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Best community colleges in Texas

Some say everything is bigger in Texas, and its community college system seems to follow suit. Nearly half of Texas' 2013 college student population attended community colleges — that translates to more than 710,000 students attending over 60 public two-year schools, including institutions within the Texas State University System, the Texas State Technical College System and the Dallas County Community College District.

A hefty population deserves some credit for helping Texas community colleges post such high enrollment numbers, but the Lone Star State has done its part to make higher education more accessible. When the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board announced that the state's college attainment rates lagged behind much of the nation in 2010, the board launched a 15-year plan to close the gap. It was the first step in an ongoing effort to make higher education a greater priority in Texas — a step that relies on shoring up the state's more than 80 two-year institutions and campuses that provide affordable and accessible education to students from all walks of life.

Needless to say Texans considering community colleges have no shortage of programs from which to choose, but some schools perform better than others in areas like graduation or transfer rates, financial aid support, affordability, and accessibility. We evaluated and ranked 66 community colleges in Texas based on a number of success factors: average cost of attendance, distance education participation, graduation rates, transfer rates, flexibility, and student-to-faculty ratio, so if you're interested in attending community college in the state, this is a good place to start.

> Read our full ranking methodology here

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The top 10 community colleges in Texas

1. Galveston College (Galveston, TX)

Galveston College's 2013-14 enrollment figures place it on the smaller side, at least compared to the other schools featured on our list. Small numbers can actually translate into big benefits: GC ranks in the top 20 percent of all community colleges in Texas in terms of low student-to-faculty ratio. This more personalized learning experience might explain the school's notable performance in other key areas, like graduation and transfer rate.

  • National accolades: Several Galveston College programs have earned national acclaim, particularly within the health services disciplines. The school even offers online programs in areas like magnetic resonance and computerized tomography imaging, which are traditionally more hands-on disciplines, to make this type of career-focused education more accessible.

2. Clarendon College (Clarendon, TX)

A number of online colleges in Texas are community colleges, but some schools have heftier distance learning catalogs than others — which can really pay off for those going back to school or who already have full-time jobs on their plate. Distance education options are where Clarendon College really shines, sporting a top 20 percent ranking statewide for total distance education participation. These online students are not lost in the shuffle. In fact, like Galveston College, Clarendon's student-to-faculty ratio is among the lowest in Texas.

  • Stellar success rate: In the past 5 years, Clarendon College has been recognized by CNNMoney for having the best community college student success rate in the state (2010). The site, using data from College Measures, published a community college ranking based on how many students graduate or transfer to a four-year school within three years. At 64 percent, Clarendon beat out the no. 2 contender by a full six points.

    Lone Star College System is the most affordable on our list: On average for the 2013-14 school year, students paid less than $2,200 in total tuition and fees — a figure which includes costs for books and supplies.


    3. Lone Star College System (The Woodlands, TX)

    With more than 64 thousand students enrolled during the 2013-14 school year, the Lone Star College System is the largest community college featured on our list, and not by a small margin. It also happens to be the most affordable: Students paid less than $2,200 on average that year in total tuition and fees, including average costs for books and supplies. Lone Star holds the distinction of sending more transfer students to the University of Texas system in 2014 than any other school on our list.

    • Flexibility is key: Like many Texas community colleges, Lone Star strives to make education accessible: the school offers credit for life experience, 100-percent weekend and evening course programs, and an on-site childcare center. It also manages a large number of campuses and outreach centers in addition to its LSC-Online and LSC-Corporate College programs — which makes getting to class much more convenient.

    4. Collin County Community College District (McKinney, TX)

    Of the Texas community colleges featured in this ranking, Collin County Community College is second only to Lone State in affordability. The school offers students credit for life skills and experience, and hosts a number of evening and weekend programs, making the school a solid fit for working professionals who want to advance their educations.

    • Transfer-optional perk: In 2010, the Collins County Community College District launched its Higher Education Center, which allows students to earn bachelor's, master's, and even doctoral degrees through partnerships with a handful Texas universities. This special program allows students to earn advanced degrees in areas like business, criminal justice, accounting, nursing, and more — all without having to relocate.

    5. Western Texas College (Snyder, TX)

    In terms of 2013-14 enrollments, Western Texas College is the smallest school featured in our list, but that did not stop it from falling in the top 10 percent of all Texas community colleges for its total graduation rate that same year. Accessible programming may deserve at least some credit for Western Texas' student success: the school has one of the highest distance education participation rates in the state.

    • Aspen-worthy excellence: Western Texas College was the only Texas community college in this ranking to be deemed eligible for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2015. This distinguished national award is reserved only for schools that improve student outcomes through innovative programs, practices and leadership, so even a nomination is notable.

    Unlike most community colleges, Weatherford College offers on-campus housing, which can be a major perk for students seeking a more traditional college experience or hail from outside the region.


    6. Weatherford College (Weatherford, TX)

    Weatherford College is known for its unique history and notable facilities, including a large, well-equipped fine arts center complete with a 500-plus seat theater. What really sets Weatherford apart, however, is its student-centered philosophy. The college allows students to earn credit for life and professional experiences, and offers weekend and evening programs designed to make education more accessible to parents and full-time workers. Perhaps more notable though, is that it also offers on-campus housing, which can be a major perk for students seeking a more traditional college experience or hail from outside the region.

    • A storied past: There are several long-established community colleges in Texas, but few have roots extending as far back as the 1860s. Weatherford's founding was first initiated by an area Masonic Temple in 1869. Though its mission and name changed several times throughout its history, it's considered the oldest continually operated community college in the American Southwest.

