Best community colleges in Michigan
The first junior college in Michigan was founded just over a century ago, in Grand Rapids in 1914, and the state's network of two-year colleges has expanded to include more than two dozen campus-based and online colleges in Michigan. Schools like these can be great if you're looking to ease your way back into higher education or acquire new career skills.
We've set out to crunch a pile of numbers — taken primarily from the U.S. Department of Education and the Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information — and determine which of the state's 27 public two-year institutions could be called the best community colleges in Michigan. You can read more about the methodology we used at the end of the article, but for now let's jump right into the list of top Michigan community colleges and offer some facts about each one.
1. Lansing Community College (Lansing)
Multiple efforts to create avenues to student access contributed to Lansing Community College taking the top spot in our rankings. Not only does it hit the trifecta of traditional flexibility metrics with on-campus day care, evening and weekend degree programs and available course credit for life experience, but the Lansing school also ranked No. 2 among the best community colleges in Michigan for its online student participation rate. Distance education students made up about 46 percent of the student body at LCC in 2014 — a total count of nearly 7,500 students taking courses or earning entire degrees online.
- Student-focused population: Lansing Community College has the largest student body among the top community colleges in Michigan, and Michigan State University in East Lansing is home to the largest four-year school by population in the state. Combining their most recent enrollment numbers gives a total of more than 66,500 students in a metro region where the total population is only about 163,000 — a student density of nearly 41 percent.
2. Schoolcraft College (Livonia)
Schoolcraft College also focuses on student access, and it hit a lot of the same metrics as our No. 1 school. Students at the Livonia institution also have access to potential life-experience credit, day care and flexible campus scheduling, and its 5th-overall rank for online student engagement percentage was just two spots lower than LCC's. It was also typically slightly more affordable than the school in our top spot, to the tune of around $600 per year less for the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. However, its considerably higher student-faculty ratio of 25:1 prevented it from ultimately coming out on top.
- Tons of clubs: Schoolcraft students have plenty of options when it comes to organized activities through which they can meet new people and unwind in their spare time. Video production, civil rights action, chess, cartoons, lacrosse, breakdancing and Harry Potter are just a few of the extra-curricular subjects, and career or academic clubs for business, health information technology, chemistry, math and physics, nursing and more are also available.
3. West Shore Community College (Scottville)
The average net price of a year of school is calculated as the typical amount that students pay once financial aid is applied to their overall cost, and West Shore Community College ranked second among the top Michigan community colleges in that category. The student-faculty ratio was also an agreeably small 13:1 in 2014, partly as a result of the school's 1,330-student total fall 2014 enrollment.
- Bridge to college: Along with its standard college degree and certificate programs, WSCC operates ASM Tech Early College High School, an initiative that aims to help high school students succeed in their college educations. Students from ASM Tech can earn both their high school diploma and an associate degree in as little as five years.
4. Washtenaw Community College (Ann Arbor)
The tuition rate at Washtenaw Community College was the lowest of all the top community colleges in Michigan, and its estimated average cost of books and supplies shares the same distinction, so it should come as no surprise that the rather large Ann Arbor institution ranked No. 1 in affordability of basic enrollment expenses. The savings are pretty striking, too — the average price of tuition, fees and other expenses at the 10 best Michigan community colleges was $7,148 in 2015-16, while Washtenaw students saw figures about $2,400 lower.
- Students stick around: Retaining students year-over-year until they finish their degree programs or successfully transfer to four-year universities is one of the major goals of any college model, and WCC has demonstrated considerable success in that regard. It just edged out the second- and third-place finishers in the state to take the No. 1 spot for retention rate out of all the top Michigan community colleges.
5. Glen Oaks Community College (Centreville)
Glen Oaks Community College is another school where the student-faculty ratio came in comfortably under the national university average per the College Scorecard, at 16:1 per U.S. News, which may have contributed to its relatively high comprehensive success rate. All of the top community colleges in Michigan keep records of student success, which, in the comprehensive case, includes those who completed their programs either by earning a degree, transferring to a university or being awarded their certificate, career diploma or other milestone credential. GOCC took the No. 3 spot statewide in 2015 in terms of comprehensive student success.
- Skipping some classes: If you've had some time off before enrolling in community college, or if you took some advanced courses in your high school education and don't want to repeat any of your efforts, GOCC has a program in place to help you bank that knowledge as usable credits toward your associate degree. The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows students to take tests that can excuse them from up to 47 semester hours of college coursework.
6. Bay de Noc Community College (Escanaba)
Participation in online courses and degrees at Bay de Noc Community College was strong enough to qualify for the No. 3 spot among top Michigan community colleges, with more than 43 percent of the student body at the Upper Peninsular institution attending at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom. The campus-based flexibility metrics of day care, weekend/evening degrees and life experience credit are also present at Bay, and the comprehensive success rate fell on the sweet side of average among the best community colleges in Michigan.
- Technical workforce training: In 2000, Bay College became the first Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) site in the state, where working adults in the in the region can choose from a variety of technical skills training and professional development opportunities. The selection of training programs available includes Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) training, first aid, CPR, basic life support and more than 300 non-credit online courses that students can take a la carte.
7. Gogebic Community College (Ironwood)
Gogebic Community College is the second-smallest among the best Michigan community colleges, although not by much — the student rolls were just barely larger at GCC in 2014 than they were at the smallest school on the list. GCC also has an online enrollment rate that's in the upper 50 percent of all two-year schools statewide and a retention rate that's in the top five among the schools on our list. The 2014 student-faculty ratio of 15:1 also suggests that students who need personalized attention on the Ironwood campus shouldn't have too much trouble finding it — plus the school also ranked No. 2 overall an first among the top 10 for its comprehensive success rate.
