Best Community Colleges in Arizona

No matter your educational background, community college can be a great place to further your career or degree goals. If you're looking to attend community college in the Grand Canyon State, look to where students are turning out in droves to continue their educations.

For instance, the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) is one of the largest districts in the country, serving more than 220,000 students in total, and contains just a fraction of the state's two-year institutions. Options are aplenty.

Whether you're a recent high school graduate, a professional looking to move up in your career or a student who's hoping to transfer to one of the top Arizona universities, knowing about the best community colleges in Arizona can help you make the right choices as you move forward. Take a look at our list of the top ten Arizona community colleges and find out if one might be right for you.



Cochise College (Douglas)

Formally known as the Cochise County Community College District, Cochise College provides a close-knit academic environment despite having a fairly large student body. Total enrollment here is over 11,000, but the average class size is just 12 students and the student-faculty ratio is 16:1.

Cochise is also one of the best Arizona community colleges in terms of affordability. The base rate of $85 per credit hour for in-state students works out to just over $2,000 for a full 24-credit year -- around $1,500 less than the 2017 national average cost at public two-year schools.

The array of distance education programs offered here places Cochise among the top online community colleges in Arizona, as well. More than a dozen associate degree plans are available through distance education, as well as certificates in business and tech and numerous individual online courses.


Yavapai College (Prescott)

Northern Arizona's Yavapai College has its main residential campus in Prescott, but students from other parts of the region may not have to travel far to attend classes. The institution maintains five additional learning centers in the region, in cities like Sedona, Clarkdale and Chino Valley.

More than 110 degree and certificate programs are available at YC. The catalog leans significantly toward career-based certificate plans, with about two thirds of the offerings leading to non-degree awards.

Among the learning options for YC students are courses and certificate programs in viticulture (grape growing) and enology (wine production) -- the only such programs in community colleges the state. The Southwest Wine Center on the Verde Valley Campus in Clarkdale features a full-production teaching winery, an estate vineyard and a young veteran of the regional wine industry as program director.


Rio Salado College (Tempe)

Rio Salado College is the largest institution by enrollment among our top Arizona community colleges, reporting a student body of around 44,000 in 2017. It's also one of the most highly attended online colleges in the state, reporting nearly 28,000 students enrolled in its more than 600 online courses.

If you're worried about getting lost in the crowd, though, never fear. RSC operates a total of 12 campus locations in the Greater Phoenix metro area, helping distribute that student body in a way that keeps individual campuses from feeling overcrowded.

Rio Salado College also boasts a point of pride that few other community colleges can claim. KJZZ, a National Public Radio member station that serves the city of Phoenix and some surrounding areas, bases its broadcast operations at the main RSC campus in Tempe.


Phoenix College (Phoenix)

As the flagship institution for the MCCCD and namesake of the state's capital, Phoenix College is one of the best-known community colleges in Arizona. More than 11,000 students were enrolled here for the 2017-18 academic year, and around 150 degree and certificate programs are available for on-campus students.

Founded in 1920, PC is also one of the oldest community colleges in the state. Its Phoenix campus features a range of amenities for students and community members, including premium athletic fields, a performing arts center and a dental clinic.

Students with young children may find PC especially accommodating, thanks to an on-campus child care program designed for little ones in the infant, toddler and preschool age groups. Care services are available in spring, fall and summer semesters and offered in partnership with Southwest Human Development's Head Start program.


Estrella Mountain Community College (Avondale)

Estrella Mountain Community College is the youngest institution in the MCCCD, but it's grown to prominence in leaps and bounds since its founding in 1992. The Avondale institution has nearly doubled its enrollment over the last decade, from less than 3,300 in 2007-08 to close to 5,900 in 2016-17, and a satellite campus opened in downtown Buckeye in 2011.

To address its rapid growth, EMCC has concocted a master development plan that extends through 2024 and further enhances its capacity to serve students. The plan details more than 800,000 square feet of facilities, including new academic buildings, remodeled residence halls and a campus loop road for added vehicle traffic.

EMCC students can choose from more than 90 degree and certificate programs, including some rare or unique offerings. Certificates are available in Chicana and Chicano studies, interdisciplinary storytelling, ecological literacy and nanotechnology.


Pima Community College (Tucson)

Founded in 1966, Pima Community College is another one of Arizona's largest two-year schools. Total enrollment here was more than 37,000 in 2017-18, with the vast majority of students taking for-credit classes and working toward degrees or other credentials. Nearly 6,000 degrees and certificates were awarded in 2016-17.

