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Best community colleges in Maryland

Article Sources
  1. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2014-15 and 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed September 6, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  2. "Retention, Graduation, and Transfer Rates at Maryland Community Colleges," Maryland Higher Education Commission, September 2016, p. 31-46, Accessed Oct. 11, 2016, http://mhec.maryland.gov/publications/Documents/Research/AnnualReports/2016RetGradTransCCs.pdf
  3. "Follow-Up Survey of 2011 Maryland Community College Graduates," Maryland Higher Education Commission, August 2013, p. 6, Accessed Oct. 11, 2016, http://mhec.maryland.gov/publications/Documents/Research/AnnualReports/CCFUSurveyrevised%209-24.pdf
  4. School pages, accessed October 30, 2016: Future Students, Harford Community College, https://www.harford.edu/future-students.aspx; Quick Facts, College of Southern Maryland, http://www.csmd.edu/about/quick-facts/; Online & Distance Learning, College of Southern Maryland, http://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/credit/flexible-learning-options/online-learning/; At A Glance, Chesapeake College, http://www.chesapeake.edu/about/at-glance; Continuing Education, Chesapeake College, http://www.chesapeake.edu/continuing-education; Travel Programs, Carroll Community College, http://www.carrollcc.edu/Student-Life/Travel-Programs/; What to See and Do, Visit Frederick, Tourism Council of Frederick County, http://visitfrederick.org/blog/posts/index/page:2/limit:10; About HCC, Hagerstown Community College, http://www.hagerstowncc.edu/about-hcc; Locations and Maps, Anne Arundel Community College, http://www.aacc.edu/locationsandmaps/default.cfm; Graduate Quality Assurance Program, Baltimore City Community College, http://www.bccc.edu/Page/904; Prince George's Community College Television, Prince George's Community College, http://www.pgcc.edu/About_PGCC/PGCCtv/PGCC_TV.aspx; Why HCC, Howard Community College, http://www.howardcc.edu/discover/why-hcc/; Visual Arts, Howard Community College, http://www.howardcc.edu/discover/arts-culture/horowitz-center/areas-of-interest/visual-arts.html; Poetry & Lectures, Howard Community College, http://www.howardcc.edu/discover/arts-culture/horowitz-center/areas-of-interest/poetry-lectures.html; Music, Howard Community College, http://www.howardcc.edu/discover/arts-culture/horowitz-center/areas-of-interest/music.html;
  5. 21 Liberal Arts Colleges With the Lowest Student-Faculty Ratio, Jordan Friedman, U.S. News & World Report, accessed October 30, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2016-04-19/21-liberal-arts-colleges-with-the-lowest-student-faculty-ratios
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Best community colleges in MarylandCommunity college can be a great choice for Maryland students, particularly those who want to start out studying at a gradual pace or save a little money on tuition during the early years of a plan that ultimately leads to a bachelor's degree. But how can you know which institutions are the top community colleges in Maryland? It's no secret that there are numerous lists out there that rank the dozens of traditional and online schools in Maryland that offer university degree plans, but similar rankings for community colleges are somewhat harder to find.

In order to put together a proper list of the best community colleges in Maryland, we analyzed data from the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the National Center for Education Statistics. We then ranked all 16 Maryland community colleges based on the data and ordered them from best to worst, of which you'll see the top 10 below.

If you're looking for information on four-year colleges in Maryland, click through to learn more. This page belongs to the community college set, however, so read on for our rankings and a brief explanation of how they ended up among the best.

> Read our full ranking methodology here

The top 10 community colleges in Maryland

1. Harford Community College (Bel Air)

It's important that schools present prospective students with a clear path to an education they can afford, and the numbers show that Harford Community College may have made that approach a priority. Average net price is a cost measure that shows how much students pay per year for their education and associated expenses after grant and scholarship aid is factored in, and Harford students reported a rock-bottom average net price of $2,562 for 2014, by far the lowest in the state. It's not just affordable, either; Harford also ranked No. 5 statewide for retention rate, No. 4 for rate of transfers to four-year schools and No. 2 for its percentage of students giving the school a "Very Good" rating — the highest possible — in surveys after graduation.

