10 Top-Notch Community Colleges in Missouri

Two-year colleges have long been considered a cost-effective alternative to four-year institutions, but this is especially true of Missouri community colleges. Missouri is home to some of the most affordable community colleges in the nation — ranking in the top 15 for the cost of attendance, according to data from The College Board — and it continues to find new ways to make college even more manageable.

In 2014, for instance, the Missouri Community College Association announced that it was one of a handful of community college systems in the country chosen to participate in the Competency-Based Education Jumpstart Program, a program designed to make the process of earning a degree faster and easier by allowing students to earn credit for skills already mastered in the workforce or military.

Perhaps the primary reason to consider colleges in Missouri, however, is their stellar reputation, cemented by a trove of national rankings and awards. Want proof? Check out the 10 schools (list alphabetically) below. It's by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a taste of what the state has to offer. You can always contact these and other prospective schools directly to learn more.

Crowder College (Neosho)

Crowder College offers dozens of associate degree and certificate programs, on-campus housing, and a number of career and academic services. What really separates Crowder College from other community colleges in Missouri, however, is its innovative alternative energy program. How innovative? The Associated Press reported that in 1984, Crowder's solar team designed and built the first solar-powered vehicle to ever successfully complete a coast-to-coast journey across the United States. This spirit of innovation has carried it through several prestigious competitions where it competed against many better-known universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Cornell and MIT. Of course, students can study a wide variety of disciplines at Crowder — not just energy — and thanks to partnerships with schools including Missouri State University and Missouri Southern State University, can even earn select bachelor's degrees without ever leaving campus.

Jefferson College (Hillsboro)

Jefferson College's 400+-acre main campus with rolling hills, oak and elm trees is just 25 miles from St. Louis, and the school's circuit of satellite campuses extends its reach considerably. Accessibility is not its only benefit: According to CollegeMeasures.org, Jefferson's first-year retention rate ranks among the highest in the state. Student housing, extensive academic services (including math and writing labs), and other facilities designed to make going to college earlier — like its child development center — probably contribute to its retention rates, but its expansive online course catalog likely helps, too. Jefferson College offers a number of associate degree and certificate programs, plus a healthy dose of noncredit courses designed for career or personal enhancement.

Metropolitan Community College (Kansas City)

One of Metropolitan Community College's biggest draws is its location: Kansas City, and all that comes with it. One of its biggest distinctions, however, is that not only is it one of the oldest schools in the metro, but was one of the first in the nation to offer associate degrees. Today, students can earn one of dozens of different associate degrees or certificates, including technical and short-term certifications. Other key MCC features: Its art center, fitness center, high risk attack and disaster training center, cultural arts center, sports training center, and even childcare center. The school also offers comprehensive career, academic and personal counseling services.

Moberly Area Community College (Moberly)

Moberly Area Community College has quite a resume: Second-highest combined graduation and transfer rate in the state per CollegeMeasures.org; CNN Money's second highest student success rating in the state in 2010; and a nominated for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2015. Academically, MACC offers degrees and certificates in more than 40 areas of study, myriad noncredit courses and a law enforcement training program. Perhaps what the school is best known for, however, is its sports program. According to MACC's official webpage, the school's men's basketball program is one of the most successful programs in junior college history and leads the nation in national tournament appearances. MACC's women's program has a solid reputation, too, thanks to a NJCAA national championship, 13 national tournament appearances, and nearly 60 NCAA Division I signees (as of 2014). One more notable statistics: An impressive 94 percent of MACC graduates are employed within a year of graduation.

Mineral Area College (Park Hills)

CollegeMeasures.org reports that as of 2014, Mineral Area College ranks in the top three community colleges in Missouri for both overall completion and first-year retention. But that's likely no surprise to anyone familiar with the school's emphasis on student success and educational accessibility. MAC offers degrees and certificates in a number of disciplines, but it is also one of the few two-year schools to offer on-campus bachelor's degrees via partnerships with Central Missouri State University and the University of Missouri in St. Louis. MAC boasts a number of flexible learning options, too, including both Web-based programs and telecourses. Students can participate in several clubs and athletics teams, job planning and placement services and academic assistance including math and reading labs. The school also hosts law enforcement and fire academies.

Missouri State University-West Plains (West Plains)

It's a two-year, open-admission community college, but MSU-West Plains is also part of the Missouri State University System. Of course, its ties with MSU mean certain perks, such as the freedom to complete a limited number of bachelor's and master's degrees on-campus (but only for those who are admitted to MSU after completing all graduation or transfer requirements). Washington Monthly named MSU-WP the sixth best community college in the nation in 2013; CNN Money gave the school one of the top five student success ratings in 2010; and according to the Aspen Institute, it is one of the few Missouri community colleges eligible for both the 2011 and 2013 Aspen Prizes for Community College Excellence. According to its official website, MSU-WP offers small class sizes — about 18 students on average. About 93 percent of its students receive some type of financial aid, a statistic it can at least partially credit to its A+ Scholarship Program eligibility.

