The 14 Best Community Colleges in California

San Diego Mesa Community College
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If you hope to attend one of the best community colleges in California, the options can be daunting. California has more community colleges than any other state with 116 schools in a system serving 2.1 million students. By comparison, Texas has half that number of campuses, and the State University of New York system has only 30 community colleges.

There are many excellent reasons for attending a community college. Completing a certificate program or earning an associate's degree can advance your career, and the cost of attending community college is significantly less than four-year institutions. Even if your goal is to earn a bachelor's degree, you'll often save significant money by spending your first two years at a community college and then transferring to a four-year school.

If attending a four-year school is your plan, just be aware of the possible hidden costs of transferring to a new college. Fortunately, California's community colleges guarantee admissions to one of the California State University or University of California campuses if you meet specific criteria. Typically this involves completing 60 credits of transferrable coursework and maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA. Each four-year university has its own requirements for transfer, so be sure to learn more about the Degree with a Guarantee program to understand your options.

Evaluating and ranking community colleges requires very different criteria than for four-year residential colleges and universities. Most students, in fact, choose a community college not for its ranking, but for its convenience. The schools are largely commuter campuses and they cater to students who have work and family commitments in their lives. Most schools offer evening, weekend, and online classes that can be scheduled around other obligations. Selectivity isn't a factor, for central to the mission of community colleges is access. All have open admissions. This doesn't mean that specific programs and classes won't fill and become unavailable, but if you have a high school diploma or GED and want to attend college, you can.

The schools below were selected because they have above average graduation rates and strong success placing interested students into four-year degree programs. The schools have been listed alphabetically. To learn about California Community Colleges not listed here, be sure to explore the CCC website.

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City College of San Francisco

City College of San Francisco is the only community college in San Francisco, and it serves its students through the main Ocean Campus, ten satellite learning centers, and robust online options through CityOnline. The college offers 250 degree and certificate programs with popular associate degree options in nursing, liberal arts, biological sciences, social sciences, psychology, and child development.

City College embraces the culture and diversity of San Francisco. All students receive free tuition or the equivalent, and the school welcomes DACA students and serves as a Sanctuary College. Students will also find many of the amenities and opportunities offered at four-year institutions including over 40 clubs and an intercollegiate athletic program with six men's and nine women's sports.

Quick Facts
Location   San Francisco
 Enrollment  24,441
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  35%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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College of San Mateo

Located between San Francisco and San Jose in Silicon Valley, College of San Mateo is a mid-sized community college that offers over 150 associate degree and certificate programs. Popular areas of study include business management, administration of justice, mathematics, psychology, communication studies, nursing, and social science. Many of the associate degree programs are designed for ease of transfer to a four-year university.

Features of the 153-acre campus overlooking San Francisco are a planetarium, observatory, health and wellness center, aquatics center, and numerous other athletic facilities. The college is home to six men's and eight women's intercollegiate sports teams.

Quick Facts
Location   San Mateo
 Enrollment  8,163
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  42%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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College of the Canyons

Located on two campuses 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, College of the Canyons offers 221 certificate and associate degree programs. Popular programs include business accounting, business administration, communication studies, nursing, administration of justice, mathematics, social sciences, psychology, sociology, and biology. In its efforts to best serve the community, the college has developed many partnerships with school districts and service agencies throughout the region.

The college's 110,000-square-foot Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center is home to 23 smart classrooms, two computer labs, a theater, and several seminar rooms that allow students to pursue bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees at partnering institutions without the need for long commutes or the expense of a residential college experience.

Other campus highlights include athletic facilities for eight men's and nine women's intercollegiate sports, and the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center which houses a 7,500-square-foot proscenium theater, a black box theater, scene shops, green room, and a 47,000-square-foot center for community events and professional entertainment.

Quick Facts
Location   Santa Clarita
 Enrollment  19,089
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  38%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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De Anza College

A leader in the state for transfers to four-year colleges, De Anza College takes pride in the support services it provides students through tutoring, transfer advising, and programs including First Year Experience, Summer Bridge, and Math Performance Success. Located just west of San Jose, the college offers 180 associate degree and 103 certificate programs. Popular areas of study include biology, social science, business, and communication studies.