  • Open-access institution: Harford Community College prides itself on its open-door policy of enrollment, which accepts students for admission without regard to demographic traits like race, religion, mobility, sexual orientation or nationality. According to the school's website, if you're eligible for college, you're eligible for Harford.

2. College of Southern Maryland (La Plata)

Accessibility of a different variety is on display at the College of Southern Maryland, which the numbers show to be one of the best online community colleges in Maryland in terms of participation. Greater than 40 percent of the student body at CSM takes at least some of their coursework through distance education, and that engagement in the virtual classroom may be translating to student success. CSM also ranks No. 1 out of all the schools on our list for its percentage of successful student transfers to four-year institutions in Maryland.

  • Virtual variety: As of 2016-17, College of Southern Maryland students had over 20 fully online degree programs and certificates to choose from, including business administration, social science, accounting, marketing, sports management, technical support and web development.

3. Chesapeake College (Wye Mills)

Chesapeake College, is another one of the schools on our list where a robust online education presence played a part in its placement in the top 10. Chesapeake ranks No. 3 among the top community colleges in Maryland, with nearly 39 percent of students taking some digitally delivered courses, and its transfer-out rate was good enough for the No. 2 spot statewide among schools that made our list. Affordability measures weren't bad here either: The Eastern Maryland institution took the No. 2 spot in the state for its average cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies.

  • Continuing education powerhouse: Chesapeake College reported a for-credit enrollment headcount of 2,889 in 2016, but the total number of students taking classes at the Wye Mills school was more than three times that. The other 6,406 students on campus were pursuing career training and community education courses in such fields as health care, technology, tourism and hospitality, insurance, business and more.

4. Carroll Community College (Westminster)

The second-lowest average net price in the state is just one of the reasons Carroll Community College finds itself among the best community colleges in Maryland. The Westminster school also offers students three key flexibility options for campus-based students — on-campus day care, exams that can provide credit for life experience and degree programs that may be completed entirely in the evening and on weekends — and its student-faculty ratio of 15:1 tied it for second place among the schools that made our list. Carroll students also tended to stick with their programs to completion, taking the No. 1 spot in both retention rate and graduation rate in recent NCES statistics.

  • Learning far and wide: Each year, qualifying students at Carroll have the option to take a trip to international cities such as London, Paris, Athens and Rome. Credit courses are available for students who want to continue their study plan while they travel, although course enrollment is not required to participate in the program.

5. Frederick Community College (Frederick)

This medium-sized school about an hour northwest of Washington, D.C., must pay attention to its students, if its success metrics are any indication. Frederick Community College took the No. 3 spot among the best community colleges in Maryland for both retention rate and graduation rate, and students transferred out to four-year schools at the fifth-highest rate in the state. FCC also posted an appealing 15:1 student-faculty ratio, tying it for No. 2 among schools on our list, and its 2014 average net price was affordable enough compared with other Maryland community colleges to place it in the No. 3 spot statewide in that category.

  • Lots to explore: Frederick County, where FCC is located, features both indoor and outdoor recreation galore for students to enjoy in their downtime. The county is full of scenic drives, museums, trail cycling, wineries, festivals, Civil War History sites and more to entertain and educate you when you're not in class.

6. Hagerstown Community College (Hagerstown)

Hagerstown Community College posted the second-best graduation rate in the state in 2014, and it made fairly strong showings in other categories as well. It came in well above the midline among the best online community colleges in Maryland, posting a distance education enrollment figure just north of 35 percent, and the flexibility measures of life experience credit, weekend/evening programs and available day care were all in active practice as of 2016. Alternative tuition plans, which may be able to help students in difficult financial circumstances pursue education they might otherwise not be able to afford, can also be found at HCC.

