Best Community Colleges in Colorado
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) counts a total of 23 public and private two-year schools in the state of Colorado. More than half of those institutions belong to the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), which operates 13 individual colleges with nearly 40 campuses and learning centers distributed throughout the state.
Whether your goal is to take the next step forward in your career or save money on lower-division courses before transferring to one of the hundreds of bachelor's programs at Colorado universities, the top community colleges in Colorado can help you achieve it.
We looked at important factors like affordability, flexibility, student success and more to determine the ten best Colorado community colleges — check out the list below.
Aims Community College (Greeley)
More than 6,200 students attend classes each semester at Aims Community College, with nearly 94 percent enrolled on a part-time basis. Along with the main location in Greeley, the institution maintains secondary campuses in Loveland, Windsor and Fort Lupton.
Aims may be one of the best community colleges in Colorado for high school graduates looking to earn their first few semesters of college credit at a discount. In-district tuition and fees averaged roughly $1,800 in 2018, and more than 60 percent of students are 21 years of age or younger.
The degree catalog here features a wide range of options in agriculture and animal science, including an associate degree in agribusiness and multiple certificates in precision agriculture. Transfer agreement programs include science, English and art history.
Front Range Community College (Westminster)
Front Range Community College is the largest two-year school in Colorado, educating nearly 19,000 students each term. Those hoping to avoid big crowds on campus shouldn't worry, though — the total enrollment of nearly 20,000 students is spread comfortably among four brick-and-mortar locations.
Fort Collins is home to the largest campus of the four, educating upwards of 8,400 students each year. The flagship FRCC campus in Westminster serves more than 7,800 students, while the closer-knit advanced technology campus in Longmont had around 3,500 on its rolls in 2018.
Students here have a large selection of traditional college majors to choose from, including physics, sociology, political science, English, math and music. The catalog of technical subjects is vast as well, featuring veterinary technology, optics technology and emergency medical technician (EMT) programs, among others.
Community College of Aurora (Aurora)
Founded in 1983, the Community College of Aurora educates close to 8,000 degree-seeking students each year. The 2018-19 headcount showed that high school students taking concurrent enrollment classes make up around 40 percent of that total, which may be a big part of why 88 percent of CCA students attend part time.
This suburban institution in the Denver metro area is also one of the more diverse schools on our list. No single demographic group represents a majority of CCA students, and more than 60 percent of those enrolled in 2018 came from non-European backgrounds.
Students hoping for some extra flexibility can find nearly 20 study plans available fully online. The list of online subjects includes transfer degrees in anthropology, psychology, economics and Spanish alongside five career certificates.
Morgan Community College (Fort Morgan)
Morgan Community College was founded in 1970 with just one instructor and one available course, but it joined the state system three years later and has since grown into an institution that serves more than 1,200 students each term.
The service area for MCC covers close to 11,500 square miles across eastern Colorado, but most students don't have to travel too far to get to class. The institution has additional campuses and learning centers in Bennet, Burlington, Limon and Wray, and online courses are available through Colorado Community Colleges Online (CCCOnline).
Programs in the skilled trades at MCC include electrical mechanical technology, welding, automotive service technology and collision repair. Business certificates are available in subjects like supervision, real estate and office support.
Lamar Community College (Lamar)
Founded in 1937, Lamar Community College is one of the oldest and member institutions of the CCCS. It's also the smallest, educating fewer than 800 learners in 2018, so students who crave an intimate campus and close-knit learning environment may want to take a close look at their options here.
The associate degree catalog at LCC contains a variety of strong choices for today's students, including a wide range of modern agriculture programs and an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S) degree in renewable energy technologies. Around 25 career-focused certificates are available as well.
This southeastern Colorado institution participates in ten statewide transfer agreements. Students at LCC also have access to online transfer plans that can allow them to earn a bachelor's degree without relocating to their destination school.
Colorado Northwestern Community College (Rangely)
Colorado Northwestern Community College may not have the largest degree catalog among the best Colorado community colleges, but some of its programs definitely stand out. Students at this small school near the Utah border can learn equine training and management or pursue an associate degree or certificate in flying and aviation, to name just two.
The CNCC campus in Rangely is the more robust of the institution's two locations, featuring residence halls, fitness facilities and NJCAA athletic teams in volleyball, basketball, softball, baseball and rodeo. The second campus in Craig has an active visual arts community.
