More than two million students currently attend California’s 116 community colleges, making it one of the most robust educational systems in the nation. With each credit at these institutions costing only $46, California’s community colleges also offer the lowest tuition of any state in the country.
Attending a community college provides access to associate degrees focused on occupational requirements as well as those that transfer to four-year institutions. Many of the best community colleges also provide professional certificates and CTE programming. Keep reading to learn about the top community colleges in California and how they could help meet your educational and career goals.
10 Best California Community Colleges 2023
After looking at hundreds of schools, Universities.com determined that these 10 offer the best opportunities for students seeking certificates and associate degrees. Read about each to see which one meets your needs.
Nestled in Silicon Valley, De Anza College naturally provides a wide range of tech-focused associate degrees and certificates. Students can currently choose from more than 160 educational programs, including those offered on the Cupertino campus and online. Students interested in further education can join the Honors Program, allowing them to undertake more rigorous programming and increasing their chances of attending a CSU institution after graduation. The school charges $46 per credit for California residents.
Imperial Valley College in Imperial has served students seeking certificates and associate degrees for more than 50 years. Learners can currently choose from 50+ associate degrees leading straight to occupations, as well as 25 that transfer to four-year institutions. A wide variety of certificates can also be undertaken. Students can choose from online and in-person classes, and each learner receives 24/7 access to online counseling and tutoring services. Tuition costs just $46 per credit for resident learners.
Ohlone College in Fremont offers nearly 200 associate degrees and certificates, making it a great option for learners seeking variety. Many associate degrees can be completed entirely online, though in-person and hybrid learning options can also be used. Providing an international atmosphere, students from more than 30 countries currently attend the institution. Degree seekers took advantage of more than 102 scholarships providing $198,000 in awards. Tuition for California residents costs $46 per credit.
With an enrollment of nearly 30,000 students, Mt. San Antonio College, also known as Mt. SAC, is among the largest community colleges in the state. Enrolled learners can select from certificates and vocational programs alongside both associate and bachelor’s degrees. The school currently provides more than 3,000 online classes to make learning easy and accessible. Many programs also easily transfer to CSU colleges. California students pay $46 per credit, meaning they can earn a 60-credit associate degree for less than $3,000!
With more than 200 programs to choose from, Pasadena City College is a great option whether students want an occupational degree, transfer degree, or certificate. Examples of available programs include agriculture plant science, kinesiology, nutrition and dietetics, and theatre arts. Available support services for both online and in-person students include counseling, career support, study abroad, tutoring, and veteran resources. The college also provides an Honors Program for academically motivated learners. Tuition costs just $46 per credit.
Las Positas College in Livermore provides nearly 60 in-person and online associate degrees, certificates, and continuing education programs. Some standout programs include automotive technology, administration of justice, fire service technology, viticulture and winery technology, and communication studies. Most programs comprise 60 credits and take two years to complete, but students can transfer up to 48 eligible credits from institutions previously attended. California residents pay just $46 per credit.
From its home base in Pleasant Hill, Diablo Valley College caters to the academic news of more than 22,000 learners. Offering more than 40 online and campus-based associate degrees and certificates, students can choose from programs such as allied health, business marketing, computer network technology, and dental hygiene. Learners interested in engineering can also choose from several programs that transfer seamlessly to CSU four-year institutions. Students living in California pay $46 per credit.
With more than 70 associate degrees and professional certificates offered, Irvine Valley College in Irvine caters to the academic needs of myriad students. Many of these programs exist fully online, making it easy for busy students to earn their education. New students can begin their studies at three different points each year and can transfer credits earned from an accredited school — provided they maintained a 2.0 or higher GPA. Students residing in California pay $46 per credit.
Full-time learners who graduated from a California high school in 2021 can access free tuition and $1,200 for textbooks from Santa Monica College. As the number one transfer school in California for students looking to attend a UC system institution, students can choose from more than 180 associate degrees and certificates and more than 1,400 individual classes. In addition to offering standard academic and personal support services, the college hosts a variety of workshops for those looking to transfer to a top institution. Students pay $46 per credit.
Located in Saratogo, West Valley College offers more than 100 occupational and transfer associate degrees in addition to professional certificates. Some of the more innovative options include park management, aviation, elementary teacher education, and fashion design/apparel technology. Approximately three out of four WVC graduates who applied received admission to a CSU institution. While tuition costs only $46 per credit, the institution offers the Viking Grant for eligible students to receive free tuition, fees, and textbooks for two years.
If you’re looking for other California community colleges, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!
With so many California community colleges offering educational programming, narrowing down the top 10 requires a data-forward approach that considers various metrics to find the best. Our methodology considers factors such as admissions, retention and graduation, instructors and faculty, and financial resources to create an insightful ranking
How Do I Pay For Community College?
While higher education is notoriously expensive, attending a California community college can help save you thousands of dollars. At $46 per credit, the state offers the lowest tuition rates in the nation. Additionally, the California College Promise Grant waives the fees of nearly half of all attendees. If for some reason a student doesn’t qualify for the grant but still needs help paying for tuition, fees, and textbooks, plenty of other options exist.
The most important step learners can take is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This qualifies them to take advantage of federal and state funding options; many colleges also require FAFSA information to provide institutional funding.
Students can find both need- and merit-based scholarships to help cover outstanding costs. Whether working part-time or full-time while attending, this extra step can help with both college expenses and the cost of living while in school.
Scholarships for Community College Students
- California College Promise Grant: Qualifying for this grant means living in California for at least one year and meeting financial requirements as determined by information provided on the FAFSA.
- Horatio Alger State Scholarship: High school juniors can apply for this $10,000 award if they plan to be full-time students at a community college. Their family must earn an adjusted gross income of $55,000 or less, and they must have a 2.0 GPA or higher.
- The Single Parent Scholarship: Capture the Dream provides this $1,000 award to single parents attending an accredited community college in California. They must demonstrate financial need and live in the Bay Area.
Is Going to Community College Worth It?
Attending a community college in California offers a great opportunity, both for students looking to move directly into a career after graduation and those who want to continue into a bachelor’s degree program. Whether a student qualifies for the California College Promise Grant or pays the $46 per credit cost of attendance, California offers some of the best tuition rates and funding systems in the nation.
Countless studies have shown that students with a degree earn more than their colleagues with only a high school diploma or GED. In just two years, learners can be on their way to a well-paying job in a field they find fulfilling.