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Best community colleges in Massachusetts

Article Sources
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  2. Student Success & Completion: Community Colleges, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, accessed September 7, 2016, http://www.mass.edu/datacenter/success/home.asp
  3. Tuition and Fees By Sector and State over Time, Trends in Higher Education, The College Board, accessed September 28, 2016, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time
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  5. TRIO Home Page, Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, accessed September 28, 2016, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/trio/index.html
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Best community colleges in Massachusetts As home to one of the oldest and most elite institutions of higher education in the U.S., the tradition of collegiate learning in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts runs strong and deep. The first two-year college in the state was founded in 1946, and similar schools established in the decades since have created a firm foundation of opportunity for students seeking associate degrees, career skills, personal enrichment or a stepping stone to university education.

We wanted to find out which of those two-year institutions could be called the best community colleges in Massachusetts, so we gathered data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and ranked each of the 15 schools in the Commonwealth based on their individual results. There's only space on this page to give write-ups to the schools in the top 10, but we've included the ranking order for all 15 two-year schools in the state for completeness' sake.

We've also got info on online schools in Massachusetts, for those looking into university degree programs or looking to transfer from a community college. For now, though, read on for our list of the best community colleges in Massachusetts and a few details about the specific characteristics that put them at the top.

> Read our full ranking methodology here

The top 10 community colleges in Massachusetts

1. Bristol Community College (Fall River)

Bristol Community College found itself among the first tier of finishers in multiple categories across our list of metrics, but its focus on accessibility for students in nontraditional circumstances really put it over the top. It took the No. 1 spot among online community colleges in Massachusetts, boasting more than 35 percent enrollment in distance education programs, and campus-based flexibility measures include on-campus day care, weekend/evening degree plans and available life experience credit for qualifying students. The Fall River school also placed at No. 3 in the state for its rates of retention, course completion and graduation, suggesting that accessibility may have a part to play in student success.

  • Satellite locations: Students all over southeastern Massachusetts have the opportunity to take classes from the top community college in the Commonwealth — BCC also maintains campuses in New Bedford, Attleboro and Taunton.

2. Middlesex Community College (Bedford)

No other school in the state had a better first-year student retention rate than Middlesex Community College, and there are a few statistics that stand out as possible reasons for the Bedford institution's ability to keep its students coming back. Average net price is calculated as the amount students typically pay for tuition, fees, supplies, room and board and other expenses after their grant and scholarship aid is applied, and MCC ran away with this category. Its No. 1-ranked average net price of $4,635 was more affordable than its nearest competitor by nearly $2,000 per year. What's more, MCC took the No. 5 spot among the best online community colleges in Massachusetts and had a rate of successful student transfers that only three other schools in the state could match.

  • At-risk outreach: MCC partners with two K-12 initiatives — the BRIDGE Program for middle-school students with behavioral or emotional difficulties and the Lower Middlesex Academy Charter School (LMACS) designed to help high school dropouts get back on track — which work to help at-risk students on target for college.

3. Northern Essex Community College (Haverhill)

The graduation and course completion rates at Northern Essex Community College were good for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots, respectively, among the top community colleges in Massachusetts, and those weren't the only bright spots on the Haverhill school's report card. It also offered the all-important trio of campus-based flexibility measures — weekend/evening degree programs, on-campus day care and life experience credit exams — and came in third among online community colleges in Massachusetts for its distance education participation with more than 32 percent of students taking at least some courses in the virtual classroom. NECC also ranked above the statewide average for its student retention rate, transfer-out rate and number of degrees awarded per capita.

  • Developing strengths: Appreciative Inquiry, or AI, is a relatively new approach to community and organizational learning that focuses on pinpointing core strengths and working toward development using those strengths as a base. As of 2016, 12 people trained in AI facilitation were working at NECC.

4. Mount Wachusett Community College (Gardner)

Conventional wisdom states that a low student-faculty ratio means that professors may be more likely to be available to help students in one-on-one and small group settings, and Mount Wachusett Community College was one of just four among the top community colleges in Massachusetts that managed to keep that ratio under 15:1. On top of that, the Gardner school awarded more degrees and certificates per capita than all other schools in the state but one, and its distance education enrollment percentage above 30 put it at No. 4 among online community colleges in Massachusetts.

  • Sustainability pioneer: MWCC has been going green since before it was cool. The main campus shifted its facilities away from electric heating and toward biomass heating in 2002, and wind turbines and solar panel arrays on campus generate greater than 100 percent of the college's electricity needs.

5. Massasoit Community College (Brockton)

Massasoit Community College is another school where affordability shines bright, posting the third-lowest overall cost of tuition, fees books and supplies among all the best community colleges in Massachusetts and an average net price that was inexpensive enough to place it in the top five. Add to that a comfortable student-faculty ratio of 17:1, and you've got three of the most impressive attributes of the school that took the No. 3 spot in terms of its rate of transfers into colleges and universities in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

  • Personal enrichment opportunities: Certain courses on MCC campuses are offered for community members who want to learn something new or spend some time focusing on one of their interests. Offerings include classes in photography, writing and cooking, as well as a history of alchemy and a UFO quilt club.