Pima makes around 180 degree and certificate programs available to on-campus students, and offerings are as diverse and specialized as you might expect from such a large catalog. Students can choose among ten distinct certificates in aircraft mechanics, aviation and avionics, for example, and aspiring woodworkers can learn carpentry or cabinetmaking.

If you need additional flexibility in scheduling, Pima also offers nearly 20 programs that consist exclusively of online courses. Transfer degrees and career-based certificates in business, education, health information technology (HIT) and more can be earned here through distance education.


Mesa Community College (Mesa)

Mesa Community College opened in 1966, occupying less than an acre of land in a swath of largely undeveloped desert. Today, the city of Mesa is the third-largest in Arizona and MCC has grown into a two-campus institution that serves more than 20,000 students annually.

Transfer degrees make up a large portion of the awards conferred at MCC. Four of the top five programs by volume in the 2016-17 academic year culminated in general Associate in Arts (A.A.), Associate in Science (A.S.), Associate in General Studies (A.G.S.) and Associate in Business (A.B.) degrees.

MCC also offers a total of more than 150 certificates and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees designed to expand students' career options. The A.A.S. in nursing rounded out the top five programs here in 2017. What's more, several plans in business and IT subjects can be completed entirely through online courses.


Central Arizona College (Coolidge)

Approximately 5,400 students took courses at Central Arizona College in 2017, with nearly 90 percent of those enrolled seeking degrees or certificates. Close to 40 percent of enrolled students were 19 years old or younger, making it a welcoming destination for dual-enrollment high school students and college rookies looking to start out at a two-year school.

Central is another multi-campus institution among the best Arizona community colleges, maintaining seven learning centers at sites throughout the region between Greater Phoenix and Tucson. The main campus in Coolidge offers residential services and championship-caliber athletic programs.

Perhaps due to its extensive service area, online programs at Central have greater overall enrollment than any individual campus. Just shy of 2,500 online students were counted in 2017, with the largest on-campus enrollment coming in at around 2,250 on the main Coolidge campus.


Paradise Valley Community College (Phoenix)

Founded in 1985, Paradise Valley Community College is a relatively young institution and a member of the MCCCD. It was originally established as a division of nearby Scottsdale Community College, but it took its current name two years later and now serves close to 14,000 students annually.

Students have a total of more than 70 degree and certificate programs to choose from at PVCC. Business-minded learners have certificate options like marketing, organizational leadership and small business start-up, while those focused on tech can earn A.A.S. degrees in computer information systems and programming and system analysis.

PVCC may be one of the best community colleges in Arizona for busy students uncomfortable with online courses. Guided independent learning (GIL) classes provide a print-based packet to guide your at-home study and enforce assignment due dates in lieu of regular attendance.


GateWay Community College (Phoenix)

GateWay Community College was originally known as Maricopa Technical College, which has been educating students since it was founded as Arizona's first technical school in 1968. The Phoenix institution soon began providing a more comprehensive academic catalog and changed its name in 1987 to better reflect the scope of its catalog.

More than 160 degree, certificate and workforce training programs are offered at GateWay, where more than 12,000 students study annually. Technical and career programs remain a large part of the mission here, but A.A., A.S., A.B. and A.G.S. degrees are all available for students hoping to transfer.

Aspiring entrepreneurs have an additional reason to consider earning their degree at GateWay. The Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI) on GateWay's campus aims to provide the resources necessary for students to build a future on their ideas and passions.

Initiatives for Transfer Students

Transferring your community college credits into a degree program at one of the four-year colleges in Arizona can be a simple process if you follow the right steps. Here's a quick rundown of transfer initiatives in place at three top Arizona universities:

  • University of Arizona: Community college students looking to transfer to Tucson's research university can apply to the UA Bridge program, as long as they're at least one semester away from graduation. Program amenities include dedicated UA transfer staff and $2,000 scholarship opportunities for qualifying students.
  • Arizona State University: Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) programs consist of community college courses that lead toward an associate degree as well as applying to specific ASU majors. At MCCCD schools, these are called Maricopa to ASU Pathways Programs (MAPP).
  • Northern Arizona University: Most two-year schools in Arizona participate in the 2NAU program, through which students begin studying at their local community college and finish their degrees either online or on campus in Flagstaff. NAU also offers a host of 90/30 programs, which accept the transfer of up to 90 lower-division credits.


We ranked 20 Arizona community colleges on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services.

 Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points:

  1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  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, 2016
  3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  4. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  5. The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016

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
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.

Article Sources
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