10 Community Colleges in Virginia

State of Virginia welcome sign

Many historical visionaries have called Virginia home -- including the likes of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was an outspoken advocate of lifelong learning, and the commonwealth's higher education system, including his own University of Virginia, is a testament to his legacy.

According to the Lumina Foundation, Virginia ranked 11th in the nation in 2010 for overall educational attainment, meaning the commonwealth produces far more college grads than most states. Many of those graduates launch their educations in one of the 23 community colleges in Virginia. As this list of 10 such schools (in alphabetical order) can attest, no two institutions are alike, but all strive to provide students with the know-how to succeed in an ever-evolving job market -- and to provide Virginia with the skilled workers it needs to remain economically competitive.

10 noteworthy community colleges in Virginia

Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (Clifton Forge): Dabney S. Lancaster Community College is an ideal fit for those seeking an intimate college experience: Its student-to-faculty ratio hovers around 10 to one. This does not mean, however, that students must do without many of the benefits larger institutions provide, like career and academic advising, mentorship, and tutoring. DSLCC says its goal is to be academically and geographically accessible, and if its large, diverse course catalog and flexible programs (including online options) are any indication, it is succeeding. More proof: CollegeMeasures.org notes that in 2013, DSLCC boasted the second-highest combined graduation and transfer rate of all reporting Virginia community colleges.

John Tyler Community College (Chester and Midlothian): John Tyler Community College has two locations just outside of Richmond, Virginia's capital, and serves more than 14,500 students each year. It offers more than 50 programs granting associate degrees, professional certificates and career studies certificates. Perhaps one of its best known programs, however, is its nursing program, which operates from the institution's Nursing Education Center, located inside the Johnston-Willis Campus of CJW Medical Center. Students can participate in several student clubs -- including those emphasizing personal hobbies, academic achievement and professional development -- and can take advantage of the institution's many student support services via its Student Success Centers.

Lord Fairfax Community College (Middletown): Lord Fairfax Community College says its No. 1 goal is to see its students succeed, and it has the accolades to prove its success. According to CollegeMeasures, LFCC reported the second-best first-year retention rate in the state in 2013, and in 2010, it was tied for third in the state in a national CNN Money community college ratings report. LFCC offers more than 75 associate degree and certificate programs, plus dozens of partnerships with colleges and universities that can simplify the process of transferring to a senior institution. Some of these partnerships even allow LFCC students to complete bachelor's, master's and even doctoral degrees on-site. LFCC was also named the most tech-savvy midsize community college in the nation by the Center for Digital Education in 2012.

Northern Virginia Community College (Washington, D.C., Metro): Looking for practical education near the nation's capital? Northern Virginia Community College, or NOVA, is not just the largest community college in Virginia -- it is second-largest community college in the nation. It is also one of the most diverse: According to its website, NOVA serves more than 75,000 students from more than 180 countries. Perhaps what really sets NOVA apart from other institutions, however, is its transfer network. Notable Virginia colleges -- such as George Mason University, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech -- recruit from NOVA, as do several prominent DC-area schools, like Georgetown and George Washington University. Bonus: NOVA offers more than 160 academic programs, and, according to CollegeMeasures, it reported the second-highest first-year retention rate in the state in 2013.

Patrick Henry Community College (Martinsville): If an impressive college resume matters to you, consider taking a look through Patrick Henry Community College's website. PHCC was named one of the top 50 community colleges in the nation by Washington Monthly in 2010, and it was ranked among the top 10 most "tech-savvy" small community colleges by the Center for Digital Education in 2012. It was also the 2008 recipient of the prestigious John Champaign Memorial Award for Outstanding Developmental Education Program. According to its website, PHCC offers 15 associate degree programs (which include 16 specializations), 12 certificate programs and 40 career studies certificates; nursing, administration of justice and health sciences programs are among the most popular. The senior institutions receiving the most PHCC transfer students are Old Dominion University, Radford University and Virginia Tech.

