Best community colleges in Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania has a long history of taking higher education seriously. From the first official university founded in the U.S. to cutting-edge online schools in Pennsylvania, students in the state have plenty of great options when it comes to college degree programs and professional training.
The trouble is that students looking into two-year institutions don't often have an easy time determining which one's best. Community colleges in Pennsylvania are managed somewhat differently from those in other states, also — the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC) network contains just 14 official two-year public institutions, along with its 18 universities and one two-year private school, and community college students statewide are served by branch campuses, satellite centers and instructional sites associated with those 14 regional hubs.
We gathered data on seven quantitative metrics and ran it through our carefully weighted analysis model to determine where the best community colleges in Pennsylvania could be found. Rather than only highlight the top 10 schools in the state, it seemed prudent to just share our ranking information on them all.
There's more info about our methodology at the bottom of the page, for those of you who like deep stats as much as we do. Here are the community colleges in Pennsylvania by the numbers, along with a bonus bit of information about each one's strengths.
1. Butler County Community College (Butler)
Affordable tuition and a chart-topping PA TRAC transfer rate combined to put Butler County Community College, also known as BC3, at the No. 1 spot on our list. That first-place transfer rate wasn't the only figure in BC3's favor, either — the western Pennsylvania school also produced a higher percentage of graduates with completed degrees or certificates than all other schools but one, and its total cost of attendance came in well below average to rank third overall in our study.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 3,686
- Comfortable classes: Average class size is often linked to student engagement, with smaller courses being more conducive to retention and graduation. The average class size at BC3 in 2015 was 18 students, which can allow for faculty to give students individual and small group attention when necessary.
2. Pennsylvania Highlands Community College (Johnstown)
Another school with a high percentage of transfer students to PA TRAC schools, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College featured the third-highest rate of outbound transfers in the state. It also was one of four schools to tie for second place in number of students per faculty member, with the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reporting a student-faculty ratio of 17:1. Cost of attendance was also relatively inexpensive, and the Johnstown institution achieved the highest retention rate among all two-year public schools in Pennsylvania.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 2,506
- Up-and-coming virtual campus: Penn Highlands has recently joined the ranks of online schools in Pennsylvania, initiating a handful of fully online degree programs for students. As of 2015, available online study plans included associate degrees in business management, technology management and liberal arts and sciences, as well as a certificate program child care management and leadership.
3. Lehigh Carbon Community College (Schnecksville)
Lehigh Carbon Community College didn't come out on top of any individual one of our seven metrics, but a strong performance across the board gave it a spot as the third-best among community colleges in Pennsylvania. Tuition at LCCC was low, for one thing — significantly less per year than the statewide average for two-year schools reported by the College Board — and the overall cost of attendance ranked at No. 6 in the state for affordability. LCCC students also transferred to PA TRAC schools at the fourth-highest rate among schools on our list.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 7,128
- Sturdy stepping stone: According to the LCCC 2014-2017 strategic plan, the suburban Allentown institution plans to focus on easing students' transition to higher education and working to enhance their college readiness to provide a foundation for success.
4. Bucks County Community College (Newtown)
This institution in far eastern Pennsylvania took the No. 2 spot statewide for retention rate, which suggests that Bucks County Community College students are dedicated to completing their educations, and the school's outbound transfer rate was good enough to make the top five. The NCES also counted a considerable percentage of distance education students among the student body in its most recent survey year, and the cost of tuition, fees and materials was more affordable than average.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 9,880
- Learning for all ages: The Early Learning Center at Bucks has provided enjoyable and educational child care for three- to five-year-old children of students since 1973. Facilities include an outdoor playground, art facilities, indoor kinetic activities and other play-based, supervised learning experiences.
5. Northampton Community College (Bethlehem)
Northampton Community College enjoys a prime trifecta of top-five finishes among our metrics: the Bethlehem school ranked among the best for retention rate, graduation rate and total cost of tuition, fees and supplies. What's more, it took the No. 2 spot for its percentage of students enrolled in distance education, and other scheduling considerations such as weekend/evening classes and day care services are available on campus for students who need them.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 10,666
- Career program success: A recent NCC graduate survey indicates that students who complete its career training programs go on to find employment in their field at a rate of 90 percent. A few considerable salaries were also reported, such as the median annual figure of $76,440 for graduates of the computer maintenance and service technology program.