Total enrollment at CNCC was reported to be under 1,200 in 2017. That small student body allows for a student-faculty ratio of 13:1 — one of the lowest among CCCS schools.
Northeastern Junior College (Sterling)
Northeastern Junior College educated its first class of students way back in 1941, but the intervening decades haven't caused it to grow too big to handle. The once-named Sterling Junior College has remained a cozy rural institution, educating around 1,500 students each year in a town of fewer than 14,000 residents.
Nearly 130 degrees and certificates are available at NJC, including several programs in the agricultural, environmental and animal sciences. Most of the degree plans available can be tailored for smooth transfer to four-year schools that offer matching bachelor's programs.
Certain programs offered here may be somewhat difficult to find at other community colleges in Colorado, like the transfer-oriented degrees in philosophy, optometry and mortuary science. Online courses are available directly from NJC as well as through CCCOnline.
Otero Junior College (La Junta)
Average tuition for one year of study at Otero Junior College came in at less than $4,000 in 2018. Students hoping to find some assistance with the cost of their education might be in luck this southeastern Colorado school — approximately 97 percent of students receive scholarships, grants and other forms of student aid.
The catalog here features a range of programs that includes Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees in psychology, geology, math, art history, philosophy and more. Career and technical certificates are available in subjects such as cosmetology, community health and law enforcement.
Fewer than 1,300 students attend classes here each term, and the student-faculty ratio is 15:1. Nearly 60 percent of the student body is between the ages of 16 and 20.
Trinidad State Junior College (Trinidad)
Trinidad State Junior College is one of the best community colleges in Colorado in terms of student success. Just one other school in the state reported a higher percentage of first-year students returning for the third semester of their degree plans, and the graduation rate here was high enough to place in the 97th percentile among all two-year schools nationwide.
Part of the reason for those impressive success statistics might be the intimate learning environment available at Trinidad State. Roughly 1,500 students attend courses here each semester, and the ratio of 11 students per faculty member is one of the state's best.
CTE in Colorado
Programs that train students in career-relevant skills while also providing some traditional academic instruction are known as career technical education (CTE) programs. CTE initiatives in Colorado are making a big difference for high school students in the state, with 98 percent of those who focused on career and technical subjects going on to college, employment or military service within six months of earning a diploma.
The success results are similar for students who pursue college-level CTE programs in Colorado. After earning an associate degree or other credential in a CTE field, 98 percent of graduates go on to jobs, apprenticeships or the military within six months of finishing their program.
Here's a list of a few helpful resources for anyone hoping to learn more about CTE in Colorado:
- The Colorado CTE page maintained by the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) provides insight into the state's strategic vision for career and technical education and features informative videos for students and parents.
- The Colorado Department of Education's career and technical education page has a list of all authorized CTE programs in Colorado and gives definitions of key terms and concepts.
- Colorado Digital Learning Solutions, a nonprofit organization that provides supplemental coursework for students in the state, publishes a list of the CTE courses it offers.
Degree and certificate programs for career and technical education students are provided primarily through the 13 member schools of the CCCS, although a few independent technical colleges and other two-year schools also offer some CTE programs in Colorado. Advisers and registrars at your college can provide more information about the specific career programs they offer. Learn more about career and technical education in our partner site's What is CTE? guide.
Transferring Credits in Colorado
The Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) works to make it as easy as possible for students to transfer to Colorado universities once they've gotten all they can out of a community college education. Here's some info about some of the CDHE initiatives in place to help transfer students succeed:
- Guaranteed Transfer (GT) Pathways function as a type of universal transfer agreement between Colorado public institutions, provided you're seeking an eligible degree.
- Many students may qualify for life experience credit through subject knowledge tests like CLEP and DSST, as well as their previous Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.
- Schools in the state adhere to a list of nearly 40 statewide transfer degrees that link the best Colorado community colleges with matching universities through transfer agreements in specific subject areas.
- The CDHE maintains a directory of transfer databases and tools available at community colleges and universities throughout the state.
Your current school and your destination school both may have transfer-specific advising services available, as well. Even though the CDHE web portal provides a great deal of information, students are still encouraged to work with their advisors to make sure they choose the right courses for their intended major.
There's also plenty of general information about transfer agreements and the overall transfer process in the college transfer guide elsewhere on this site.
Resources for Community College Students in Colorado
- Check out the Colorado Community College System page for information on its colleges and programs and how it works with employers in the state to help meet workforce needs.
