Best Community Colleges in California
California has one of the most prolific community college scenes in the country. The Golden State is home to more than 110 public two-year institutions and features some of the lowest reported costs for community college tuition of any state in the U.S.
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.
Whether you're looking to save some money on your first two years of school before transferring to one of the dozens of California universities or learn a new set of skills to help you advance in your career, the best community colleges in California have programs that can help you get there. We crunched the numbers and sorted the top 10 California community colleges from the rest -- check out the list below.
Grossmont College (El Cajon)
Grossmont College was founded in 1961 and reported a total student population of more than 18,000 in 2017. Just over 60 percent of enrolled students at this El Cajon institution are attending on a part-time basis, either during traditional college hours or at flexibly scheduled sessions on weekends and in the summer.
Online courses are another flexibility initiative at Grossmont. The course catalog lists dozens upon dozens of options for students hoping to give online colleges a try, including several introductory and general education courses and popular electives like abnormal psychology and human sexuality.
Grossmont students can choose among a total of more than 150 degree and certificate programs from seven academic divisions. Close to 20 guaranteed transfer degree plans are available, as well as multiple degrees in multimedia production and modern languages.
MiraCosta College (Oceanside)
More than 14,000 for-credit students enroll on campus and online at MiraCosta College each year, and they don't have to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. According to 2018 figures, tuition and fees for a 24-credit year here will cost California residents right around $1,100 -- less than one third of the national average for public two-year colleges.
Nearly 170 associate degree and certificate programs are available to MCC students, distributed just about equally between academic and vocational study plans. The Oceanside institution even makes it possible for students to earn a full bachelor's degree in biomanufacturing without leaving campus.
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, road cycling and outdoor activities like hiking, surfing and kayaking.
Cerro Coso Community College (Ridgecrest)
Cerro Coso Community College first opened its doors in the fall semester of 1973, and the young institution started to grow immediately. Total enrollment at the central California school has risen about 15 percent in the last three years, and in 2017 it boasted a student body of more than 5,800 learners from its expansive service area.
If you're shopping around for the best online community colleges in California, don't skip over this Ridgecrest school. Nearly three dozen degrees and certificates can be earned in the virtual classroom here, and more than 43 percent of enrolled students take at least some of their coursework online.
Certificates at CCCC typically take around 18 credit hours to complete, although some may require as few as 12. Associate degree plans vary in length, but most consist of at least 60 transferable credit hours.
Oxnard College (Oxnard)
When Oxnard College held its first set of classes in 1975, there were already 4,400 students on the attendance rolls. Today, more than 40 years since that initial class, the Ventura County institution educates more than 7,000 students each year and awards nearly 1,300 associate degrees and certificates annually.
Courses from more than 60 disciplines can be found in the Oxnard College catalog, which contains 70+ degree and certificate programs in total. Aspiring transfer students have close to 20 study plans to choose from, and career-focused Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) and certificate programs are offered in subjects like business, automotive technology, computer networking and emergency medicine.
The virtual classroom also has a presence at Oxnard College. Students may be able to take a substantial portion of their courseload online, and online tutoring is available 24/7 in most subjects.
Palomar College (San Marcos)
With its annual student enrollment of around 30,000 full-time and part-time students, Palomar College is one of the best California community colleges for students who like the hustle and bustle of a large campus. It also can boast a fairly deep history for a two-year institution, having opened its doors for the first time in 1946.
The five academic divisions at Palomar combine to offer more than 300 degree and certificate programs, of which several are fairly rare among two-year schools. Students here can earn certificates or associate degrees in architecture, astronomy, zoology, cinema or public works management.
Along with its headquarters in San Marcos, Palomar maintains seven satellite sites to better serve campus-based students in the area north of San Diego. Education centers and extension sites can be found in Fallbrook, Escondido, Pauma Valley, Mt. Carmel, Camp Pendleton and Ramona.
Moorpark College (Moorpark)
Nearly 1,400 students walked into Moorpark College on its first day of classes in 1965, and the institution grew quickly in the years thereafter. It only took a few years for enrollment to double, and the total student body numbered more than 14,000 in 2017.
The catalog here includes a range of available study plans for students with unique ambitions. Creative types can earn an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree or certificate in game design, and an associate degree in exotic animal training and management can be earned through a five-acre facility known as America's Teaching Zoo.
Demographic numbers show that Moorpark may be one of the top California community colleges for high school graduates looking to complete a few semesters of college at a discount. More than 57 percent of students here were 21 years old or younger in 2016.
Ventura College (Ventura)
Ventura College is the third of three members of the Ventura County Community College District to make the statewide top ten. Around 13,000 students attended classes here in 2017, and more than 90 associate degree and certificate programs are available.
