Colleges Dual Enrollment General Interest

10 of the best community colleges in the U.S.

Have you considered community college? The idea might be foreign to you, and for good reason. Traditionally, community colleges have carried a stigma that identifies them as a less-than-optimal choice compared to four-year schools. In some cases, that stigma is deserved. But like any college—community-level, state run, or private—some schools are poor, some are mediocre, and some are fantastic.

So don’t rule out community colleges! The benefits of attending these local schools can be enormous. Here are three reasons:

  • Cost savings: Tuition at public community colleges averages $3,520 per year, nearly a third of the average tuition at a public four-year university (and a fraction of the cost of a typical private college).
  • Easier transition: Smaller class sizes, a location close to home, and a solid array of prerequisite courses make community colleges an easy transition point from high school to college.
  • Keeps your options open: Going to a community college now doesn’t mean you can’t transfer to a four-year school later. But it does offer added flexibility—you can more easily attend part-time while working an internship or apprenticeship in your field of study. You can also take dual enrollment courses while still in high school.

There are two excellent pathways through community college: one is to obtain a two-year associate’s degree, the other to transfer to a four-year university. The second of these options—to transfer—can be both a money and time saver for many students. You can eliminate prerequisite courses at a community college and save a bundle by doing so. Just ensure that your credits will transfer to your four-year institution.

Earning a two-year degree from a community college can also be a plus. Pick the right area of focus, and you can out-earn holders of bachelor’s degrees right out of the gate. (Yes, it’s true.)

Attending a community college doesn’t rule out a four-year bachelor’s degree for another reason—an increasing number of community colleges actually offer in-demand bachelor’s degrees! In fact, community colleges in 21 states now confer these types of degrees.

In my own case, I accrued around 70 credit hours from local community colleges in North Carolina before transferring most of those courses to a four-year school (Thomas Edison State College) to get a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Only three of those credit hours didn’t transfer. Not a bad deal considering how much I saved on tuition.

Moving past the stigma associated with many community colleges opens up a whole new world. And to make finding the best of the best easier, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the most outstanding community colleges in the country below.

Every two years, the Aspen Institute—a think-tank based in Washington, D.C., that studies education policy—hands out prizes for the most amazing community colleges in the country. Here are the 2015 winners:


It’s time to break stereotypes surrounding community colleges. These schools aren’t only for students who have low GPAs or come from low-income backgrounds. They can be a smart and savvy way for students of all economic backgrounds and achievement levels (including high achievers) to begin their journey to higher education success.


Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller

Despite the exponential increase in distance education programs across the country, there haven’t been very many books written about how to find and enroll in a good school. There are plenty of books for instructors that explain how to teach at a distance, but there aren’t many published resources for prospective students. There are some, however! One of those is Accelerated Distance Learning by Brad Voeller.

Brad earned his college degree in just six months (and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree program) through aggressive completion of a distance education course of study. Brad’s example is certainly not normative for the majority of students, but his book does outline how similar speed can be achieved by:

Earning college credit through exams and life experience
Using proven techniques to cut study time in half
Preparing and following a study plan
What’s great about Brad’s book is that he also provides solid advice on how to choose a fully accredited distance education program. This is the section of the book that’s likely to be applicable to most prospective students. Not all of us want to complete our 4 year degree in 6 months, but all of us could most certainly use advice on what we should be looking for when evaluating a distance education program.

Until there are more books specifically aimed at helping students navigate the waters of pursuing a degree through distance education, we have to use what’s already out there. I’d recommend getting a copy of Brad’s book. While some of his material may not be applicable to your situation, he does provide some invaluable and practical information that should be taken into consideration when making a decision about which school to attend.



2014 College Rankings From the Open Education Database

The Open Education Database has published their 2014 online college rankings. This is a great reference if you’re looking for a good distance education program. The top colleges are sorted by area of study (i.e. engineering, nursing, MBA, and so on). They even have a degree finder. Select a degree type and major and you’ll see the top ranked colleges in that category.

The metrics used are very practical and detailed. For example, they rank colleges according to the faculty-to-student ratio, retention rate, graduation rate, and job placement rate. The college you attend should help you achieve your academic goals. That’s why it’s important to “do your homework” ahead of time. OEDb’s ranking tool helps you do that.

See the rankings at OEDb


Is College for Everyone?

