The Best Community Colleges in the United States

by TBS Staff
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For many students, community colleges are important pathways to furthering their professional and educational goals.

During the 2018-19 school year, nearly eight million students enrolled in at least one course at a two-year college. Students attend top community colleges for a variety of reasons, not least because they cost less than four-year institutions. Additionally, community colleges often partner with universities, allowing students to easily transfer credits and earn a bachelor's degree.

The best community colleges also prepare graduates to begin working in their respective fields sooner, which appeals to nontraditional learners or those with professional responsibilities. Students who choose this route can also acquire pursue professional experiences and establish themselves within organizations sooner than students who earn four-year degrees.

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Top 10 Community Colleges in the United States
#1 Walla Walla Community College Walla Walla, WA
#2 Santa Barbara City College Santa Barbara, CA
#3 Lake Area Technical Institute Watertown, SD
#4 East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program & Technical Center West Covina, CA
#5 New Mexico Military Institute Roswell, NM
#6 North Central Kansas Technical College Beloit, KS
#7 Valencia College Orlando, FL
#8 Snow College Ephraim, UT
#9 Saint Paul College Saint Paul, MN
#10 Mayland Community College Spruce Pine, NC

Best Community Colleges in the United States

  1. Walla Walla Community College
    Location

    Walla Walla, WA

    With a current annual enrollment of over 13,000 new, returning and international students, Walla Walla Community College offers courses in Academic Transfer Education, Professional/Technical Education, Transitional Studies and Extended Learning.

    Generally speaking, academic courses (100 level or higher) at WWCC are transferable to most four–year institutions. WWCC’s e–learning program enables students to get an Associate’s degree entirely online or through a combination of on online and on–campus courses.

    The Running Start program offers high–school juniors and seniors an opportunity to enroll in courses at Walla Walla Community College.

    In addition to traditional areas of study, Walla Walla CC is a base for technical and local community learning, hosting the Ag Center of Excellence, educational opportunities in agriculture; College Cellars of Walla Walla, educational opportunities in the field of Enology and Viticulture, including an operating winery; Learning Center for Non Profits, resources, training and education to current and prospective staff and board members of nonprofits; Water and Environmental Center, education for environmental and economic sustainability; and the Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition, helping to improve the lives of children and families through early childhood experiences.

    The Aspen Institute named Walla Walla Community College the 2013 co–winner of its prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The Aspen Institute also recognized the junior college as a 2011 Finalist with Distinction for the same prize.

  2. Santa Barbara City College
    Location

    Santa Barbara, CA

    The 104–year–old Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) is located in Santa Barbara, California, on a campus surrounded by stunning ocean views. The junior college serves the south coast of Santa Barbara County.

    The community college offers more than 50 certificate programs and 80 degrees, with an average class size of 28. SBCC has an enrollment of 20,000 students, of which 7,500+ are full–time.

    57% of full–time students at SBCC transfer to four–year colleges; more than half of those ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree. Agreements with 76 colleges (in and out of California) guarantee that SBCC credits are accepted for transfer; several schools ensure admission if a student meets academic requirements. The college’s Transfer Achievement Program (TAP) helps students make informed decisions in their planning for the transition from SBCC to a four–year university.

    SBCC’s Express–to–Success program uses small learning communities to assist students through first–year remedial courses to yield a significant rise in students’ course completion.

    The college has a diverse student population and serves many traditionally underserved students, including an ever–increasing population of Hispanics. Hispanic students, who consist of 30+% of the student population, have achieved a notable three year–graduation/transfer rate of 48%.

    Aspen Institute named Santa Barbara City College the 2013 co–winner of its prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The Aspen Institute also recognized the college as a 2011 Finalist for the same prize. Santa Barbara City College ranked #23 in the CNN Money listing of community colleges in 2012.

  3. Lake Area Technical Institute
    Location

    Watertown, SD

    Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI), a technical school located in Watertown, South Dakota, is the first technical school established in South Dakota. The campus serves an 18,000 square mile area.

    Lake Area Tech has 29 study programs and 11 E–degrees. The junior college serves more than 1,700 full–time, part–time and online students. The school boasts low tuition cost and a 99% graduate placement rate.

