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Best Community Colleges in Iowa

If you want to go to the best colleges in Iowa, you don't have to go to a four-year school. The state is home to a number of high-quality community colleges that have diverse degree programs and an affordable price tag.

Overall, there are 15 public community colleges in Iowa. They offer a range of services including adult education, career programs and college parallel programs. The latter are designed to transfer credits to a four-year school to be used toward a bachelor's degree. Many of the top Iowa community colleges double as online colleges and provide flexible options for nontraditional students to complete their education.

Whether you are looking to earn a certificate in a vocational field or a transfer degree in an academic discipline, here's a closer look at the best community colleges in Iowa. You can also find useful insight for Iowa transfer students, below. 

THE TOP 10 COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN IOWA

1

Southeastern Community College (West Burlington)

As one of the best Iowa community colleges, Southeastern Community College strives to do more than teach classes. It seeks to create a community of learners that embrace the values of excellence, integrity, stewardship and continuous improvement.

SCC offers a number of educational options to meet the needs of students from all walks of life. There is a concurrent enrollment option for high school students, continuing education for professionals and hundreds of online courses for those who need a flexible learning schedule. Plus, there are certificate and degree programs in fields ranging from accounting to automotive collision and repair.

The school was founded in 1965 and now offers its programs at five locations. These include campuses in West Burlington, Burlington, Keokuk and Mount Pleasant.

2

Southwestern Community College (Creston)

Southwestern Community College serves diverse populations on its Creston campus and two learning centers in Red Oak and Osceola. Approximately 1,700 students enroll in credit programs each year while another 10,000 take continuing education classes. There are also hundreds of high school students who get a jumpstart on their college career through the SWCC College Connection program.

Not only does SWCC offer online courses and several fully online degree programs, but it also has free online tutoring available. Other student support services offered by the school include a Career Coach program, disability support services and on-campus Success Center.

Like other top Iowa community colleges, Southwestern Community College provides opportunities for students outside the classroom. There are athletics, organizations and special events on campus.

3

Iowa Western Community College (Council Bluffs)

Another of the best Iowa community colleges can be found in Council Bluffs. Iowa Western Community College opened its doors in 1967 and has grown from having only two vocational-technical programs to now offering a diverse degree catalog at five locations.

The classes at Iowa Western cover a long list of subjects and result in a variety of education awards. There are diploma programs, career certificates, technical degrees and transfer degrees. Continuing education and adult education are options as well. To make learning convenient, Iowa Western Community College offers evening and online classes.

For those looking for a more traditional college experience, on-campus housing is available. The Council Bluffs campus also offers a student center, arts center and athletics. A variety of student events are brought to campus each year.

4

Ellsworth Community College (Iowa Falls)

There are a number of reasons Ellsworth Community College makes the list of best Iowa community college. The school has earned accolades for its low tuition rate and says it has one of the best success rates in the country when you consider both its transfer and graduation rates.

As part of the Iowa Valley Community College District, ECC offers a range of certificates and degrees, including a top-ranked equine program. The school's Associate in Arts, a popular choice for transfer students, can be earned entirely online. Thanks to articulation agreements, all credits from this program should transfer seamlessly to four-year schools such as the University of Iowa.

Ellsworth Community College also offers residential housing and a number of student activities and clubs for those studying on its Iowa Falls campus.

5

Western Iowa Tech Community College (Sioux City)

Enrolling more than 5,600 students in more than 70 educational programs, Western Iowa Tech Community College is another of the top community colleges in Iowa. The school is guided by principles that include quality, diversity, academic freedom and lifelong learning.

Founded in 1966, Western Iowa Tech has developed into a comprehensive two-year school offering transfer degrees, technical degrees, certificates and career diplomas. Thanks to a partnership with the University of Iowa, students can even earn a bachelor's degree at WITCC.

As one of the state's online colleges, WITCC has a number of fully online programs. Many online courses can be taken on an accelerated pace to help students graduate earlier. Tutoring and other support services are available to students regardless of whether they are studying online or on-campus.

6

North Iowa Area Community College (Mason City)

North Iowa Area Community College holds several distinctions. Not only is it one of the best Iowa community colleges, but it is also the oldest one in the state. Founded in 1918 as the Mason City Junior College, NIACC has been educating areas students for 100 years.

With nearly 3,000 students enrolled in credit classes, North Iowa Area Community College says it provides a four-year college experience at a two-year college price. It offers the option to live on its Mason City campus and has more than 40 student organizations available.

NIACC offers transfer degrees, technical degrees and career readiness programs. Online courses are also available. Articulation agreements with more than 40 schools mean credits earned at NIACC transfer easily to many four-year institutions.

