Famous People Who Attended Community College

·11 min read

Some well-known public figures attended two-year schools.

Politicians, professional wrestlers, actors, athletes and national treasures are among the millions of Americans who have attended community colleges. Some earned an associate degree before transferring to a four-year college, while others took a different path, leaving the academic realm to pursue professional opportunities. Between credit-bearing and vocational courses, nearly 12 million students were enrolled in community colleges in fall 2018, according to data from the American Association of Community Colleges. Reasons for attending community college are as varied as the students enrolled, but whether a student intends to earn an associate degree or transfer out, this route can be a great launching pad. Here's a look at where some famous people, listed in alphabetical order by surname, took community college classes.

Halle Berry

Actress Halle Berry is known for her work in films such as the "X-Men" franchise, "Swordfish" and "Monster's Ball." Berry won an Oscar in 2002 for her performance in the latter film and has since gone on to collect Golden Globes and Primetime Emmy Awards for her subsequent work. But before she was on the big screen, Berry studied broadcast journalism at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio. Berry left college before completing her degree, shifting her focus to entertainment.

Eileen Collins

Astronaut Eileen Collins is the first woman to pilot a space shuttle as well as the first in NASA history to command one. The path that led Collins to space began at Corning Community College in New York, where she earned an associate degree. She followed that up by earning a bachelor's degree in mathematics and economics from Syracuse University in New York and later tacked on a master's degree from Stanford University in California and another from Webster University in Missouri. According to her NASA bio, Collins was inspired to pursue space travel after the first group of female astronauts visited the base where she was training as a fresh recruit to the U.S. Air Force.

Guy Fieri

Long before he was the "Mayor of Flavortown," Guy Fieri was a community college student. The host of TV shows, such as "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," Fieri attended American River College and College of the Redwoods, both in California, before earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Nevada--Las Vegas. After graduation, Fieri went on to open restaurants and eventually to TV stardom. But his commitment to community colleges persists, as evidenced by his public support for a campaign to open a culinary academy at American River College.

Morgan Freeman

Known for roles in hit films such as "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Million Dollar Baby," Morgan Freeman has been honored for his acting with Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Freeman's distinctive voice can in part be traced back to training he received as a student at Los Angeles City College. "I went to school to study how to be an actor," Freeman told talk show host Jimmy Kimmel back in 2016. "And in that school -- Los Angeles City College -- I had a voice and diction instructor who was very good at his job." Fittingly, Freeman's big break came in 1971 when he became a regular on "The Electric Company," a TV show that helped children learn how to read.

Tom Hanks

The star of films such as "Saving Private Ryan" and "Forrest Gump," Tom Hanks is an accomplished actor who has won Academy Awards, Golden Globes and a number of other distinctions for his work on the big screen. And according to a 2015 New York Times op-ed by Hanks, he owes it all to community college. Citing affordability as a factor, Hanks studied theater at Chabot College in California before transferring to California State University--Sacramento. The path Hanks took is fairly common, as many students still earn general education credits at a community college before finishing elsewhere.

Steve Jobs

The influence and impact of Steve Jobs on the tech and communications industries is not to be understated. Before his death in 2011, the co-founder and CEO of Apple helped create and launch the Macintosh computer, the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Jobs' work and the rise of the smartphone have changed how people consume media, shop, date and communicate. Jobs first attended Reed College, a four-year school in Oregon, but dropped out and later spent two semesters at De Anza College in California.

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah's work as an actress and rap artist has earned her accolades such as Golden Globes and Grammys. She caught her big break at 18 while studying communication at the CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York. It was during this time that she recorded a demo tape that would later lead her to stardom in hip hop and in Hollywood. Since her on-screen debut in "Jungle Fever" in 1991, Queen Latifah has gone on to star in dozens of movies and briefly hosted a TV show.

Jim Lehrer

The late Jim Lehrer hosted "PBS NewsHour," or several iterations of it, for nearly 40 years. In addition to covering monumental stories such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the 9/11 attacks, Lehrer also moderated multiple presidential debates and wrote numerous books. His work earned him two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and a National Humanities Medal. Lehrer got his start at Victoria College in Texas, where he earned an associate degree before completing his journalism studies at the University of Missouri.

George Lucas

The filmmaker behind the first six "Star Wars" movies, George Lucas sold off the iconic franchise to Disney in 2012 for $6 billion. Though he's no longer the creative force behind the films, Lucas' work continues to live on as Disney regularly releases new blockbuster installments of the revered franchise. But one of the most famous filmmakers was almost an auto mechanic, until a disastrous car wreck convinced him to take his education seriously. Afterward he enrolled in Modesto Junior College in California, where he began shooting with an 8 mm camera. He would go on to transfer to and graduate from the University of Southern California.

