The district serves Maricopa County, the county that includes and surrounds Phoenix and is the most populous of the state’s counties. The district’s administrative headquarters are located in Tempe, Arizona (east suburban Phoenix).
The Phoenix Union High School District established Phoenix Junior College (now Phoenix College) in 1920; it was the first community college in the state of Arizona.
In 1960, the state legislature provided for junior college districts in Arizona. The Maricopa County Junior College District was established in 1962 by the approval of county voters, with the new system acquiring Phoenix Junior College.
The system established branch campuses of Phoenix Junior College in the nearby suburbs of Glendale and Mesa; these would become independent campuses within the system by the end of the decade (1965). Other campuses were established in the following years:
- Maricopa Skill Center (now part of GateWay Community College) in 1964;
- Maricopa Technical College (now GateWay Community College) in 1968;
- Scottsdale Community College in 1969;
- Rio Salado Community College, in 1978;
- South Mountain Community College, which opened in 1980;
- the Northeast Valley Education Center (now Paradise Valley Community College) in 1985;
- the Chandler/Gilbert Education Center (now Chandler-Gilbert Community College) in 1985;
- Estrella Mountain Community College in 1990;
- the Red Mountain campus of Mesa Community College in 2001;
- Glendale Community College North in 2008;
- Paradise Valley Community College at Black Mountain in 2009.
In 1971, the “junior college” portion of the name was changed to “community college.”
The State Board of Directors for Community Colleges of Arizona presided over the entire statewide community college system until June 2002, when the Arizona Legislature reduced its powers and duties and transferred most oversight to individual community college districts.