Best Community Colleges In New York
New York is an exciting place to live, work and study, and people who attend community colleges and online colleges in New York tend to have an easier time fitting the cost of an education into their lives than students at other types of schools. According to a 2014 report by the College Board, tuition at two-year institutions in the state averaged $4,851 — nearly $2,500 less per year than a similar courseload at a four-year public college.
A 2015 survey of the National Center for Education Statistics indicates 43 public community colleges in New York, and the City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) systems combine to operate more than 90 percent of them. Some students at these schools concentrate their efforts on earning associate degrees and completing programs of vocational training, while others work to satisfy general education requirements and then transfer to a university for the major-specific portion of a four-year degree.
Naturally, some of these institutions have better graduation or university transfer rates than others, while some offer more financial aid support, charge lower tuition or place a higher priority on accessibility than other schools in the state. We ran the numbers on 39 campus-based and online colleges in New York, each of which was affiliated with either the CUNY or SUNY system, and ranked them based on seven distinct metrics for the 2013-14 school year — student-to-faculty ratio, distance education participation, affordability of tuition, flexibility, graduation rates, retention rates and transfer rates — to provide you a list of those that can rightly be called the best community colleges in the Empire State.
This medium-sized campus in the western reaches of the state didn't dominate the rest of the list in any one category, but a strong showing across the board was enough to land it in first place overall. Total cost of attendance is one of our most important metrics, and Niagara County Community College placed firmly in the top quintile for affordability. It's also one of the top schools in the student-faculty ratio category, with just 18 students per faculty member in 2014, and its graduation rate tied for second place overall.
- Major student population props: Niagara County Community College has a somewhat rare distinction among institutes of higher learning — at last count, its total student body was more than four times the population of its hometown of Sanborn, NY, as recorded in the 2010 census.
- Mascot: Thunderwolves
- Enrollment last year: 6,630 students
There are online colleges in New York at the two-year and the four-year level, but Herkimer College might just have the strongest claim to the distance education throne. More than 40 percent of the students enrolled at Herkimer are at least partly engaged in distance education courses — a greater percentage than any other school on this list. Herkimer also has one of the smallest overall student populations among community colleges in New York, yet its rate of transfer to four-year institutions was good enough to land it in the top 10 percent of all schools surveyed.
- Athletic accolades: Not only did Herkimer also make the CNN Money list of the top 100 community colleges in the entire U.S., but its athletic program achieved a No. 1 national rank among two-year, non-scholarship schools by winning the National Alliance of Two-Year College Athletic Administrators Cup in 2013-14
- Mascot: Generals
- Enrollment last year: 3,213 students
Located just about an hour down the road from Niagara County, Genesee Community College shares several characteristics with the No. 1-ranked school. The student-faculty ratio here is also 18:1, good for a top-quintile rating, and the 2014 expense for tuition and fees came in at about $800 less than the state average for one year's load of courses. Genesee's graduation rate and university transfer rate also factored into its third-place ranking, easily making the top 20 percent in both categories.
- Comfortable class sizes: Close-knit student-faculty ratios don't always translate to smaller class sizes overall, but Genesee is one institution where the two stats are aligned. The Batavia institution reported an average class size of just 18 students in Fall 2014.
- Mascot: Cougars
- Enrollment last year: 7,079 students
No other school on this list was more affordable overall than Dutchess Commuity College, located in the Hudson Valley between the state's capital and its namesake harbor city. One year's tuition and fees at Dutchess came to just $3,635 in 2014, which may have contributed to the comparatively low percentage of students who relied on financial aid. The Poughkeepsie school's university transfer rate placed in the top quintile, and it holds the distinction of being our highest-rated college that enhances its accessibility with a dedicated weekend/evening option.
- Great for working parents: Dutchess offers a rare trifecta of on-campus day care services, weekend/evening classes and available credit for qualifying life experience, which might make it one of the best community colleges in New York for students who juggle career and family responsibilities while continuing their education.
- Mascot: Falcons
- Enrollment last year: 10,232 students
Dutchess Community College offers a rare trifecta of on-campus day care services, weekend/evening classes, and available credit for qualifying life experience.
The lowest cost of books and supplies of any of the top ten community colleges in New York were found at Finger Lakes Community College, whose total cost of admission barely missed the border for the most affordable 10 percent of colleges in the state. Practical and vocational degrees have a strong presence here — perhaps contributing to a relatively low university transfer rate — and students can earn course credit for life experience that meets institutional qualifications.
- Top-notch facilities: Not only is the Finger Lakes campus surrounded by natural beauty, it features such amenities as music recording and editing studios, a multimedia lab, fine arts facilities, a greenhouse and arboretum and the studio and control room for the community's public television station.
