Best Community Colleges in Florida
Florida’s efforts to develop a more educated workforce have garnered national attention in the past, and its community colleges are consistently at the center of the state’s push. When the state challenged colleges to create $10,000 industry-focused bachelor’s degrees, they did so by leveraging two-year degrees and university partnerships. Today, almost every community college in Florida offers these “2+2” programs, though not all state a specific cost. In 2016, Florida launched another novel program called FUSE. FUSE offers students who earn associate degrees at one of seven community colleges guaranteed admission to the University of South Florida, where they can pursue any program of their choosing.
The fruits of Florida’s labors are nothing short of remarkable. According to CollegeMeasures, Florida community colleges report one of the highest combined graduation and transfer rates in the United States, and their first-year retention rate is not far behind. Another recent report -- this time from the U.S. Census Bureau -- found the share of Floridians with college degrees in 2015 grew for the sixth year in a row.
To compile a ranking of the best community colleges in Florida, we researched 28 member schools of the Florida College System and looked at factors like affordability, graduation rate, transfer rate and student-faculty ratio. When you're done exploring FL community colleges, be sure to explore the best four-year colleges in Florida.
Valencia College (Orlando)
Valencia College is the largest featured college in addition to placing as the No. 1 best community college in Florida. In 2011, VC became the second institution ever to win the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, a prestigious award given only once every two years. The Aspen Institute said VC's excellent alumni employment rate, first-year support systems and impressive outcomes among underrepresented students really set it apart. According to its reviewers, the college "sees itself not as a destination for students, but as a bridge to higher accomplishments." VC holds top-five rankings for affordability and graduation rates, and also has the third highest SUSF transfer rate of all the schools we looked at.
● Extra credit: Valencia College has a guaranteed admissions agreement with the highly-selective University of Central Florida, as well as for its technical degree programs, which include built-in career advising.
Eastern Florida State College (Cocoa)
Eastern Florida State College took the No. 2 spot on our list of best community colleges in Florida, in part due to its commitment to affordability and enrichment opportunities. Of the 28 community colleges we looked at, EFSC ranks favorably in the top three for affordability of tuition, fees, books and supplies. It also placed in the top three for graduation rate and in the top 10 for its transfer rate to the State University System of Florida (SUSF). EFSC also offers credit for life experience and on-site child care, both of which can be a big help for busy students. The perks don't stop there, however: Cultural centers like its 2,000-seat Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts and the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium and Observatory -- home to one of the largest public-access telescopes in the state -- open minds and create meaningful learning experiences community-wide.
● Star power: You might have heard some EFSC alums are household names, including TV funnymen Darrell Hammond and Daniel Tosh.
Lake-Sumter State College (Leesburg)
Lake-Sumter State College earns its place on our list by ranking highly across a number of categories. First off, it's in the top 10 community colleges in Florida when it comes to graduation and SUSF transfer rates for the schools we looked at. It's also in the top five for low student:faculty ratio. The average net price -- the cost of attendance minus average grant and scholarship aid -- is another top-10 ranking. Lake Sumter State College also has many 2+2 partnerships with public and private Florida institutions -- partnerships that allow LSSC students to complete bachelor's degrees on-site. Put all that together, and you wind up with the No. 3 spot on our list.
● Start strong: Lake-Sumter State College helps students seeking affordable four-year degrees get a head start through its DirectConnect to UCF program, which offers guaranteed admission to UCF and pre-admission advising in admissions, financial aid and academics.
Pasco-Hernando State College (New Port Richey)
Pasco-Hernando State College is perhaps one of the most programmatically diverse community colleges in Florida. Students can pursue workforce and professional certificates, transfer and career-focused associate degrees and two PHSC-hosted bachelor's degrees. Options extend even further through partnerships with institutions like Kettering University, Saint Leo University, Troy University and the University of Phoenix. These have transformed PHSC into a major source of online degrees in Florida, including more than 25 online graduate degrees and certificates, plus a limited number of doctorates in the field of nursing. Approximately 44 percent of all PHSC students participated in distance education, the second-highest amount of distance learners among these 10 featured schools. For those on campus, PHSC offers day care services to help busy students.