- Winter sports destination: Gogebic Community College also has an online enrollment rate that's in the upper 50 percent of all two-year schools statewide and a retention rate that's in the top five among the schools on our list.
8. Muskegon Community College (Muskegon)
More than two-thirds of the students enrolled at Muskegon Community College take at least some of their courses online, which easily qualifies the Lake Michigan port city institution for the No. 1 spot overall on our distance education metric. Other access programs, namely on-campus day care and weekend/evening degrees, are also a part of the package. The numbers also suggest that financial aid is a big part of the student experience at MCC, if only in that the recent figures for total cost of tuition, fees and supplies ($9,530) and average net price ($4,384) differ more widely from one another than they do at any of the other top community colleges in Michigan. (The average amount of grant and scholarship aid awarded to students at MCC in 2013-14 is $4,274, according to IPEDS.)
- Research experience: Student participation in research projects is common in university graduate programs. The state-of-the-art Science Center at MCC, however, gives students the opportunity to gain and sharpen their academic and scientific research skills before they're even enrolled in a bachelor's program.
More than two-thirds of the students enrolled at Muskegon Community College take at least some of their courses online, which easily qualifies the Lake Michigan port city institution for the No. 1 spot overall on our distance education metric.
9. Alpena Community College (Alpena)
The average net price of a year at Alpena Community College was the lowest out of all the best Michigan community colleges, coming in at just $3,626 in 2014. The Northern Lower Michigan institution also ranked No. 4 statewide for its three-year comprehensive success rate — perhaps due in part to its 13:1 student-faculty ratio, which tied it for No. 1 in that category. Preventing it from climbing higher up the list was a rate of online student participation that ranked No. 10 out of the best community colleges in Michigan, and the seeming absence of weekend/evening courses for students with full weekday schedules.
- Spice of life: As of Fall 2016, ACC students have no fewer than 60 Associate in Arts (AA), Associate in Science (AS) and Associate in Applied Science (AAS) programs to choose from, as well as 18 certificate programs in such subjects as business information systems, industrial technology and licensed practical nursing. ACC even offers a four-year bachelor's degree — a rarity among community colleges in Michigan — in electrical systems technology.
10. St. Clair County Community College (Port Huron)
Even though it checks in at the final spot on our list, St. Clair County Community College placed among the top five best Michigan community colleges for both retention rate and comprehensive student success rate. The Port Huron school also had a student-faculty ratio of 18:1, putting it in the upper 50 percent of schools in the state. Low online engagement numbers were part of what put SC4 in the No. 10 slot, as well as an average tuition, fees, books and supplies expense that was slightly more costly than average. However, traditional access measures were in force here as well, with weekend/evening courses and life experience credit available for qualifying students.
- History on display: If you've ever wanted to go to the same school as a woolly rhinoceros skeleton, look no further than St. Clair County Community College. The campus is home to the Nasr Natural Science Museum, which features prehistoric exhibits such as mammoth fossils unearthed just across the lake in Huron County, Ontario. The museum is open weekdays year-round, and admission is free.
What it really means to be the best
It's important to note that while the results of our quantitative analysis consider these 10 schools to be the best community colleges in Michigan, the higher education experience can be a pretty subjective thing. If you want to find out which of the state's 27 two-year colleges are right for you, visit a campus or two, take a virtual tour, explore the listings on this page and check things out for yourself.
We ranked 27 community colleges in Michigan on a variety of factors related to educational offerings and student performance. Each school was scored on a 5-point scale, using the following six data points and the weights specified:
- The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 15%
- 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%
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
- The average retention rate for full- and part-time students, College Scorecard, 2013: 5%
- The three-year comprehensive success rate for the fall 2012 cohort, Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, 2015: 35%
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 10%
- Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
- Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students' children
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2014-15 and 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed July 15, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements), College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed July 15, 2016, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Detailed Community Colleges Report for the 2012-13 Cohort, Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information, 2015, accessed July 15, 2016, https://www.mischooldata.org/CareerAndCollegeReadiness/IheGraduationSuccessRates.aspx
- School pages, accessed July 28, 2016: History of GRCC, Grand Rapids Community College, http://catalog.grcc.edu/content.php?catoid=7&navoid=190; Student Activities, Schoolcraft College, http://schoolcraft.edu/campus-life/student-activities#.V5pobeNf2Um; ASM Tech, West Shore Community College, http://www.westshore.edu/p_students/high_school/asm_tech.html#ASM%20Tech; MSU Facts, Michigan State University, https://msu.edu/about/thisismsu/facts.html; College Level Education Program (CLEP), Glen Oaks Community College, https://www.glenoaks.edu/academics/college-level-education/; Training & Development (M-TEC), Bay de Noc Community College, http://www.baycollege.edu/Around-Campus/Training-Development-(M-TEC).aspx; Mt. Zion Recreational Complex, Gogebic Community College, http://www.gogebic.edu/why-gcc/mt-zion.php; Conduct Research as an Undergraduate Student, Muskegon Community College, http://www.muskegoncc.edu/homepage-features/conduct-research-as-an-undergraduate-student/; Degrees and Programs, Alpena Community College, http://discover.alpenacc.edu/future_students/degrees_and_programs.php; Natural Science Museum, St. Clair County Community College, http://www.sc4.edu/Natural-Science-Museum/;
- 21 Liberal Arts Colleges with Low Student-Faculty Ratios, U.S. News and World Report, accessed July 28, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2014/04/22/liberal-arts-colleges-with-low-student-faculty-ratios
- QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed July 28, 2016: Michigan, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/26; Lansing, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/2646000; East Lansing, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/2624120