Best Community Colleges in Alabama
Attending one of the top community colleges in Alabama can be a great way to train for a new job, follow a personal passion or save some money on the first two years of a bachelor's degree. The Alabama Community College System (ACCS) comprises 25 community and technical colleges, a workforce development initiative called the Alabama Technology Network and one of just five junior military colleges in the U.S.
We collected a huge dataset from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) and analyzed it to find out which campus-based and online colleges in Alabama could claim a spot among the best. Community colleges in Alabama were ranked according to their reported affordability, flexibility and student success.
Here are the ten best schools, along with some info on where each one excelled in our analysis and its location.
Enterprise State Community College (Enterprise, AL)
Our No. 1 school earned the overall crown for putting up strong performances across the board, even though it didn't take the top spot in any individual category. Enterprise State Community College was one of the most affordable colleges in Alabama, ranking No. 3 statewide for its cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies. It also ranked No. 3 for its low average net price -- a college cost measure that calculates out-of-pocket expense by subtracting the expected amount of institutional grant and scholarship aid from the total average cost of tuition, fees, books, housing, meals and other necessities. Enterprise ranked No. 4 among schools on our list for its university transfer rate in the spring 2016 semester, and its student-faculty ratio was among the second-lowest among schools in our top 10. ESCC was also the only school on our list that offered on-campus day care as part of its flexibility portfolio.
- Flight techs needed: Alabama is one of the five fastest-growing states for avionics technicians, according to U.S. Department of Labor projections, and ESCC's Alabama Aviation College is working to help students meet the demands of these specialized, in-demand positions. The aviation school operates in four locations around the state: Ozark, Mobile, Andalusia and Albertville.
Gadsden State Community College (Gadsden)
The raw affordability of tuition, fees, books and supplies at Gadsden State Community Collegeranked No. 1 in the state in 2015-16, and that's not the only bright spot at this northeastern Alabama institution. Its student-faculty ratio of 18:1 tied for the No. 2 spot among schools on our list, and just one other college in our top ten had a higher percentage of degree completions per 100 students between summer 2014 and spring 2016. GSCC reports a solid retention rate with more than 50 percent of its first-year students returning for a second year. Students returning to school after spending some time away may be able to earn course credit for applicable life experience.
- A boost for veterans: Gadsden State Community College participates in Veterans Upward Bound, a federal program that works to assist U.S. military veterans in developing the skills and mentality necessary to succeed in higher education. Services include seminars and workshops, a book loan program, academic course assistance and career plan counseling.
John C. Calhoun State Community College (Tanner)
Students at John C. Calhoun State Community College, commonly known as Calhoun Community College, transferred out into university programs at the No. 1 rate in the entire state during the spring semester of 2016. For the previous semester, the rate was No. 3 in the state and No. 1 out of the top 10 schools on our list. Part of that transfer success may be owed to Calhoun's ability to retain first-year students - it ranked No. 3 out of the top 10 schools. Calhoun also is notable for its dedication to course access, demonstrated by its percentage of distance enrollment: more than 42 percent of the student body at the Tanner institution reported taking at least some of their classes in the virtual classroom. Their course catalog features no fewer than 100 fully online classes in subjects like business, art, English, psychology, computer information systems and the sciences.
- Big-time campus: If you're hoping to transfer to one of the larger colleges and universities in Alabama or elsewhere and want to ease the culture shock of moving on to a heavily populated institution, Calhoun may be able to help you adjust. With a student body of nearly 10,000 students on the Tanner campus alone, students can get a taste of what it's like to study among legions of fellow learners.
Lurleen B. Wallace Community College (Andalusia)
Student engagement is commonly hailed as an important part of a solid college experience, and the numbers suggest that Lurleen B. Wallace Community College goes the extra mile to keep its students engaged and on task. The Andalusia institution reported the state's highest percentage of first-year students going on to continue their education as sophomores, and it was one of the few schools in the state to put up solid numbers for both degree completions and university transfers. Just four other schools in our top ten reported a higher rate of students completing their degrees between 2014 and 2016, and only two other colleges on our list had a higher percentage of students successfully transfer into a degree program at one of the four-year colleges and universities in Alabama.
