Not all successful people get their start in the halls of Harvard or at some other storied Ivy League institution. Indeed, some people who attend community college go on to become popular politicians, award-winning authors or just plain rich people dominating the field of their choice — whether it be a gridiron or a boardroom.
Here are 25 successful community college graduates and attendees who started small but made it big.
Successful College Graduates
Some of these community college attendees finished a two-year program. Others transferred early. No matter which path they took, they eventually got four-year degrees and went on to become rich and successful.
Sarah Palin, former Republican vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska, actually attended five different schools — one of them twice — during her academic years. Palin was a student of two community colleges, North Idaho College and Matanuska-Susitna College in Alaska, according to CBS News.
She later graduated in 1987 from the University of Idaho with an undergraduate degree in journalism. Today, Palin is worth an estimated $12 million.
George Lucas graduated in 1967 as a film major with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. But Lucas first attended Modesto Junior College, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO).
The “Star Wars” creator put his education to good use and became one of Hollywood’s most influential and lucrative figures in the science fiction genre. He has a net worth of $6.4 billion, Forbes estimated.
Billy Crystal is an alumnus of both “Saturday Night Live” and Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y. Crystal originally attended Marshall University in West Virginia on a baseball scholarship, but the program was placed on hiatus. He switched to classes at Nassau, then later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from New York University, reported Biography. Crystal’s net worth is $45 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t utter his famous catchphrase, “I’ll be back,” after his stint at Santa Monica College in the 1970s, where he once studied English, according to the college alumni newsletter.
However, the bodybuilder-turned-movie-star (and later, governor of California) made up for his lack of higher education when he earned a bachelor’s degree in business and international economics from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 1979. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s net worth is estimated at $400 million today, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
Ross Perot, Sr.
Jovial Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot made his fortune by founding two companies, Electronic Data Systems and Perot Systems. He became a household name during his first unsuccessful presidential bid in 1992 when he shook up the race between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
But few people might know that Perot is also a former community college student. Before joining the U.S. Navy and graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Perot attended Texarkana Junior College. Today, Forbes puts Perot’s net worth at $4 billion.
John Walsh is known to millions of viewers as the longtime host of “America’s Most Wanted” and TV’s most famous crime-stopper. Currently, he hosts “The Hunt With John Walsh” on CNN.
A New York native, Walsh attended Cayuga Community College and later transferred to and graduated from the University at Buffalo. John Walsh’s net worth stands at $20 million.
Author Amy Tan, whose best-selling books include “The Joy Club” and “The Kitchen God’s Wife,” started her post-secondary education at Linfield College in Oregon, according to The New York Times.
She left Linfield to follow her boyfriend — who became her husband — to San Jose, Calif., where she attended San Jose City College. Tan went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, with a double major in English and linguistics, and a master’s degree in linguistics, both from San Jose State University. Amy Tan’s net worth stands at $8 million.
This restaurateur-turned-Food Network superstar attended two California community colleges, American River College and College of the Redwoods in California, before earning a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, according to the CCCCO.
Fieri, who hosted “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” has put that degree to work, launching several restaurant concepts, helping boost his estimated net worth to $20 million.
Journalist and novelist Jim Lehrer earned an associate degree from Victoria College in Victoria, Texas. Lehrer later earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and did a hitch in the Marines before starting his career as a print reporter.
Lehrer is best known as the host of “PBS NewsHour,” which he anchored for 36 years under its different permutations. Although his net worth wasn’t readily available, Lehrer commands more than $40,000 for a speaking engagement, according to the Washington Speakers Bureau.
Both Jim Belushi and his brother John went to the College of DuPage in Illinois, where they are among the community college’s most famous alumni. The brothers both graduated from the institution before joining The Second City comedy theater. John died at 33, after earning fame on SNL and in movies, including “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.”
In 2014, DuPage renamed its theater facility the Belushi Performance Hall after the brothers. Belushi went on to earn a degree in speech and theater arts from Southern Illinois University Carbondale before pursuing a performing career that also included a stint on SNL. His net worth is $50 million.
As co-founder of Costco Wholesale Corp., one of Jim Sinegal’s mantras was keeping costs low. The same might have been true when he chose to attend San Diego City College before earning a business degree from San Diego State University.
Sinegal held other executive roles in the retail industry before becoming one of the most successful entrepreneurs minted by a community college. Although Sinegal earned a relatively modest salary of $350,000 for several years before stepping down as Costco CEO, he’d clearly learned the secrets of successful people. Today, he has an estimated net worth of $2 billion.
In his school days, Nolan Archibald must have been as sharp as the saws he’d later sell as a longtime Black & Decker executive. He graduated with honors from Dixie Junior College in Utah before earning a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University and an MBA from Harvard University, according to his professional bio.
Although his net worth is not clear, the former chairman of power tool maker Stanley Black & Decker Corp. raked in big bucks. He received $52.5 million in compensation in 2013, the year he retired, reported Bloomberg.
Successful College Dropouts
These community college attendees left school before earning a degree, often to seek success in their chosen field.
Despite a less-than-stellar high school record, Tom Hanks was able to get his start as a student at Chabot Community College in Hayward, Calif. Hanks later transferred to California State University in Sacramento before ultimately dropping out. But he still credited Chabot with much of his current success.