7

Indian Hills Community College (Ottumwas)

With three campus locations, Indian Hills Community College is a highly ranked school that features small class sizes and generous financial aid. It's one of the top community colleges in Iowa and offers a vibrant campus life as well as programs for adult learners.

Students can chose from more than 70 academic programs spanning six categories. These include arts and sciences, advanced technologies and continuing education. Hundreds of online courses and multiple learning centers make it convenient for people throughout the IHCC service district to pursue an education.

Students choosing to study on campus will find housing, dining and student life activities. Indian Hills Community College is also notable for being one of the relatively few community colleges to offer medical care through its Student Health and Wellness Clinic.

8

Eastern Iowa Community College District (Davenport)

The Eastern Iowa Community College District is comprised of three institutions: Clinton Community College, Muscatine Community College and Scott Community College. Together, they enroll more than 7,000 students in degree and career technology programs.

As one of the top community colleges in Iowa, EICC provides instruction in 20 career clusters, including finance, manufacturing and health science. The district maintains formal transfer agreements with a number of public and private four-year schools to make it easy for students to apply credits toward a bachelor's degree.

Like many of the best colleges in Iowa, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges offer online learning options. Among other offerings, the district has an Associate of Arts that can be earned entirely via online courses. Online professional and continuing education classes are also available through EICC.

9

Marshalltown Community College (Marshalltown)

Students can find small classes, affordable tuition and highly ranked programs at Marshalltown Community College. The school, which is part of the Iowa Valley Community College District, is well known for graduating students with some of the lowest rates of debt in the state.

Academically, MCC has been recognized for its LPN nursing, machine tool technology and manufacturing welding programs. However, those are just a few of the more than 55 degrees and certificates available through the school. Others cover subjects ranging from business to the humanities to professional occupations. Online courses and fully online degree programs are also available.

MCC has its main campus in Marshalltown as well as a second location in Grinnell. Students at both campuses have access to student support services and financial aid.

10

Northeast Iowa Community College (Calmar)

Students looking for the top Iowa community colleges shouldn't overlook this school. Northeast Iowa Community College says it's a student-driven institution that strives to provide an education that will be the foundation of a better future.

NICC opened its doors in 1967 and offered 12 programs initially. Now it has more than 65 programs of study that can meet the needs of a diverse student body. In addition to traditional daytime classes on campus, there are evening and online courses for many degree and certificate programs. More than ten programs are offered entirely online.

Another way Northeast Iowa Community College makes college convenient is by supporting numerous learning centers throughout the state. In addition to campuses in Calmar and Peosta, there are 11 other service locations.

Transferring Credits in Iowa

The best community colleges in Iowa have worked to make it easy to transfer credits from their institutions to one of Iowa's top four-year schools. While transferring credits usually isn't necessary for those in career readiness programs, it is important for those who would like to go on to earn a bachelor's degree.

Many two-year schools have entered into articulation agreements with colleges and universities to ensure that general education credits will be accepted. These agreements typically cover Iowa's three Regent universities -- University of Iowa, Iowa State University and Northern Iowa University -- as well as other schools that regularly attract the graduates of the top Iowa community colleges.

The website Transfer in Iowa provides details on transferring credits between public institutions in the state. If you plan to attend a private college or university or an institution out of state, contact your community college's advising office for assistance. Most have staff members available to walk students through the transfer process.

For additional insight into education in the state, read up on the top 4-year colleges in Iowa.

Methodology

We ranked community colleges in Iowa on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services.

Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points:

  1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  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
  3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  4. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  5. The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016

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
  • Transfer, Community College, Iowa Department of Education, Accessed August 2018, https://educateiowa.gov/adult-career-and-community-college/transfer
  • Community Colleges, Iowa Department of Education, Accessed August 2018, https://educateiowa.gov/community-colleges
  • Academics, Northeast Iowa Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://www.nicc.edu/academics/
  • Our Programs, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, Accessed August 2018, https://www.eicc.edu/future-students/our-programs/
  • Life at IHCC, Indian Hills Community College, Accessed August 2018, http://www.indianhills.edu/life/index.php
  • About NAICC, North Iowa Area Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://www.niacc.edu/about/
  • Mission & Goals, Western Iowa Tech Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://www.witcc.edu/about/
  • About Iowa Western, Iowa Western Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://www.iwcc.edu/about/
  • About SWCC, Southwestern Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://www.swcciowa.edu/about
  • Why SCC? Southeastern Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://www.scciowa.edu/aboutscc/index.aspx
  • Ellsworth Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://ecc.iavalley.edu/
  • Marshalltown Community College, Accessed August 2018, https://mcc.iavalley.edu/
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/