The average nationwide student loan debt is nearly $30,000, but students who go to the cheapest community college in California and put in the work to get good grades can complete their first two years of college on grants and scholarships, avoiding loans completely. The state of California offers special scholarships to students who start off by going to community colleges. Plus, when applying to four year schools, community college students receive preference in the admissions process. Special financial aid is also available, which means that more often than not, hard working students with good grades can skate by without taking out more than $15,000 in loans. To explore some of the differences between community colleges and four-year institutions, check out our article 2-Year Versus 4-Year Colleges.
The following list of community colleges within California was compiled using information from the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database as well as the individual schools’ websites. The order of this list is based on each school’s tuition rate, ranking the highest rate No. 15 and so on.
15. Las Positas College
Las Positas College is in Livermore, Calif., a mid-sized city just 33 miles west of Oakland’s bustle. Like many community colleges, Las Positas has programs for high school students that allow them to get a jump on college. It’s possible for students to graduate high school with their associate’s degree and have a two-year head start on college.
Student Population: 8,631
14. Merced College
Merced College is a mid-sized city, about 120 miles away from San Jose. Merced has an honors program and offers nearly 30 academic programs, including all three major types normally offered by community college–professional programs, academic programs with the goal of transfer and other professional associate’s programs designed to get students started in their career.
Student Population: 10,205
13. Cypress College
Cypress College offers both transfer-oriented degrees and traditional associate’s degrees. Students can take advantage of distance learning, with which they can create a custom schedule that works around their professional and personal obligations. There are also extensive technical programs available designed to get students straight into their trade of choice.
Student Population: 15,881
12. Coastline Community College
Fountain Valley, Calif.
Just south of Anaheim and adjacent to Huntington Beach, Calif., Coastline Community College is in California’s famous Orange County. Students planning on transferring into the California State University or University of California public university systems can take specialized transfer tracks to make their transition as seamless as possible.
Student Population: 10,378
11. Crafton Hills College
With over 40 degrees, Crafton Hills College has a lot to offer students. Programs range from radiologic technology to political science. Language offerings are unusually diverse, featuring Japanese, Arabic, French, Spanish and American Sign Language. The college also gets involved with the community, offering free income tax assistance to local residents, along with other community outreach programs.
Student Population: 5,697
10. Lassen Community College
Lassen Community College offers one of the most diverse array of technical programs you can find. Fire technology is one of the more common offerings in California, but it is still worth mentioning. California has a great need of fire fighters because of the wildfire seasons. The most unique technical program offered at Lassen, though, has to be gunsmithing. If you’re interested in guns or gun-related hobbies, check out the gunsmithing program. It’s a great skillset to have because it’s both in-demand and hard to find training for.
Student Population: 2,494
9. Victor Valley College
Victor Valley College seeks to cultivate intellectual excellence and integrity in their students. VVC is located in a mid-sized city, northeast of LA. Students at Victor Valley College will find opportunities to participate in research, performing statistical studies for the district and community leaders. It’s not incredibly advanced, but the research opportunities are there and can lay a groundwork for further research involvement in the student’s undergraduate career.
Student Population: 11,504
8. Copper Mountain Community College
Joshua Tree, Calif.
While many of California’s community colleges have high students populations, Copper Mountain Community College has one of the smallest student populations among community colleges. This is great for students who want a more-intimate learning environment. Joshua Tree is roughly 120 miles east of Los Angeles and sits in the California High Desert. The town is only around 7,000-10,000 people, providing a unique setting in one of California’s many incredible climates.
Student Population: 1,783
7. Antelope Valley College
Some students may be hesitant to attend a community college because they fear they won’t be able to get into their program or an honors programs. However, Antelope Valley College offers a great honors program that features small class sizes and lively discussion of advanced material. The program will also help prepare students for the rigorous programs they will find at their future four-year colleges.
Student Population: 14,262
6. Sacramento City College
Some California community colleges are absolutely massive, and Sacramento City College is one of them. With over 23,000 students, SCC is bigger than many major public and private universities. Prospective students might balk at the population of the school but SCC goes to great lengths to make sure nobody gets lost in the shuffle. They offer free tutoring services to anybody that needs a tutor, and your tutor will have already successfully passed the class for which you are being tutored.
Student Population: 23,509
5. Folsom Lake College
Folsom Lake College actually has three different college centers, one in Folsom, and two others in Placerville and Sacramento. Like most community colleges, Folsom offers programs intended to lay a strong groundwork for further study at university, and some programs are designed to prepare students for careers as soon as they complete their associate’s degrees. The important thing to remember is regardless of which of these types of programs you go into, your college credits will be transferable should you decide to earn a bachelor’s degree after completing your associate’s.
Student Population: 8,034
4. Barstow Community College
Students interested in performing arts might be interested to know that Barstow Community College just opened a new performing arts center. BCC strives to train its students to be consummate professionals through a learning environment infused with professionalism, respect and care for the future of each student at the school.
Student Population: 3,211
3. San Joaquin Delta College
San Joaquin Delta College offers over 75 AA and AS degrees ranging in subjects from horticulture to mathematics. There are also several practical technical degree programs offered, dealing with everything from automotive technology to refrigeration. The college seeks to provide both students and its community with enriching experiences and events throughout the year.
Student Population: 17,629
2. American River College
In addition to ARC’s affordable tuition, American River College is currently offering over $200,000 in scholarships to students this year. This may not seem like a lot of money compared to the scholarship funds of major universities that can reach into the tens of millions of dollars, but ARC students don’t need that much with such low tuition.
Student Population: 29,701
1. Saddleback College
Mission Viejo, Calif.
The affordability Saddleback College offers is nothing short of incredible. While the majority of community colleges in California feature very low tuition, Saddleback is the cheapest community college in California by a significant margin. One of the beautiful things about Saddleback’s pricing is that it’s conceivable to pay the entire tuition out of pocket, which in today’s education market is almost unheard of.
Student Population: 20,871