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.
Eastern Florida State College (Cocoa)
Eastern Florida State College took the No. 1 spot on our list in part due to its commitment to affordability and enrichment opportunities. Of the 28 community colleges we looked at, EFSC ranks in the top three for affordability of tuition, fees, books and supplies. It also came 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: Many EFSC alums are now household names, including TV funnymen Darrell Hammond and Daniel Tosh.
Valencia College (Orlando)
Valencia College is the largest college featured on our list. 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 rate, and also has the third highest SUSF transfer rate of all the schools we looked at.
● Extra credit: Valencia College is praised for its 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.
Pensacola State College (Pensacola)
Pensacola State College ranks no. 3 on our list. The Pensacola State College’s official website reports the school ranks in the top hundred colleges nationwide for average number of associate degrees conferred each year and, according to our data, has the second-highest SUSF transfer rate in the state. PSC also offers evening- and weekend-exclusive programs for busy students, on-site daycare, credit for life experience and alternate tuition-payment plans for students seeking financial flexibility.
● Moving ahead: According to its official website, PSC sports a nearly 100-percent job placement rate for graduates with Associate of Science degrees and career-oriented certificates.
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. 4 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.
Gulf Coast State College (Panama City)
At Gulf Coast State College just over 41 percent of its students participate in online learning, which earns it the No. 5 spot for the schools we looked at for percentage of distance learners. It also took the No. 6 spot for affordability of tuition, fees, books and supplies, and for its average net price. Gulf Coast offers a wide selection of associate degrees and professional and academic certificates, and six bachelor’s degrees. Its web-based offerings include six online certificates, three online associate degrees, four online bachelor’s degrees and an online education preparation program that helps students with bachelor’s degrees in non-education-related fields earn teaching licensure.
● Showcasing creativity: Gulf Coast State College’s Amelia Center Gallery hosts lectures, art exhibitions and other events produced by GCSC students along with both local and national artists.
South Florida State College (Avon Park)
South Florida State College is tied with Chipola College and Lake-Sumter College for the lowest student-faculty ratio 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. 6 spot on our list. 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.
● Pushing boundaries South Florida State College offers a number of lower- and upper-division online programs, including eight bachelor’s and four master’s degrees.
Chipola College (Marianna)
Chipola College has the smallest enrollment size on our list, and it tied with SFSC and Lake-Sumter for the lowest student-faculty ratio on this list. Other accomplishments include taking the No. 4 spot for net price for the 28 community colleges in Florida we looked at, plus ranking No. 10 for tuition, fees, books and supplies. 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 popular colleges, including Florida State University, the University of Florida and Florida A&M.
Palm Beach State College (Lake Worth)
Palm Beach State College was Florida’s very first community college, and today it has the lowest average net price on this list. PBSC offers credit for life experience, on-site day care, night and evening programs, and other features that support busy students. It also has a unique First-Year Experience program. This initiative aims to help students succeed academically, find and use support tools and programs and establish a connection with their school. According to PBSC, the program eases students’ transition to college and contributes “significantly to their endeavors in academics and beyond.”
● Notable alumni: Palm Beach State’s list of notable alumni is lengthy. It includes professional and Olympic athletes, famous writers and novelists, and well-known TV and movie stars, including Burt Reynolds.
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. In fact, PHSC ranks No. 10 for the schools we looked at for percentage of students participating in distance education. For those on campus, PHSC offers day care services to help busy students.
● Must-see artists: 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.
Seminole State College of Florida (Sanford)
Seminole State College of Florida moved up five places from its no. 15 position last year. SSCF has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to improving college accessibility and student outcomes through innovative programs and investments. In 2010, for instance, it opened its 100,000-square-foot Partnership Center complete with a sizeable library and cutting-edge technology. What makes the College’s Partnership Center so unique is its exclusive collaboration with the University of Central Florida. Students can complete upper-division coursework on campus, under the instruction of UCF professors, no extra travel required. SSCF also works with several area colleges to simplify transfer.
● The definition of accessibility: More than one-third of SSCF students participate in distance learning, often in pursuit of one of nearly 40 fully online degrees and certificates.
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. This list includes both traditional community colleges and state colleges. (The latter are former community or junior colleges that have upgraded their status because they now offer a limited number of bachelor’s degrees in addition to associate degrees.)
Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points.
- Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
- 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, 2014 and 2015
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
- The acceptance rate of transfer applicants into the State University System of Florida, Florida Department of Education, 2013
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
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.
- 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 October 30, 2016, 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
- Chipola College, http://www.chipola.edu/
- Eastern Florida State College, http://www.easternflorida.edu/
- Gulf Coast State College, https://www.gulfcoast.edu/
- Lake Sumter State College, http://www.lssc.edu/
- Palm Beach State College, http://www.palmbeachstate.edu/
- Pasco-Hernando State College, https://phsc.edu/
- Pensacola State College, http://www.pensacolastate.edu/
- Seminole State College of Florida, https://www.seminolestate.edu/
- South Florida State College, https://www.southflorida.edu/
- Valencia College, http://valenciacollege.edu/