Administrators here work hard to put flexibility measures in place that can allow anyone who wants to continue their education to do so. Online courses and counseling are available for tech-savvy learners, and a pilot program called College Ride provides free public transportation to VCCCD students.
Graduates of Ventura County high schools who choose to attend VC can have their first year of tuition and fees covered by the Ventura College Promise program. Eligible students must apply for college within one year of graduation, fill out a FAFSA and meet a few other conditions.
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 26,000 students were counted here in 2017-18, and nearly 2,600 associate degrees and 150 certificates were awarded at that year's commencement ceremony.
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.
Ambitious business students can apply for a special program that MSJC offers in cooperation with California State University San Marcos at Temecula. The Associate & Bachelor of Science in Business Administration 2+2 program allows you to shift smoothly into the second half of a four-year business program once you've completed your associate degree.
Monterey Peninsula College (Monterey)
Founded in 1947, Monterey Peninsula College was created to serve the educational needs of communities around Monterey Bay. The campus was originally designed to accommodate around 1,000 learners, but enrollment passed that number within 10 years and expansion of facilities and services has continued to this day.
Growth at MPC hasn't exclusively taken place on brick-and-mortar campuses, either. The Monterey institution deserves mention among the best online community colleges in California, offering as many as 20 degrees mostly or entirely through online courses and providing a virtual pathway to completing most statewide general education requirements.
There are a few specialized programs of study among the more than 110 degrees and certificates on offer at MPC. Students can earn an A.S. or certificate in ornamental horticulture, for example, or earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree in oceanography.
Glendale Community College (Glendale)
It was more than 90 years ago when the citizens of Glendale realized a need for academic opportunity in their community and voted to establish the predecessor institution to Glendale Community College. Since that day, two affiliated learning centers have been built in the region and enrollment has grown to more than 25,000 students annually.
More than 150 degree and certificate programs are offered at GCC, including some certificate plans that require just 12 credits to complete. If you're hoping to travel while you learn, GCC conducts study abroad programs to Spain, Italy, the U.K., West Africa and more.
Eco-conscious students might appreciate the sustainable spirit here, as well. Administrators at GCC have worked to outfit the campus with substantive green energy measures, including a large solar panel array atop a parking structure that supplies 10 percent of the campus's electricity.
Initiatives for California Transfer Students
California community college students have access to numerous initiatives designed to promote seamless transfer to California universities once you've finished your associate degree. Here's a quick breakdown of a few of the resources available:
- The California Community Colleges-Associate Degree for Transfer (CCC-ADT) program offers Associate in Art for Transfer (AA-T) and Associate in Science for Transfer (AS-T) degrees for aspiring students of the two state university systems and participating private, non-profit colleges in California
- In addition to CCC-ADT, the University of California (UC) system offers a Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) application for community college students and provides ASSIST, a course credit equivalency lookup tool for students and advisors
- A 2015 agreement between California's community colleges and nearly 40 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country extends the CCC-ADT program to select institutions in other states
The transfer curriculum can differ slightly for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students. A special segment of the state's Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC), which includes more lower-division math and science courses than the typical courseload, is used when calculating a STEM degree transfer.
For more insight into education in the state, be sure to read about the top four-year schools in California.
We ranked 103 California community colleges 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:
- The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- 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, 2016
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
a. Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
b. Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
c. Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students’ children
d. Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren’t limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed September 25-26, 2018, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=CA&ct=1+2&ic=2