- Adult education: The commitment to education at LBWCC goes beyond the traditional college experience. Adult learners within reach of the college's facilities can take advantage of free adult education and literacy services including GED preparation, college preparation, English language acquisition classes and more.
Southern Union State Community College (Wadley)
Southern Union State Community College was another hotspot for student engagement among Alabama colleges. The Wadley institution came in at No. 2 in the state for its first-year student retention rate, and its percentage of students who successfully transferred into university programs ranked No. 3 among schools on our list in 2016. SUSCC also ranked ahead of all other schools in the state but one for the raw affordability of its attendance expenses, ranking second statewide in the tuition and fees category and landing in a solid position for its average estimated cost of books and supplies. Students also have access to optional credit for life experience and an alternative tuition payment plan.
- On-campus living: The residence hall at Southern Union's Wadley campus provides students with a university-style dorm living opportunity while pursuing their community college degree. Resident students can take advantage of campus amenities such as study rooms, computer labs and laundry facilities.
Wallace State Community College (Hanceville)
Longtime Alabama politician, George C. Wallace, helped bring about the public community college presence in the state, and Wallace State Community Collegeis just one of the namesake institutions that honor his contribution to regional higher education. The Hanceville school inhabits the ranks of the top online community colleges in Alabama, with over 40 percent of students enrolling in distance education courses. The student-faculty ratio at WSCC is around 15:1, according to the most recent NCES report, which is not only tied for the No. 1 spot among schools that made our list but is also more favorable than the nationwide average of 16:1 for university-level institutions.
- High-tech instruction: Wallace State is committed to providing students with the latest in instructional technologies to enhance their learning experience. Certain classrooms at WSSC come equipped with Tegrity lecture recording tools and SMARTboard interactive equipment to enhance students' abilities to engage with course material both during and after class time.
Reid State Technical College (Evergreen)
Reid State Technical College is the smallest school on our list by a considerable margin. The next-smallest campus in our top ten reported more than three times as many students as the 489 who attended this Conecuh County institution in 2016, but a low student population has its upsides. The student-faculty ratio tied for No. 1 among schools on our list. Affordability was strong here as well, with an average net price that ranked No. 4 in the state.RSTC also captured the state's No. 2 spot in the distance education enrollment category and posted the highest rate of degree completions per 100 students of any school in our top ten.
- Scholarship opportunities: Qualifying students at RSTC can apply for student aid through the school's various institutional scholarship programs. Academic Scholarships focus on classroom performance, requiring at least a 3.0 GPA, and Leadership Scholarships focus mainly on service to college and community.
Snead State Community College (Boaz)
Students at Snead State Community College have quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to choosing the best way to earn their associate degree. The Boaz institution is the clear winner for the No. 1 spot statewide in the distance enrollment category. Nearly 73 percent of students taking at least some online courses here was more than 13 points higher than its next closest competitor. Snead State makes most of its university transfer degree options available as fully online programs, and offers online or blended Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees in applied business, child development and more. It also ranked No. 4 on our list for percentage of degree completers between 2015 and 2016.
- Academic heritage: Snead State Community College was founded in 1898 and stands as the oldest associate degree-granting institution of all colleges in Alabama. Despite more than 125 years of history educating Alabama students, a focus on responding to the changing times has helped it keep up with the academic necessities of the 21st century.
George C. Wallace State Community College (Dothan)
George C. Wallace State Community College, known familiarly as Wallace Community College, is another of the multiple colleges in Alabama to bear the name of the former state legislator and governor. The Dothan institution fared well on the university transfer metrics, producing the state's third-highest percentage of transfers in the spring semester of 2016. Students who need some on-campus flexibility have access to degree-granting study plans that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends, and course credit for applicable life experience may be available to students who qualify.
- First of its kind: For decades, all Alabama community colleges were either vocational and technical schools or degree-granting academies. It wasn't until a recommendation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) prompted WCC to begin offering both types of study from the same institution that any official "comprehensive" community colleges existed in Alabama.
