2021 Best Community Colleges in California

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September 1, 2021

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California's community colleges make up the largest higher education system in the U.S. About 2.1 million students attend 116 community colleges in California.

Students choose to attend community colleges for various reasons. Many want to earn an associate degree or an industry-specific certificate. Other learners hope to reduce educational costs by attending a community college for two years before transferring to earn a bachelor's degree.

Many in California have worked to raise awareness about the benefits of a two-year education and believe it should be available to everyone. California's community colleges also boast some famous former students, including actor and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, NFL star Aaron Rodgers, and writer Amy Tan.

Read on to learn more about community colleges in California and what they have to offer.

Ranking compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

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Top 10 Community Colleges in California

#1 Irvine Valley College Irvine, CA
#2 Moorpark College Moorpark, CA
#3 Mt San Antonio College Walnut, CA
#4 Las Positas College Livermore, CA
#5 Diablo Valley College Pleasant Hill, CA
#6 Imperial Valley College Imperial, CA
#7 Santiago Canyon College Orange, CA
#8 De Anza College Cupertino, CA
#9 Pasadena City College Pasadena, CA
#10 Hartnell College Salinas, CA
How We Rank Schools

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Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Why Study in California?

  1. Educational Opportunities

    California's community colleges offer more than 200 programs. These programs give students options to reach a variety of desired goals.

    Some learners want to earn an associate degree. Others want to complete general education requirements before transferring to a four-year university. For these students, the system offers the Associate Degree for Transfer program. This guarantees admission and a saved spot at participating universities in California.

    Another program, the College Promise Grant, waives enrollment fees for qualified students. Many students at community colleges in California get financial aid to help with school costs.

  2. Economy

    California boasts the highest gross domestic product in the nation. This number reveals the total market value of goods and services produced in a given year. It is a common indicator of economic strength.

    According to Bloomberg, since April 2020, California's surging economy resulted in 1.3 million new non-farm payroll jobs and $164 billion in increased household income.

  3. Cost of Living

    California ranked third in CNBC's 2021 list of the most expensive states to live in, topped only by Hawaii and New York. However, keep in mind that California's cost of living varies dramatically between its different counties and cities.

    For instance, it is typically less expensive to live in Los Angeles than San Francisco. Additionally, it costs significantly less to live in the eastern valleys than it does to live in coastal cities. Due to its large size and diversity, the state can accommodate individuals on a wide variety of budgets.

  4. Cultural and Community Offerings

    California is home to some of the nation's most famous attractions. The Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Disneyland, and Big Sur are all found within its borders.

    The state also has culturally diverse neighborhoods and thriving artistic communities. California offers street fairs, concerts, and a legion of culturally rich community programs and events.

    Additionally, California contains 840 miles of beaches and some of the tallest trees on Earth. It also shares the largest alpine lake in North America. California can be an ideal home for nature enthusiasts.

  5. Climate

    Much of California enjoys a temperate, Mediterranean-like climate — dry, hot summers and mild winters. Beach communities in the northern part of the state typically see daytime temperatures in the 70s, with a morning blanket of fog in the summer months.

    In the mountains, Californians can experience all four seasons. And those living in the deserts can see temperatures that reach above 100 degrees. Depending on where they attend school, students may need to pack an array of clothing options, from lightweight shorts and tees to warmer wear.

Top Degree Programs in California

California Employment Outlook

Many states are in the process of recovering from the effects of the pandemic, and California is no exception. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), California added 804,900 jobs in 2021 — the largest job increase in the nation. Industries experiencing the most significant growth include hospitality, education, health, information, and business services.

According to California's Employment Development Department, some of the state's fastest-growing occupations between 2018 and 2028 are projected to include solar energy technician, occupational and physical therapy assistant, and respiratory therapist. Many of these roles require an associate degree or other type of postsecondary training.

