation rate was better than 83 percent of two-year schools in the country.
Career-ready programs at Taft include court reporting, welding, dental hygiene, energy technology and industrial health and safety. Students hoping to transfer to a university can complete the first two years of degrees in biology, studio arts, administration of justice, journalism and more.
Student athletes may find an outlet for their passions here, as well. Taft fields intercollegiate teams in a total of eight sports for men or women.
Golden West College (Huntington Beach)
Founded in 1965, Golden West College educates roughly 11,500 students each semester and offers a total of nearly 90 for-credit degree and certificate programs. Non-credit programs are available as well, for students looking to learn specific skills for personal enrichment or career advancement rather than enrolling in a full-fledged degree plan. Students who transferred from GWC went on to complete their bachelor's degrees at one of the highest rates in the country.
Computer science students here can earn A.A. degrees in software development and video game development. The nursing department offers an Associate Degree in Nursing (A.D.N.) program suitable for new students as well as those with experience in licensed vocational nursing, and students who want to make a difference in the global community can earn an A.A. in peace studies.
Saddleback College (Mission Viejo)
This Orange County institution is one of the top online community colleges in California in terms of enrollment. The nearly 49 percent of students here who take some of their credits in the virtual classroom represents the largest such percentage among schools that made our list.
Saddleback College also features one of the largest catalogs of purely online programs in the state, offering more than 40 degrees and certificates that can be earned without ever setting foot in a classroom. Online students can earn transfer degrees in anthropology, political science, sociology and more, and subjects of study in certificate plans include American Sign Language, real estate appraisal, business communication and entrepreneurship.
More than 90 programs are available on campus, as well. Traditional students can study oceanography, horticulture, architecture, theatre arts and more.
West Hills College-Lemoore (Lemoore)
The Lemoore campus of West Hills College was another hot destination for distance education students in 2018-19, boasting an online enrollment rate of more than 45 percent. It also had one of the best first-year student retention rates in the state, and a larger percentage of the student body took advantage of financial aid programs than at all but one other school on our list.
Students who prefer a fairly quiet study environment might appreciate the close-knit feel of WHC Lemore. Fewer than 4,300 students attend classes here each semester, so you're less likely to feel like an anonymous face in the crowd.
Transfer degrees are available in geology, physics, geography and communication, among other subjects. Career training includes certificates for apprentice chefs, bookkeepers and computer programmers.
San Diego Miramar College (San Diego)
Student success seems to be in the DNA of San Diego Miramar College. This institution of close to 16,000 students had a better rate of on-time graduation than all but one other school on our list and posted a retention rate that landed in the 94th percentile nationwide.
What's more, the record of success at Miramar doesn't stop when its students graduate. The rate of bachelor's degree completion by transfer students fell just percentage points shy of landing among the top 20 two-year schools in the country on that metric.
Students here can choose from a rage of certificates in aviation operations, including a remote pilot certificate that teaches the nuts and bolts of drone flight. The one-semester yoga teacher training program meets the criteria for the 200-hour registered yoga teacher (RYT) certification.