History of the College

More than 60 years ago, Coachella Valley leaders determined the desert was still missing something as its population continued to grow: an institution of higher learning. So they reached out to voters, who in April 1958 overwhelmingly decided to create a community college district.

Where once stood a vineyard and date palm grove sprouted several of the mid-century modern buildings that still stand in the middle of the Palm Desert Campus today. In the fall of 1962, College of the Desert welcomed more than 500 students. The College proudly graduated its first three students the following June. Less than two years later, on June 7, 1964, the College handed out 19 diplomas at its first complete graduation ceremony. In May 2019, almost 1,400 Roadrunners were celebrated during Commencement ceremonies held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

As the Coachella Valley's population has continued to grow, so has College of the Desert.  In February 2009, the College launched its Mecca/Thermal Campus, which now supports several hundred students annually. The site’s newest shining star is the donated Mary Reagan Observatory that houses a 1-meter telescope for student learning. Starting in 2019, classes are also offered at the Coachella Library. 

The Indio Campus opened in February 2014, serving about 4,000 students a year. Plans are in the works to double the site’s footprint, adding classrooms, lab and collaboration spaces and food services areas. Progress on this site continues, along with a concurrent project creating a new Indio Child Development Center, which will open at the same time.

In fall 2016, the College expanded yet again, adding a western Coachella Valley campus in Desert Hot Springs at the Edward L. Wenzlaff Education Center. To provide greater access to college courses in the west valley, the College opened a temporary Palm Springs Campus in January 2018. The College also frequently partners with the three local Unified School Districts to offer classes on high school campuses.

In November 2016, Coachella Valley voters overwhelmingly supported the College’s request for a $577.8 million construction bond to further its growth. This funding will build a permanent Palm Springs Campus that is truly shaping up to be "Like No Place Else." The site will serve as a regional workforce innovation center, where students can learn and train for jobs and careers in the areas of digital media and film; hospitality and culinary arts; healthcare; and sustainability. This campus represents an unprecedented opportunity for our students, business partners and community residents. 

The College's plEDGE program commits to providing free tuition for two years to local high school students who graduated in 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2020 and enroll at College of the Desert full time. 

Today, almost 18,000 students attend College of the Desert, one of the fastest-growing community colleges in California.