Best community colleges in Washington
There are many reasons one might want to attend Washington's community colleges: A statewide push for college affordability deserves much of the credit, but so does Washington's career market. According to a study by MoneyRates.com,* Washington was the runner-up for Best Place to Make a Living in 2016. Solid employment growth and wages — and no state income tax — set it apart. Community colleges can help now-and-future professionals make the most of these benefits. First, however, they need to find the right school for them.
We evaluated at 33 Washington community colleges and ranked them using factors such as affordability, student success rates and more, which you can read about in our methodology below. Here are our top 10 community colleges in Washington state. When you've checked those out, read about other on-campus and online schools in Washington.
1. Pierce College (Fort Steilacoom, Puyallup and Joint Base Lewis-McChord)
Pierce Community College's (PCC's) two primary campuses in Fort Steilacoom and Puyallup, an off-site center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a host of online programs make it a model for college accessibility National and statewide honors may suggest it is also one of the most highly-regarded community colleges in Washington. According to its website, PCC's record of improving student success rates and closing achievement gaps makes it one of only 16 Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges in the country. Other accolades include having the second-highest four-year college transfer rate of all Washington community colleges in 2015, and being named eligible for the prestigious 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence — an honor reserved for America's top 150 community colleges. PCC offers nearly 70 programs of study, including professional certificates, associate degrees and two bachelor's degrees.
Fast Fact: In 2016, Pierce Community College became one of the first Washington colleges to opt-out of textbooks. Instead of paying hefty prices on conventional books, students can access almost all sources and texts online.
2. Grays Harbor College (Aberdeen)
Grays Harbor College (GHC) may overlook Aberdeen's seaport, but it is much more than a pretty campus. In 2015, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) assigned the college the second-highest number of achievement points per 1,000 students in the state. Achievement points are awarded based on a number of criteria, including first- and second-year success rates, completion rates, and the advancement of college-level math and literacy skills. Grays Harbor's on-site childcare center offers full-time, part-time, drop-in and extended evening options for students with children, and the school's online learning options extend courses to remote students and those with unique scheduling needs.
Fast Fact: Grays Harbor Community College provides several community enrichment programs, including Eduventures, or day trips, that let students explore area art, history, culture and nature.
3. Yakima Valley College (Yakima)
Founded in 1928, Yakima Valley College is one of the oldest community colleges in Washington. It is also one of the more diverse: The U.S. Department of Education designates it an official Hispanic-Serving Institution. Yakima's lengthy list of associate programs includes both terminal, workforce-ready degrees and transfer degrees designed to prepare students for four-year programs. It also offers a limited number of on-campus bachelor's degrees, plus workforce education, continuing education and basic skills classes. In 2015, SBCTC assigned YCC an average of 1,988 achievement points per 1,000 students — giving the institution a top-five ranking among all 33 Washington community colleges.
- Fast Fact: Yakima Valley College is home to the Larson Art Gallery, with a collection of works created by regional artists. It also hosts six annual exhibitions displaying what the institution calls the "most current and progressive art in the area." Student admission is free.
4. Peninsula College (Port Angeles)
Peninsula College holds the distinction of being named eligible for the 2017 Aspen Award for Community College Excellence. The Aspen Institute only selects schools with strong completion and transfer rates; consistent improvement in student success rates; and equitable outcomes for students of all races and socio-economic backgrounds. One of the primary ways Peninsula College does this is through distance learning programs, which can make higher education manageable for students who otherwise might not pursue it. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 53 percent of Peninsula students participated in online learning in 2014. This rate — the highest in the state — makes PC one of the most active online schools in Washington.
Fast Fact: Peninsula College's Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Management program lets students with associate degrees complete their undergraduate studies on-site, preparing them for direct transfer into an MBA program.
5. Tacoma Community College (Tacoma)
Tacoma Community College's list of accomplishments is impressive. According to the SBCTC and the NCES, TCC placed in the top 5 community colleges in Washington for overall net price, achievement points and four-year college transfer rates in 2014-15. The institution's myriad of associate, career training and limited four-year programs are only one way it helps students succeed. The college's College Bound Scholarship program, for instance, enhances affordability by covering state college tuition and some book costs for low-income middle school students who commit to working hard in school, staying out of legal trouble and advancing to college after high school. Tacoma offers many college transfer associate programs, seven career-training programs and a four-year degree in Health Information Management.
Fast Fact: In 2016, community activists near and far rallied to gain formal recognition of an on-campus community garden so secluded that not even the college's new president knew of it until stumbling upon it herself. The successful campaign saved the 60-year-old garden — maintained by Russian and Ukrainian immigrants — from demolition.
6. Bellevue College (Bellevue)
Bellevue College has the largest student body of any school featured on our list. It also ranks among the top 5 community colleges in Washington for overall affordability of tuition, books, fees and supplies. Bellevue is not far from Seattle, and many of its programs feed into the city's diverse workforce. Learners can complete certificates, associate degrees and some bachelor's degrees on campus or online. Thanks to a partnership between BC and several state colleges — including Washington State University, the University of Washington and Central Washington University — busy students can earn online bachelor's degrees in areas like business, communications, social science and more. According to CollegeMeasures.org, BC graduates held one of the best salary-to-cost ratios in the state in 2014.
Fast Fact: Bellevue College's Bellevue Planetarium offers students and locals alike an out-of-this-world learning experience. Its 30-foot dome and leading-edge astronomy equipment provide a unique perspective of our sun, moon, stars and planets.