North Central Missouri College (Trenton)

Like some other Missouri community colleges featured on this list, North Central Missouri College has earned national honors. In 2013, Washington Monthly named it the 10th best community college in the nation, and according to CollegeMeasures.org, it regularly ranks in the top five statewide for combined graduation and transfer rate. The school was nominated for an Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in 2011, and in 2010, CNN Money gave it one of the highest student success ratings in the state. Part of what makes NCMC so successful in its mission to serve students is its unique programming and support services, such as accelerated classes, counseling and career services, and both online and hybrid course options. In addition, students can live on campus. As for academics, NCMC offers a number of associate degrees and certificates, but tailors them specifically for either those who intend to enter the workforce directly, or for those who hope to transfer to a four-year institution.

Saint Louis Community College-Meramec (St. Louis)

Most schools on this list offer a diversity of associate degrees, certificates and professional development courses, but Saint Louis Community College's Meramec campus takes particular pride in the uniqueness of its catalog, which includes large horticulture, architectural technology, information reporting and occupational and physical therapy assistant programs. Its main campus is also home to the Center for Visual Technology, a state-of-the-art facility designed for digital arts and technology students. Those drawn more to the fine arts will feel right at home in the Meramec Contemporary Art Gallery or the Meramec Theater, both of which host several events each year, often free of charge. According to SLCC's website, the school sends more students to four-year institutions than any other college in the state.

St. Charles Community College (Cottleville)

St. Charles Community College has a reputation for excellence — and has the hard data to prove it deserves it. Not only does the school rank in the top five in the state for both total completion and first-year retention rates, per CollegeMeasures.org, but an unprecedented 85 percent of career program graduates are employed in their fields of study within six months of graduation. In 2014, SCCC was officially named a Military Friendly School, and the institution has long been designated a National Arbor Day Foundation Tree Campus USA School. Even SCCC's student newspaper, the SCCougar, has won awards for both its print and online editions. Students can earn degrees and certificates in a variety of disciplines, and can participate in more than 30 student clubs and organizations. Those who need to take a break between classes can head to the Student Activities office, which features TVs, pool tables, computers and more.

State Technical College of Missouri (Linn)

This institution, formerly known as Linn State Technical College, is undoubtedly one of the most highly acclaimed community colleges not just in Missouri, but in the nation. It is the only school in the state eligible for the Aspen Institute's Prize for Community College Excellence all three years to date in which it has been offered (2011, 2013 and 2015), but that is just the beginning. In 2013, Washington Monthly ranked the State Technical College 11th among all community colleges nationwide. In 2014, the school reported the highest combined completion and first-year retention rates in Missouri (per CollegeMeasures.org), and in 2010, CNN Money, gave it the highest student success rating in the state. Why all the accolades? Its 95 percent job placement rate and unique programs — including one of the few Caterpillar dealer service technician programs in the country — are certainly factors, but so are STC's high-tech facilities and extensive student services.

First steps: Find your fit

The schools featured on this list have earned their place among some of the top-ranked two-year institutions in the country, but they are by no means all of the community colleges Missouri has to offer. Because schools and programs can vary dramatically, we recommend researching several schools extensively before enrolling in one specifically. You can do that by visiting them online, or by contacting them directly to request more information, or to speak with an admissions adviser who can answer all your questions.

All information provided through this 10 Community Colleges in Missouri list was accurate as of December 2014. Certificate, degree and program offerings can and do change. Contact the school site or sites for more current details.

1. Tree Campus USA Schools, Arbor Day Foundation, http://www.arborday.org/programs/treeCampusUSA/campuses.cfm
2. Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Aspen Institute, http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/college-excellence/overview
3. "Solar Car Completes Cross-Country Trip," Associated Press via The New York Times, Sept. 2, 1984, Accessed Jan. 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/1984/09/02/us/solar-car-completes-cross-country-trip.html
4. How Does Your Community College Stack Up?, CNN Money, Accessed Jan. 6, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/pf/college/community-colleges/
5. Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, CollegeBoard.org, Accessed Jan. 6, 2015, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time
6. Missouri Public Colleges, CollegeMeasures.org, http://collegemeasures.org/2-year_colleges/state/MO/compare-colleges/strategic-measures/
7. "14 colleges and universities selected for CAEL competency-based education initiative," Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, April 22, 2014, http://www.cael.org/pdfs/14_colleges_selected_-for_cbe
8. Moberly Greyhounds, http://www.moberlygreyhounds.com/
9. 2013 Community College Rankings, Washington Monthly, Accessed Jan. 6, 2015, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2013/community_rank.php
10. Schools: Crowder College, http://www.crowder.edu/; Jefferson College, http://www.jeffco.edu/jeffco/; Metropolitan Community College, http://www.mcckc.edu/; Moberly Area Community College, http://www.macc.edu/; Mineral Area College, http://www.mineralarea.edu/; North Central Missouri College, http://www.ncmissouri.edu/default.aspx; Saint Louis Community College-Meramec, http://www.stlcc.edu/mc/; St. Charles Community College, https://www.stchas.edu/; State Technical College of Missouri, http://www.statetechmo.edu/