Educators and policymakers emphasize higher education’s role in helping students succeed in the workforce–and community colleges play an important role in helping students access those educational opportunities.

Equity and affordable higher education are now almost constantly in the spotlight, and many states have launched initiatives to connect community college students to free or low tuition. Online community colleges offer flexibility for students who have unusual schedules, work or family obligations.

According to 2016 data from the American Association of Community Colleges, nearly half of all U.S. undergraduate students attend community colleges, and programs are underway to help build capacity for academic and career pathways, to strengthen leadership, and to maximize resources.

To help prospective students sort through the many online options, the Center for Online Education released its list of the 50 best online community colleges for 2017.

In order to produce the top 50, the organization scored each school using a range of factors. All criteria were subdivided into three distinct categories, and each carried a different weight for determining a school’s overall score. Categories include online flexibility, academics, and experience and affordability.

(Next page: The top online community colleges)

The top five community colleges are:

1. South Piedmont Community College: South Piedmont’s online course catalog lists nearly 300 individual classes in nine different academic fields. More than one-third of the school’s online courses are grounded in technology and computer programming subjects.

2. Cleveland Community College: The fall 2016 catalog at this North Carolina institution lists 260 web-based courses. Most online courses at CCC are taught asynchronously, though some have scheduled online class sessions or labs. Distance learners can also sign up for accelerated Ed2Go courses in subjects like grant writing, digital photography, and medical terminology. These six-week continuing education courses are entirely online, and usually consist of 12 two-hour class sessions.

3. Holmes Community College: As a member of the Mississippi Virtual Community College (MVCC) consortium, Holmes’ online course offerings include classes from 14 different postsecondary schools in the state. Holmes offers more than 300 courses in two dozen academic subjects. Biology, English, mathematics, and sociology are among the most represented fields of study for online students at HCC.

4. Lenoir Community College: Lenoir’s online offerings include exclusively online associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates in 16 different fields of study. In addition to core subjects like accounting, business administration, and information technology, online students can take classes in aviation management and career pilot technology, emergency medical science-bridging, and supply chain management.

5. Pamlico Community College: The fourth North Carolina school in our top five, this Greensboro institution offers a range of exclusively online and hybrid courses. The school’s mission is to “promote excellence and persistence” and to “coach and support each individual to overcome obstacles, discover their potential and achieve their educational and career goals.”

For the entire list of the top 50 community colleges, see the full ranking.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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