7. Spokane Falls Community College (Spokane)
Spokane Falls Community College is more than a school: It's one of the region's most significant cultural institutions. Its drama, fine art, photography and music programs are known statewide, and its campus is part of the Washington State Arts Commission's Art in Public Places Program, an initiative that helps organizations acquire and place artwork in publically accessible spaces. Spokane Falls Community College's courses and degrees extend well beyond the arts, however. Students can earn certificates and associate degrees in a multitude of academic areas, or pursue its Bachelors of Applied Science in Information Systems or Applied Management. 2015 data from the NCES indicated SFCC ranked No. 3 for its relatively low cost of tuition, books, fees and supplies.
Fast Fact: In 2016, Spokane Falls Community College adjunct instructor Dylan Stiegemeier won the region's Peirone Prize in honor of his nonprofit foundation, The Theodores, a grassroots-to-global community performing small acts with meaningful environmental benefits. His motto: "Do what you can with what you have, where you are."
8. South Puget Sound Community College (Olympia)
South Puget Sound Community College offers students two very different campus options. Its primary campus in Olympia covers nearly 94 acres of land surrounded by natural woodlands while its full-service Lacey campus accommodates students in an urban city center. Students unable to attend either still have options, however, courtesy of SPSCC's online course and degree programs. According to its official website, SPSCC takes pride in its highly qualified faculty, not to mention its collection of local, regional and national awards. The Aspen Institute honored the college's record for student success when it named it eligible for the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Other notable achievements: NCES data indicates SPSCC offered one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios — and one of the highest four-year college transfer rates — in Washington in 2015.
Fast Fact: South Puget Sound Community College's Artist & Lecture series welcomes a wide array of artists and scholars to speak on campus. The 2016 theme, Spark, drew innovators, filmmakers, writers, podcasters and politicians.
9. Spokane Community College (Spokane)
Spokane Community College is known for many things, but affordability ranks near the top. According to the NCES, SCC ranked No. 1 in Washington in 2015 for average net price and ranked in the top three for average tuition, fees, books and supply costs. SCC offers about 200 associate degrees and professional certificates in more than 120 disciplines through its six campuses and education centers. The college also encourages students to pursue web-based degrees and certificates through SCC Online. Students who opt for online learning may attend courses at home, but they are far from alone: SCC offers an exceptionally broad number of online student services, including career coaching, e-tutoring, veteran services and more.
Fast Fact: Spokane Community College students can choose to enroll "learning communities" — classes combining two or three academic courses into a single one worth 10 to 15 credits in full. Enrolled students can become well acquainted with peers and faculty while working to clear key graduation and college transfer requirements.
10. Shoreline Community College (Shoreline)
Shoreline Community College sits just 10 miles from downtown Seattle, which makes it a key source of workplace talent in one of the nation's most bustling metros. The college is just as diverse as its surrounding communities, attracting international students from at least 45 different countries annually. In 2016, SCC officially joined the American Honors Program, a program designed to offer advanced students a more challenging curriculum designed to prepare them for four-year universities. Participants get a chance to work on in-depth projects in academic topics of interest while collaborating with a community of scholars with whom to share their ideas.
Fast Fact: During his presidency, President Bill Clinton spent hours in a worker retraining program at Shoreline Community College so that he could better respond to a devastating flood in southwest Washington. He later returned to the college to deliver a speech called "Meeting America's Challenges."
We ranked 33 community colleges in Washington on a variety of factors related to educational offerings and student performance. Each school was scored on a 10-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 number of achievement points per 1,000 students, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, 2014: 10%
- The number of transfers to 4-year public and private colleges per 1,000 students, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, 2014: 30%
- 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
1. 2014-15 Academic Year Report: Chapter IV: Student Progress and Success, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Accessed Aug. 2, 2016, http://www.sbctc.edu/resources/documents/colleges-staff/research-data/academic-year-research/2014-15/ayr-1415-progress-success.pdf
3. 2017 Eligible Community Colleges, Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, The Aspen Institute, Accessed August 25, 2016, https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/college-excellence-program/2017-eligible-community-colleges/
4. Best Places to Make a Living, MoneyRates.com, Accessed August 26, 2016, http://www.money-rates.com/research-center/best-states-to-make-a-living/
5. Clintons in the Northwest, Seattle PI, Joel Connelly, August 25, 2016, http://www.seattlepi.com/local/slideshow/Clintons-in-the-Northwest-134023/photo-2272707.php
6. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2014-15 and 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed Aug. 1, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
7. Matt Driscoll: A happy ending for Tacoma Community College's beloved garden, The News Tribune, Matt Driscoll, Accessed August 25, 2016, http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/matt-driscoll/article65608392.html
8. More and more colleges opt out of going 'by the book,' The News Tribune, Hannah Shirley, Accessed August 25, 2016, http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/education/article96726202.html
9. Peirone Prize Winner 2016: Dylan Stiegemeier, Inlander, Mitch Ryals, Accessed August 25, 2016, http://www.inlander.com/spokane/dylan-stiegemeier/Content?oid=2866061
10. Washington Public Colleges, 2-Year College Data Tool, CollegeMeasures.org, Accessed August 25, 2016, http://collegemeasures.org/2-year_colleges/state/WA/scorecard/
11. College websites, Accessed August 25, 2016: Bellevue College, http://www.bellevuecollege.edu/, Grays Harbor College, http://www.ghc.edu/, Peninsula College, http://www.pencol.edu/, Pierce College, http://www.pierce.ctc.edu/, Shoreline Community College, http://www.shoreline.edu/, Spokane Community College, https://www.scc.spokane.edu/, South Puget Sound Community College, https://spscc.edu/, Spokane Falls Community College, http://www.spokanefalls.edu/, Tacoma Community College, http://www.tacomacc.edu/, Yakima Valley Community College, https://www.yvcc.edu/
*MoneyRates.com is owned and operated by QuinStreet, Inc.