    7. Tarrant County College District (Fort Worth, TX)

    The Tarrant County College District serves the entire Fort Worth region, making it the second largest community college featured on this list, at least in terms of 2013-14 enrollment numbers. Another area where TCCD posts big numbers: transfers. During the same year, the school system sent nearly 1,300 transfer students to the University of Texas System, more than 300 to the Texas A&M System, and about 100 to the Texas State University System.

    • High-tech history: Tarrant County College offers several online courses, and though it may not be the only — or even largest — online college in Texas, it was among the technology's earliest adopters. In 2003, when many schools were only just beginning to experiment with web-based education, the TCCD pioneered its own online learning platform, LogiCampus, and released its coding to let other schools follow suit. LogiCampus was eventually replaced with the Blackboard learning management system, but its code remains open source.

    8. Northeast Texas Community College (Mount Pleasant, TX)

    Northeast Texas Community College serves a substantial but mostly rural area of Texas. This keeps both its enrollment numbers and its class rolls low: the school ranked in the top 20 percent of all Texas community colleges for its low student-to-faculty ratio in 2014. In addition to its main campus in Mount Pleasant, Northeast Texas offers outreach centers in cities like Naples and Pittsburg to better serve the surrounding community.

    • Small in size, big on experience: NTCC may not be the biggest community college in Texas, but it still manages to offer a big-campus experience. Two on-campus housing centers bring students into the heart of campus, and they need not leave soon, either: NTCC offers on-campus bachelor's degrees in a handful of disciplines, courtesy of its partnership with Texas A&M University.

    Northeast Texas Community College serves a substantial but mostly rural area of Texas, which keeps both its enrollment numbers and its class rolls low — the school ranked in the top 20 percent of all Texas community colleges for its low student-to-faculty ratio in 2014.


    9. Navarro College (Corsicana, TX)

    Navarro College says it's committed to making education accessible and affordable, and ts record suggests it's on to something. A full 88 percent of Navarro College students received some type of financial aid in 2014, placing it in the top 30 percent of all Texas community colleges statewide. In terms of accessibility, the college offers several campuses and outreach centers throughout its service region, and each is within five minutes of its community's downtown. It also offers a sizable share of evening, weekend, and online courses, and in a number of disciplines.

    • Starry-eyed surprise: In addition to all the buildings you would typically expect to find at a college, the Corsicana campus has something that sets it apart from other community colleges in Texas: the Cook Center Planetarium. While the planetarium is open to the public and a popular spot for school field trips, it serves Navarro students throughout the year.

    10. McLennan Community College (Waco, TX)

    McLennan Community College offers a number of programs designed to make higher education more manageable for parents, working professionals, and remote students. Students can enroll in evening and weekend classes, earn credit for life and professional experience, and take advantage of on-site daycare. McLennan also offers several online courses and programs, a feature students use in groves: in 2014, a full 45 percent of its students were enrolled in at least one online class, making it second in distance education only to the above-mentioned Clarendon College. Other McLennan services designed to help students include access to "Success Coaches," financial aid counseling, and a campus-based food pantry.

    • An impressive guest list: McLennan offers a unique program called the Distinguished Lecture Series, through which accomplished, well-known public figures visit and speak on campus. Past lecturers include big names like investigative reporter Bob Woodward, television personality/science-education enthusiast Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Nobel Prize-winner James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA.

    Bottom line: Find the right fit

    Community colleges in Texas are numerous enough that almost all residents have access to them — especially when you factor in distance learning options — but no two programs are ever really alike. Prospective students should consider their goals and weigh all their options before settling on any one college. Review our directory of schools to begin.

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    Methodology

    We ranked 66 colleges included on the list of the state's 2-year institutions, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points and the weighted values indicated in parentheses.

    1. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education (15%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013*
    2. Total cost of attendance (30%), including tuition & fees plus books & supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013*
    3. Student-to-faculty ratio (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013*
    4. Graduation rate (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2013*
    5. The number of transfers into four-year public colleges in Texas per 1,000 students (30%), Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2013**
    6. Flexibility (15%), based on three data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2013*

    *National Center for Education Statistics, 2013-14
    ** Texas Higher Education Data, accessed April 27, 2015

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    Sources:
    1-10. School websites: Clarendon College, http://www.clarendoncollege.edu; Collin County Community College District, http://www.collin.edu/; Galveston College, http://www.gc.edu/gc/default.asp, Lone Star College System, http://www.lonestar.edu; McLennan Community College, http://www.mclennan.edu/; Navarro College, http://www.navarrocollege.edu; Northeast Texas Community College, http://www.ntcc.edu/; Tarrant County College District, https://www.tccd.edu/; Weatherford College, https://www.wc.edu/; Western Texas College, http://www.wtc.edu/
    11. "How does your community college stack up?" CNNMoney, http://money.cnn.com/pf/college/community-colleges/
    12. "LogiCampus 2.0.4," Code4Share: http://www.code4share.net/items/logicampus-Notable204/XRGXDZV.html#.VWh-Vs9Viko; http://www.code4share.net/items/logicampus-204/XRGXDZV.html#.VWh-Vs9Viko
    13. Cook Center Planetarium, Navarro College,http://www.cookplanetarium.us/
    14. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2013-14, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed March 27, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
    15. Community College Enrollment, Texas Association of Community Colleges, http://www.tacc.org/pages/data-and-info/community-college-enrollment
    16. 2014 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/index.cfm?objectId=CE293EED-DD31-BCDE-51EB322FF8B856A8&flushcache=1&showDraft=1
    17. Academic Performance of 2-Year College Transfer Students at Texas Public Universities, Texas Higher Education Data, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Accessed April 27, 2015, http://www.txhighereddata.org/reports/performance/ctctransfer/