- Learn about the specifics of college cost and gain some insight into available student aid programs for Colorado students from the financial aid portal of the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE).
- Take a look at the state's list of private two-year vocational schools — also maintained by the CDHE — to learn about career and technical education options outside of the state community college system.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:
- Level of institution is either "At least 2 but less than 4 years" or " Less than 2 years (below associate)"
- Data is reported for all 14 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section
We ranked the resulting community colleges member schools on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following data points:
- The published in-district tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
- The published in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
- The in-district per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
- The in-state per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
- Percentage of students receiving financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- Percent of students that transferred to a 4-year institution and completed within 8 years, College Scorecard, 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
- 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) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Colorado Community College System, accessed December 23-27, 2019: Our Colleges, https://www.cccs.edu/new-students/our-colleges/; Colorado Career and Technical Education, http://coloradostateplan.com/;
- School pages, accessed December 23-27, 2019: Aims at a Glance, Aims Community College, https://www.aims.edu/about/at-a-glance/index.php; Campuses, Aims Community College, https://www.aims.edu/campus/index.php; Degrees and Certificates, Aims Community College, https://www.aims.edu/academics/degrees-certificates.php; Fast Facts, Front Range Community College, https://www.frontrange.edu/about-frcc/facts-and-figures/fast-facts; Campus Locations, Front Range Community College, https://www.frontrange.edu/campuses/campus-locations; Programs, Front Range Community College, https://www.frontrange.edu/programs-and-courses/a-z-program-list; About CCA, Community College of Aurora, https://www.ccaurora.edu/about-cca; Fact Sheet, Community College of Aurora, https://www.ccaurora.edu/about-cca/assessment-and-college-data/fact-sheet; Degrees & Certificates, Community College of Aurora, https://www.ccaurora.edu/programs-classes/degrees-certificates; Online Degrees & Certificates, Community College of Aurora, https://www.ccaurora.edu/online; History, Morgan Community College, https://www.morgancc.edu/about-mcc/history/; Locations, Morgan Community College, https://www.morgancc.edu/about-mcc/locations/; All Programs, Morgan Community College, https://www.morgancc.edu/programs/all-programs/; About LCC, Lamar Community College, https://www.lamarcc.edu/about-lcc/; Occupational Programs, Lamar Community College, https://www.lamarcc.edu/academics/occupational-programs/; Certificate Programs, Lamar Community College, https://www.lamarcc.edu/academics/degrees-programs/certificate-programs/; Locations, Colorado Northwestern Community College, https://www.cncc.edu/home/locations; Equine Studies & Management (AS & AAS), Colorado Northwestern Community College, https://www.cncc.edu/degrees/rangely/equine; Aviation Technology - Flight (AAS & CERT), Colorado Northwestern Community College, https://www.cncc.edu/degrees/rangely/aviation-tech; Facility Master Plan, Northeastern Junior College, https://www.cccs.edu/Docs/SBCCOE/Agenda/2018/08Aug/7a_NJC-FMP-FINAL-%2005-25-2018.pdf#page=35; Areas of Study, Northeastern Junior College, https://www.njc.edu/areas-of-study; About OJC, Otero Junior College, https://www.ojc.edu/about/; Academic Programs of Study, Otero Junior College, https://www.ojc.edu/academics/academicprograms/default.aspx; OJC Student Data Book, Otero Junior College, https://www.ojc.edu/about/policies/pdf/OJC_StudentData_1819.pdf; Academic Programs, Trinidad State Junior College, http://www.trinidadstate.edu/academics/index.html;
- Colorado, College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed December 23, 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=CO&ct=1+2&ic=2;
- Sterling city, Colorado, QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed December 27, 2019, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/sterlingcitycolorado,CO/PST045218
- Colorado, Advance CTE, accessed December 23-27, 2019, https://careertech.org/Colorado
- Association for Career and Technical Education, accessed December 23-27, 2019: Why CTE?, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/; State Profiles, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/state-profiles/;
- About CDLS, Colorado Digital Learning Solutions, accessed December 27, 2019, https://www.coloradodls.org/about
- Colorado Department of Education, accessed December 27, 2019: Career and Technical Education (CTE) Authorization General Information, https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeprof/cte_generalinfo; Private Vocational Schools, https://highered.colorado.gov/Finance/FinancialAid/PrivateVocationalSchools.html; Financial Aid for Students, https://highered.colorado.gov/Finance/FinancialAid/;