● Artistic treasure trove: Pasco-Hernando State College is a key cultural touch point for the entire community. Its Performing Arts Series, for instance, hosts notable entertainers in a small, intimate theater.
College of Central Florida (Ocala)
At College of Central Florida makes our list in the No.5 best community college in Florida spot primarily because of its high ranking for number of students enrolled in distance education programs -- half of all students at CCF take online classes. The college also had the fourth-highest graduation rate among these top 10 colleges, and it accepts two-thirds of all applicants. College of Central Florida offers 38 different certificate programs and 25 associate degrees. Students interested in continuing their education can complete one of 13 different bachelor's degree programs offered at CCF, or have guaranteed admissions into one of the state's 11 public universities. The college also has partnership agreements with University of Central Florida and University of South Florida for seamless transfer. Working students can enjoy the flexibility of scheduling weekend and evening classes, and parents can find on-site daycare for their children.
● Holding steady on the financial front: Since 2013, tuition at College of Central Florida has not increased.
Santa Fe College (Gainesville)
Santa Fe College checks in at No.6 in these rankings based on its low cost of attendance -- $3,180, best among our 10 featured schools. This is due in part to its low cost for books and supplies ($648). The college also is tied with one other institution for the second-highest graduation rate, and it admits nearly two-thirds of all graduates into the University of Florida system. Lastly, more than one-third of all students were enrolled in distance education programs. Santa Fe College has its flagship Northwest campus at Gainesville, and six additional campus locations or learning centers across North Central Florida. The college has a diverse range of study options, including more than 40 technical certificates and degrees to 69 Associate of Arts degrees and 31 Associate of Science degrees. Santa Fe College also offers nine bachelor's degree programs.
● Longevity upstairs: Santa Fe College has only had four presidents since it opened in 1966.
Hillsborough Community College (Tampa)
Hillsborough Community College has the third-largest enrollment of any college in our top 10; however, more than one-third of all students are enrolled in distance education programs. HCC also has the third-lowest cost of tuition and fees at $2,506. Books and supplies can set students back another $1,300, however, the second-highest cost for these items among our 10 featured colleges. Students who earn associate degrees at Hillsborough are no strangers to the Florida State University system -- 66 percent of all graduates continue their education at a public university in the state. Hillsborough Community College has five campuses in the Tampa Bay area, as well as three satellite locations.
● Moving on, moving up: Hillsborough Community College offers 35 A.A. transfer track options for students who wish to complete their education at a four-year university.
South Florida State College (Avon Park)
South Florida State College offers the lowest student-faculty ratio -- 17:1 -- of any college on this list. That personalized learning experience combined with the highest SUSF acceptance rate of all the schools we looked at helps South Florida State College earn its No. 8 spot. Its partnerships with public and private colleges from all over Florida also allow students to complete bachelor's and master's degrees without relocating. According to SFSC's official website, learners who take advantage of these partnerships earn the very same degrees that they would on the hosting university's home campus, but with smaller class sizes and more personalized attention.
● Online access: South Florida State College offers a number of lower- and upper-division online programs, including eight bachelor's and four master's degrees.
Broward College (Fort Lauderdale)
Broward College had the second-largest enrollment -- 43,700 students -- of all institutions in our 10 best Florida community colleges, yet it had the fourth-lowest cost of attendance at $3,776. Although there are three campus locations and six learning centers in Broward County, just over one-quarter of all students at Broward College are enrolled in distance education classes. The college offers more than 100 degree and certificate programs, and students can take advantage of evening and weekend classes. Broward College online offers a number of associate and bachelor's degree programs, and six of the associate degrees are accelerated pathways that can be completed in just 15 months. Students who complete A.A. degrees at Broward College have guaranteed transfer acceptance at one of Florida's four-year state colleges or universities.
● By the numbers: Still one of the larger and familiar schools, over than 1 million students have taken classes at Broward College since it opened in 1960.
Chipola College (Marianna)
Chipola College has the smallest enrollment size on our list, and it tied with Eastern Florida State College for the third-lowest student-faculty ratio. Other accomplishments include taking the top No. 2 spot for cost of books and supplies among colleges on our list. Top that all off with the fifth-highest graduation rate for the schools we looked at, and you can see why it made our top 10 list. In addition to its associate transfer degrees, CC offers several workforce-centered certificates and degrees, as well as industry-related professional certifications, mostly in the field of computer science. Its workforce development programs also train local law enforcement, firefighters and nurses. Like Gulf Coast State College, Chipola College's Education Preparation Institute gives students with degrees in non-education fields a pathway to becoming licensed teachers.
● Small school, big connections: Chipola College offers on-site bachelor's degrees through partnerships with some of the Florida's most familiar colleges, including Florida State University, the University of Florida and Florida A&M.
What does it really mean to be the best?
We wanted to use a sound, reasoned and repeatable statistical methodology to rank the top Florida community colleges, and this list represents the results of that calculation. There are, however, numerous subjective considerations that come into play when choosing where to continue your education, and those less measurable things might have more significance to you than a school's graduation rate or number of students per professor. Look into a few Florida community colleges, both nearby and through distance education programs, and determine by your own metrics which one is the best one for you. Then, once you're ready, check out how you can make the most of online education in Florida.
We ranked the 28 member schools of the Florida College System, according to the Florida Department of Education. The system includes both traditional community colleges and schools that have begun providing bachelor’s as well as associate degrees. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points and the weighted values indicated in parentheses.
1. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education (15%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
2. Total cost of attendance (30%), including tuition & fees plus books & supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
3. Student-to-faculty ratio (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
4. Graduation rate (5%), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
5. The acceptance rate of transfer applicants into the State University of Florida System (30%), Florida Department of Education, 2013
6. Flexibility (15%), based on three data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016:
- Weekend/evening college — A program that allows students to take a complete course of study and attend classes only on weekends or only in evenings.
- Credit for life experiences — Credit earned by students for what they have learned through independent study, noncredit adult courses, work experience, portfolio demonstration, previous licensure or certification, or completion of other learning opportunities (military, government, or professional). Credit may also be awarded through a credit by examination program.
- On-campus day care for children of students — “Day care service” defined as a student service designed to provide appropriate care and protection of infants, preschool and school-age children so their parents can participate in postsecondary education programs.
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- “The Florida College System, Florida College System Students: Applied, Admitted, And Enrolled In The State University System Of Florida,” Florida Department of Education, Accessed February 2018, http://www.fldoe.org/schools/higher-ed/fl-college-system/data-reports/transparency-accountability.stml
- Aspen Institute, “2011 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence,” accessed October 30, 2016, https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/aspen-prize-community-college-excellence
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CollegeMeasures.org, 2-Year College Data Tool, accessed October 30, 2016, http://collegemeasures.org/2-year_colleges/state/FL/scorecard/
- The Florida College System, Publications, Data Snapshots, accessed February, 2018, https://www.floridacollegesystem.com/publications/data_snapshots.aspx
- Florida Department of Education, “2+2 pathways to success,” accessed October 30, 2016, http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5421/urlt/0078404-pathways_to_success.pdf
- Florida Prepaid College Board, http://www.myfloridaprepaid.com/what-we-offer/
- Florida Trend, “USF launches enhanced guaranteed admission program with regional Florida colleges,” accessed October 30, 2016, http://www.floridatrend.com/article/20895/usf-launches-enhanced-guaranteed-admission-program-with-regional-florida-colleges
- Pensacola State College, Pensacola State College Institutional Accountability Report 2013, accessed October 28, 2014, http://www.pensacolastate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Accountability2013_A-U-less_numbers.pdf
- United State Census Bureau, Educational Attainment, Data, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015 - Detailed Tables, http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/cps/2015/tables.html
- College of Central Florida: http://www.cf.edu/
- Santa Fe College: http://www.sfcollege.edu
- Hillsborough Community College: http://www.hccfl.edu
- Broward College: http://www.broward.edu
- Chipola College, http://www.chipola.edu/
- Eastern Florida State College, http://www.easternflorida.edu/
- Lake Sumter State College, http://www.lssc.edu/
- Pasco-Hernando State College, https://phsc.edu/
- South Florida State College, https://www.southflorida.edu/
- Valencia College, http://valenciacollege.edu/