10 Remarkable Community Colleges in Wisconsin

When it comes to higher education, Wisconsin knows its stuff. A 2014 report from the nonprofit Lumina Foundation noted that, in 2012, the college attainment rate (the percentage of adults with a two- or four-year degree) in Wisconsin was nearly 41 percent, which easily surpassed the 39.4 percent national average. College attainment among young adults aged 25 to 34 — a metric that's commonly used to predict long-term trends — shone even brighter: 43.3 percent in Wisconsin compared to 40.9 percent nationally.

Impressive? Absolutely, but Lumina warns that it still may not be enough. According to a separate Lumina report, if Wisconsin's share of college grads continues to grow at the current rate, it will still fall more than 11 points short of projected statewide demand by 2025. But Wisconsin has a plan for tackling this problem, and its community colleges — which often offer a faster, more affordable segue to the workplace than four-year institutions — play a starring role. Fortunately, if reputation and accolades are any indication, Wisconsin colleges are up to the task. Here are just 10 of them, listed alphabetically.

Chippewa Valley Technical College (Eau Claire)

The president of Chippewa Valley Technical College, Bruce Barker, boasts in his official welcome letter of the school's nationally recognized faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, and wide variety of courses and degree programs. But a little digging suggests that when it comes to all CVTC has to offer, this is just a warm-up. Not only was the school named among the top community colleges in the nation by Washington Monthly in both 2010 and 2013, but it earned the highest "student success rating" of all Wisconsin community colleges per a 2010 CNN analysis. It is also among just a few schools statewide to be considered for not one, but two Aspen Institute Prizes for Community College Excellence. Third-party accolades are one thing, but what does CVTC offer students? According to its website, 91 percent of graduates are employed within six months of graduating. It also offers both online and classroom-based courses, small classes and hefty career planning services.

Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (Hayward)

Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College is one of two tribal community colleges in Wisconsin. It is one of the smallest schools featured on this list, enrolling about 550 students on average each year, but according to CollegeMeasures.org, it still holds the distinction of ranking No. 1 statewide for combined student graduation and transfer rate. In other words, LCOOCC students are most likely to earn certificate or degrees, or transfer to four-year institutions. Part of its secret is accessibility: Despite its relatively low enrollment count, LCOOCC offers a main campus, plus four outreach sites on nearby Ojibwe reservations. It also offers a diversity of student support services, including academic and career counseling. Although LCOOCC's state goal is to help Native students advance their lives while studying their own history and language, and all students are required to take at least one course in Native American Studies, students need not be Native American to attend.

Lakeshore Technical College (Cleveland)

Where LCOOCC leads the state in overall graduation and transfer rates, Lakeshore Technical College leads in first-year-retention, per CollegeMeasures.org. It has also been eligible for two Aspen Prizes, and it boasts an impressive catalog of online courses. LTC reports that according to annual surveys, a full 98 percent of its graduates say they are either satisfied or very satisfied with their educations. Part of this enthusiasm is probably the result of LTC's emphasis on student support — it offers academic counseling, tutoring, career placement and counseling services — but the fact that, as of 2014, students could choose from nearly 130 certificate and degree programs likely helped.

Milwaukee Area Technical College (Milwaukee Metro)

Milwaukee Area Technical College takes go big or go home to a whole new level. Serving about 60,000 students a year at several locations across the metro, MATC says it is home to one of the largest, most diverse student populations of any Wisconsin college. It also offers more than 170 degree, diploma and certificate programs, plus a number of sports teams more than 30 student clubs. Students can enroll in day, evening, weekend or online classes. Bonus: CNN ranked MATC among the top five community colleges in Wisconsin in 2010 based on its "student success rating," which was calculated using data from CollegeMeasures.org.

Moraine Park Technical College (Fond du Lac)

Moraine Park Technical College has a lot to offer its students, but accessibility should certainly rank near the top of the list. Not only does the school serve students across several campuses and regional centers, but it offers a variety of online and blended education options that make earning a certificate or degree simpler, even for remote or working students. It even helps make college more affordable by helping students identify and apply for financial aid. MPTC students can choose from more than 100 career programs, join a wide range of clubs, take on student leadership roles or participate in a thriving study abroad program. It is worth noting that MPTC was considered for the Aspen Prize in 2013, and is a contender for the next award, slated for 2015.

Northcentral Technical College (Wausau)

Like many other Wisconsin community colleges featured on this list, Northcentral Technical College has earned a reputation for excellence: It was eligible for the Aspen Prize in both 2013 and 2015. It was also ranked among the top five community colleges in the state by CNN in 2010, thanks to its CollegeMeasures.org-derived "student success rating." NTC is a relatively large school offering more than 150 associate degrees, technical diplomas and short-term certificate programs across a diversity of disciplines. It also hosts a Child Development Center, a Learning Center and a host of academic services. Perhaps what really sets NTC apart, however, is its unique programming, including "Anytime State Courses" and even a "Build Your Own Degree" option (sometimes called the Individualized Technical Program).