    A sampling of the school’s programs: Agri–Business, Custom Paint & Fabrication Cosmetology, Robotics, Aviation Maintenance, and Nursing.

    Lake Area Technical Institute leads the nation in graduation rates and t helps its graduates secure jobs at strong salaries.

    76 percent of first–time, full–time LATI students graduate or transfer to a four–year college within three years; the national average is 40 percent.

    LATI graduates recently averaged 40 percent in earnings than other new hires in the area.

    Through program–to–program articulation agreements, LATI graduates from a specific program may transfer LATI technical credits to a specific degree plan at South Dakota State University. Selected general education classes and technical credits may be used.

    Aspen Institute named Lake Area CC a 2013 Finalist with Distinction in its prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The Aspen Institute also recognized the college as a 2011 Finalist with Distinction for the same prize. The college ranked #11 in the CNN Money listing of community colleges in 2012.

  4. East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program & Technical Center
    Location

    West Covina, CA

    East San Gabriel Valley ROP/TC, located in West Covina, California, is one of 72 regional occupational programs (ROPs) in the state of California.

    An ROP focuses on practical, hands–on career preparation and career guidance and is designed to provide high school and adult students with the technical skills required for specific jobs. Most of the classes offer community–based internships, in local business and industry sites.

    East San Gabriel Valley ROP/TC provides core majors of study such as: Business Management, Child development, Criminal Justice, Green Facilities Management, Health Science and Visual Communication. The Center partners with over 250 businesses and over 40 support service agencies to provide these unified educational experiences.

    The center has articulation agreements with the following community colleges and private post–secondary institutions:

    • Citrus College
    • Rio Hondo College
    • Mt. San Antonio College
    • Mt. Sierra College
    • Pacific Oaks
    • Westwood College
    • DeVry
    • ITT Tech

    These agreements allow students, who successfully completed selected courses, to enroll in training programs at the community college, without having to repeat previously covered materials.

    The community college ranked #1 in the CNN Money listing of community colleges in 2012.

  5. New Mexico Military Institute
    Location

    Roswell, NM

    New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI), located in Roswell, New Mexico, is the only state–supported, co–educational, military boarding school in the United States. NMMI offers a college preparatory, four–year high school and a two–year junior college.

    One of only six military junior colleges in the U.S., New Mexico Military Institute’s organization and architecture is based on Virginia Military Institute. The campus encompasses 40 acres of land, including an 18–hole golf course.

    Students at NMMI are referred to as “cadets” and the school averages 975 cadets, 95 percent of whom go on to four–year universities. At any time, cadets represent almost every state in the U.S. and a dozen foreign countries.

    The Corps of Cadets at New Mexico Military Institute has its own chain of command, responsible to the Commandant of Cadets and his staff. All cadets live under an honor system and are expected to meet the highest values of personal integrity. The honor code states that no cadet will “Lie, Cheat or Steal or Tolerate Those Who Do.” Cadets are required to defend and enforce the honor system.

    More than one–third of the college students are seeking an Army Commission. Annually, via a two–year Early Commissioning Program (ECP), the school commissions about 35 cadets as US Army 2nd Lieutenants.

    New Mexico Military Institute offers an all–inclusive liberal arts curriculum. An Associate in Arts degree requires sixty–eight hours of coursework. A cadet may choose to concentrate in a area while pursuing an Associate of Arts degree.

    Areas of concentration include:

    • Humanities
    • Math and science
    • Social sciences/business
    • Physical education/recreation

    The community college ranked #2 in the CNN Money listing of community colleges in 2012.

  6. North Central Kansas Technical College
    Location

    Beloit, KS

    North Central Kansas Technical College (NCK Tech), a school of higher learning, offers degree, certificate and professional development education. NCK Tech’s main campus is located in Beloit, Kansas; the branch campus is located in Hays, Kansas.

    North Central has an outstanding reputation for graduate placement, averaging over 90% annually. NCK Tech graduate salaries are consistently comparable to graduates of 2– and 4–year institutions.

    The college offers 24 programs of study, including these major areas:

    • Automotive Collision Technology
    • Agricultural Equipment Technology
    • Nursing
    • Residential Electricity
    • Diesel Technology

    NCK Tech offers statewide articulation agreements in the following pathways:

    • AV Communications
    • Information Support/Services
    • Network Systems
    • Production – Welding
    • Programming and Software Development
    • Web/Digital Communications

    The junior college has also developed The Kansas Institute of Underground Technology, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and local businesses.

