History of the College

Sixty 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, COD handed out 19 diplomas at its first complete graduation ceremony. In May 2017, more than 1,200 Roadrunners graduated.

As the Coachella Valley’s population has continued to grow, so has College of the Desert in order to accommodate that growth and to provide students greater accessibility.

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.

The Indio Campus then opened in February 2014 and now serves about 4,000 students a year. Plans are in the works to double the site’s footprint to welcome another 4,000 students.

And 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. Classes are also offered at Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage high schools.

In November 2016, Coachella Valley voters overwhelmingly supported the college’s request for a $577.8 million construction bond to further grow. The funding will build a permanent Palm Springs Campus that will feature a film institute and hospitality academy; add classrooms in Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Mecca/Thermal; create a Jobs Center to connect students with employers; and upgrade career training facilities for engineering, healthcare, science and technology.

To help with some of the financial obstacles students face, Dr. Joel L. Kinnamon, Superintendent/President of COD, announced the new tuition-free plEDGE program will provide two years to local high school students who graduated in Spring 2017 and Spring 2018 and enroll full-time at COD.

Today, more than 15,000 students attend College of the Desert, the fastest-growing community college in California.