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Best Community Colleges in Illinois

If you're ready to pursue a higher education, you could join the 1 million students who are enrolled in Illinois community colleges. These versatile two-year institutions offer a range of transfer degrees, technical degrees and certificate programs.

A community college can be an affordable first step toward a bachelor's degree, or it can provide training that leads to a career in an in-demand field. Regardless of the type of program you choose, you'll find many community colleges embrace both traditional and nontraditional students alike.

There are 48 community colleges and one multi-community college center within the Illinois Community College System. These schools offer on-campus degree and certificate programs while others double as online colleges and cater to distance learners as well. The best community colleges in Illinois share a common trait in that they strive to make higher education accessible and affordable to all.

THE TOP 10 COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN ILLINOIS

1

Olney Central College

Olney Central College is one of four institutions that make up the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges. Located in the community of Olney, the school sits near the Indiana border and maintains articulation agreements with schools in that state to make it easy for transfer students to continue their education there.

As one of the top community colleges in Illinois, OCC offers both transfer and technical programs. Transfer programs are intended for those expect to earn a bachelor's degree at a four-year school, and technical programs help prepare students to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.

Students can study diverse fields -- ranging from accounting to light vehicle diesel service -- at Olney Central College. There are also numerous online courses available for those who can't study on campus.

2

Lincoln Trail College

As another of the four members making up the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Lincoln Trail College has its campus in Robinson. It offers a range of degree and certificate programs in field such as health, construction, petroleum, engineering and telecommunications.

Sports also play a prominent role at LTC. Not only can students study sports management, but they can also participate in or cheer on student-athletes in seven different programs. The college's music and drama program is also robust, and the LTC Theater has been bringing fine art performances to the stage for more than 40 years.

Lincoln Trail College isn't just notable among Illinois community colleges. It has also been recognized three times by The Aspen Institute as one of the best community colleges in the nation.

3

Triton College

Students at Triton College get to roam a large, leafy campus in River Grove and yet they are only 15 miles away from downtown Chicago. That's just part of the appeal of this school, which is one of the best colleges in Illinois.

Triton was founded in 1964 as a comprehensive public community college. Today, it serves a district that encompasses three townships and 63 square miles. The school educates more than 11,000 students annually and is known for its class sizes, which trend small, and large selection of degree and certificate programs. Triton College has also produced hundreds of all-American athletes.

Those looking for online colleges in the state may want to consider Triton College: In addition to its on-campus programs, it offers dozens of online associate degrees.

4

Danville Area Community College

If you're looking for an innovative way to get a four year degree, Danville Area Community College has just that. The DACC 3+1 program allows students to complete their first three years of studies at the community college before taking a fourth year of online courses to earn a bachelor's degree from a partner school.

It's that type of unique programming that helps make DACC one of the best community colleges in Illinois. The institution also has a range of other education options. There's dual enrollment for high school students, adult education classes and career certificate programs, among other things.

Danville Area Community College was founded as an extension of the University of Illinois in 1946 but evolved into an independent two-year college by 1966.

5

Carl Sandburg College

Named for Abraham Lincoln's biographer, Carl Sandburg, this institution is another of the best Illinois community colleges. It was Mr. Sandburg who had the vision to create a "people's college," and his dream helped spur the development of what is now Carl Sandburg College.

The school is an affordable choice with a tuition rate lower than some of the other best colleges in Illinois. Nearly two-thirds of students receive financial aid, and Sandburg says about 70 percent of its students graduate without debt.

Academically, Carl Sandburg College offers a variety of degree and certificate programs on its Galesburg campus and at other learning locations. There is a dual credit option for high school students and a few completely online degrees and certificates as well.

6

Sauk Valley Community College

While Sauk Valley Community College has its campus in Dixon, it is also one of the state's online colleges with more than 10 programs available fully online. Students enrolled in a traditional, campus-based program can take online courses as well.

Sauk offers dozens of transfer degrees, career-technical degrees and certificates. While transfer degrees may take two years to complete, some technical programs can be finished in as few as 16 weeks.

Affordability is part of what makes Sauk Valley Community College one of the top Illinois community colleges. Not only does the school have a relatively low per-credit cost, more than half of those enrolled receive financial education. What's more, the Sauk Scholar Scholarship makes tuition free for some high-achieving high school graduates.

7

McHenry County College

McHenry County College is another of the best Illinois community colleges. It is also one of the state's fastest growing two-year institutions. Through its credit and non-credit programs, the school provides instruction nearly 60,000 people each year.

