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. 

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." 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 enroll at College of the Desert full time. In 2020, the program was expanded to include Coachella Valley residents who have attended College of the Desert in the past but are not currently enrolled.

In June, 2021, College of the Desert received $18 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the largest one-time grant in the College's 60+ year history.