Piedmont Virginia Community College (Charlottesville): CollegeMeasures reports that in 2012, Piedmont Community College's first-year retention rate was among the highest for all community colleges in Virginia. While its flexible and diverse program options and active transfer circuit likely contribute, the school's locale in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains cannot hurt. Charlottesville is a historically rich area where visitors (and students) can pay homage to Thomas Jefferson's legacy by walking the grounds of his most famous home, Monticello, among other key sites. According to VisitCharlottesville.org, it is also a budding wine mecca thanks to its more than 20 surrounding orchards and vineyards. Beer-lovers, do not fret: The city is also known for its craft breweries. In winter, students can opt to hit the ski slopes between the books, and they can enjoy local nature reserves and hiking trails year-round.

Southside Virginia Community College (Christiana): SVCC is not the only Virginia community college that might appeal to nature-lovers. According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Southside Virginia Community College is fortunate enough to have a beautiful, natural wildlife habitat (and extensive nature trails) right at its backdoor. Still, if SVCC's motto -- "sometimes smaller is better" -- is any indication, the school's preferred claims to fame are its personalized education and intimate class settings. SVCC promises students will never feel as though they are lost in the crowd or treated like "a number on a computer printout." It offers one-on-one counseling, and its professors include seasoned professionals, such as bankers, lawyers, nurses and computer programmers.

Richard Bland College of the College of William and Mary (Petersburg): Richard Bland College was originally created to serve as a transfer institution for the prestigious College of William and Mary, and though it is now a public community college, its senior institution still has a hand in its operations. Its achievements include being ranked the top community college in Virginia in CNN Money's 2010 report and, per CollegeMeasures, boasting the highest combined graduation and transfer rate in the state in 2013. Where are those transfer students headed? According to its website, RBC maintains active transfer partnerships with the College of William and Mary, Virginia Tech, and James Madison University, among others. Its campus features a large grove of century-old pecan trees and an early -century dairy barn, which is now a theater, and it's the only Virginia community college to offer on-campus housing.

Tidewater Community College (Norfolk): Looking for an education with a view? Tidewater Community College serves the Chesapeake Bay region, maintaining campuses in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach. Yes, its coastal locale means TCC students can take advantage of the perks of Atlantic living, but it also places it near the largest navy base in the world. According to its website, about a third of TCC's nearly 45,000 students are active military, veterans or members of military families; it is no wonder that in 2013, Military Advanced Education designated it as a top "military-friendly" college. Other TCC claims to fame include serving the second-largest undergraduate student body in the Commonwealth of Virginia and being the 11th-largest public community college in the nation. In 2013, its innovative textbook-free business program was named a finalist for the national Bellwether Award, given annually by the Community College Futures Assembly.

Wytheville Community College (Wytheville): Wytheville Community College was originally founded as a two-year branch of Virginia Tech, but it quickly became an independent member of the Virginia Community College System. It is also the only Virginia community college ever considered for the Aspen Institute's Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, and it was named the second-most highly rated community college in the state by CNN Money in 2010. WCC offers a wide range of transfer, professional development and personal enrichment programs, and it has served about 90,000 students thus far. CollegeMeasures reports that in 2013, WCC reported one of the highest combined transfer and graduation rates in Virginia.

First steps: Choosing your community college

Community colleges might generally offer a well rounded catalog, but no single school is right for everyone. Consider researching these programs more, and possibly contacting schools directly, to learn which are most likely to suit your needs. You can also check out the Virginia Education Wizard, to learn more about Virginia community colleges, explore career paths and create a plan for paying for school.

Sources:

"Quotations on Education," Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/quotations-education

"Virginia Public Colleges," CollegeMeasures.org, 2013
http://collegemeasures.org/2-year_colleges/state/VA/compare-colleges/strategic-measures/

"How Does Your Community College Stack Up?" CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/pf/college/community-colleges/

"Top Tech Community Colleges of 2012," Center for Digital Education, 18 October 2012
http://www.centerdigitaled.com/news/Top-Tech-Community-Colleges-of-2012.html

Community College Rankings 2010, Washington Monthly
http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2010/community_colleges.php

"John Champaign Memorial Award for for Outstanding Developmental Education Program," National Association for Developmental Education
http://www.nade.net/site/documents/policy_handbook/PPH%20Final%201-27-12/Appendix%20Y7%202012%20PPH.pdf

Visit Charlottesville
http://www.visitcharlottesville.org/

2011 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Aspen Institute
http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/aspen-prize/2011Prize

Virginia Education Wizard
https://www.vawizard.org/vccs/Main.action