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Best Community Colleges for 2023


After community college enrollments plummeted during the Covid-19 pandemic, attendance at two-year public colleges started to rebound in spring 2023. Enrollments ticked up 0.5%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, marking the first time in years that community colleges saw even modest growth. 

To find the best community colleges in the country, SmartAsset analyzed data for 845 schools where you can spend two years getting an associates degree or technical training. The schools were ranked based on their student-to-faculty ratios, retention rates and the cost of tuition and fees. 

Key Findings

  • North Carolina is home to nine of the top 25 community colleges. In fact, the state is home to five schools ranked in the top 10, including the top three colleges – Southeastern Community College, Stanly Community College and Edgecombe Community College. 
  • Tuition and fees for a year at community college costs $4,590 on average. Meanwhile, the median retention rate is 60%, meaning six out of 10 first-year students at the typical community college continue their education the next year. The typical community college also has a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1. 
  • California is home to 99 of the 100 most affordable community colleges in the nation. In 2021-2022, in-state tuition and fees at these schools ranged from $1,104 to $1,562. The state also has seven of the 25 best overall community colleges, including Mission College, College of San Mateo, West Valley College, Mendocino College, Las Positas College, Canada College and Ohlone College.
  • These schools have the best student-to-faculty ratios. At Pamlico Community College in North Carolina, there’s one faculty member for every three students – the best studywide. Commonwealth Technical Institute in Pennsylvania has the second-lowest student-to-faculty ratio (4:1) followed by Alaska Christian College, Chatfield College in Ohio and Harcum College in Pennsylvania, where there are five students for every faculty member.
  • This Georgia college has the highest retention rate. At Oxford College, a two-year residential college within Emory University, 95% of first-year students go on to continue their education in the following year. On the other hand, it had the highest tuition and fees at just over $55,000 annually. Although Emory is a private four-year institution, Oxford was among the schools included in this study because it only offers an associate degree and a pathway to a four-year degree. 

Top 10 Best Community Colleges

1. Southeastern Community College - Whiteville, NC

Located in Whiteville, North Carolina, Southeastern Community College is the top-ranked community college in the nation. Southeastern has one of the highest retention rates (93%) and a student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1. It’s also in the top 25% for affordability with in-state tuition and fees totaling just $2,600 per year. 

2. Stanly Community College - Albemarle, NC

Stanly Community College, located approximately 40 miles east of Charlotte, North Carolina, has an 83% retention rate – tied for sixth highest across the 845 schools. While there’s one faculty member for every 11 students at Stanly Community College, the school is more affordable than 76% of the colleges in our study at $2,794 per year. 

3. Edgecombe Community College - Tarboro, NC

Edgecombe Community College in eastern North Carolina has a retention rate of 79%, which is tied for 15th best. One year of tuition and fees add up to just $2,640, making Edgecombe more affordable than nearly 80% of community colleges. The school also has a student-to-faculty ratio (10:1) that’s lower than 91% of the 845 schools that were evaluated. 

4. State Technical College of Missouri - Linn, MO

State Technical College of Missouri places an emphasis on technical and vocational programs not typically offered at community colleges. The school has an 89% retention rate and a 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio. However, in-state tuition and fees for one year at State Technical College of Missouri add up to $7,564 – well above the national median ($4,590).  

5. Commonwealth Technical Institute - Johnstown, PA

Only one other school can boast a lower student-to-faculty ratio than Commonwealth Technical Institute, where there’s one faculty member for every four students. Seventy-seven percent of first-year students continue their education the following year. One year of tuition and fees at Commonwealth Technical Institute total $7,664.

6. CBT Technology Institute - Miami, FL

The main campus of CBT Technology Institute ranks sixth overall thanks in part to a 93% retention rate. The school, which offers associate degrees and technical training certificates, has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its tuition and fees ($13,152) put it among the most expensive 5% of community colleges. 

7. Mission College - Santa Clara, CA

Despite being located in the heart of pricy Silicon Valley, Mission College is among the most affordable community colleges in the nation. Tuition and fees total just $1,204 per year, making it cheaper than 95% of colleges studywide. The school has one faculty member for every 16 students and a 79% retention rate. 

8. Moraine Park Technical College - Fond du Lac, WI

Located approximately 70 miles northwest of Milwaukee, Moraine Park Technical College has one faculty member for every 11 students. Seventy-eight percent of first-year students continue their education. Tuition and fees add up to $4,568 per year, which lands the school near the middle on the affordability spectrum.

9. Sandhills Community College - Pinehurst, NC

Sandhills Community College, which offers more than 100 associate degrees, diplomas and certificates, sees 77% of its first-time students continue their education. Tuition and fees add up to $2,764 for a full-time in-state student, making Sandhills more affordable than 77% of schools. Students also enjoy a faculty-to-student ratio of 13:1. 

10. Durham Technical Community College - Durham, NC

As one of five technical schools in the top 10, Durham Technical Community College also offers arts, education, public safety and business administration programs. Located just miles from Duke University, Durham Technical is tied for the 10th-lowest student-to-faculty ratio (7:1). Tuition and fees add up to $2,228, which makes it cheaper than 83% of schools. 

Data and Methodology

Data for 845 two-year colleges that offer associate degrees were ranked based on the following metrics from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) for the 2021-2022 school year:

  • Retention rate. This is the percentage of first-time students who return to the institution to continue their studies the following fall. 
  • Cost of tuition and fees. This is the cost of tuition and fees for in-state students completing two semesters of coursework. 
  • Student-to-faculty ratio. This is the number of students for every faculty member. This metric was given a half weight.

Tips for Paying for College

  • Need help finding a 529 plan in your state? A 529 plan is a common and effective way to save for a child’s future college education. These accounts, which are typically offered by state agencies and major investment firms, allow your contributions to grow tax-free. The money won’t be taxed when you withdraw it, as long as it’s used to pay for qualified education expenses, like tuition and fees. This tool can help you identify a plan that may fit your needs. Keep in mind that you can pick a plan from any state, regardless of whether you live there or not.
  • A financial advisor can help you plan for future education costs. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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