Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Thomas Broderick
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Updated October 12, 2023
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The best community colleges offer a great education at an affordable price. Learn more about starting your college education with an associate degree.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

The Community College Research Center at Columbia University reports that nearly 9,000,000 people attended U.S. community colleges in the 2020-2021 academic year. This figure exceeded the number of students at four-year public colleges.

Students may choose community colleges over four-year schools for many reasons, including affordable tuition, small classes, and an easy application process. Career-aligned certificates and associate degrees can train you for a new job in about 1-2 years.

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How to Apply to a Community College

The best community colleges, even those with open enrollment, ask you to meet minimum requirements, pay a fee, and submit an application. Most let you apply online. Some states are also developing partnerships with the districts where students are guaranteed acceptance to nearby public community colleges upon high school graduation.

  • Minimum Requirements: Community colleges’ application requirements typically include a high school or GED diploma. Some community colleges may require you to take prerequisite courses or skills assessments for admission.
  • Application Fee: Expect to pay a modest fee to each school where you apply. Speak to an admissions advisor if the fee burdens you financially. They may grant you a fee waiver based on your income.
  • Application Materials: Typical application materials include high school transcripts or proof of GED diploma. Do not forget to submit college transcripts if you have earned undergraduate credits. Some community colleges may also require an essay or interview.

Best Community Colleges in the United States

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#1 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Walla Walla Community College

  • Location-markerWalla Walla, WA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,700
  • Out-of-state$6,200
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled3,671
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment32%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Santa Barbara City College

  • Location-markerSanta Barbara, CA
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$1,380
  • Out-of-state$8,140
  • Retention Rate64%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled14,133
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment43%
  • AccreditationNo
#3 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Lake Area Technical College

  • Location-markerWatertown, SD
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$2,904
  • Out-of-state$2,904
  • Retention Rate84%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled2,228
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment46%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program

  • Location-markerWest Covina, CA
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$0
  • Out-of-state$0
  • Retention Rate82%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled108
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationNo
#5 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

New Mexico Military Institute

  • Location-markerRoswell, NM
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$1,784
  • Out-of-state$8,072
  • Retention Rate48%
  • Acceptance Rate34%
  • Students Enrolled487
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

North Central Kansas Technical College

  • Location-markerBeloit, KS
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,512
  • Out-of-state$4,512
  • Retention Rate83%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled913
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment14%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Valencia College

  • Location-markerOrlando, FL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$1,984
  • Out-of-state$7,933
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled47,940
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment47%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Snow College

  • Location-markerEphraim, UT
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$3,410
  • Out-of-state$12,450
  • Retention Rate67%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled5,383
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment50%
  • AccreditationYes
#9 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Saint Paul College

  • Location-markerSaint Paul, MN
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,996
  • Out-of-state$4,996
  • Retention Rate63%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled6,656
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment35%
  • AccreditationYes
#10 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Mayland Community College

  • Location-markerSpruce Pine, NC
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$2,432
  • Out-of-state$8,576
  • Retention Rate71%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled399
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment83%
  • AccreditationYes
#11 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Northwest Iowa Community College

  • Location-markerSheldon, IA
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$5,190
  • Out-of-state$5,490
  • Retention Rate73%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled1,777
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment67%
  • AccreditationYes
#12 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Southeast Community College Area

  • Location-markerLincoln, NE
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$2,448
  • Out-of-state$2,952
  • Retention Rate64%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled9,756
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment41%
  • AccreditationYes
#13 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Victor Valley College

  • Location-markerVictorville, CA
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$1,402
  • Out-of-state$9,142
  • Retention Rate71%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled13,126
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment34%
  • AccreditationNo
#14 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Georgia Military College

  • Location-markerMilledgeville, GA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$6,165
  • Out-of-state$6,165
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled8,766
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment45%
  • AccreditationYes
#15 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

De Anza College

  • Location-markerCupertino, CA
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$1,395
  • Out-of-state$9,360
  • Retention Rate79%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled18,669
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment36%
  • AccreditationNo
#16 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Marion Military Institute

  • Location-markerMarion, AL
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$6,000
  • Out-of-state$12,000
  • Retention Rate40%
  • Acceptance Rate58%
  • Students Enrolled409
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment0%
  • AccreditationYes
#17 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

CUNY Kingsborough Community College

  • Location-markerBrooklyn, NY
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,800
  • Out-of-state$7,680
  • Retention Rate65%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled15,443
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment9%
  • AccreditationYes
#18 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Western Wyoming Community College

  • Location-markerRock Springs, WY
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$2,970
  • Out-of-state$8,910
  • Retention Rate58%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled2,821
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment54%
  • AccreditationYes
#19 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

North Iowa Area Community College

  • Location-markerMason City, IA
  • 2 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,793
  • Out-of-state$7,189
  • Retention Rate66%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled2,894
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment73%
  • AccreditationYes
#20 Best Community Colleges in the U.S.

Northeast Alabama Community College

  • Location-markerRainsville, AL
  • 2 year
  • Campus
Average Tuition
  • In-State$3,930
  • Out-of-state$7,860
  • Retention Rate70%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled2,981
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment61%
  • AccreditationYes

How to Choose a Community College

There are several factors you should consider when choosing a community college, including accreditation, program offerings, location, and credit transfer agreements. This process should narrow down your options to a manageable few.