- School pages, accessed September 25-26, 2018: About, Grossmont College, https://www.grossmont.edu/college-info/about-grossmont/default.aspx; Fast Facts, Grossmont College, https://www.grossmont.edu/future-students/fast-facts.aspx; Catalog, Grossmont College, https://www.grossmont.edu/academics/schedulecatalog/fall1415/GCCatalog1415Part4.pdf; Departments, Grossmont College, https://www.grossmont.edu/academics/programs-departments/default.aspx; Student Support, Grossmont College, https://www.grossmont.edu/canvas/students/default.aspx; Section Selection Results, Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, https://wa.gcccd.edu/col/wa?TOKENIDX=3084508595&SS=3&APP=ST&CONSTITUENCY=WBST; About, MIraCosta College, http://www.miracosta.edu/officeofthepresident/pio/aboutmcc.html; Fees, MiraCosta College, http://www.miracosta.edu/studentservices/studentaccounts/fees.html; Bachelor's Degree, Biotechnology, MiraCosta College, http://catalog.miracosta.edu/disciplines/biotechnology/#bachelorsdegreetext; Fast Facts 2017, Cerro Coso Community College, https://www.cerrocoso.edu/sites/cerrocoso.edu/files/Fast%20Facts%202017-Final_0.pdf; About, Cerro Coso Community College, https://www.cerrocoso.edu/about; CC Online, Cerro Coso Community College, https://www.cerrocoso.edu/cconline; History, Oxnard College, https://www.oxnardcollege.edu/college-information/about-oxnard-college/history-of-oxnard-college; Fast Facts Fall 2016, Oxnard College, https://www.oxnardcollege.edu/sites/default/files/files/college-information/oc_fast_facts_fall_2016.pdf; Online Tutoring, Oxnard College, https://www.oxnardcollege.edu/departments/student-services/tutoring/online-tutoring; Distance Education, Oxnard College, https://www.oxnardcollege.edu/departments/administrative-departments/student-services-division/distance-education; Academic Departments, Oxnard College, https://www.oxnardcollege.edu/departments/academic; About, Palomar College, https://www2.palomar.edu/pages/about/; History, Palomar College, https://www2.palomar.edu/pages/presidentsoffice/presidents-office-at-palomar-college/history-of-palomar-college/; Academic Programs, Palomar College, https://www2.palomar.edu/pages/academics/programs/#about-palomar; Campus Locations, Palomar College, https://www2.palomar.edu/pages/about/locations/; About, Moorpark College, https://www.moorparkcollege.edu/college-information/about-moorpark-college; History, Moorpark College, https://www.moorparkcollege.edu/college-information/about-moorpark-college/history; Fast Facts Fall 2016, Moorpark College, https://www.moorparkcollege.edu/sites/default/files/files/college-information/about-moorpark-college/mc_fast_facts_fall_2016.pdf; Academic Departments, Moorpark College, https://www.moorparkcollege.edu/departments/academic; Teaching Zoo, Moorpark College, https://www.moorparkcollege.edu/teaching-zoo; Fast Facts Fall 2016, Ventura College, https://www.vcccd.edu/sites/default/files/files/about-the-district/vc_fast_facts_fall_2016.pdf; Distance Education, Ventura College, https://www.venturacollege.edu/online-services/distance-education; The Ventura College Promise, Ventura College, https://www.venturacollege.edu/departments/administrative/foundation/promise-scholarships-textbook-support/vc-promise; Free Bus Rides for Ventura County College Students, Ventura College, https://www.venturacollege.edu/news/free-bus-rides-for-ventura-county-college-students; Welcome, Mt. San Jacinto College, https://msjc.edu/CollegeInformation/Pages/default.aspx; MSJC Fast Facts, Mt. San Jacinto College, https://msjc.edu/PublicInformationOffice/Documents/FactSheetRed.pdf; History of MSJC, Mt. San Jacinto College, https://msjc.edu/CollegeInformation/Pages/History-of-MSJC.aspx; Earn Your AA/BSBA Degrees in the Temecula Valley, Mt. San Jacinto College, https://msjc.edu/CSUSMBusiness/Pages/Earn-your-AA-BSBA-Degrees-in-Temecula.aspx; Campus Contacts, Mt. San Jacinto College, https://www.msjc.edu/CampusSafety/Pages/Campuses-and-Contacts.aspx; MPC History, Monterey Peninsula College, https://www.mpc.edu/about-mpc/campus-information/mpc-history; About MPC, Monterey Peninsula College, https://www.mpc.edu/about-mpc; All Degrees and Programs, Monterey Peninsula College, https://www.mpc.edu/academics/all-degrees-and-programs; Browse Online Courses & Programs, Monterey Peninsula College, https://www.mpc.edu/academics/general-information/online-courses-programs/browse-online-courses-programs; About GCC, Glendale Community College, https://www.glendale.edu/about-gcc/gcc-overview; Degrees, Glendale Community College, https://www.glendale.edu/academics/degree-certificate-programs/degrees; Certificate Programs and Gainful Employment, Glendale Community College, https://www.glendale.edu/academics/degree-certificate-programs/certificate-programs; Study Abroad, Glendale Community College, https://www.glendale.edu/academics/special-programs/study-abroad; Energy and Electricity, Glendale Community College, https://www.glendale.edu/about-gcc/faculty-and-staff/environment-and-sustainability/campus-sustainability-efforts/energy-and-electricity;
- CCC-Associate Degree for Transfer, California State University, https://www2.calstate.edu/apply/transfer/Pages/ccc-associate-degree-for-transfer.aspx
- Transferring from a California Community College, California Career Center, accessed September 25, https://www.calcareercenter.org/Home/Content?contentID=179
- About the Program, A Degree With A Guarantee, accessed September 25, http://adegreewithaguarantee.com/en-us/abouttheprogram.aspx
- Welcome to ASSIST, ASSIST, accessed September 25, http://www.assist.org/web-assist/welcome.html
- California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, accessed September 25-26: Home, http://www.cccco.edu/ ; Transfer Admission Guarantee Application Instructions, https://ccctransfer.org/index.php/2018/09/05/transfer-admission-guarantee-application-instructions/; Transferring to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU Transfer), http://www.cccco.edu/
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds