Best community colleges in Texas
Texas is home to one of the biggest collections of community colleges in the United States. The state and its two-year schools constantly work to improve college accessibility and success rates and produce graduates prepared to meet growing demand for an ever more skilled workforce. Texans considering community college have no shortage of program options, yet some schools perform better than others in areas like graduation or transfer rates, financial aid support, affordability and accessibility.
We evaluated the state's 60 community colleges using such criteria. The result is a top-10 ranking of the all-around best community colleges in the Lone Star State, based on the factors detailed in our methodology. Check it out, then be sure to learn more about other types of schools in Texas.
1. Galveston College (Galveston)
There are several reasons Galveston College deserves the No. 1 spot in our ranking of the best community colleges in Texas, but most trace back to its unparalleled dedication to student success. As an Achieving the Dream institution, GC is part of a multiyear national initiative to help more college students succeed, especially within communities that face significant success barriers. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics' IPEDS for 2014-15 and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board 2009 to 2013 data suggest the institution's hard work pays off: Galveston College was one of the five top community colleges in the Texas for its graduation and four-year college transfer rates and low student-to-faculty ratio. Particularly impressive: GC tops the list for its relatively low cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies.
A piece of history: Galveston College's very first structure was the refurbished Moody Hall Orphanage — a historic building still used today.
2. Clarendon College (Clarendon)
Clarendon College was founded as a private Methodist Episcopal institution in 1898, which makes it the oldest institution of higher education in the Texas Panhandle. It is also has the smallest student population of any community college listed in the top 10 — a feature that translates into one of the mid-range student-to-faculty ratios. The school also has the second-highest graduation rate in the state. Clarendon College offers courses, certificates and degrees in a multitude of disciplines, including the liberal arts, agriculture, science and health. It also hosts career and technical degrees, continuing education coursework, corporate training programs and dozens of online classes.
Staying on key: Clarendon College is a fine arts powerhouse. This is particularly true when it comes to music: performers Blues Boy Willie, Harold Dow Bugbee and Radie Britain all attended CC.
3. McLennan Community College (Waco)
Top community colleges in Texas strive to make learning accessible for students of all backgrounds, but and McLennan Community College is part of that group. An onsite daycare and dedicated evening and weekend programs accommodate busy schedules, as does its range of online courses. The college also lets students earn competency-based credits — credit hours awarded in exchange for life-based knowledge and experience. Other MCC highlights include top-five rankings statewide for its transfer rate and low student-to-faculty ratio, and its Distinguished Lecture Series, which has hosted such well-known figures as author Tamim Ansary; TV personality and science-enthusiast Bill Nye and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
More rankings for MCC: McLennan isn't just a top school on our list: The college was also named one of the top 150 schools in the entire U.S. by the distinguished Aspen Institute in 2014.
4. Collin College (McKinney)
Collin College clearly makes the cut as one of our top community college in Texas, but its record of student success and educational affordability deserve special recognition. Having the best four-year transfer rate of all 60 Texas community colleges we reviewed is only the beginning: CC holds top-five rankings for affordable tuition, fees, books and supplies and transfers per 1,000 students. It also claims one of the highest retention rates. Collin College students can pursue academic and career-targeted courses, certificates and associate degrees in several disciplines, though its fine art programs are perhaps among its best known. One can study theater, dance, music and art, or visit on-site art exhibits created by student and faculty artists.
A hub of higher learning: Collin College's Higher Education Center connects students with university partners — UT Dallas, Texas Tech and others — that let learners earn bachelor's, master's and even doctoral degrees on-campus.
5. Western Texas College (Snyder)
Western Texas College has the highest community college graduation rate in the state, and its student-to-faculty ratio ranking is not far behind. It had more than two-thirds of its student body participating in online education — more than any other college we ranked. The college offers myriad online course options. Students may be able to complete any courses not available at WTC through the Virtual College of Texas (VCT) — a consortium of Texas community colleges that extend online courses to students of other member institutions at no additional cost. Western Texas College awards academic, transfer-geared associate degrees, including associate degree options and Associate of Applied Science programs. Students considering direct workforce entry can look to WTC's career and technical programs.
A traditional college experience: WTC learners who report to campus for classes will find a rich college experience waiting for them, courtesy of WTC's student organizations, athletics programs and on-site cultural institutions like the Scurry County Museum.
6. Wharton County Junior College (Wharton)
Wharton County Junior College earns high marks for its 2014-15 retention and transfer rates and its low student-to-faculty ratio. Chances are most students, however, come for its diversity of academic and vocational training options. Students can earn certificates and degrees in several disciplines, including allied health; communications and fine arts; social services; life and physical sciences; math; business and technology. Wharton vocational programs reflect the region's workforce needs, touching upon fields like nuclear power technology and process technology. Other learning options include continuing education coursework, community enrichment programs and basic literacy training. According to its official website, WCJC offers more than 115 online classes, all of which are identical to those offered on campus.
