Best Community Colleges

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A higher education is becoming more and more essential for people who want to be competitive in today’s job market.

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And these days, from the best online colleges to the best distance learning programs, accessibility and affordability is the name of the game. In this regard the nation’s over 1600 community colleges have been leading the way for a long time. As the name implies, community colleges serve communities. They grant two-year associate degrees, certificates, credentials, and diplomas that prepare graduates for a fulfilling career or successful transfer to a baccalaureate program. Many offer continuing and adult education courses. Some offer dual-credit programs to area high school students. In these ways and many more, community colleges—often called junior colleges, city colleges, or technical colleges—have a tremendous impact on their region and its population.

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Top 10 Best Community Colleges

Rank School Location
1 Santa Barbara City College Santa Barbara, CA
2 Broward College Fort Lauderdale, FL
3 Meridian Community College Meridian , MS
4 Santa Fe College Gainesville, FL
5 Flint Hills Technical College Emporia, KS
6 Los Medanos College Pittsburg, CA
7 San Jacinto Community College Pasadena , TX
8 Kilgore College Kilgore, TX
9 Palm Beach State College Lake Worth, FL
10 Valencia College Orlando, FL

According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), 44 percent of all undergraduate college students are enrolled at a community college. Community colleges offer students the opportunity to save money, prepare for transfer to a four-year college, get ready for a career, try out college, and/or take advantage of a flexible schedule. There are many good reasons to consider a community college as your first step into higher education. Here are five of the most common:

  • Community colleges are affordable! The AACC reports that in the academic year 2016-17, the average estimate of full-time cost for a student to attend a community college was $17,000, which included an average $3,520 for tuition, $8,060 for room and board, $1,390 for books and supplies, $1,760 for transportation, and $2,270 for other expenses. Students often pay much less than the “sticker price” after student aid and other benefits are factored in. In comparison, in-state students at public four-year schools can expect to pay closer to $25,000; out-of-state students approach $40,000; and students at private schools can pay $50,000 or more per year.
  • Community colleges are inclusive! Community colleges do not have stringent admissions standards that require high scores on an admissions tests or a certain grade-point average from high school. In most cases, anyone with a high school diploma or equivalent can enroll. More and more community colleges are making it easier for high school students to enroll in college courses while still in high school, often earning high school and college credit simultaneously. Starting at a community college gives students a chance to improve a high school record before transferring to a university. Open access does not necessarily mean that students can take any course they want. Students usually are given placement examinations and then advised or placed into developmental courses if they are not up to college-level work.
  • Community colleges are a part of your community! Most community colleges are supported by local taxes. So the best of them work at having a positive influence in the community. Other than the obvious way of providing affordable higher education, community colleges also work with area companies to stay abreast of the workforce needs in the region. They make adjustments to their programs and curricula to meet those needs quite often, whether it is through a degree program, a career enhancement course, an adult education class, or a technical certification program. Community colleges keep a finger on the pulse of the community.
  • Community colleges are convenient! Because they are in touch with their communities, community colleges offer classes at times and locations that are convenient for students in those communities. Classes are often offered at several locations, during the day, in the evenings, or on weekends. An abundance of online and hybrid courses provide more alternatives to make education convenient to those who must fit school around work or family responsibilities. Many community colleges even offer childcare services for the parent-student. And class sizes are typically smaller at community colleges compared to similar courses at four-year institutions.
  • Community colleges are diverse! Community colleges have the most diverse group of students. Students of the widest array of age, ethnicity, degree of ability, socioeconomic status, nationality, and much more attend community colleges. The opportunity to interact with and learn from students with many different backgrounds and life experiences is another big advantage of attending a community college. The diversity at community colleges, in some ways, better prepares students for life in our diverse world. But in addition to having diverse students, community colleges also have diverse programs. Community colleges offer both vocational programs and academic transfer programs. For example, community colleges prepare most of the nation’s registered nurses, police officers, paramedics, firefighters, and advanced-skill technicians.

What Are the Best Community Colleges?