Eddie Murphy

Before his breakout role on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1980s -- and later starring in films such as "Coming to America," "Beverly Hills Cop" and "Shrek" -- Eddie Murphy was a student at Nassau Community College in New York. Murphy experienced a string of hits in the 1980s, followed by several box-office flops in the 1990s, but has remained a persistent voice in the world of comedy, while also being nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globes along the way.

Sarah Palin

Education is a journey, and often a winding one for some students. That's true of Sarah Palin who attended four different colleges over six years, including North Idaho College, before graduating from the University of Idaho. Palin first entered local politics in 1992, winning a seat on the Wasilla City Council and was later elected mayor. She climbed the political ranks, serving on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before being elected the state's governor in 2006. Palin entered the national political stage in 2008 when John McCain tapped her as vice president for his unsuccessful presidential campaign. Palin resigned as governor in 2009 and went on to speaking engagements, a reality TV series and to write several books.

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds was a cultural icon of the 1970s and one of its top-earning stars, cranking out such smash hits as "Smokey and the Bandit" and "The Longest Yard." His success continued for decades, with Reynolds earning a Golden Globe Award for his performance in 1998's "Boogie Nights," a performance that also prompted an Oscar nomination. He stayed active in the film community until his death in 2018 at age 82. Reynolds first attended Florida State University, a four-year school, on an athletic scholarship, but he moved on to Palm Beach State College in Florida after an injury derailed his football career at FSU. It was at PBSC that an English professor encouraged Reynolds to try out for a play, which launched his lengthy and wildly successful acting career.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson became the first Black baseball player to integrate Major League Baseball in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson earned Rookie of the Year honors and was named MVP of the National League in 1949. Robinson got his start at Pasadena City College in California, where he played four different sports. He would later transfer to the University of California--Los Angeles, though he did not graduate due to financial hardship. The Society for American Baseball Research declared Robinson as "perhaps the most historically significant baseball player ever" for breaking the color barrier, citing that he changed the way Americans thought when he integrated the MLB and opened the door for other athletes.

Aaron Rodgers

As quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers led the franchise to a Super Bowl win in 2011 and has twice earned NFL MVP awards. Not heavily recruited by Division I programs out of high school, Rodgers first played football for Butte College in California. He later transferred to the University of California--Berkeley, where he played two years before leaving college early for the NFL. The route Rodgers took is not an unusual one, as many athletes often play in community college programs before transferring up to higher echelons of athletic competition.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress. A Cuban immigrant who moved to Florida at 7, Ros-Lehtinen served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1989 to 2019. Ros-Lehtinen earned an associate degree at Miami Dade College and then a bachelor's degree from Florida International University, as well as graduate degrees from other colleges. As a congresswoman, Ros-Lehtinen chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs for some time. Other prominent Florida politicians, such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, earned their stripes working under Ros-Lehtinen.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

From "The Terminator" to "The Governator," Arnold Schwarzenegger, born in Austria, used an early career as a bodybuilder to become a blockbuster action star and then later governor of California from 2003 to 2011. In the early 1970s Schwarzenegger attended Santa Monica College in California. "I went to learn English and a counselor convinced me to take math and business classes. That counselor is one of many reasons I don't call myself self-made," Schwarzenegger tweeted in 2019.

Amy Tan

Author of "The Joy Luck Club" and various other novels, Amy Tan has seen her work win major prizes while being nominated for numerous others. Tan attended several colleges, including San Jose City College, before earning a bachelor's degree from the University of California--Berkeley. Tan cites affordability as a factor in attending community college. "Perhaps it was the only decision I could have made. I didn't have a lot of money, and I was putting myself through college," she told USA Today back in 2008.

Jesse Ventura

From Navy SEAL to professional wrestler and then governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, Jesse "The Body" Ventura has arguably one of the more interesting resumes on this list. After serving in Vietnam, Ventura briefly attended North Hennepin Community College in the city where he would later become mayor. Ventura then wrestled professionally for 11 years before hanging up the feather boas and leopard-print tights. He later became politically active, serving as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, from 1991 to 1995. After his stint as governor of Minnesota, Ventura became a political commentator and authored several books. Despite not graduating from community college, Ventura served as a visiting fellow at Harvard University in Massachusetts in 2004.

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Celebrities with community college connections

-- Halle Berry: Cuyahoga Community College

-- Eileen Collins: Corning Community College

-- Guy Fieri: American River College, College of the Redwoods

-- Morgan Freeman: Los Angeles City College

-- Tom Hanks: Chabot College

-- Steve Jobs: De Anza College

-- Queen Latifah: CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College

-- Jim Lehrer: Victoria College

-- George Lucas: Modesto Junior College

-- Eddie Murphy: Nassau Community College

-- Sarah Palin: North Idaho College

-- Burt Reynolds: Palm Beach State College

-- Jackie Robinson: Pasadena City College

-- Aaron Rodgers: Butte College

-- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Miami Dade College

-- Arnold Schwarzenegger: Santa Monica College

-- Amy Tan: San Jose City College

-- Jesse Ventura: North Hennepin Community College