Northeast Alabama Community College (Rainsville)
Last, but certainly not least on our list, is Northeast Alabama Community College. NACC took the No. 2 spot in the state for the affordability of its average net price in 2015, with students taking advantage of financial aid and saving over $3,000 on average, as reported to the National Center for Education Statistics The Rainsville school was also one of the top online community colleges in Alabama, taking the No. 4 spot in the state for its nearly 45 percent distance education enrollment, and it had the fifth-highest number of degree completions per 100 students between 2015 and 2016.
- Extracurricular options: NACC may be a fairly small school of just over 2,600 students, but its array of student organizations and other extracurricular opportunities is diverse nonetheless. More than 25 clubs and activities are available for interested students, including an art club, a fishing club, a campus ministry and multiple honor societies and musical ensembles.
A final note on the best community colleges in Alabama
These ten schools may be the best community colleges in Alabama by the numbers, but numbers don't always speak to what's right for an individual student. Make sure to visit the campuses near you and get a feel for what they have to offer -- sometimes the top school for your needs is right around the corner.
For info on the best four-year schools in the state, check out our page on four-year schools in Alabama.
We ranked 25 community colleges in the Alabama Community College System. Each school was scored using the following 11 data points.
- The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Cost of attendance, based on the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies; and the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- The number of completions per 100 students, Alabama Commission on Higher Education, Summer 2014-Spring 2016, and National Center for Education Statistics,2015-16
- The number of transfers to four-year public universities in Alabama per 100 students, Alabama Commission on Higher Education, Fall 2015 and Spring 2016
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- 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
- Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren't limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2014-15 and 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed June 6, 2017, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Student Database Reports, 2014-2016, Alabama Commission on Higher Education, Accessed Dec. 6, 2016, http://www.ache.alabama.gov/content/StudentDB/SDBReports.aspx
- About ACCS, Alabama Community College System, accessed June 28, 2017, https://www.accs.cc/index.cfm/about-accs/
- School pages, accessed June 27-28, 2017: Alabama Aviation College, Enterprise State Community College, https://www.escc.edu/alabama-aviation-center/; Veterans Upward Bound, Gadsden State Community College, http://www.gadsdenstate.edu/vub/home; Online Courses, Calhoun Community College, http://www.calhoun.edu/student-resources/distance-learning/online-courses-at-calhoun; Residential Life, Southern Union State Community College, http://www.suscc.edu/campus-life/residential-life.cms; Adult Education/GED, Lurleen B. Wallace Community College, http://www.lbwcc.edu/communitycorp-ed/adult-educationged; About WSCC, Wallace State Community College, http://www.wallacestate.edu/about-wscc; Scholarships, Reid State Technical College, http://rstc.edu/scholarships.php; At-A-Glance, Snead State Community College, http://www.snead.edu/about_us/at-a-glance.aspx; Online Education, Snead State Community College, http://www.snead.edu/current_students/online_learning.aspx; About the College, Wallace Community College, http://www.wallace.edu/about_wcc.aspx; Activities and Organizations, Northeast Alabama Community College, https://www.nacc.edu/current-students/activities-and-organizations;
- Projected Employment, Percent Change 2014-2024 for Avionics Technicians in the United States, CareerOneStop, accessed June 28, 2017, https://www.careeronestop.org/toolkit/StateAndLocal/ProjectedEmployment.aspx?soccode=492091&location=Alabama&dataview=chart&change=true&national=true
- George C. Wallace Community College, Encyclopedia of Alabama, accessed June 28, 2017, http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2587
- SMART Technologies, accessed June 28, 2017, http://www.smartboards.com/
- Tegrity, McGraw-Hill Education, accessed June 28, 2017, http://www.mhhe.com/tegrity/product/students.html
- 21 Liberal Arts Colleges with the Lowest Student-Faculty Ratios, Jordan Friedman, U.S. News and World Report, April 19, 2016, accessed December 20, 2016, http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2016-04-19/21-liberal-arts-colleges-with-the-lowest-student-faculty-ratios