5 California Jobs in Demand for 2021
Occupation Annual Median Salary (as of May 2020) Job Outlook
Respiratory Therapist $62,810 The BLS projects 19% job growth between 2019 and 2029. Respiratory therapists examine, treat, and perform diagnostic tests on patients experiencing trouble breathing. These professionals may test oxygen levels, perform chest physiotherapy, and connect patients to ventilators. They also may treat premature infants with undeveloped lungs and elderly patients with chronic lung diseases. Typically, respiratory therapists work in hospitals, though some provide home care.
Physical Therapy Assistant $59,770 The BLS projects 33% job growth between 2019 and 2029. Physical therapy assistants work under the supervision of a physical therapist. They may treat patients recovering from injuries by helping them perform exercises or through the use of massage, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic measures. These professionals work in various settings, including hospitals, nursing care facilities, and private practices.
Occupational Therapy Assistant $62,940 The BLS projects 35% job growth between 2019 and 2029. Occupational therapy assistants work under the direction of an occupational therapist. These professionals assist patients who have lost the ability to perform daily functions due to disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. For example, they may help patients perform exercises or teach them how to use special equipment. Occupational therapy assistants work in numerous fields, including pediatrics, mental health, and rehabilitation.
Solar Photovoltaic Installers $46,470 The BLS projects 52% job growth between 2019 and 2029. Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, also called solar energy technicians, install and maintain solar panel systems. While not always mandatory for employment, earning certification or a degree in this field can demonstrate competency. Some states require certification for PV installers working on projects qualifying for solar-related subsidies.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers $75,920 The BLS projects 17% job growth between 2019 and 2029. Diagnostic medical sonographers create images, known as sonograms or ultrasounds, of the body's tissues and organs. They may specialize in different parts of the body, such as the abdomen, heart, and breast. These professionals also can work with specific populations, such as the elderly, children, and pregnant women.

Popular Career Paths in California

2021 Best Accredited Community Colleges in California

Irvine Valley College View School Profile Irvine, CA

Irvine Valley College offers a variety of academic services to around 13,000 students. IVC sits on a 60-acre campus and provides learners with dozens of associate degree and professional certificate options.

In addition to traditional on-campus coursework, students can choose from IVC's roster of online classes. Learners can complete most general education classes through the school's online learning platform. Many of the academic tracks are also available entirely online.

IVC is home to 11 academic schools, including business sciences, humanities, and mathematics and computer science. IVC also provides the community with an adult ESL center, an English language center, and an economic and workforce development department.

Moorpark College View School Profile Moorpark, CA

Serving roughly 12,000 students, Moorpark College offers various academic and professional tracks that students can complete on campus, online, or in a hybrid setting. The school provides associate and transfer degree options in many departments, including business, information, and technology; health and wellness; and even exotic animal training and management.

MC also offers certificates in many fields, like accounting, business administration, and biotechnology. In response to the expansion of online learning opportunities, California's Online Education Initiative ensures that students develop the skills they need for a successful distance-learning experience. Many MC students can complete the majority of their coursework online.

Located in Los Angeles-adjacent Ventura County, MC provides many student services to help learners reach their academic and professional goals. These include daycare, housing, and social services. Resources are also available through the Dreamers Workgroup.

Mt San Antonio College View School Profile Walnut, CA

Mt. San Antonio College provides students with an extensive list of professional training options and community-based education programs. Mt. SAC offers more than 100 associate degree programs and over 200 certificate programs.

Associate degree programs include addictions counseling, applied laboratory science technology, and hospitality and restaurant management. Certificate tracks include fire certification and technology, computer systems technology, and radio broadcasting.

In addition to over 3,000 online classes, distance learners also have access to online counseling and tutoring services.

Mt. SAC, located in the city of Walnut, also gives students, faculty, and staff access to personal, academic, and professional support through resources like its Equity Center, El Centro Latinx Chicanx student program, and Mountie Fresh Basic Needs Resources effort.

Las Positas College View School Profile Livermore, CA

Students at Las Positas College can choose from various online and on-campus academic options while pursuing associate degrees and professional certificates.

Learners can pursue associate degrees in subjects including administration of justice, communication studies, and LGBTQ studies. Additionally, LPC specifically designs many programs for students who intend to transfer to four-year institutions.

LPC, based in Livermore, also offers resources for students outside the classroom. The school, which educates around 6,500 students a year, provides mental health services, including behavioral health workshops, crisis counseling, and short-term mental health counseling. Students also have access to a long list of student clubs and organizations.

Diablo Valley College View School Profile Pleasant Hill, CA

Providing its thousands of students with over 80 associate degree and certificate programs, Diablo Valley College has campuses in Pleasant Hill and San Ramon. DVC is home to a diverse population of learners, including high school graduates, transfer students, and lifelong learners.