Check for Accreditation

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) charters accreditation agencies, such as the Higher Learning Commission, to evaluate postsecondary schools nationwide. Accredited schools offer you a rigorous education you can use to start a job or enroll in a program at a four-year college.

Do not apply to nonaccredited schools, as many jobs and accredited colleges do not consider their degrees valid. This could lead to difficulties acquiring financial aid or challenges in transferring later. You can check the ED’s database to see if your prospective school is accredited.

Academic Program Offerings

Pay close attention to program offerings, as some community colleges focus on a specific academic or career field. A school with many programs lets you explore different subjects while paying an affordable tuition rate.

The best community colleges help you make the most of your academic experience with highly trained academic and career advisors. Their guidance will support your career development and help you select the best courses for your major and career path.

Location

You may find the most affordable community college within a few miles of your home. At some community colleges, people living within the district or county pay the lowest tuition rate. Schools may charge other in-state and out-of-state learners much more.

Advances in online education mean you can explore community colleges outside your county or state. Learning online features many potential benefits, such as asynchronous education and reduced fees. However, every learner is different, and some students perform better in person vs. online, while others excel remotely. Be sure to know your needs before selecting your mode of learning.

Credit Transfer Agreements

The best community colleges prepare you to transfer to a bachelor’s-completion program at a four-year school. Your community college may advertise transfer agreements with in-state public colleges and universities. These agreements ensure all your credit transfers. Changing your major, however, could increase the time and amount you spend on your degree.

You can also transfer undergraduate credit to an online program if your community college and potential four-year colleges hold proper accreditation. However, keep in mind that you will need to maintain good academic standing to transfer successfully.

How Much Does Community College Cost?

Average Full-Time Cost Of Community College (2021-22)
ItemAverage Cost
Tuition and Required Fees$3,860
Room and Board$8,120
Books and Supplies$1,440
Other Expenses (e.g., Transportation, Laundry, Furnishings, etc.)$4,340
Total$17,760
Source: NCES

The typical community college student paid nearly $4,000 in tuition and fees during the 2021-2022 academic year. However, tuition made up only a fraction of the total cost of attendance (COA). You should also expect to pay for books, supplies, and other education-related expenses.

You need to calculate community colleges’ COA, even if they charge lower tuition than comparable four-year schools. Doing so helps you decide whether living on or off campus best minimizes your out-of-pocket costs.

Average Total Cost: Living On-Campus vs. Off-Campus
LocationAverage Cost
On-Campus$16,780
Off-Campus (Living With Family)$10,360
Off-Campus (Not Living With Family)$20,580
Source: NCES
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Benefits of Community College

Attending community college can help you in many ways during and after your education. Make sure to work with academic and career counselors to make the most of your time in school.

Cost-Effective

Attending a community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year school can significantly reduce your college COA. Lower tuition and fees for two years reduce your debt burden compared to those who began their college education at a four-year school.

If you choose to transfer to a four-year school, this advantage can set you up for greater financial success long after graduation.

Increase Your Earning Potential

A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report shows that professionals with an associate degree earn about 15% more weekly than their peers with only a high school or GED diploma. Making more lets you pay down student debt faster and achieve a higher quality of life.

Enrolling in a bachelor’s-completion program features even more financial benefits. The BLS reports that workers with a bachelor’s make about 80% more weekly than those with a high school or GED diploma.

Ability to Transfer Credits

Many community colleges maintain partnerships with in-state colleges to help you transfer your undergraduate credit toward a bachelor’s-completion program.

This benefit lets you rest easy knowing you won’t need to retake and pay for the same classes once you enroll in a four-year college.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Community College

Don’t think that attending a community college limits your financial aid options. You can use federal student loans to pay for your community college education. The FAFSA application calculates your annual student aid index, a figure the government uses to identify your financial need.

The official FAFSA website discusses what you’ll need to submit the form every year you’re in school. Research college scholarships if you need more financial aid to pay for an associate degree. Scholarship application deadlines and requirements vary.

Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges

Is community college free?

There are many states that offer grants and financial aid to cover the cost of community college, including California, Georgia, Maryland, Nevada, and Virginia. However, there are certain requirements you must meet in order to be considered eligible, such as your income, field of study, age, and immigration status.

Other requirements include holding state residency and a high school or GED diploma. You may also need to meet a GPA cutoff. Speak with a college admissions counselor to see if you qualify.

Can you get a bachelor’s degree at a community college?

Community colleges within the 23-state Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) award bachelor’s degrees. In CCBA member states like Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, all community colleges offer at least one bachelor’s program.

Member states such as California, Idaho, and Utah only offer bachelor’s degrees at some community colleges.

Do community colleges have dorms?

Top community colleges that strive to provide a full college experience may offer on-campus housing. However, most community colleges do not offer housing. Some community colleges may also offer housing at nearby partner institutions.

Do community colleges accept everyone?

In many cases, yes. Most community colleges offer open admission, which means anyone with a high school diploma or GED certificate can enroll in classes. The best community colleges accommodate any student who wants to earn a degree.


Page last reviewed October 6, 2023. All rankings and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by the TBS Rankings Team.

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