Founded in 1959
From 1959 to Present Day
We’ve come a long way since our first classes were held in temporary quarters within the partially abandoned old Watsonville High School. The year was 1959; freshman enrollment was about 400 students; and what was then known as Cabrillo Junior College was born.
Over the years, Cabrillo College has become known and admired as an open-door institution that seeks to fill the educational needs of every segment of the community. Founding President Robert Swenson was most proud of Cabrillo earning a reputation as a college that cares about people. Upon his retirement, in 1977, he said, “I'm often told by students that they decided to come here because they know the faculty really cares what happens.” That sense of caring was modeled by Dr. Swenson throughout his long association with Cabrillo, which lasted until his passing in 2007. His presence is still felt around campus, and his passion for helping students be successful has become embedded within the Cabrillo culture.
Cabrillo College continues to evolve to meet the needs of the community, and the community has generously supported our expansions. We now offer associate degrees and certificates in more than 70 fields of study and have reached record enrollment of more than 17,000 students.
Who Was Cabrillo?
Cabrillo College derives its name from the 16th Century explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, an expedition leader who visited several prominent locations on the California Coast in the service of Spain in 1542. Cabrillo’s voyage included stops in San Diego Bay and Monterey Bay. The college sits on the homeland of the indigenous Awaswas and Mutsun communities who were taken by force to Missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during the Spanish colonization of the Monterey Bay region. Today, their descendants form the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, and they maintain close ties to this land. The college was named during an era when colonizers and their stories were commemorated and valued above those of indigenous peoples. For example, in 1935, the state legislature designated September 28 as “Cabrillo Day” to provide an annual recognition of Cabrillo’s exploration of the California coast. Similarly, portions of State Route 1 are identifed as part of the “Cabrillo Highway.” The college was named not long after that state highway designation, resulting in the title Cabrillo College.