    The community college ranked #5 in the CNN Money listing of community colleges in 2012 and listed among the top 10% of all U.S. community colleges by the Aspen Institute in 2013.

  7. Valencia College
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Valencia College covers a broad region of mid–Florida, with campuses in east and west Orlando, Winter Park, Kissimmee, and Lake Nona.

    The college offers 30 Transfer Plans, 12 pre–major options and an Associate degree that guarantees admission to any Florida state university.

    The school offers more than 60 non–degree technical certificate programs. Valencia’s continuing education program includes courses in career development, criminal justice, healthcare professions, language programs and professional development.

    The school had an enrollment of more than 70,000 students in 2012. Valencia College has a very diverse student population.

    Valencia ranks first among the U.S.’s two–year colleges for the total associate’s degrees awarded. The school’s graduation rate is triple the average of comparable two–year institutions in the U.S. Valencia ranks second in the number of degrees awarded to Hispanics and it’s designated a “Hispanic Serving” institution with 27+ percent Hispanic students. The college ranks third in the number of associate degrees awarded to African Americans.

    Valencia graduates boast a job placement rate of 93%—95%.

    Director Steven Spielberg has called Valencia College’s film program one of the best anywhere. The college’s "Filmmaker in Residence" program invites talented producers, directors, writers and cinematographers to work with students on film projects.

    Valencia was the winner of the 2011 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and ranked as the No. one community college in the United States, according to Community College Week’s 2011 listing of the top 100 schools.

    The college has an honors program and is a member of The National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC).

  8. Snow College
    Location

    Ephraim, UT

    Snow College, a two–year state college, is located in rural Ephraim, Utah, about 120 miles south of Salt Lake City. Snow College is a part of the Utah System of Higher Education. Two campuses—–the main campus in Ephraim and another campus in Richfield, Utah—–serve a six–county area in Utah.

    Snow College boasts of having some of the lowest tuition rates of any accredited institution of higher education in Utah. Undergraduate enrollment averages 3000 yearly.

    The college offers certificates and associate degrees in several areas. The major study divisions include:

    • Business & Applied Technologies
    • Humanities
    • Fine Arts, Communication and New Media
    • Natural science & Mathematics
    • Social & Behavioral Science

    The junior college also offers continuing education, online and honors classes.

    Snow College is widely regarded for its athletics, music and arts programs. The Horne School of Music, an all–Steinway School, is one of only 23 2–year colleges accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music in the U.S. Snow College music graduates have played in some of the finest colleges and musical groups in the world.

    Snow College hosts some of the finest U.S. music camps, such as the Juilliard Jazz Summer Workshop and the Manhattan to the Mountains Chamber Workshop.

    The National Association of Schools of Theatre has awarded Snow’s theatre arts department full accreditation and membership, an honor only bestowed to three other 2–year colleges.

    Snow College’s athletic teams, known as Badgers, are consistently highly ranked regionally and nationally.

    The college’s art program is highly recommended and is known to other colleges throughout the US.

    Some of its students have gone on to colleges including Cornwall, University of Utah, New York Art Academy and other institutions.

    The Ephraim campus is home to the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts (concert hall and theatre), Activity Center and art gallery; the Richfield campus houses the Sevier Valley Center, an indoor arena and theater. The surrounding community uses the facilities on both campuses.

    Snow College is a member of the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC).

    Snow College ranked #6 in the CNN Money listing of community colleges in 2012 and listed among the top 10% U.S. community colleges by the Aspen Institute in 2013.

  9. Saint Paul College
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    Saint Paul College a community and technical college, established in 1910 is located in St. Paul, Minnesota. The school has about 10,000 full–time and part–time students. Saint Paul College offers traditional classes, online classes and hybrid classes.

    The college provides 39 associate degree programs as well as 60 career certificate and diploma programs.

    Saint Paul College focuses on advanced technology to enhance the curriculum and the learning experience. The school also provides students free tutoring.

    The Power of YOU scholarship programs provide free tuition to qualified students who graduate from St. Paul or Minneapolis public schools.

