Cerro Coso Community College stands proudly on a hill with a majestic view of the twin communities of Ridgecrest and China Lake, California. These growing communities are located in the Indian Wells Valley of the High Desert region of the Great Mojave.
The view from Cerro Coso’s hillside location is framed by the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range on the west, the Coso Range on the north, and the Argus and Panamint Ranges to the east. Beyond the Panamints lies the eastern Mojave and famous Death Valley. Just 90 miles to the north stands Mount Whitney. A drive to the west through the mighty Sierra will take you to scenic beauty and natural wonder. Just two hours’ drive to the south and west lie the urban centers of southern California.
The Indian Wells region evidences much of its colorful history. Old mining towns are found everywhere. Randsburg, Red Mountain, Johannesburg, and Garlock are a few and are within a half hour’s drive of Ridgecrest. These old mining towns are well documented in museums at Randsburg and the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS).
Cerro Coso Community College evolved from and was an extension of Bakersfield College. As early as 1950, the Kern Community College District through Bakersfield College began to offer courses in the China Lake and Ridgecrest area using local part-time instructors. The initial impetus was a coordinated Associate in Arts Degree/Apprentice Training Program that was developed with the U.S. Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake. In addition, extension courses from Bakersfield College were offered under the supervision of the Burroughs Evening High School during the 1950’s.
In 1961, the Desert Division of Bakersfield College was established, a Dean was appointed, and the first three full-time faculty members were hired. Classes were offered at China Lake on the Burroughs High School campus and office space was rented from the high school. By the Fall of 1966, two relocatable buildings were installed on the high school campus which provided offices and classrooms for the first daytime program. A third such structure was installed in 1967. In 1968, the Board of Trustees changed the name to the Desert Campus of Bakersfield College and authorized the beginning of preliminary plans for a proposed new college.
The years from 1968 to 1973 saw the development, planning, and construction of Cerro Coso Community College. With the Summer Session, 1973, all functions of the Desert Campus were assumed by Cerro Coso. During its first semester in the Fall of 1973, Cerro Coso held classes at Burroughs High School, the Naval Weapons Center, and the Immanuel Baptist Church while awaiting the completion of the new campus. The College opened officially on its new 160 acre site in January of 1974. When the College first opened its doors in 1974 there were 800 student enrolled to attend classes in a new facility designed to serve 600. Today, over 4,500 students enroll in Cerro Coso classes each term.
Cerro Coso Community College takes its name from the early Spanish and native Indians who originally resided in eastern Kern County, California. Cerro is Spanish for “Mountain” and Coso is Paiute Indian for “Fire”. Pronounced SER RO KO SO, the College is one of three colleges in the Kern Community College District.
Today, Cerro Coso provides educational services to a population of about 85,000 distributed over a service area of over 18,500 square miles – the largest community college service area in California. Such a large area requires multiple physical sites in order to provide quality learning. Cerro Coso Community College has met this requirement by offering instruction and services to an approximate FTES of 2,850 students at six campus locations and through distance education.
The 320 acre Indian Wells Valley Campus (IWV), at Ridgecrest, California is located in the upper Mojave Desert, 160 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 120 east of the District Office in Bakersfield, and serves a population of about 28,000. This campus serves about half of the student population of the college and houses most of the college administration. The Eastern Sierra College Center is north of the IWV campus and serves the communities of Inyo and Mono counties. The center operates two campuses, one in Bishop 120 miles north of Ridgecrest, and another in Mammoth Lakes which is an additional forty miles north. Forty-five miles west of the IWV campus, the Kern River Valley campus serves communities near Lake Isabella. The East Kern campus is seventy miles south of the IWV campus and is housed on Edwards Air Force Base. This center provides educational services to military and civilian personnel on the base and to the residents of nearby communities. The college’s most recent campus location, Tehachapi, was established in 2014 and received official status with ACCJC in 2016. Finally, the college serves inmates in two correctional facilities within its service area: California City Correctional Facility (CAC) and the California Correctional Institution (CCI) in Tehachapi.
In an effort to respond to the needs of individuals who cannot attend classes at one of the College’s six physical locations, the College established CC Online. This program has been fully reviewed by the regional accrediting agency. It currently provides 46 online degree and certificate programs and over 160 courses distributed over 350 sections each year with complete online support services, including matriculation, textbook purchasing, and library support.
The vast region served by the College has a need for programs tailored to the vocational-technical, economic, cultural, and social lives of those individuals who reside and work within distinctly different geographic areas. Cerro Coso meets these needs by offering over 500 courses in over 25 disciplines every term. The College’s primary objective is to serve the typical college student and prepare them for graduation and transfer to a four-year institution. The College’s secondary objective is to prepare students to enter the work force directly upon completion of career technical training.
The College has tailored its programs to meet the needs of the communities for these two objectives, but Cerro Coso’s efforts do not stop there. Because of the unique qualities of the communities that the College operates in, Cerro Coso Community College has designed, implemented and continues to seek new programs that fit the constituencies needs. The Main Campus acts as the role model for this program. Searles Valley Minerals Corporation and the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) have been working with the College since the early 70’s to provide training programs and courses for their personnel that will integrate state-of-the-art technology with up to the minute information to help keep employees the best educated and productive in the world. Nowhere else is this as important than at NAWS. Nearly 90% of all NAWS employees are government contracted civilians working to develop and improve defense systems for the United States. These highly educated computer scientists, engineers, and physicists, are always looking to update their skills in a variety of areas, including the College’s electronics, engineering, drafting, computer science and career technical programs.
Through constant self-examination the College seeks new methods to provide quality educational avenues not previously available. The College has designed courses in CAD/CAM and Laser Technology to meet the specialized needs of the NAWS and Edward’s Air Force Bases.
Each year the College graduates over 350 students with their Associate degrees and certificates. Since the College opened, over 10,000 students have received certificates or degrees.
The administration, faculty, and staff of Cerro Coso Community College are committed to creating life-changing educational opportunities and collaborative learning environments, that keep the College at the forefront of innovation in higher education, providing the tools students need to make a significant impact in the world.