6. Westmoreland County Community College (Youngwood)
Founded in 1970 and hub to six regional off-campus education centers, Westmoreland County Community College tied for the No. 2 spot in student-faculty ratio with a 17:1 proportion of students per faculty member. WCCC is also one of the top online schools in Pennsylvania, with 43 percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education, and students at the Youngwood school enjoy the second lowest overall cost of attendance among all community colleges in the state.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 6,104
- Dozens of degrees: Students at WCCC have a total of 131 programs to choose from, including 63 associate in arts and associate in applied science degrees, 13 diploma tracks and 55 certificate programs that can either be used for career training or transferred to a university to contribute to a bachelor's degree.
7. Community College of Beaver County (Monaca)
Located in Pennsylvania's far western reaches, the Community College of Beaver County holds the distinction of having the best graduation rate of all the schools on this list. As seems to be the case with the best-graduating community colleges in Pennsylvania, its transfer rate to PA TRAC schools is also near the top — No. 2 overall in 2015. CCBC holds its own among the online schools in Pennsylvania, as well, tying for fifth place with a 27 percent rate of enrollment in distance education.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 2,355
- Sky-high sciences: CCBC offers some of its programs through the nearby Aviation Sciences Center in Beaver Falls, which features a professional pilot program, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV/drone) program, an aerospace management program and the No. 1 training program in the country for air traffic controllers.
8. Community College of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh)
Just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the Keystone State's second largest city we find the Community College of Allegheny County, where the third-lowest expense for tuition and fees combines with the second-lowest cost of books and supplies to rank No. 1 on our list in affordable cost of attendance. CCAC is also one of the largest community colleges in the state, with a student body of more than 18,000, but the student-faculty ratio of 19:1 suggests that students should still be able to get individual attention from professors when they need it.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 18,229
- Additional affordability: Housing is often one of the largest non-academic expenses for students, and data collected by Sperling's Best Places indicates that housing costs in Pittsburgh were approximately 55 percent lower than the national average.
9. Montgomery County Community College (Blue Bell)
Students at Montgomery County Community College graduate and transfer out at relatively high rates — good for the No. 5 and No. 6 spots on the list, respectively — and the Whitpain Township school stands in a three-way tie with other online schools in Pennsylvania at No. 5 for its rate of distance education enrollment. On top of that, tuition and fees expenses at MC3 total up to a figure that's about $100 less than the statewide average for public two-year colleges reported by the College Board.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 13,122
- Power of the arts: In 2012, MC3 helped to launch a cultural initiative designed to energize economic and cultural development in Montgomery County. The plan, called Creative MontCo, aims to engage diverse communities through arts and creativity.
10. Harrisburg Area Community College - Harrisburg (Harrisburg)
Harrisburg Area Community College features five campuses in total, serving a list of areas near the state capital that includes York, Lancaster, Lebanon and Gettysburg. The Harrisburg campus was the focus of our data gathering, and it did particularly well in the distance enrollment category — only two other online schools in Pennsylvania had a greater percentage of students enrolled in distance education, and, thanks to HACC having the largest student body among all schools surveyed, no other school could claim a larger total number of online students.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 20,780
- Trailblazing institution: Not only is HACC the largest community college by enrollment in Pennsylvania, it's also the oldest two-year institution in the state. The main campus was founded more than 50 years ago, in 1964.
11. Community College of Philadelphia (Philadelphia)
The number of students per faculty member at Community College of Philadelphia was the best among all community colleges in Pennsylvania, which is doubly impressive when considering that its student body is among the largest in the state. The student-faculty ratio at the Philadelphia school was just 15:1 in 2013-14, despite a reported enrollment figure of 19,063 students. The College also offers on-site day care, entire degree plans consisting of weekend and evening classes and multiple methods to earn course credit for life experience.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 19,063
- High-value degrees: Students training for careers at Community College of Philadelphia can prepare for jobs in some booming fields. Career programs at the College include diagnostic medical imaging, a field with 39 percent employment growth expected by 2022, and computer information systems, one of the highest-paying industries on the market today.
12. Luzerne County Community College (Nanticoke)
The No. 3 ranking for graduation rate went to Luzerne County Community College, a relatively small school in northeastern Pennsylvania with 11 satellite campuses distributed throughout the region. Its student-faculty ratio of 18:1 placed it fairly well, also, and its tuition and fees expense was more affordable than average. Professional development is also a big part of the mission at LCCC, with non-credit enrollment in 2013-14 that totaled just 900 students shy of the credit-enrolled student body.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 6,411
- Satisfied students: A recent student satisfaction study at LCCC indicates that students at the Nanticoke institution were more satisfied than the national average in four key areas of student experience: intellectual growth, career preparation, personal growth and preparation for further study.