There are nearly 100 degree and certificate program options at MCC. Its in-district tuition rates are low and all those enrolled in online courses get access to in-district rates regardless of their residency. Online classes include self-paced and blended options that combine computer and classroom learning. Plus, there is free adult education available.

MCC was founded in 1967, shortly after the Illinois Community College System was created. The main campus for McHenry County College is in Crystal Lake, but the school maintains satellite locations as well.

8

John A. Logan College

With a mission statement that embraces diversity, John A. Logan College says it provides its students access to opportunities. Like other top community colleges in Illinois, JALC offers both technical and transfer degrees.

For those who would like to continue their education at a four-year school, John A. Logan College maintains articulation agreements with nine institutions. These include Eastern Illinois University, Franklin University and Governors State University, among others. These agreements make is easy for students to apply their credits from JALC toward a bachelor's degree.

John A. Logan College has its campus in Carterville. Its online courses include virtual classes that require no more than three visits to campus or hybrid courses that combine online instruction with on-campus classwork.

9

Highland Community College

From truck driving training to theatre degrees, the programs at Highland Community College can meet the needs of students on diverse career paths. The school, located in northwest Illinois, promotes the values of integrity, compassion and respect while also encouraging academic excellence.

At HCC, students can choose career training, technical degrees or transfer degrees which are ideal for those planning to take classes at a four-year school in the future. Beyond its academic programs, the college offers lifelong learning opportunities for adults and children that cover topics in the culinary arts, genealogy, home security and other fields.

The Highland Community College campus is located in Freeport. Its on-campus academic divisions host more than 60 degree and certificate programs.

10

Lake Land College

Lake Land College makes the list of best community colleges in Illinois thanks to its affordable tuition and personalized learning environment. The school's textbook rental system reportedly has the potential to save associate degree students thousands of dollars.

Overall, there are more than 150 education options at Lake Land College. These include career training programs, technical degrees and transfer degrees. While studying on the school's Mattoon campus, students can participate in more than 30 student clubs, intramural teams, a community choir and more.

Like other top Illinois community colleges, Lake Land College works to keep its tuition affordable. Students can spread their payments out across the semester and a number of scholarships are available.

Transferring Credits in Illinois

The Illinois Community College Board notes nearly two-thirds of all students enrolled in Illinois public colleges and universities attended a community college. By doing so, these students may have saved money on tuition as well as room and board. Plus, those transferring from a community college may do as well or even better academically as those who start their education at a four year school, according to an Illinois Community College Board report.

If you plan to go this route, you'll need to understand articulation agreements and how they help you transfer credits. An articulation agreement stipulates how credits transfer from one school to another. Some Illinois community colleges have agreements with specific universities but most also participate in the Illinois Articulation Initiative.

Known as IAI, the Illinois Articulation Initiative includes more than 100 public and private schools. These institutions agree that if students complete a specific package of general education courses at a participating community college, those classes will transfer and fill the general education requirements at a participating four-year school.

Whether you are already enrolled in a community college or still exploring all your options, don't forget to check out the top 4-year schools in Illinois to see where your education may take you next.

Methodology

1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 15%
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: 30%
3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 5%
5. The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 30%
6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 10% (2.5% each)
        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
  • Finding a College, Illinois Community College Board, Accessed June 2018, https://www.iccb.org/students/your-college-plan/finding-a-college/
  • A Message from President Rodney Ranes, Olney Central College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.iecc.edu/page.php?page=OCCH_PRES
  • Lincoln Trail College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.iecc.edu/page.php?page=LTCH
  • Mission Statement, Lincoln Trail Statesmen, Accessed June 2018, https://www.ltcathletics.com/athletic-department
  • About, Triton College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.triton.edu/about/
  • Your Endless Possibilities Begin Here, Danville Area Community College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.dacc.edu/academics
  • About Carl Sandburg College, Carl Sandburg College, Accessed June 2018, http://www.sandburg.edu/About/index.html
  • Why Sauk? Sauk Valley Community College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.svcc.edu/students/why-sauk/index.html#agh2-3
  • About McHenry County College, McHenry County College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.mchenry.edu/aboutmcc/index.asp
  • A To Z Library, John A. Logan College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.jalc.edu/atoz
  • About Us, Highland Community College, Accessed June 2018, https://highland.edu/about-us/
  • Scholarship Opportunities, Lake Land College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.lakelandcollege.edu/scholarship-opportunities/
  • Lake Land College, Accessed June 2018, https://www.lakelandcollege.edu
  • TransferTalk, Illinois Community College Board, Accessed June 2018, https://www.iccb.org/students/transfer-info/transfer-talk/
  • Transfer Information, Illinois Community College Board, Accessed June 2018, https://www.iccb.org/students/transfer-info/