College Choice has correlated data from Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, Payscale, and individual community colleges to compile a list of the 50 best community colleges in the country. We considered several factors in developing an institutional performance score, including first year retention rates, three-year graduation rates, credentials awarded, etc. We also factored percentage of non-traditional and minority students, percentage of Pell grants, and minority graduation rates in order to create a diversity score. Finally, we compared in-district tuition rates and potential salary to give us a sense of the return on investment. Since much of the focus at College Choice is on helping you choose a college, we did not consider schools that did not offer an associate degree, and we eliminated those schools where associate degrees were an exceptionally low percentage of their annual awards. In the end, we believe these fifty schools represent the best of what can be a wise decision for many prospective college students.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Santa Barbara City College
    Location

    Santa Barbara, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1909, Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) is the oldest of California’s 113 community colleges. It is located in the Santa Barbara Mesa on a 74-acre bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The college serves all of Santa Barbara County as well as many others who are attracted to the beautiful setting of the California coast.

    SBCC is a fully accredited community college that offers over eighty degrees and over fifty career technical programs, training in a wide range of career technical fields, and transfer programs that provide the first two years of study toward the baccalaureate degree. Over 30,000 students attend SBCC in some capacity. Of those, more than 28% are full-time students. Each year over 2000 students earn a degree, nearly 1500 are awarded a certificate, and close to 3500 transfer to a four-year institution. Two out of every three full-time students who begin at SBCC graduate within three years, a rate well over the national average.

    The school’s Transfer Admission Guarantee partners with seven University of California campuses, California State University Channel Islands, and one private/independent college. And its Transfer Academy provides comprehensive support services to empower, inform, and educate students seeking to transfer to one of these or many other four-year institutions.

    The student body is as diverse as the degree programs offered. Over a third of SBCC’s students are Hispanic, over half are female, and nearly a third are over the age of 25.

  2. Broward College
    Location

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1959 on the western edge of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Broward College is part of the Florida College System and now has three campuses and several centers throughout Broward County. The school also has four International Centers located outside the United States, each of them offering standard, face-to-face Broward College courses identical to those taught in Florida, including complete associate degree programs.

    More than 63,000 students enroll in classes at Broward College each year, helping the school to rank fifth for the number of associate degrees conferred annually. In addition to having a large number of students, Broward also boasts one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation, with students from over 180 countries. Of the more than 5700 degrees awarded, African Americans earned over 1700 and Hispanic students earned over 1800, placing Broward College in the top five for both.

    Students at Broward have over 140 programs from which to choose. These programs lead to one of four certificates, three associate degrees, or three baccalaureate degrees. Over 4300 one-year certificates are awarded each year. However, nearly a two-thirds of awards are are two- to three-year associate degrees. Earning the Associate of Arts degree guarantees graduates successful transfer into one of Florida’s four-year state colleges or public universities.

  3. Meridian Community College
    Location

    Meridian , MS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1937, Meridian Community College (MCC) is the only one of Mississippi’s fifteen public community colleges to originate through the initiative of the local school system. In fact, the college operated at Meridian High School until 1964 when the College moved to its present location next to the campus of Mississippi State University’s Meridian Campus.

    Nearly 4000 students attend MCC, many working toward fulfilling careers through one of several technical, vocational, or pre-professional programs. Over 70% of all awards at MCC are associate degrees. MCC also offers the University Transfer Program for students who plan to transfer to a four-year institution. The University Transfer Program is parallel to the courses taken by freshmen and sophomores at universities and senior colleges. The University Transfer Associate in Arts degree consists of a series of core courses and a selection of transferable courses based on the student’s desired major.

    The Phil Hardin Foundation Honors College at MCC offers academically-gifted students the opportunity to enhance their educational experience. The program is designed to complement the University Transfer Program through enriched courses. The Honors College develops students’ leadership skills and offers more individualized academic support. Students in the Honors College also gain the opportunity for growth in a number of ways including volunteering, traveling, and meeting with leaders and stewards of the community. Those who complete graduation requirements for the honors college are awarded an honors college diploma and become eligible to transfer into the honors college at participating Mississippi universities.

  4. Santa Fe College
    Location

    Gainesville, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The nearly 16,000 students who attend Santa Fe College choose from more than fifty accredited technology and applied sciences programs, most of which are two-year degrees. The majority of Santa Fe students attend classes at the main campus in northwest Gainesville, though the school has six other centers throughout Alachua and Bradford counties. Founded by the Florida Legislature in 1966 and now a part of the Florida College System, Santa Fe College is one of the top ten colleges in the nation for number of Associate of Arts degrees awarded.