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (Green Bay)

With its main campus in Green Bay, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College serves more than 40,000 students each year, offering more than 100 associate degrees and technical diplomas, and more than 80 certificates. NWTC was eligible for two separate AI Prizes (2011 and 2013), and according to its website, was ranked among the top 1 percent of community colleges in the nation in several program areas by Community College Week in 2013. It reports it also ranked in the nation's 20 fastest growing large colleges three times over. NWTC's official website credits much of its recognition to its state-of-the-art facilities, nationally-recognized instructors and high graduate satisfaction rate. Graduates also report higher-than-average earnings right out of school — a median $36,527 in 2012.

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (Fennimore)

Southwest Wisconsin Technical College has earned recognition from both The Aspen Institute and CNN, and, according to College Measures, boasts one of the highest first-year retention rates in the state. It also holds the distinction of being one of the few Wisconsin community colleges to offer on-campus houses (apartment-style to boot). Housing is limited to about 100 students annually, but even students who do not live on campus can take advantage of SWTC's varied recreational facilities. Those looking for the traditional college experience will be happy to know SWTC students can join dozens of clubs and organizations, not to mention several sports programs. Those living far off campus — or who are just plain busy — can appreciate the school's online course catalog.

University of Wisconsin Colleges (Various Locations)

The University of Wisconsin Colleges group is actually a collection of 13 campus, plus an online campus. Essentially, these schools are the freshman and sophomore branch of the University of Wisconsin System. On one hand, they are just like most other community colleges in Wisconsin: Open-door admissions, and students can earn associate degrees, certificates and diplomas before entering the workforce (or transferring to the University of Wisconsin proper). Unlike other schools, however, UWC's ties to UW means some students can actually earn bachelor's degrees on-campus (at six locations), and even master's degrees (at two locations). Perhaps this is why UWC boasts the second highest combined graduation and transfer rate in the state, per CollegeMeasures.org. It may also help explain why, according to UWC, these campuses serve more first-generation and adult, nontraditional students than any other UW institution — period.

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (Shell Lake)

What makes Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College list-worthy? Let us count the ways. One: Washington Monthly ranked WITC among the top 10 community colleges in the United States, not once, but twice. Two: In 2013, Bankrate.com named WITC one of the top 25 community colleges in the country. Three: WITC has been Aspen Prize eligible two times over. Four: According to CollegeMeasures.org, WITC has one of the highest first-year-retention rates of all Wisconsin community colleges. The fact that nearly one in nine area residents has taken some sort of class through WITC — or that an impressive 91 percent of its graduates are employed within six months of graduation — is just icing on the metaphorical cake. Honors aside, WITC offers more than 50 career-focused associate degrees, certificates and diplomas, plus online and flexible learning options.

Finding the right fit

We've chosen to highlight these 10 colleges based on their stellar reputations, beefy catalogs, notable student services or unique programming. The list is by no means comprehensive. Prospective students can learn about these and other schools across the state by visiting the Wisconsin Technical College System and the University of Wisconsin Colleges online.

If this list has made you a believer in Wisconsin community colleges, we have good news: Most schools have an open-door policy, meaning any student who meets the basic minimum requirement — usually a high school diploma or equivalent — will be admitted. However, that does not necessarily mean that any student can enroll in any school and succeed. Students should always do their research and consider a number of factors — from personal learning style to long-term career goals — before settling on a program. We encourage prospective students to contact schools directly to learn more.

All information provided through this 10 Community Colleges in Wisconsin list was compiled as of January 2015. Certificate, degree and program offerings can and do change. Contact the school site or sites for more current details.

1. Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, Aspen Institute, http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/college-excellence/overview
2. "25 Top 2-Year Public Colleges in the U.S.," Bankrate.com, http://www.bankrate.com/finance/college-finance/top-2-year-public-colleges-us.aspx
3. Strategic Measures: Wisconsin Public Colleges, CollegeMeasures.org, http://collegemeasures.org/2-year_colleges/state/WI/compare-colleges/strategic-measures/
4. "How Does Your Community College Stack Up?", CNN Money, Accessed Jan. 9, 2015, http://money.cnn.com/pf/college/community-colleges/
5. "Re-Enroll Adults With Some College and No Degree," Strategy Labs, Lumina Foundation, Accessed Jan. 9, 2015, http://strategylabs.luminafoundation.org/higher-education-state-policy-agenda/core-element-three/action-20/
6. Strategy Labs: Wisconsin, Lumina Foundation, Accessed Jan. 9, 2015, http://strategylabs.luminafoundation.org/in-the-states/wi/
7. "A Stronger Wisconsin Through Higher Education," Lumina Foundation, April 2014, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/downloads/pdfs/wisconsin-brief-2014.pdf
8. 2010 Community College Rankings, Washington Monthly, Accessed Jan. 9, 2015, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2010/community_colleges.php
9. 2013 Community College Rankings, Washington Monthly, Accessed Jan. 9, 2015, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/rankings_2013/community_rank.php
10. Schools: Chippewa Valley Technical College, http://www.cvtc.edu/home.aspx; Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College, http://www.lco.edu/; Lakeshore Technical College, http://www.gotoltc.edu/; Milwaukee Area Technical College, http://www.matc.edu/; Moraine Park Technical College, http://www.morainepark.edu/; Northcentral Technical College, http://www.ntc.edu/; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, http://www.nwtc.edu/Pages/home.aspx; Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, https://www.swtc.edu/; University of Wisconsin Colleges, http://uwc.edu/; Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, http://www.witc.edu/