Best Community Colleges in Illinois
If you're ready to pursue a higher education, you could join the almost 1 million students who are enrolled in Illinois community colleges. These versatile two-year schools 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.
Overall, about half of those enrolled in Illinois community colleges are pursuing transfer degree programs, according to the Fiscal Year 2018 annual report from the Illinois Community College Board. Another 25 percent are pursuing career technical education credit programs. College campuses are diverse with minority students making up 45 percent of those enrolled in credit programs.
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.
Spoon River College (Canton)
Spoon River College meets the needs of diverse students. It offers on-campus housing, online courses and a variety of degrees and certificates. The college has been recognized by the Aspen Institute as one of the best community colleges in the nation.
The programs at SRC include 11 career programs, three healthcare career programs and more than two dozen transfer education options. Examples of its offerings are a 16-week locomotive mechanical certificate, a four-semester associate degree in health information management and a transfer degree in criminal justice. Online associate degrees in arts or science are also available.
Students at SRC can design their learning using a mix of online and on-campus courses that may range from 3 weeks to 16 weeks in length. Dual credit programs are an option in some fields of study.
Oakton Community College (De Plaines)
For 50 years, Oakton Community College has been educating Illinois students. It offers more than 2,500 courses spanning 80 fields of study. The school has two main campuses in De Plaines and Skokie and also offers programs and classes at more than 240 off-campus sites. Distance learners can choose from more than 90 online courses.
Oakton awards both associate degrees and certificates. Options cover popular subjects as well as niche fields of study. You'll find degrees in business, accounting and education here, but the college also offers programs such as a cannabis dispensary and patient care specialist certificate and radio frequency identification classes.
In addition to its online courses, Oakton offers nearly 10 online programs. These include certificates, an Associate of Arts and an Associate of Applied Science in accounting.
William Rainey Harper College (Palatine)
Known simply as Harper College to many people, this institution is one of the largest community colleges in the nation. It enrolls more than 35,000 students annually and has its campus in Palatine, a suburb northwest of Chicago.
Programs at Harper include transfer degrees, certificates, workforce training, continuing education classes and more. These cover ten areas of interest including education, health science and public service. Several degrees and certificates, including an associate degree in business administration, will be offered with an accelerated, fast track option in 2020.
The school's business associate degree is also available online as are a dozen certificate programs. These include an online eMarketing certificate and an online assistant teacher certificate. For those who want to earn and learn, Harper offers apprenticeships in eight fields.
Waubonsee Community College (Sugar Grove)
Offering classes on four campus locations as well as online, Waubonsee Community College says its focus is on providing a personal, hands-on learning experience for students. The school was founded in 1966 and enrolls more than 9,000 students annually.
Waubonsee offers both transfer degrees and career technical education options in ten broad areas of study. You can learn a world language such as Chinese or Spanish, train in a skilled trade like welding or auto body repair or explore STEM fields including astronomy and sustainability. Interdisciplinary studies, independent study and internships are also program options.
Several fully online degrees and certificates are available at Waubonese as well. These include a general Associate of Arts degree and a marketing certificate. Through the QuickPath option, associate degrees may be earned in as little as one year.
Southeastern Illinois College (Harrisburg)
Southeastern Illinois College prides itself on being accountable, accessible and affordable. It says it is among the top 10 percent of colleges in the U.S. and is ranked sixth among Illinois community colleges in terms of its completion rates.
Students can choose from among six associate degrees or earn an occupational certificate at SIC. These are offered by seven departments that include applied technology, humanities and workforce and community education. While some programs, such as cosmetology, require in-person training, four associate degrees and more than a dozen certificates are offered online. These include an associate degree in early childhood education and a certificate in business management.
Dual credit programs allow high school students to start earning college credit early. In fact, SIC says nearly half of students at area high schools take classes at the college.
Parkland College (Champaign)
With a history that dates back 50 years, Parkland College attracts students from more than 40 countries. Its 18:1 student-faculty ratio helps ensure individualized instruction, and the college ranks first when it comes to student transfers to the University of Illinois.
There are more than 130 degree and certificate programs at Parkland. Popular options include a nursing assistant certificate and an associate degree in network administration and support. However, with diverse program options, ranging from agriculture to visual arts, there is likely something at Parkland for almost everyone.
Students have the option of taking many classes online or in a hybrid format that combines online learning with some on-campus requirements. Both online and traditional students can use the school's Center for Academic Success for support services.
College of DuPage (Glen Ellyn)
College of DuPage is second only to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when it comes to the number of students it educates at the undergraduate level. Approximately 26,000 students enroll each year in the school's more than 250 degree and certificate programs.
Many students use COD as an affordable way to complete the first two years of college on their way toward a bachelor's degree, and programs such as the business administration associate degree are designed specifically for transfer students. Meanwhile, career technical education programs like degrees and certificates in culinary arts are intended to take graduates directly from the classroom to the workplace.
COD offers more than 370 courses online, making it convenient for working students to finish their education. These classes cover more than 75 disciplines.
Lincoln Land Community College (Springfield)
Affordable tuition rates and experienced faculty members help make Lincoln Land Community College another of the best community colleges in Illinois. Geographically, the school has the largest district of all community colleges in the state, and more than 13,500 students take its credit and non-credit courses.