    Student Life provides many social, wellness, educational and cultural events.

    Saint Paul College has transfer agreements with four–year colleges and universities to provide pathways for students to transfer to continue their higher education.

    Saint Paul College offers programs such as:

    • Advanced manufacturing technology
    • Computer graphics and programming
    • Business
    • Culinary arts
    • American Sign Language interpreter and transliterator
    • Health information technology
    • Global trade
    • Medical laboratory technology

    Saint Paul College ranked the #1 community college in the 2010 Washington Monthly ranking of America’s best community colleges.

  10. Mayland Community College
    Location

    Spruce Pine, NC

    Mayland Community College, located in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, also operates the Avery Learning Center in Newland, North Carolina and the Yancey Learning Center in Burnsville, North Carolina. Mayland Community College is part of the North Carolina Community College System. The college has partnerships with area colleges and universities to provide transfer options to students. The school offers 35 programs. The junior college offers an Associate in Arts, an Associate in Fine Arts and an Associate in Science degree.

    Besides providing classes for college credit, Mayland Community College provides classes for enrichment, skills development and personal enjoyment.

    Mayland Community College has the following academic departments:

    • Arts & Sciences (College Transfer
    • Basic Skills
    • Business, Engineering & Public Service Technologies
    • Health Sciences
    • Applied Technology Programs

    Mayland Community College ranked the #4 community college in the 2010 Washington Monthly ranking of America’s best community colleges.

Community College Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these communinity colleges based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

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How to Choose a College

Choosing a community college is an important decision. Students should consider factors like location and educational costs. For example, students planning a career in another state can access low out-of-state tuition rates while establishing residency.

While community colleges offer lower rates than traditional four-year institutions, tuition rates vary. Students may want to compare rates before committing to a program.

Community college students often commute. However, out-of-state learners or students seeking a traditional college experience may want to narrow their search by finding schools that offer housing packages.

Students should also consider their learning styles. Larger colleges usually offer more networking opportunities, while smaller colleges offer intimate classes sizes that provide more opportunities for mentorship and practical learning.

The best community colleges accept financial aid and provide assistance navigating the application process. Advisors can help students through the admissions process.

How to Choose an Associate Degree

An associate degree prepares graduates for the workforce. However, the best community colleges also consider how credits transfer to four-year institutions. Students should identify their long-term career goals to determine which programs best meet their professional goals.

Financing Your College Degree

Funding a college degree requires a significant investment that most students cannot pay out of pocket. Fortunately, students have multiple funding options, beginning with federal financial aid.

The FAFSA is a free application form that determines if students qualify for grants and loans. Grants do not require repayment, and the government provides these awards based on need.

Students begin repaying loans within six months after graduating unless they enroll in another program. Learners may also apply for private student loans offered through banks and financial organizations, which tend to have more expensive interest rates than federal loans.

The best community colleges also offer federally funded work-study opportunities. During these programs, students work on campus, often in a field that reflects their career goals.

Students should also consider scholarships, which do not require repayment. Colleges and universities typically provide merit-based or need-based scholarships. These scholarships are often offered by community organizations and large corporations, which identify a target population to support and provide fundings for people in that population.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Difference Between Community College and College?

Community colleges focus on two-year programs that prepare graduates for immediate employment. These programs can also cover general education requirements, allowing students to transfer to four-year schools. Four-year programs include general education requirements and advanced topics, and are what most people think of when they think of traditional college.

What Is the Difference Between Junior College and Community College?

Junior colleges specifically provide vocational training, while community colleges offer two-year programs that often meet the transfer requirements for four-year institutions.

Do Community Colleges Offer Housing?

Top community colleges that strive to provide a full college experience may offer on-campus housing. However, most community colleges do not offer housing.

Can You Get a Scholarship for Community College?

Community college students qualify for scholarships and can begin their searches by contacting their schools for in-house opportunities. Community college students also qualify for private and federal scholarships.

Are All Community Colleges Open Admission?

The best community colleges accommodate any student who wants to earn a degree. Most community colleges offer open admission.

Is It Easier For Transfer Students to Get Accepted to College?

Attending a community college provides students with an opportunity to boost their GPAs with college coursework, which may increase students' chance of gaining admission to programs, especially if they didn't do well in high school.

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