Here at The Distance Learner we advocate a non-traditional approach to the process of earning a college degree. It’s just not practical for everyone to attend a brick-and-mortar college or university, pay exorbitantly to live on campus, and run up an astronomical student debt that takes decades to pay off after graduation.

Distance education offers a cheaper, more practical alternative to this approach. But for some young people, college may not even need to be a consideration to begin with. This post from The Art of Manliness gives 11 alternatives to a college degree. These include starting a business, attending community college, and learning a trade.

For some professions – like many of those in STEM fields – college is absolutely the right choice. But for many, it ends up being a waste of time and money. For some, college even limits your career options, as you get strapped into thinking you have to go into a certain major (most often business) in order to be successful. That’s just not the reality, however.

Those who say every high school student needs to attend college to get a good job are either misinformed or lying. Any high school graduate can land a stable job with a healthy salary by pursuing their natural inclination or talent in a vocational school or apprenticeship. Similar to earning a degree through distance education, this is a smart and economical alternative to taking on student debt for that “magic” piece of paper.

Read the full article at The Art of Manliness


Attend College Overseas

Here’s an interesting alternative to the traditional American college experience: consider attending college overseas. Despite what you might think, it’s much less expensive to study abroad. Experiencing a new country is exciting. And earning a degree overseas can distinguish you from other graduates who didn’t bother to travel.

On his blog Sovereign Man, Simon gives examples of several foreign colleges that are less expensive than American options, yet consistently rank among the top schools in the world. If you’ve ever wanted to visit another country, you should seriously consider whether earning a degree at the same time might be a good option for you.

Read the full article at Sovereign Man


MIT Offers Free Online Education

In late 2011, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched M.I.T.x, an online learning program that offers hundreds of courses for free. This isn’t a full degree program, but it does allow those who demonstrate mastery of a course of study to receive a certificate of completion.

This new program is a continuation of MIT’s original free online learning curriculum, OpenCourseWare. It’s very exciting to see a respected university like MIT offer additional distance learning options. The groundswell of online programs over the past few years has been nothing short of spectacular. In the Forbes article linked below, James Marshall Crotty calls this new education initiative a “game changer.” I agree with his assessment.

Read the full article at Forbes


Think Before You Intern

As someone who began a career in software development with an unpaid apprenticeship, my personal experience has been that any internship, paid or otherwise, can be beneficial. But these statistics compiled by Online College Courses are nonetheless very interesting and may indicate a trend away from what I experienced 10 years ago.

Studies show that students who intern without receiving pay in return tend to learn less, perform more menial tasks, and be hired on full-time at a lower rate than students who are paid for their internships.

As with any aspect of your education and career, it’s important to evaluate whether a given opportunity will advance you towards your goal or just waste your time.

Read the full article at Online College Courses


Don’t Let College Interfere With Your Education

David authored this article for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy back in 2010. It remains relevant for those making decisions about where, or whether, to attend college.

I made a decision early on that college was about getting a piece of paper, not an education. My goal wasn’t to become a better-rounded individual, or even to gain a greater understanding of my major area of study. Rather, it was to gain the educational credential that employers now use as a screening device for most jobs. And my experience confirmed what I had expected—that post-secondary education today has only a lackluster ability to provide real value aside from that credential.

It’s critical to understand the true value of a college degree before embarking on an expensive voyage that may or may not get you where you want to go.

Read the full article at the Pope Center


Does Earning a Degree Increase Your Salary?

One commonly held belief about college degrees is that earning one will boost your income in your current job, or help you secure a job with a much higher starting salary than someone who only has a high school degree.

This may have been true at one point, but in recent years the earnings gap between high school and college graduates has been shrinking dramatically. Mary Pilon takes a detailed look at the earnings landscape in a recent Wall Street Journal article. It’s well worth a read whether you’re considering college for the first time or planning to return to school to earn a post-graduate degree.

One advantage to pursuing a degree via distance education is the lower cost. Combine that with the ability to work a full-time job while studying in the evening and you have a powerful alternative to the traditional college experience. Of course, it’s still a good idea to research your target career field and determine whether the cost of a college degree is truly worth the salary increase. It might not be.

Read the full article at


The Case for Working With Your Hands

High-school shop-class programs were widely dismantled in the 1990s as educators prepared students to become “knowledge workers.” The imperative of the last 20 years to round up every warm body and send it to college, then to the cubicle, was tied to a vision of the future in which we somehow take leave of material reality and glide about in a pure information economy. This has not come to pass.

Read the full article at NY Times