- Mascot: Lakers
- Enrollment last year: 6,389 students
Monroe Community College in Rochester is the largest institution by enrollment among the top community colleges in New York, and not by a small margin — its 2014 student body had nearly 4,000 more members than the next-largest school. It's also the second-most affordable school on our list, landing solidly in the top 10 percent in that category, and students transfer out to universities at a rate high enough to place it in the upper quintile.
- Diverse academic programs: As of 2015, students at Monroe had more than 90 academic and vocational programs to choose from. The most popular declared majors in Fall 2014 were a healthy mix of subjects: liberal arts and sciences, business administration, criminal justice, nursing and hospitality management.
- Mascot: Tribunes
- Enrollment last year: 16,458 students
This far-upstate institution had one of the smallest student bodies on our list, but its standing among online colleges in New York was undeniable. Jefferson Community College came in third overall among schools on our list for its percentage of students enrolled in distance education courses, and a student-faculty ratio of 20:1 kept it competitive in that category as well. Students at Jefferson also have access to day care services on campus, and weekend and evening courses are available for students not yet ready to make the switch to the virtual classroom.
- Focus on affordability: JCC features more affordable yearly tuition than the statewide average, and its commitment to affordable education goes even further. More than 250 scholarships are available to students who qualify, and the Jefferson-Can Scholars Program provides free first-year tuition for residents of Jefferson and Lewis counties who rank in the top 15 percent of their class.
- Mascot: Cannoneers
- Enrollment last year: 3,931 students
This institution near the New Jersey border wasn't the most affordable of the schools on our list, but standout performances in our academic metrics more than made up for the slight kick to the pocketbook. No other institution among the top community colleges in New York had a higher retention rate than Rockland Community College, and its graduation rate also tied for first overall on our list.
- Great for transfers: Students at Rockland have access to an entire library of resources designed to help ease the academic transfer process, and the school conducts yearly meet-and-greet events such as College Night and the College Transfer Program to help students make face-to-face contact with representatives of schools across the country.
- Mascot: Hawks
- Enrollment last year: 7,652 students
Rockland Community College conducts yearly meet-and-greet events such as College Night and the College Transfer Program to help students make face-to-face contact with representatives of schools across the country.
Adirondack Community College, also known as SUNY Adirondack, has a solid student-faculty ratio of 19:1 and features a one-year tuition figure that came in at more than $600 below the 2014 statewide average. On-campus day care and weekend/evening courses are part of the package at the Warren County institution, which can allow students to keep up their commitments to family life and remain able to attend some on-campus courses.
- Join the club: Clubs and student organizations are a big part of the experience at SUNY Adirondack. Students had nearly 30 academic, sports and culture clubs to choose from as of Spring 2015, including the Adirondack Freethinkers Society, weightlifting and rugby clubs, a media arts group and a branch of Phi Theta Kappa international honor society.
- Mascot: Timberwolves
- Enrollment last year: 4,230 students
Located in Rensselaer County about midway up the state, Hudson Valley Community College stands strong among online colleges in New York. The school placed among the top 10 percent of such institutions for its portion of online-enrolled students — 39 percent in 2014 — which becomes even more impressive when considered alongside the overall size of its student population. To put it in perspective, if the online students at Hudson Valley were counted as their own separate college, it would be larger than three of the other schools on our list, combined.
- Self-directed education: The most popular degree program at Hudson Valley in 2014 was its Individual Studies plan, which allows students to build their own A.S. or A.A.S degree from a unique combination of liberal arts and elective coursework. Depending on how they're constructed, Independent Studies degrees may even be available 100 percent online.
- Mascot: Vikings
- Enrollment last year: 12,841 students
Final thoughts on the best community colleges in New York
It's important to note that even though Niagara County Community College is No. 1 by our ranking system, we don't mean to say that it's the best college for every student out there. Traditional and online colleges in New York all differ from one another in subtle but important ways, and digital distance education is working to bring a wider selection of schools to each student than ever before. Learn as much as you can about community colleges in New York and you'll be all the more likely to find the one that's just right for you.
We ranked 39 traditional and online colleges in New York, each of which is administrated by the City University of New York (CUNY) or State University of New York (SUNY) system. A 10-point scale was used to calculate each school's score on the following seven data points from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), with a statistical weighting system indicated by the value in parentheses:
- Percentage of students enrolled in distance education (20%), NCES, 2013
- Total cost of attendance (30%), including tuition & fees plus books & supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013
- Student-to-faculty ratio (10%), NCES, 2013
- Graduation rate (5%), NCES, 2013
- Average retention rate of full- and part-time students (10%), NCES, 2013
- Transfer-out rate (5%), NCES, 2013
- Flexibility (20%), based on three data points* from the NCES, 2013
*If school offers credit for life experiences, weekend or evening programs, and offers on-campus daycare.
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