Community colleges occupy a unique space in higher education, because they are often hubs of innovation while at the same time making higher education more accessible and affordable to more people. Now, new rankings examine the best community colleges on at individual level, along with the best state community college systems in the U.S.
Some states make community college even more accessible through College Promise programs that give residents free rides to community college provided they meet certain criteria. New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee are some of the states that have joined so far.
Related content: Schools focus on community college pipeline
Such initiatives are proving to be more critical than ever, with college tuition increases outpacing inflation and the need for post-secondary training in most jobs protected to grow through 2020. During the 2018 to 2019 academic year, tuition and fees for full-time, in-state enrollment at a public two-year college averaged $3,660 per year versus $10,320 at a public four-year institution and $35,830 at a four-year private school.
Community colleges often provide more flexible schedules, keeping pace with the changing demographic of students who juggle family and career responsibilities alongside their educational goals.
Ranking the best community colleges
Individual community colleges vary in quality and affordability. To determine where students can receive the best education at the lowest price, WalletHub compared more than 700 community colleges across 19 key indicators of cost and quality.
The top five best community colleges are:
1. State Technical College of Missouri
2. Arkansas State University-Mountain Home
3. Southern Arkansas University Tech
4. San Joaquin Delta College (CA)
5. Pierce College-Puyallup (WA)
There are some steps policymakers can take to improve the quality of education and training at community colleges, along with the career prospects of graduates.
“State policy that works on alignment among educational sectors is critical for higher education attainment,” says Pamela L. Eddy, Ph.D., Professor, Higher Education, Chair, Educational Policy, Planning, & Leadership, CILD Faculty Fellow, William & Mary School of Education. “Making transitions seamless would keep more students on track–being academically prepared for college, taking college level courses in high school (either in middle college programs or in dual enrollment programs) can help; working on articulation agreements in the state so students do not lose credits when transferring to a four-year institution; providing bridge programming for students; and working with employers to identify workforce needs.”
The best community colleges also are ranked in various categories including lowest cost of in-state tuition and fees, highest per-pupil spending, highest graduation rate, and lowest student-loan default rate.
Best and worst community college systems
To rank the best and worst community college systems in the U.S., WalletHub looked at 19 key metrics and calculated a weighted average of the scores earned by 710 community colleges, along with the number of students enrolled in each school.
The state with the highest average corresponds with a rank of No. 1, or the best community-college system. Data used to create this ranking were collected from the National Center for Education Statistics, CNBC, U.S. Department of Education, Council for Community & Economic Research and College Measures.
The top 10 best community college systems are Washington, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Arkansas, Maryland, New York, Wyoming, Kentucky, and Tennessee.