    Awards are given in three categories. The Associate of Arts degree consists primarily of liberal arts and sciences courses. The program culminates in a two-year liberal arts degree that can be transferred to most institutions offering bachelor’s degrees. The descriptions, course numbers, and content of classes at Santa Fe are the same as those in the first two years at Florida’s public universities. Santa Fe’s liberal arts courses are also transferable to most public and private four-year schools in the US.

    The Technology and Applied Science Program consists of courses designed to prepare students for careers in skilled professions. Some of these courses are transferable to a four-year college or university. Most lead to a degree or certificate. Finally, Santa Fe College offers eight bachelor’s degrees: Clinical Laboratory Science, Early Childhood Education, Health Services Administration, Industrial Biotechnology, Information Systems Technology, Multimedia and Video Production Technology, Nursing, and Organizational Management.

  5. Flint Hills Technical College
    Location

    Emporia, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    In 1963 the Emporia Board of Education founded a vocational and technical school that would come to be known as Flint Hills Technical College (FHTC). It wasn’t until 1995 that FHTC began awarding associate degrees. The school became an independent institution in 2004. In a short amount of time FHTC has grown to a much respected school for vocational training, career development, and educational preparedness.

    FHTC has nineteen programs of study for its over 1,000 students that respond to today’s technical industry needs, through dynamic hands-on education and real-world experience. The main focus of the school is vocational and technical training, still over a quarter of the awards are associate degrees, giving many students the opportunity to transfer to four-year institutions.

    Flint Hills Technical College is proud to take a high-tech, hands-on approach toward education that offers flexible training options for its students. To that end, FHTC has several active student organizations, offers excellent job placement and career services, and provides quality hybrid and online courses. The school also offers several ways for high school students to begin earning college credit even before graduating from high school. There are 16 Associate of Applied Science Degrees, 14 Technical Certificates, and 7 Licensure/Certificate Programs targeted to give students real world skills and experience. The school prides itself on having smaller than normal class sizes with an average of 15:1 student to faculty ratio.

  6. Los Medanos College
    Location

    Pittsburg, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Opened in 1974, Los Medanos College is situated in eastern Contra Costa County, California along the Sacramento River and in the foothills of Mt. Diablo. The school is one of three community colleges in the Contra Costa Community College District. Los Medanos has a beautiful 120-acre campus that has increased classroom space by 50% in the last ten years. The 9,000 students each semester enjoy the updated facilities, the friendly atmosphere and ethos, and the idyllic surroundings of Pittsburg, CA.

    Los Medanos offers over thirty associate degrees and over twenty certificates of achievement. About 60% of students receive an associate degree, while many others get certification in a specialized career, and still others take courses to enhance career skills. The many excellent student resources include a state of the art library; science, math, and music study labs; more than 700 computers for student use; career center; free tutoring for current students; Honors Scholars program; and several learning communities and special academic programs. The Transfer Academy works with students to structure a curriculum for a successful move from Los Medanos to a four-year institution. Nearly 30% of students who complete coursework at Los Medanos transfer to a college or university offering baccalaureate degrees.

    Not only are the educational possibilities endless, Los Medanos boasts an extremely diverse student body, with no one ethnic group comprising a majority. Hispanic students make up the largest ethnic group at 39%; white non-Hispanic students are 27% of the student population; and 15% of the student body is African American.

  7. San Jacinto Community College
    Location

    Pasadena , TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    In addition to its central campus located in Pasadena, TX, part of the Greater Houston area, San Jacinto Community College (SJCC) has two other main campuses and twelve extension centers. Each main campus is somewhat autonomous with their own distinct campus culture and athletic teams. Altogether SJCC services residents in six school districts within Harris County, but it attracts students from across Texas and the US outside its official service area.

