The 10 Best Community Colleges in America

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.

Community colleges are an important first step in the higher education of a diverse range of students. They can offer quality education at relatively low costs, potentially allowing students and families to budget better and ultimately save more. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, although attendance at two-year institutions has declined slightly in recent years, approximately one-third of all college students in America between 1980 and 2015 attended a community college. In 2021, President Joe Biden proposed boosting community colleges by making them free for 5.5 million students. Keeping this in mind, SmartAsset has examined data to identify and rank the best community colleges in America.

We considered the following three metrics when conducting this study: student-to-faculty ratio; graduation and transfer rate; and cost of tuition and fees. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section at the end.

This is SmartAsset’s eighth study on the country’s best community colleges. You can read the 2020 study here.

1. Brunswick Community College – Bolivia, NC

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The graduation and transfer rate at Brunswick Community College in Bolivia, North Carolina, is 82%, the fifth-highest rate in this study. Brunswick finishes 22nd for its student-faculty ratio, with 10 students for each faculty member. The cost of tuition and fees is $2,532 for two semesters of coursework, ranking in the top quartile of this study (156th).

2. Pamlico Community College – Grantsboro, NC

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Pamlico Community College in Grantsboro, North Carolina, is the most affordable option in the top 10. Two semesters will cost a student $1,867, ranking it 106th out of 820 community colleges nationwide. Pamlico places 13th-best for its student-faculty ratio (9-to-1) and 15th for its graduation and transfer rate (76%).

3. Carteret Community College – Morehead City, NC

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Located in Morehead City, North Carolina, Carteret Community College has a student-to-faculty ratio of five students to each instructor, tying for the lead for this metric across all 820 community colleges we looked at. It ranks 49th for graduation and transfer rate (66%) and 160th for the cost of tuition and fees ($2,547 for two semesters).

4. Montgomery Community College – Troy, NC

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The student-faculty ratio at Montgomery Community College in Troy, North Carolina, is eight students per instructor, ranking eighth for this metric in the study. The college places 32nd out of 820 community colleges with available data for a graduation and transfer rate of 70% and 157th for its $2,537 price tag on tuition and fees.

5. Sampson Community College – Clinton, NC

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Located in Clinton, North Carolina, Sampson Community College costs $2,783 for two semesters, ranking in the top quartile for this metric at 193rd. It ranks 22nd and 21st, respectively, for a student-faculty ratio of 10 students to one instructor and a graduation transfer rate of 74%.

6. College of The Albemarle – Elizabeth City, NC

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College of the Albemarle has a graduation and transfer rate of 75%, the 19th-highest rate for this metric in the study. The student-faculty ratio at this Elizabeth City, North Carolina institution is 13-to-1, ranking it 90th out of 820 community colleges with available data. And the cost for two semesters of tuition and fees is $2,245, ranking 140th.

7. Charlotte Technical College – Port Charlotte, FL

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Located in Port Charlotte, Florida, Charlotte Technical College is one of two colleges in the top 10 located outside of North Carolina. It has a graduation and transfer rate of 93%, the highest out of all 820 community colleges in this study. Furthermore, it places within the top quartile of the study for the two other metrics we considered: 192nd for student-faculty ratio (15-to-1) and 199th for cost of tuition and fees ($2,909 for two semesters).

8. Catawba Valley Community College – Hickory, NC

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Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, North Carolina, sees 74% of students graduate or transfer, the 21st-highest rate in the study for this metric. The student-faculty ratio is 13 students per faculty member, ranking 90th out of 820. Tuition and fees at the school cost $2,347 for two semesters, placing 143rd for that metric.

9. Randolph Community College – Asheboro, NC

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There is one faculty member for every 10 students at Asheboro, North Carolina’s Randolph Community College, the 22nd-best ratio for this metric across all 820 community colleges in this study with available data. The school places 64th out of 820 for a graduation and transfer rate of 64% and 145th for total tuition and fees of $2,373 for two semesters.

10. Leech Lake Tribal College – Cass Lake, MN

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Located in Cass Lake, Minnesota, Leech Lake Tribal College ranks fourth out of 820 community colleges nationwide for the student-faculty ratio (six students per instructor) and 73rd for its 64% graduation and transfer rate. The cost of tuition and fees for two semesters is $4,198, ranking 367th overall, still within the top half of the study.

Data and Methodology

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In order to create our rankings of the best community colleges in America, we analyzed data on 820 community colleges. We compared these schools across the following three metrics:

  • Student-to-faculty ratio. This is the number of students for every faculty member. Data comes from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and is for the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Graduation and transfer rate. This is the percent of students who either graduate from the community college or transfer to a four-year institution. Data comes from IPEDS and is for the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Cost of tuition and fees. This is the cost of tuition and fees for in-state students completing two semesters of coursework. Data comes from IPEDS and is for the 2019-2020 school year.

To create our final rankings, we gave each community college a score in each of the metrics based on how far above or below the mean they were. We used the sum of these numbers to create our final ranking. The community college with the highest cumulative score received a score of 100. The community college with the lowest score received a score of 0.

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