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Image shows a student enrolled at a community college working on a laptop. SmartAsset analyzed data on student-to-faculty ratio, graduation rate and tuition costs to conduct its latest study on the best community colleges in the U.S.

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 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 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 below.

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

Key Findings

  • North Carolina passes with flying colors once again. North Carolina dominates the top of this list for another year in a row, holding down the top six spots and eight of the top 10. All of them rank within approximately the top 10% for both low student-faculty ratio and high graduation and transfer rate, and they rank within the top 25% of the study for relatively low cost of tuition.
  • Classroom sizes vary widely. There is a wide range of student-to-faculty ratio at community colleges across America. Citrus College in Glendora, California has the highest ratio in the study (45 to 1). On the other hand, the University of Pittsburgh-Titusville (Titusville, Pennsylvania), River Valley Community College (Claremont, New Hampshire) and Carteret Community College (Morehead City, NC) tie for the lowest ratio – just five students per faculty member, making the class size nine times smaller.

Image is a map by SmartAsset titled "Top 10 Community Colleges in the U.S."

1. Brunswick Community College – Bolivia, NC

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 the 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

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

3. Carteret Community College – Morehead City, NC

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 cost of tuition and fees ($2,547 for two semesters).

4. Montgomery Community College – Troy, NC

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

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

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 one, ranking 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

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 still places within the top quartile of the study for the two other metrics we considered: 192nd for student-faculty ratio (15 to one) and 199th for cost of tuition and fees ($2,909 for two semesters).

8. Catawba Valley Community College – Hickory, NC

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

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

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.

Image is a table by SmartAsset titled "Best Community Colleges in the U.S."

Data and Methodology

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.

Tips for Planning for College Finances

  • Look to experts for advice. Whether you want to pay for your own education or for the education of your loved ones, a financial advisor can help you reach your goals. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in five minutes. If you’re ready to be connected with advisors, get started now.
  • Study your budget carefully. Going to school can create a lot of financial stress. Use SmartAsset’s budget calculator to figure out exactly how much you should be spending.
  • Consider a new stream of income. Getting a part-time job can help students earn some money to make their life in school easier. See what you’ll be taking home each pay period using SmartAsset’s paycheck calculator.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Marcus Chung

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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