Along with its impressive graduation and transfer statistics, De Anza takes pride in its high levels of civic engagement, the diversity of its campus, and the school's sustainability efforts. With over 70 student clubs and 16 intercollegiate athletic teams, De Anza students have plenty of opportunities for getting involved in campus life.

Quick Facts
Location   Cupertino
 Enrollment  18,669
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  65%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Diablo Valley College

Diablo Valley College, DVC, is one of the top transfer colleges in California's community college system, and a significant number of students go on to further their educations at Cal State schools as well as more selective UC schools including Berkeley and Davis. The school occupies a 100-acre campus northeast of San Francisco, and in 2006 DVC opened a second campus in San Ramon to the south.

DVC's most popular associate degree programs are in business, computer science, health science, biology, psychology, and economics. The college offers a wide range of certificate and associate degree options across about 70 areas of study ranging from plumbing to physics. Student life is active with over 80 clubs and 18 intercollegiate athletic teams.

Quick Facts
Location   Pleasant Hill
 Enrollment  19,871
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  48%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Foothill College

Located just a few miles from Stanford University in the Bay Area, Foothill College offers 100 certificate and 79 associate degree programs as well as a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. Roughly 1,100 students transfer to bachelor's degree programs each year including about 500 who enter the University of California system. Popular areas of study include business administration, psychology, social science, mathematics, communication studies, and various specialties in the health professions.

Foothill College has dozens of student run clubs, and students have the opportunity to create and run their own clubs. Current options include Debate Club, Engineering Club, Gender & Sexualities Alliance Club, and the Muslim Student Association. The college also has five men's and seven women's intercollegiate athletic teams as well as a cheer and dance team that performs at a range of events including home football and basketball games.

Quick Facts
Location   Los Altos Hills
 Enrollment  15,123
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  61%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Irvine Valley College

Irvine Valley College, IVC, offers associate degrees in 70 majors and certificates in 60 specializations. Biology, business, psychology, and humanities are all popular areas of study. The 60-acre campus sits just a few miles east of UC Irvine. Downtown Los Angeles is 40 miles to the northwest.

IVC's strong graduation and transfer rates are in part the result of the support services the college provides. Students can take advantage of the Writing Center, Math Center, English Language Center, and Student Success Center to strengthen their academic skills and receive help on homework assignments. Academically strong students can apply for IVC's Honors Program to receive perks such as small seminar classes, library privileges at UCI and UCLA, leadership opportunities, and priority admission review at many transfer institutions.

In athletics, the IVC Lasers compete in five men's and six women's intercollegiate sports. The school is also home to about 40 student clubs focused on a range of academic, cultural, and extracurricular interests.

Quick Facts
Location   Irvine
 Enrollment 12,812 
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  46%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Las Positas College

Las Positas College takes pride in its attractive and sustainably-designed 147-acre campus with its new facilities for STEM fields, the performing arts, and athletics. LPC doesn't have as many program offerings as most schools on this list, but the college has excellent outcomes with a high graduation and transfer rate. Students can choose from 41 associate degree and 44 certificate programs. Popular fields include biology, business, psychology, and liberal arts and sciences. Students are supported by free resources including the Open Math Lab and Tutorial Center.

LPC has extensive performing arts facilities, a Performing Arts Club, and a range of programs in dance, music, and theater. On the athletic front, the Las Positas Hawks compete in four men's and five women's intercollegiate sports. Student clubs include Journalism Club, Chess Club, College Loop GWC (Girls Who Code) Club, and several academic societies.

Quick Facts
Location   Livermore
 Enrollment  8,706
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  44%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Moorpark College

Moorpark College offers a wide range of certificate, degree, and transfer programs across more than sixty areas of study. Popular areas of study include psychology, economics, biology, business administration, criminal justice, and communication studies. The college has an excellent placement rate for students who choose to earn an associate's degree and transfer to four-year colleges and universities, and it also offers 29 career education programs—one-year programs with a professional training focus in areas such as cybersecurity, nursing, game design, and exotic animal training and management. The latter program is supported by America's Teaching Zoo on the Moorpark campus.

Student life at Moorpark is active. The Raiders compete in 16 intercollegiate sports, and the campus is also home to dozens of student clubs and organizations. Notable groups include the History and Wargames Club, Sustainability Committee, and Future Animal Professionals.