6. Holyoke Community College (Holyoke)

Distance education enrollment at Holyoke Community College was second-highest among top community colleges in Massachusetts, with nearly 35 percent of the student body taking some of their coursework in the virtual classroom, and that's not its only highlight. HCC also took the No. 1 spot for its percentage of students who graduated with certificates or associate degrees, and its average net price was the second-most affordable out of all the schools in our survey. While it doesn't offer as many flexibility metrics as other schools on our list, this historic institution does offer credit for life experience and alternative tuition plans.

  • First of its name: Holyoke Community College has to its name a distinction that no other institution in Massachusetts can claim: When it was founded in 1946, it was the only community college that existed in the Commonwealth. Other schools like it began popping up in 1960, thanks to the founding of the Massachusetts community college system, but HCC was ahead of the game for fourteen years.

7. Cape Cod Community College (West Barnstable)

Only one other institution among the best community colleges in Massachusetts came up more affordable than Cape Cod Community College in terms of tuition, fees, books and supplies, and that's not even the most impressive statistic put up by the West Barnstable school. It shares the No. 1 spot in the Commonwealth for its student-faculty ratio of 13:1 — a good proportion of faculty to students even for a university, let alone a two-year college — and nearly one in four students take at least some of their coursework in the virtual classroom, placing CCCC reasonably outside the top 5 statewide for distance education enrollment.

  • Dedicated professional education: Along with its standard academic and vocational programs, CCCC offers some specialized business training for the modern marketplace. The school's Center for Corporate and Professional Education offers a variety of courses targeted toward online professionals and social media marketers, and aspiring realty agents can learn their trade at the Cotton Center for Real Estate Studies.

8. Quinsigamond Community College (Worcester)

The cost of books and supplies at Quinsigamond Community College was the lowest among all the top community colleges in Massachusetts, and that affordability can also be seen in an average net price figure that was inexpensive enough to qualify for the No. 3 spot in that category. It also fared well in terms of distance education enrollment, with right around 24 percent of the student body enrolled in at least some online courses, and they offer all of the flexibility options included in our scoring system.

  • Student organizations: More than 30 student clubs and organizations have been established at QCC, designed to fit the hobbies, career goals and casual interests of a diverse variety of Massachusetts residents. Club topics include dance, fashion, business and entrepreneurship, intercultural experience, human service, outdoor activities, robotics, theatre and more.

9. Roxbury Community College (Roxbury Crossing)

Roxbury Community College had an interesting distribution of data across our metrics — it was typically either among the three or four top contenders or way down near the bottom, depending on the category. For example, RCC ran away with the transfer rate metric, coming out a full 14 percentage points ahead of its next closest competitor in the top 10, but its number of degrees and certificates awarded placed just two spots from the bottom. What's more, it was the No. 1 most affordable school in the Commonwealth in terms of tuition, fees and supplies, but its distance education enrollment percentage of just 5 percent placed it dead last among online community colleges in Massachusetts.

  • The gift of software: The RCC Information Technology Services Department (ITS) has partnered with the Microsoft Corporation to create the DreamSpark program, which authorizes free downloads of dozens of helpful software applications for all students and faculty.

10. Berkshire Community College (Pittsfield)

Students at Berkshire Community College graduated at the third-highest rate and transferred out to universities at the fifth-highest rate among all top community colleges in Massachusetts, and a fairly student-focused academic culture might be why. On-campus day care, weekend/evening degree plans, and life experience credit for professional and personal experience are all part of the program at BCC, and the student faculty ratio of 15:1 suggests that you're not likely to get lost in an anonymous sea of faces as soon as you step in the classroom.

  • Bonus support services: Eligible students at BCC can sign up to receive supplementary academic services free of charge, thanks to a federally funded series of programs called TRIO. If you're a first-generation college student, a financial aid recipient or a student with a documented physical or learning disability, TRIO can give you some additional support on your journey through school.

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Honorable mentions:

11. Greenfield Community College

12. Bunker Hill Community College

13. Massachusetts Bay Community College

14. North Shore Community College

15. Springfield Technical Community College

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A final thought

Our ranking system used quantitative measures of institutional success to arrive at its conclusions, but we'd be remiss if we discounted the value of personal preference and campus culture in terms of what's best for an individual. Whether you're looking to enroll in a degree or certificate program or just hoping for some personal enrichment, we recommend also doing some research of your own to find out which of the best community colleges in Massachusetts is right for you.

Methodology

We ranked 15 schools in the Massachusetts Community College 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 eight 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, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 2015: 5%
  5. Transfer-out rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 10%
  6. The number of degrees & certificates awarded per 100 students, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 2015: 10%
  7. The course completion rate, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 2015: 10%
  8. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 15%
    1. 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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