    San Jacinto’s over 40,000 students are able to choose courses of study for more than 185 degrees and certificates in 46 technical and university transfer programs. Most of these educational opportunities are organized under seven areas of study: Business, Career and Technical Education, Fine Arts, Health Sciences, Industrial Technology, Liberal Arts, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

    Over 60% of the awards granted are associate degrees. San Jacinto College guarantees students can transfer credit to those publicly supported Texas colleges and universities that participate in the College’s Guarantee of Transfer Credit Program when coursework at San Jacinto College is completed in accordance with an approved and properly executed transfer plan. SJCC offers services such as child care, financial aid, job placement, counseling, testing, and disability assistance to better ensure the success of every student regardless of their situation.

  8. Kilgore College
    Location

    Kilgore, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Two hours east of Dallas, TX and an hour west of Shreveport, LA, rests Kilgore College (KC), home of the world-famous Kilgore College Rangerettes, the first precision dance team in the world. But Kilgore College is more than home of the Rangerettes; it services residents of twenty school districts in the Pineywoods of Northeast Texas with numerous degree, vocational, and continuing education programs. Over 7700 students enroll in credit and non-credit courses each year.

    Founded in 1935, KC’s original curriculum was designed to serve university-bound students, but today, the college also offers education and training in wide variety of workforce programs. Well over half of all awards given are associate degrees. Kilgore College promotes easy access through open-door admission, distance learning opportunities, dual credit courses, developmental education, and a comprehensive financial aid program.

    In addition to its renown for the Rangerettes and its prominence as one of the most affordable community colleges in the state of Texas, Kilgore College is also home to the East Texas OIl Museum, which houses a large collection of memorabilia documenting the period of Texas history in which the college was founded. And for the last 32 years it has been host to the annual summer Texas Shakespeare Festival.

  9. Palm Beach State College
    Location

    Lake Worth, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Palm Beach State College (PBSC) was founded in 1933 as Palm Beach Junior College and was the first public junior college in the state of Florida. The college’s initial goal was to provide additional training to local high school graduates who were unable to find jobs during the Great Depression. Today PBSC enrolls nearly 49,000 students in over 130 programs of study for associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees, or short-term certificates.

    The most popular programs of study for the over 7200 degrees and certificates awarded annually are the associate in arts degree and the various vocational certificates. Over 3500 Associate of Arts degrees and over 2700 certificates are awarded each year. Among the nearly 700 associate in science degrees awarded, the nursing program has the highest enrollment and number of graduates. In 2009, the college started its first baccalaureate program, a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Supervision & Management. Palm Beach State now offers three bachelor’s degrees in six tracks and averages about 300 graduates each year.

    PBSC is proud of its diverse student population. Over 156 countries are represented among its student body, and no ethnic group constitutes a majority. The school also enrolls over 15,000 students in distance learning programs, broadening its impact in Florida and beyond. And its Honors College provides over 430 students an opportunity for academic achievement in a highly stimulating environment, a mentoring relationship with an instructor, and a context for developing patterns of academic excellence.

  10. Valencia College
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Though only approaching fifty years of existence, Valencia College in Orlando, FL has distinguished itself as one of the largest and best community colleges in the nation. Valencia has several campus locations in Orlando with additional campus locations in Winter Park and Kissimmee. It is ranked fourth in the United States for the number of associate degrees awarded annually, and it is second in the number of one-year certificates.

    Even with an annual enrollment of over 68,000 students, Valencia is able to maintain an average class size of just 23 students. Valencia offers over 120 programs, offering certificates and associate degrees. Many of the associate degrees are terminal, but most are part of a transfer plan. Valencia has a unique but popular avenue for transferring to the University of Central Florida through its DirectConnect program. The program guarantees Valencia graduates admission and a smooth transition to UCF. Approximately 45,000 students have indicated that they are DirectConnect students. Nearly 25 percent of UCF’s upper division students originated from Valencia in 2011.

    The Valencia Foundation’s $68 million endowment is about 12 times the average community college endowment, which reflects an abnormally large commitment of local business, organizations, and individuals, including the foundation’s board of directors. In addition to the large community support, Valencia also reflects the diversity of its region. Its student body is made up of nearly 18% African American students, close to 5% Asian/Pacific Islanders, and a near equal number of Hispanic and Caucasian students at 32.5% apiece. With these large numbers it is no surprise that Valencia ranks fifth in the country for the number of associate degrees awarded to Hispanics and seventh for the number awarded to African Americans.

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