Beaming Past, Blazing Future Feature Story

March 22, 2019

South Orange County Community College District, a shining star for higher education in Orange County

Just two years ago, the South Orange County Community College District (SOCCCD) celebrated 50 years of higher education offerings to the Orange County community. It started as a grand vision in 1967, of 125,000 taxpayers in south Orange County, to form a community college district, build a college to serve the local community, and bring higher education opportunities to residents from San Clemente to Tustin.

Today, South Orange County Community College District, comprised of Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College serves more than 50,000 students per year, employs nearly 4,000 faculty and staff, and operates an annual budget of approximately $800 million. Their service area encompasses 352 square miles and nearly one million residents.

From humble beginnings amongst the cowboy traversed land—Saddleback College, Irvine Valley College, and now the Advanced Technology and Education Park (ATEP) in Tustin have developed from educational options, to cornerstone educational opportunities for community members from every walk of life.


Each campus serves student populations both varied in background and in aspiration. The growth and sustainment of programs demonstrates the diversity of students and their needs. Both Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College offer traditional academic courses that serve students well who desire to earn an associate’s degree and/or transfer to a four-year university. Each college also offers Career Technical Education (CTE) opportunities which help students learn the skills of a trade to move directly into the job market or earn a promotion in their present field.

In addition to traditional academic programs and CTE, both Saddleback and Irvine Valley are partnering with local K-12 districts to offer dual enrollment programs—allowing high school students to take community college courses and earn college credit while in high school. In some instances, students who are successful in the dual-enrollment programs earn their associate’s degree before walking across the stage to accept their high school diploma.

130 sites throughout SOCCCD’s service area are designated for community education through their Emeritus Institute—a program that offers academically rigorous, socially engaging, and health improving courses for older adults throughout south Orange County. 

Most recently, with the launch of the new IVC School of Integrated Design, Engineering, and Automation (IDEA) at ATEP in Tustin, students can take advantage of an innovative education to prepare them for and propel them to jobs of the future. With a focus on rapid prototyping, drafting, engineering, and electronic technology—SOCCCD is offering a diverse menu of educational offerings to meet the needs of current and future students.

Economic Impact

The impact of the South Orange County Community College District does not stop with students. SOCCCD creates a significant positive impact on the business community and generates a return on investment to their major stake-holder groups—students, taxpayers, and society.

According to a study by Emsi, in 2016-2017, SOCCCD added $227.8 million to the local economy from income through 2,516 jobs, while spending $257.5 million in construction building for the development of the campuses.

Student spending in the local area equated to $827.4 million for housing, goods, and services. A portion of student spending is new money to the local economy, due to the fact that 13% of students come from outside the district. Some students relocate to Orange County just to attend either IVC or Saddleback. Additionally, a number of students would have left the county if not for SOCCCD. Between the added income, operations and construction spending, as well as student and alumni spending on goods and services—SOCCCD contributes approximately $1.3 billion to the local economy.

That’s not all, taxpayers earn a return on their investment into SOCCCD. For every dollar invested, taxpayers gain $2.60 in added tax revenue and public sector savings. The net present value of the added tax revenue stemming from each students’ higher lifetime earnings and the increased output of businesses amounts to $513.9 million in benefits to taxpayers. Savings to the public sector add another $42.9 million in benefits due to a reduced demand for government-funded services in California.

The Future is Bright

From piles of dirt—SOCCCD has achieved groundbreaking accomplishments over the 50 plus years of its existence. Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College consistently rank among the top 10 community colleges and educational institutions in California. Saddleback College has the #2 Nursing Program and Irvine Valley College has the #1 transfer rate in the state.

SOCCCD, like other community colleges, are not free from challenges. The educational landscape of today requires institutions to think broader in terms of how to holistically support students to succeed. More than one third of community college students throughout the nation struggle with non-academic barriers such as food insecurity, lack of housing, and inaccessibility to basic health related services.

In partnership with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and other organizations—SOCCCD leaders are working to have difficult conversations around real solutions to address some of the societal issues that operate as barriers to student success.


Under the direction of a seven member elected board, SOCCCD’s executive leadership is comprised of a chancellor, three vice chancellors, and two college presidents. A majority of the district’s leadership staff are new, with less than two years at the helm. But with the strong foundation and reputation of SOCCCD—the leadership team of today serve as a catalyst for transformational change and a commitment to uphold the long legacy of success that SOCCCD has experienced for so many years.

Chancellor Kathleen F. Buke, Ed.D., hired in 2018, was a former president of Los Angeles Pierce College in Glendale, California. She now leads the South Orange County Community College District with 30 years of experience in the community colleges as both an administrator and educator.  “It’s an exciting time in higher education as we collectively focus on increasing opportunities and success for our students. I am grateful to work in the South Orange County Community College District with faculty, staff, and a Board of Trustees who are so dedicated to the communities we serve.”