Bucking the trend: How many schools boast a full-fledged rodeo team? These WCJC student-athletes compete in many traditional rodeo events, from barrel racing and tie-down roping to bull riding and steer wrestling.
7. Paris Junior College (Paris)
Paris Junior College tied for fifth-highest graduation rate of all Texas community colleges in 2015, and its status as a Pathways Project institution likely deserves at least some of the credit. The Pathways Project is an American Association of Community Colleges initiative that aims to improve student success both in the classroom and in the field.
Paris Junior College was one of only 30 colleges in the country selected to implement guided academic and career pathways — a model establishing coherent and easy-to-follow programs of study that align with requirements for success in employment and at the next stage of education. Pathways provides support services and re-aligns curricula and instruction to help students master the knowledge and skills they need to meet their ultimate career goals. Students can earn certificates and degrees in several unique disciplines on-site or online.
- Learn on the go: Paris Junior College manages to make online education even more convenient than would expect, all in the name of educational accessibility. Case in point: PJC's house-designed app that lets students access books, databases and other library services from any iOS or Android device.
8. Richland College (Dallas)
Richland College is no stranger to high praise. In addition to being what we consider one of the best community colleges in Texas, RC has a full stock of national awards and distinctions. Richland was the first two-year school in the state designated a National Center for Academic Excellence and Information Assurance, an honor bestowed by the U.S. government. It was also the first community college in the nation to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1987. Many of Richland's many academic and vocational programs are truly innovative. Its unique Digital Forensics program, for instance, is the first and only Texas community college to meet skill standards set forth by the Texas Skills Standard Board (an advisory body to the governor and legislature you can ready more about on their website). One more indicator of the school's quality of education and services? Its top-three ranking in student retention.
- Meditate on it: Richland College students can head to the nearby lake and find a labyrinth — an ancient meditation tool modeled after the Chartres Labyrinth found in a 13th century French cathedral. The Richland Labyrinth is an extension of the College's unique Mind-Body Health (MBH) Program. The labyrinth and MBH coursework are open to all students and staff.
Richland College's Digital Forensics program happens to be the first and only Texas community college to meet skill standards set forth by the Texas Skills Standard Board. More? RC students can head to the nearby lake and find a labyrinth — an ancient meditation tool modeled after the Chartres Labyrinth found in a 13th century French cathedral.
9. Lone Star College (The Woodlands)
Lone Star College is the largest institution by enrollment in our top 10 and in the entire Houston area, four-year universities included. According to its official website, it is also one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the country. Along with its impressive enrollment figures, LSC manages to win high marks for student-to-faculty ratio and student retention. Like McLennan Community College above, Lone Star College works to make education accessible: It offers credit for life experience, 100 percent weekend and evening programs, and a broad selection of online courses. It also operates six campuses, a separate corporate college and eight learning centers throughout the area. Students can pursue degrees in fields like engineering, psychology and business, or career-driven credentials in health care, automotive technology and administrative services, among other disciplines.
Go big and stay home: Students pursuing advanced degrees may want to check out the Lone Star College System's two University Centers. These centers leverage university partnerships that allow students to earn bachelor's or master's degrees at LSC's main campuses in The Woodlands and University Park.
10. Trinity Valley Community College (Athens)
You need only review Trinity Valley Community College's annual statistics to recognize its dedication to student success. A 2015 report from IPEDS ranks TVCC among the top 15 community colleges in Texas in overall net price, student retention, transfers per 1,000 students, graduation rate and student-faculty ratio. The college's No. 3 ranking for distance education participation also makes it one of the active online colleges in the state. Trinity Valley offers academic transfer and workforce training programs in dozens of disciplines; a corporate training school; and a number of adult education and community enrichment courses. Active partnerships with more than 20 four-year colleges streamline student transfer procedures and, in some cases, bring bachelor's and master's degrees right to TVCC.
- Score!: To say Trinity Valley Community College's sports program is thriving is an understatement. Many elite athletes were once TVCC Cardinals, including nearly a dozen NFL players.
We ranked 60 community colleges in Texas on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, unless the following six 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. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 5%
5. The number of transfers per 1,000 students to public 4-year universities in Texas and the graduation rate over three years for past transfers, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2011-2014: 30%
6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2014: 10%
a. Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
b. Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends sdkjfnhsd
c. Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students’ children
d. Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren’t limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
1. College websites, Accessed September 26, 2016: Clarendon College, http://www.clarendoncollege.edu; Collin County Community College District, http://www.collen.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; Paris Junior College, www.parisjc.edu/; Richland College, https://richlandcollege.edu/; Trinity Valley Community College, https://www.tvcc.edu/; Western Texas College, http://wtc.edu; Wharton County Junior College, https://www.wcjc.edu/
2. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2014-15 and 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed Sept. 7, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
3. Academic Performance of 2-Year College Transfer Students at Texas Public Universities, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Accessed Sept. 8, 2016, http://www.txhighereddata.org/reports/performance/ctctransfer/
4. Texas Skills Standards, http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/aar/undergraduateed/workforceed/wecm2000/tssb.htm