DVC provides degree-seekers with a varied list of associate degree options, including music industry studies, computer science, and language studies in Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. Career-focused certificate programs cover technical areas like HVAC, plumbing, and steamfitting.

Along with traditional on-campus options, DVC also offers a growing list of 100% online degrees and certificates. Students can complete online associate degrees in areas such as administration of justice, business, and history.

Imperial Valley College View School Profile Imperial, CA

Imperial Valley College educates over 6,000 students annually, offering about 50 degree and certificate programs. With flexible course offerings, students can complete classes on campus and online through synchronous and asynchronous options.

IVC's academic programs cover areas including agriculture, business, and STEM. In addition to traditional associate degrees, IVC — located east of San Diego — provides academic opportunities for degree-seekers planning to transfer to a four-year institution. Students also have access to fire, police, and correctional training programs.

Student services at IVC include career guidance, counseling, online and in-person tutoring, and food and housing help during hardships.

Santiago Canyon College View School Profile Orange, CA

Serving Orange County students since 1985, Santiago Canyon College offers associate degrees and technical certificates in a variety of disciplines. Depending on the focus, SCC designs its two-year associate degree tracks for learners interested in entering the workforce or transferring to a four-year college or university.

Students can earn associate of science and associate of arts degrees in academic disciplines such as economics, art, and astronomy. Career-focused associate degrees include cosmetology and real estate. Students balancing personal and professional obligations can select from a wide variety of online learning options.

SCC also provides learners with nonacademic resources through its health and wellness services, Office of Student Equity and Success, and veterans resource center.

De Anza College View School Profile Cupertino, CA

De Anza College is one of the larger community colleges in California, educating over 15,000 students. Learners pursuing an associate degree have access to transfer planning that can help facilitate their admission into out-of-state and California-based colleges and universities.

De Anza offers over 75 associate degrees and over 100 certificates. While most degrees require some on-campus participation, De Anza does offer 100% online associate degree programs in business administration and environmental studies. Additionally, learners can complete certificates in entrepreneurship and network basics entirely online.

Like on-campus learners, remote students have access to several resources, including psychological services, online tutoring, and library services.

Pasadena City College View School Profile Pasadena, CA

Founded in 1924, Pasadena City College serves over 18,000 students and offers over 140 associate degree programs. The school also oversees about 100 certificate of achievement programs and over 40 noncredit certificate programs. PCC's 11 academic divisions include business, engineering, and technology; kinesiology, health, and athletics; and math and computer science.

PCC also provides adult learners with an extensive list of free and flexible noncredit courses that do not require prerequisites. Adult education topics include job training, GED preparation, and parent education classes.

Students at PCC can pursue study abroad opportunities. Through both semester-long and short-term programs, students can study in places like Italy, England, and Japan.

Hartnell College View School Profile Salinas, CA

Located in Salinas, Hartnell College educates over 17,000 students. Founded in 1920, Hartnell is a Hispanic-Serving Institution dedicated to expanding educational opportunities to underserved populations.

Hartnell awards associate degrees and professional certificates. Academic divisions include nursing and health sciences, fine and performing arts, and STEM. Through various online programs, Hartnell offers classes in flexible formats to meet the needs of busy students with personal and professional commitments.

Hartnell also provides extensive resources to help students outside of the classroom. Popular resources include programs for Dreamers, services for veterans, and resources to help with emotional wellness.

Click here to see the best colleges in California.

Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges in California

true How many community colleges are there in California?

There are 116 community colleges in California. These colleges enroll 25% of all community college students in the U.S.

true How much does it cost to go to a community college in California?

Community colleges in California charge the lowest tuition rates in the nation at $46 per credit for in-state students. This amounts to $1,380 per year for full-time students taking 30 credits. Additional costs may include books, parking, and room and board. Out-of-state students paid approximately $7,730 in annual tuition in 2021.

true Does California offer free community college?

California's community colleges offer financial aid that may waive tuition for income-eligible students and full-time, first-time students.

true How do I pay for college in California?

Community colleges in California offer various financial aid options, including funds that help pay for tuition, books, and even rent. In addition, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs may provide additional aid. Students must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for consideration. Federal student loans may also be used to help fund college.

We've ranked the best online community colleges & trade Schools for programs, financial aid, and more. Compare and search for the school that matches your goals. Find information on the most affordable online community colleges. Learn more about what these schools offer and how students can save money on their education.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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