Quick Facts
Location   Moorpark
 Enrollment  14,275
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  40%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Ohlone College

Located in the East Bay, the Ohlone College main campus in Fremont is just steps away from extensive hiking and biking trails in the adjacent public lands. The college has a second campus in Newark Center near the Bay. Ohlone offers 189 degree and certificate programs. Business and social science programs are most popular among students seeking an associate's degree. The college wins high marks for its online programs, student success rates, and acceptance rate to Cal State universities.

Ohlone has dozens of student clubs to support a wide range of interests and groups. Academic clubs focus on fields including psychology, physics, engineering, economics, computer science, investing, and medicine. Numerous other clubs focus on community service and outreach. In athletics, the Ohlone Renegades compete in five men's and six women's sports. Facilities include baseball and softball complexes, an aquatics center, gymnasium, and weight room.

Quick Facts
Location   Fremont
 Enrollment  8,900
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  47%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Orange Coast College

The 164-acre campus of Orange Coast College is located southeast of Los Angeles, just five miles from some of Southern California's best beaches. OCC offers over 135 associate's degree and certificate programs. Biology, psychology, business administration, and communication studies are among the most popular areas of study, but the college has strengths in diverse areas including art, fashion design, and health fields.

Campus life is active, and the newly opened student apartments, The Harbour, add a residential component to the campus not available at most community colleges. In athletics, the OCC Pirates have won over 100 state and national championships, and the college fields an impressive 12 men's and 13 women's intercollegiate teams.

Quick Facts
Location  Costa Mesa 
 Enrollment 20,042 
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  39%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Saddleback College

Saddleback College has impressive transfer statistics, and it ranks first among California's community colleges for transfers to UCSB, UCSC, SDSU, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, USC, and ASU. The college offers over 300 certificate, skills, and associate degree programs. Popular fields include business, health, communication studies, nursing, and psychology. Saddleback offers numerous types of support for its students including childcare, English language support, veterans services, and tutoring through the Learning Resource Center.

The campus has an active arts scene with regular music, theater, dance, and gallery events. Students can participate in the college's 885 Jazz radio station and Saddleback College Television. The college also has a wide range of athletic opportunities with nine men's and 12 women's intercollegiate teams.

Quick Facts
Location  Mission Viejo 
 Enrollment  19,709
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  42%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Santa Barbara City College

With a 74-acre campus that sits just a few steps from Leadbetter Beach and Santa Barbara Harbor, Santa Barbara City College has an ideal location for those who love sun, sand, and sea. UCSB is located on the other side of town, but the two schools have an active intramural partnership in 17 sports that involves 18,000 participants annually. For those who are a bit more serious about athletics, the college fields nine men's and 11 women's intercollegiate teams. SBCC makes it easy to get involved in campus activities. For $5, students get an Activity Pass that gives them access to all home athletic events, one theater performance, and four music concerts.

In academics, SBCC has hundreds of options for certificate and associate degree programs. Economics, biology, mathematics, communication studies, business administration, and liberal arts and sciences are all popular. The college has won numerous awards for its value and the quality of its academic programs.

Quick Facts
Location  Santa Barbara 
 Enrollment 14,123 
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  41%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Santiago Canyon College

Santiago Community College was ranked among the top 1% of the nation's community colleges by College Choice, and it has been recognized for its STEM strengths for programs such as its survey/mapping sciences program and water utility sciences programs. SCC has dedicated counselors and supplemental instruction resources to support STEM students. The college is also home to California's largest apprenticeship program within fields ranging from cosmetology to electricity. At the associate's level, popular areas of study include business administration, biology, and the liberal arts.

The college's 82-acre campus is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles. Students have plenty of ways to get involved on campus with dozens of clubs and organizations as well as an eight intercollegiate athletic teams.

Quick Facts
Location  Orange 
 Enrollment 11,911 
 Graduation Rate (within 150% of normal time)  38%
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
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Grove, Allen. "The 14 Best Community Colleges in California." ThoughtCo, Mar. 1, 2021, Grove, Allen. (2021, March 1). The 14 Best Community Colleges in California. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "The 14 Best Community Colleges in California." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).