“That place made me what I am today,” he wrote in The New York Times. Today, Hanks is a multimillionaire with a $400 million net worth and an Oscar winner with two Academy Awards for his roles in “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.”
Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood can look back on a long career as one of Hollywood’s most famous multimillionaires, with a net worth of $375 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. But if he had finished college, he might have made a name for himself on Wall Street instead of Hollywood Boulevard.
In the early 1950s, Eastwood was a student at Los Angeles City College as a business major, where he attended on the G.I. Bill, according to Turner Classic Movies. He never graduated, but within a decade he became a bankable, up-and-coming Western movie star before moving behind the camera in later years.
Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman is another Los Angeles City College success story, but community college wasn’t his only option. Freeman turned down a scholarship to study acting at Jackson State University in his native Mississippi to serve as a mechanic in the U.S. Air Force.
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Freeman said he was only enrolled at LACC for “about 20 minutes,” but credited a voice and diction instructor at the school for helping him develop his trademark delivery. The smooth-talking actor has an impressive net worth of $250 million.
NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers was drafted from the University of California in 2005, but his college playing career began at Butte College in Chico, Calif. He didn’t garner any scholarship offers from Division I universities out of high school, so he signed on with the Butte Roadrunners before moving on to U.C. Berkeley. From there, he didn’t graduate from college, instead opting to enter the NFL draft.
Rodgers earned a Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers. Now, he pads his NFL paycheck with high-profile endorsement deals and has an estimated net worth of $120 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
His lack of a college degree didn’t stop the late Steve Jobs from co-founding Apple and amassing a fortune worth $10.2 billion at the time of his passing in October 2011.
Jobs is known for abruptly dropping out of the exclusive Reed College in Oregon, but he also briefly attended De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif., for two semesters in 1970, reported the CCCCO. Steve Wozniak also attended De Anza before helping Jobs launch Apple, one of the most famous business success stories of all time.
Another alumna of De Anza College, then-budding actress Teri Hatcher studied mathematics and engineering at the school, according to IMDB. Hatcher dropped out to appear in “The Love Boat” TV series as a showgirl. That role helped Hatcher later land well-known parts like Lois Lane in the ’90s show “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and Susan Mayer on the huge TV hit “Desperate Housewives.”
Hatcher’s long-lasting success has helped her amass an estimated net worth of $50 million.
Eddie Murphy’s quick rise to stardom left little time for collegiate studies. Just a few years out of high school, the famous funnyman landed a spot as a featured player on SNL and became an audience favorite.
Like Billy Crystal, Murphy spent his college career as a student at Nassau Community College. But his stint lasted just two weeks, according to Newsday. Today, Murphy is worth $160 million, Celebrity Net Worth estimated.
As an actor, Burt Reynolds is best known for films like “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Longest Yard.” While he’s had a decades-long Hollywood presence, Reynolds grew up in Florida where he attended Palm Beach State College, reported the Palm Beach Post.
Reynolds began his college career playing football at Florida State University, but after an injury sidelined him, he took classes at the community college level before leaving to pursue acting, Yahoo reported. The ’70s sex symbol’s net worth is $3 million.
Halle Berry’s star power was evident from the start. As a teen, the Ohio native participated in several pageants. She eventually earned the crown as Miss Ohio, which led to a first runner-up title in the 1986 Miss U.S.A. competition and a run for Miss World, according to Essence.
Before setting her sights on a career in modeling and acting, Berry briefly flirted with academia as a student at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, studying broadcast journalism, according to Biography. Today, she’s an Oscar-winning actress whose wealth skyrocketed to $80 million.
Although James Dean died in 1955, at the height of his rising star, his estate earned $8.5 million in 2015 on the strength of the actor’s iconic style. It still helps sell brands including Jockey and Dolce & Gabbana, according to Forbes.
The leading man was a community college student at Santa Monica College, but he switched to the University of California Los Angeles as a drama major, according to History.com. Neither academic venture lasted long, though, since Dean dropped out in 1951 to pursue acting full time.
As a rapper, artist, actress, entrepreneur and TV show host, Queen Latifah has found success in many areas and put together a net worth of $60 million.
She was enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College, but soon signed with Tommy Boy Records to release her debut album, “All Hail the Queen” in 1989. The record, which included the tracks “Ladies First” and “Wrath of My Madness,” earned critical and commercial success.
As a writer, director and actor, Sam Shepard was a triple-threat talent. He earned a Pulitzer Prize for his play “Buried Child” and an Academy Award nomination for the role of pilot Chuck Yeager in “The Right Stuff.” Other acting credits include turns in “Steel Magnolias,” “Black Hawk Down” and “August: Osage County.”
Shepard studied agriculture at Mt. San Antonio College in California before quitting school to join a touring theater company. In 2017, Shepard died of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2017. He had an estimated net worth of $10 million.
With more than 600 home runs under his belt, Major League Baseball player Albert Pujols seems headed for the Hall of Fame. The slugger was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 after a short stint at Kansas City’s Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods.
He spent 11 years at first base for the Cardinals, earning three National League Most Valuable Player titles and two World Series rings. Pujols moved on to the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 and still commands a healthy salary to add to his estimated net worth of $170 million.
Charlene Oldham contributed to the reporting for this article.
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