By Clare Scotti
contributing writer 

Staying Educated with Cerro Coso Community College

Chamber Chat


April 27, 2024


In 2017, the staff started in a single room that they worked in at the beginning of their Tehachapi journey. Lisa Stephens, Nicole Griffin and Peter Fulks are all sitting around the table. Photos provided.

In the last few years, residents who regularly drive down the east side of town have noticed some changes happening at 126 S. Snyder Ave.

In 2015, Cerro Coso Community College began using the old education center to provide college courses. It all started in one large room, where the faculty and staff worked at one table and offered a handful of classes. Those classes were well received in the community and partnerships blossomed. Cerro Coso created programs at the High School and with the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council, as well as with businesses in the area and began to build programs that were needed.

"It takes two years to write the curriculum for a degree and have it approved," said Peter Fulks, faculty member and creator of the Tehachapi branch's Police Academy, Forestry, Outdoor Recreation Program and others.

Cerro Coso Tehachapi saw a need for trained officers, forestry professionals, nurses, security professionals, first responders and law professionals, and the college partnered with the community to make it happen. Now students can enroll in a number of programs to earn their certificates and degrees and prepare for the workforce.

"I come from a family of faculty," says Falks. "Both my parents taught at universities. The thing I love about Cerro Coso is that the students really do come first. The course material is at the forefront of its subject matter, whether it's police work or large-scale reform. There's no barrier or end-goal for education, the sky is truly the limit."

Even with an increase in enrollment in these programs, Cerro Coso has designed them in such a way that there isn't a waitlist to get in, something unheard of at other institutions.

Another exciting element of Cerro Coso's education is the affordability. Several programs, including the Cerro Coso Promise program, are scholarships that are not based on income, and students that are accepted could be awarded up to $1,000 per semester for tuition and books.

Something else that has been making waves among youth in the community is a program that allows high school students to dual enroll and take college level courses at the high school for free. This offers the opportunity for students to earn their transferable Associate's degree before they graduate with their High School diploma. Dual enrollment is particularly exciting for students looking to get into four-year universities; however, students looking to enter the local workforce often stay at Cerro Coso to complete one of nearly 50 certificate programs that are offered, such as becoming a Medical Assistant to work in the front of house at a doctor's office or clinic.

Once students are fully enrolled at the campus, they find themselves enjoying campus life. Campus clubs are beginning to form and students are making the campus their home with movie nights and get-togethers. Students of all ages enjoy courses in drawing, ceramics, welding, archeology and even a course about religion and witchcraft. No matter the age, there is a course for everyone at Cerro Coso.


Cerro Coso Tehachapi Campus in 2023.

Cerro Coso is much larger than just its Tehachapi branch and was founded in 1974. The college is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and serves Indian Wells, Kern River Valley, East Kern communities, Eastern Sierra communities and online students. Each branch has grown with the partnerships it has forged and the Tehachapi branch is looking at expanding its footprint and building a permanent campus to better serve its students and community.

"There are only 114 community colleges in the state of California, and we are one of them," says Lisa Stephens, director of East Kern Center and Campuses. "That is something to be proud of!"

So next time you're driving down Snyder Ave., stop into Cerro Coso and talk to Nicole Griffin, dean of Career Technical Education, and see what opportunities await.

Cerro Coso Community College is a proud Industry Leader Partner at the Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce and a Gold Sponsor of the Tehachapi Wind Festival. Learn more at

Clare Scotti is the Executive Director of Greater Tehachapi Chamber of Commerce.


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