13. Delaware County Community College (Media)
Delaware County Community College in Media retains its students from year to year at the third best rate in the state, according to NCES data, and one out of every four students is partially or fully enrolled in distance education courses. An above-average graduation rate and available credit for life experience were additional marks in DCCC's favor, but the ratio of students to faculty was the highest of any school on this list in the survey year.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 13,198
- Focus on technology: DCCC inaugurated a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) complex on campus with the opening of the Advanced Technology Center in 2009, designed to guide students to the level of education necessary for entry into high-growth, high-tech careers. A second building in the complex, the STEM Center, opened to students in 2010.
14. Reading Area Community College (Reading)
It tied for No. 2 in the category of student-faculty ratio with a figure of 17:1, and seemed to focus on traditionally scheduled degree programs: Reading Area Community College was one of the few schools we surveyed that did not make full plans of study available through weekend and evening attendance. Though nearly a fifth of it's student body was enrolled at least partly in distance education courses, in that ranking category it tied for the second-lowest among all public two-year online schools in Pennsylvania.
- Total enrollment, 2013-14: 4,538
- Research opportunities: Students at RACC can petition the school for the opportunity to enhance their learning experience by conducting supervised research initiatives. Projects that require human subjects may even be permitted, provided that an impartial institutional review board approves the experiment plan.
What it means to be the best
While we did use objective methods to arrive at the rankings listed above, numbers and statistical metrics aren't all there is to a college experience. If you're thinking about attending one of the traditional community colleges or online schools in Pennsylvania, it's important to do your own research, know what you're looking for and visit a few campuses if you can make the time.
We ranked the 14 member schools of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. In addition to the primary campuses, there are a total of 12 branch campuses and 87 instructional centers around the state. However, data is not collected separately for these secondary sites, so the final analysis includes only the main campus for each of the 14 institutions.
Each school was scored on a 5-point scale, using the following seven data points and the weighted value indicated in parentheses:
- Percentage of students enrolled in distance education (15%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
- Total cost of attendance (30%), including tuition & fees plus books & supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
- Student-to-faculty ratio (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
- Average retention rate for full- and part-time students (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
- Graduation rate (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
- Number of transfer agreements per 1,000 students with other institutions in Pennsylvania (30%), Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center, 2015
- Flexibility (10%), based on three data points* from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
*If school offers credit for life experiences, weekend or evening programs, and offers on-campus daycare.
1. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2013-14, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed June 18, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
2. Participating PA TRAC Colleges & Universities, Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center, Accessed June 18, 2015, https://www.patrac.org/AboutPATRAC/ParticipatingCollegesandUniversities/tabid/301/Default.aspx
3. Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, The College Board, accessed September 29, 2015, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time
4. Schools: Butler County Community College, http://www.bc3.edu; Penn Highlands Community College, http://www.pennhighlands.edu; Lehigh Carbon Community College, http://www.lccc.edu; Bucks County Community College, http://www.bucks.edu; Northampton Community College, http://www.northampton.edu; Westmoreland County Community College, https://wccc.edu/; Community College of Beaver County, http://ccbc.edu; Community College of Allegheny County, https://www.ccac.edu; Montgomery County Community College, http://www.mc3.edu; Harrisburg Area Community College, http://www.hacc.edu; Community College of Philadelphia http://www.ccp.edu/why-choose-us; Luzerne County Community College, http://www.luzerne.edu; Reading Area Community College, http://www.racc.edu; University of Pennsylvania, http://www.upenn.edu; Delaware County Community College, http://www.dccc.edu
5. Cost of Living, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sperling's Best Places, accessed September 29, 2015, http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/city/pennsylvania/Pittsburgh
6. The Plan for Arts & Culture in Montgomery County, Creative Montco, accessed September 29, 2015, http://creativemontco.net/the-plan-for-arts-culture-in-montgomery-county/
7. "Pa.'s oldest community college celebrates 50 years," WGAL Susquehanna Valley, March 10, 2014, accessed September 29, 2015, http://www.wgal.com/news/susquehanna-valley/dauphin/pas-oldest-community-college-celebrates-50-years/24896130
8. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 29, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
9. Computer and Mathematical Occupations, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 29, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes150000.htm