  • A long history: HCC was organized as Maryland's very first community college in 1946, at first offering only evening classes to mostly veterans and servicemembers on the G.I. Bill. The school grew into its current campus in 1966, and in the decades since has expanded its efforts to include more than 100 programs of study for students and working professionals.

7. Anne Arundel Community College (Arnold)

Anne Arundel Community College came in at No. 4 among the top online community colleges in Maryland and tied for No. 5 statewide for its rate of transfers to schools that offer four-year degrees, showing a respectable commitment to distance learning and attention to transfer students. Campus-based flexibility was also strong at AACC, with the three key measures all accounted for, and its year-over-year student retention rate was enough for the No. 5 spot among all schools that made our list.

  • Room to grow: The campus of Anne Arundel Community College measures 230 acres in area, making it the largest single-campus community college in Maryland, according to the school's website. The Arnold campus features a variety of amenities that includes 10 academic buildings, an astronomy lab, two art galleries and a 389-seat performing arts center.

8. Baltimore City Community College (Baltimore)

There was one metric where Baltimore City Community College blew away all the other top community colleges in Maryland: raw affordability. The Baltimore school's estimated total annual cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies for the 2015-16 academic year was just $4,578 — nearly $1,750 less than the next most affordable school in the state. That modest bill of expenses helped translate to a favorable average net price ranking, as well, coming in behind just four of the other schools on our list. BCCC also reported nearly 36 percent of its students enrolled in distance education in 2014.

  • Career program perks: No degree program can make the guarantee that a student will land a job after graduation, but BCCC does go the extra mile to help its career education students. If a graduate hasn't found a job in their field within 90 days, or if an employer isn't satisfied with the work of a BCCC graduate, the college offers 12 additional hours of coursework and further support services at no charge to the student or employer.

9. Prince George's Community College (Largo)

Students in Prince George's County have a relatively affordable higher education option in Prince George's Community College, which ranked No. 6 in the state for total estimated cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, and No. 4 in the category of average net price for students receiving scholarship, grant, and financial aid. It's also the third school on our list to boast a 15:1 student-faculty ratio, which, it should be mentioned, is lower than the 16:1 average ratio calculated for national universities by U.S. News & World Report. PGCC is also evidently beloved by its students: No other school in the state received a higher percentage of top marks from graduates on a satisfaction survey from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

  • Education on the air: Students and faculty at Prince George's work together to operate PGCC TV, an education access channel available to cable subscribers in Maryland. The campus' television studio features a full news set, a cutting-edge master control room, high-definition equipment and an array of digital editing workstations.

10. Howard Community College (Columbia)

Taking the last spot on our list is Howard Community College, which posted respectable numbers for estimated tuition cost, retention rate and student satisfaction after graduation, and it placed right up near the top on one key measure of success. The Columbia institution's retention rate was second-best among all community colleges in Maryland. Weekend/evening programs, on-campus day care and life experience credit exams are all available at HCC, and its 14:1 student-faculty ratio was the lowest among all 10 top community colleges in Maryland.

  • Arts and culture: The performing, visual and literary arts are alive and well at HCC, where students can enjoy dance, film, music, theatre, gallery exhibits and more. The school also partners with community arts organizations, such as the Candlelight Concert Society, the African Art Museum of Maryland and the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society.

A note on being the best

Now, these 10 schools turned out to be the best community colleges in Maryland by our measure, but we're working strictly with data. It's important to remember that the right community college for you may not be the mathematically best school in the state, so it's wise to visit the schools you're thinking about and make an informed decision for yourself.

Methodology

We ranked the 16 schools in the Maryland Association of Community Colleges system on a variety of factors related to educational offerings and student performance. Each school was scored on a 5-point scale, using the following seven data points and the weights specified:

  1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 15%
  2. Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014 and 2015: 30%
  3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
  4. Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
  5. Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
  6. The percentage of students in the 2012 cohort who transferred to a four-year institution within 3 years, Maryland Higher Education Commission, 2016: 30%
  7. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 15%
    1. a. Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
    2. Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
    3. Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students' children
    4. Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren't limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.

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