LLCC notes 60 percent of its students are enrolled in transfer degree programs. These students can choose from several fields of study including business, criminal justice and psychology. Most of the remaining students are preparing to enter the workforce by taking occupational classes through specialized divisions at LLCC such its Industrial Center for Excellence and Health Care Center for Excellence.
Through LLCC Online, the college has approximately 20 online degrees and certificates. These include transfer degrees and occupational certificates of completion.
Moraine Valley Community College (Palos Hills)
Founded in 1967, more than 26,000 credit and non-credit students take classes at Moraine Valley Community College each year. Nontraditional students will be in good company here since 44 percent of students are age 22 or older, and 59 percent are studying on a part-time basis.
Programs at MVCC include transfer degrees and workforce training that are intended to prepare graduates for some of the fastest growing jobs in the greater Chicago area. Transfer associate degrees are available in majors such as biology, business and education. Career degrees are offered in fields like IT security specialist and nursing. There are also dozens of certificates available.
The Associate of Applied Science in criminal justice is one of 10 degrees and certificates offered online. High school students can earn college credit at MVCC through the school's dual enrollment program.
Black Hawk College (Moline)
Serving the Quad Cities, Black Hawk College was founded as Moline Community College in 1946. Over the years, it has expanded and now covers a nine-county region that spans 2,200 square miles. The college holds classes on its Quad-Cities Campus, East Campus and online.
BHC offers both transfer degrees and career programs. Among its transfer degrees is an Associate in Science - Ag Transfer which has transfer agreements with four Illinois universities or can be used as the foundation for a bachelor's degree at universities across the country. Those interested in career programs will find degrees and certificates at BHC in five areas: agriculture, business, health sciences, trade and technical and computer technology.
Online courses are available in many subjects, and distance learners pay in-district tuition rates regardless of where they live.
CTE in Illinois
Providing career and technical education is a significant part of what the top community colleges in Illinois do. More than 60 percent of graduates from the state's community colleges earn a CTE degree or certificate, according to the Illinois Community College Board.
This type of education often involves short term programs that teach practical skills for a specific occupation. CTE in Illinois has been developed around career pathways that students can start following as early as ninth grade. There are 16 pathways which help people explore career clusters in fields such as architecture and construction, hospitality and tourism, and human services.
The following programs and initiatives are a few of the ways students are being encouraged to consider CTE in Illinois.
- The Illinois State Board of Education publishes a career guide to help students explore their interests, learn about occupations are in demand and determine the right pathway for their goals.
- The U.S. Department of Labor awarded $4 million to the Illinois Community College Board to help fund apprenticeship programs.
- Many of the best Illinois community colleges have launched dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to earn early college credit toward a technical degree or certificate.
Top community colleges in Illinois often have sections on their websites dedicated to career technical education programs. This is a good place to find more information about CTE in Illinois. You may also want to visit the following sites:
- Illinois Pathways - Offered as part of a public-private partnership, Illinois Pathways provides detailed information on career clusters and in-demand occupations.
- Career Guide - The Illinois State Board of Education Career Guide is online at this link.
Transferring Credits in Illinois
Many students who go onto earn bachelor's degrees at Illinois public colleges and universities started their education career at 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 four-year schools in Illinois to see where your education may take you next. Don't forget to also read our guide on How to Transfer Colleges for more detailed information on the transfer process.
Resources for Community College Students in Illinois
- Illinois Community College Board - This board oversees all community colleges in the state, and its website includes student resources for planning for college, paying for college and finding the right college.
- Illinois State Board of Education - The Illinois State Board of Education has information for all students, regardless of whether they want to pursue an academic program or career technical education.
- Illinois Community College Faculty Association - While the ICCFA is a professional organization for college faculty, students may want to visit their website to learn more about its scholarship program.
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/
- Executive Summary Student Enrollments and Completions in the Illinois Community College System Fiscal Year 2018, January 2019, Illinois Community College Board, Accessed November 2019, https://www.iccb.org/iccb/wp-content/pdfs/reports/Annual_Enroll_Comp_2018_Executive_Summary_Final.pdf
- From the President, Spoon River College, Accessed November 2019, http://www.src.edu/about/Pages/president.aspx
- About Oakton, Oakton Community College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.oakton.edu/about/index.php
- About Us, Harper College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.harpercollege.edu/about/index.php
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed November 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- Why SIC, Southeastern Illinois College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.sic.edu/why-sic
- About Waubonsee, Waubonsee Community College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.waubonsee.edu/about-waubonsee
- About Parkland, Parkland Community College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.parkland.edu/Main/About-Parkland
- About COD, College of DuPage, Accessed November 2019, https://www.cod.edu/about/index.aspx
- Facts about LLCC, Lincoln Land Community College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.llcc.edu/research/facts-about-llcc/
- About, Moraine Valley Community College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.morainevalley.edu/about/
- About Us, Black Hawk College, Accessed November 2019, https://www.bhc.edu/about-us/
- Illinois Community College Board Awarded $4.0 Million Federal Grant to Expand Apprenticeship Programs, July 23, 2019, Illinois Community College Board, Accessed November 2019, https://www.iccb.org/iccb/wp-content/pdfs/news_releases/Apprenticeship_Grant.pdf
- 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/