Americans are struggling financially due to rising inflation and a year of community college is nearly three times less expensive than a year at a public four-year college, according to a new report on 2022’s Best & Worst Community Colleges.

To determine where students can receive the best education at the cheapest rates, WalletHub compared more than 650 community colleges across 19 key indicators of cost and quality. The data set ranges from the cost of in-state tuition and fees to the student-faculty ratio to the graduation rate.

Top 20 Community Colleges
1. State Technical College of Missouri (MO)11. Northwestern Connecticut Community College (CT)
2. Northwest Iowa Community College (IA)12. Manchester Community College (CT)
3. Alexandria Technical & Community College (MN)13. Irvine Valley College (CA)
4. Manhattan Area Technical College (KS)14. Kauai Community College (HI)
5. Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NE)15. Capital Community College (CT)
6. Mitchell Technical College (SD)16. Moraine Park Technical College (WI)
7. Montgomery College (MD)17. College of San Mateo (CA)
8. Tillamook Bay Community College (OR)18. Fox Valley Technical College (WI)
9. Mt. Hood Community College (OR)19. Blue Mountain Community College (OR)
10. Naugatuck Valley Community College (CT)20. Clackamas Community College (OR)


States with the Best Community-College Systems
1. Connecticut11. Colorado
2. Maryland12. Kansas
3. New Mexico13. Tennessee
4. Washington14. South Dakota
5. Hawaii15. Michigan
6. Wisconsin16. Iowa
7. Minnesota17. California
8. Wyoming18. Nebraska
9. North Dakota19. New York
10. Oregon20. New Hampshire

What the Experts Suggest

Do you think making community college tuition-free will increase enrollment and graduation rates?

“A tuition-free community college will likely create an additional level of access for students who would have solely selected the workforce rather than pursuing higher education full-time or while working. Completion has historically been a challenge for many community colleges and is tied to the financial costs of attendance. However, new programs that address financial needs, such as college promise programs, have the potential to spur growth in enrollment and graduation metrics. Similar programs and policies, as part of broader enrollment strategies, can contribute to hikes in enrollment and positive trends in completion rates over time, especially among full-time students,” said Everett A. Smith, Ph.D., assistant professor; program coordinator, School of Education, University of Cincinnati.

“Reducing tuition at community colleges may attract some students to enroll but it will not necessarily stop or offset declining enrollments if potential students are opting NOT to enroll based on factors other than tuition price. I doubt it will have much impact on graduation rates – which already are complex, diverse and resist any single profile let alone explanation,” said John Thelin, Ph.D., professor emeritus, University of Kentucky.

What can policymakers do to improve the quality of education and training at community colleges and the career prospects of graduates? 

“At the federal level, broadening the Pell Grant program to include more students would help more persist and complete. At the state and local levels, providing more funding for faculty and staff salaries would help colleges retain their best instructors and administrators. In several program fields, nursing and IT, for example, it is difficult for colleges to match the salaries faculty members can earn off campus,” said Jeff Lowrance, vice president, Communications, Marketing & Public Relations, Central Piedmont Community College.

“Policymakers should focus on community needs when making decisions and advocating for resources and infrastructure support for two-year institutions. Recent research in the Community College Review and the Review of Higher Education identifies the opportunities around skill-building curricula and the potential it offers residents and their communities. Policies incentivizing non-traditional approaches toward improving postsecondary education attainment, upward economic mobility, and addressing workforce development trends in the communities in which the community college serves should ideally be adopted and implemented as long as they accommodate the maintenance or improvement in the quality of education and training students receive. Policymakers should continue to evaluate pathway programs that remove obstacles and, to some extent, confusion around what classes to take and available career options based on course selection. Also, policymakers should continue to focus on programs that address developmental coursework requirements,” Smith said.

What is the outlook for community college education in 2022?

“Bright and challenging. Communities are emerging from the pandemic, and employers have an immediate need for talent pipelines of well-trained workers. But with the possibility of a recession looming, no one knows for sure what to expect. Community colleges will continue to be the best value in US higher education. Prospective students from 16 to 70 should check their local community college to see how comprehensive, affordable, flexible and caring college can be,” Lowrance added.

“Honestly, it is a little scary. I believe very strongly in the mission of community colleges…But I have a lot of concerns about their future. Enrollment continues to decline, even as local populations grow. Only 4-year for-profit colleges saw a bigger decline in enrollment in the last 5 years. Yet, community colleges remain the most affordable option for pursuing post-secondary education. Will free tuition reverse the losses in enrollment that community colleges have seen over the last 5 years? Possibly. But it will not solve the problems that community college students face. Tuition is not the only, or even biggest, cost associated with college. These students need a lot of support – they need help navigating college, learning how to study, child care, mental health counseling, food insecurity, housing insecurity, and more. We really need to see more investment in student services and in faculty to make sure that the influx of students that will come with free tuition are successful in college and in their future, which includes both additional schooling and in the workforce,” said Susan Reilly, Ph.D., professor; director for the Center on Economic and Financial Education, Florida State College at Jacksonville.

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Source: WalletHub