Best Community Colleges in Iowa
If you want to get a good college education in Iowa, you don't have to go to a four-year college or university. The Hawkeye State is home to a number of high-quality community colleges that offer diverse degree programs and an affordable price tag.
Close to 20 public community colleges make their home 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 two-year schools in the state also offer a range of online course and degree options, providing flexibility for nontraditional students with work or family responsibilities.
Whether you're 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 into career and technical education and Iowa's college transfer agreements at the end of the list.
Indian Hills Community College (Ottumwa)
With three campus locations, Indian Hills Community College is a highly ranked school that features an average class size of 14 and generous financial aid. This southeastern Iowa school offers a vibrant campus life as well as programs for adult learners.
Students here can chose from more than 70 academic programs. Study plans in advanced technologies include degree programs in precision farming and aviation maintenance technology, and the arts and sciences division features subjects like forestry, chemistry and sports medicine.
Students choosing to study on campus have access to housing, dining and activities like intramural sports, service learning and clubs. But that's not the only way to learn at IHCC: More than 250 courses are available online, and several programs can be completed entirely in the virtual classroom.
Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (Davenport)
Eastern Iowa Community Colleges is actually three separate campuses — Clinton Community College, Muscatine Community College and Scott Community College — combining their efforts to better serve students in the region. Together, they enroll more than 7,700 students in programs that lead to a degree, certificate or other credential.
This Davenport institution provides instruction in 20 career clusters, including finance, manufacturing and health sciences. The district maintains formal transfer agreements with a number of public and private four-year schools to make it easy for students to apply their earned credits toward a bachelor's degree.
EICC students who want the flexibility of distance education can earn online credits through the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC). Online professional and continuing education classes are available here as well.
Iowa Lakes Community College (Estherville)
Measures of student success are high at Iowa Lakes Community College. Just three other schools in our top ten reported higher rates of first-year student retention than this northern Iowa institution, and only one other two-year school in the entire state posted a higher 2018 graduation rate.
One reason for all that success might be the close-knit learning environment available at Iowa Lakes. The student body is a comfortable size, with just over 2,000 people enrolled each semester, and the student-faculty ratio is an impressive 15:1.
Available study plans here range from traditional academic majors to career-focused vocational programs. Transfer degree options are available in concentrations like communications, social science and computers; career programs include massage therapy, paralegal studies, surgical technology and practical nursing.
Northeast Iowa Community College (Calmar)
Northeast Iowa Community College opened its doors in 1967 and initially offered just 12 programs. Today, the Calmar institution is home to 65 programs of study that can meet the needs of a diverse student body that consists of more than 4,400 students each term.
In addition to traditional daytime classes on campus, many degree and certificate programs feature courses available in the evening or via distance education. More than ten programs are offered entirely online, including an entrepreneur certificate and an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in agriculture finance.
Another way NICC makes college more accessible is by supporting numerous learning centers throughout the region. The institution maintains seven satellite facilities in various area locations in addition to full-service campuses in Calmar and Peosta.
Kirkwood Community College (Cedar Rapids)
Students at Kirkwood Community College have a good track record of following through with their bachelor's degree after transferring out to a four-year college or university. Just one other school in the state reported a higher percentage of former students who went on to successfully complete a four-year degree program after making a transfer.
A long list of transfer degree options are on offer at this Cedar Rapids institution. The catalog includes Associate of Arts (A.A.) programs in digital media, music, sociology and communication studies and Associate of Science (A.S.) programs in agriculture, engineering and mathematics.
The list of career programs available here is comprehensive as well, featuring those aligned with in-demand job fields like occupational therapy assisting, network and system administration and construction management.
Western Iowa Tech Community College (Sioux City)
Enrolling more than 5,600 students in more than 70 educational programs, Western Iowa Tech Community College may be one of the best community colleges in Iowa for students hoping to make use of financial aid to help offset their tuition costs. Roughly 97 percent of students enrolled in 2018 received scholarships, grants or other forms of student aid.
WITCC is also one of the top online community colleges in Iowa in terms of catalog variety. Available distance education programs include certificates in coaching, cost accounting and health information technology (HIT) and degree plans in video game design, agriculture management and human resources management. Tutoring and other support services are available to students regardless of whether they are studying online or on campus.
North Iowa Area Community College (Mason City)
North Iowa Area Community College is the oldest institution on our list of the best Iowa community colleges, and it's one of the most decorated. Founded in 1918 as Mason City Junior College, NIACC has appeared on several national rankings lists over the last several years.
This Mason City school enrolls nearly 3,000 students each semester and works to provide a four-year college experience at the cost of a two-year school. It offers students the option to live on its Mason City campus and features more than 40 student organizations.
Several programs in health care and medical technology fields are available here. The catalog includes associate degree plans in radiologic technology, physical therapy assisting and more, as well as certificate plans in coaching, physical fitness and emergency medical technology.
Marshalltown Community College (Marshalltown)
Students can find a student-faculty ratio of 11:1, affordable tuition and highly ranked programs at Marshalltown Community College. The central Iowa school — a member of the Iowa Valley Community College District — is recognized by the Iowa College Student Aid Commission as producing graduates with the lowest total student debt of any community college in the state.
Subjects of study available on campus at MCC include machine tool technology, business administration, marketing and welding. Several degree plans are available in health care and wellness disciplines, and students can earn an A.A. for transfer or a one-year medical office practitioner diploma entirely online.
A secondary campus in Grinnell supports the efforts of the flagship location in Marshalltown. Students at both campuses have access to student support services and financial aid.
Ellsworth Community College (Iowa Falls)
There are a number of reasons that Ellsworth Community College makes the list of best Iowa community colleges. The Iowa Falls school features affordable tuition and offers over 100 scholarship opportunities for students from all walks of life.
ECC offers a range of certificate and degree programs, including a top-ranked equine studies program, an A.A. degree in family and consumer science and an A.A.S. in marketing. The school's A.A. degree for university transfer can be earned entirely online. Thanks to transfer agreements, 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 students who attend classes on campus.
Des Moines Area Community College (Ankeny)
Des Moines Area Community College could be one of the best community colleges in Iowa for cost-conscious students. The average cost of tuition and fees at this Ankeny institution was less than $4,700 for a full year of study, a figure more affordable than those reported at all but one other two-year school in the state.
More than 200 degree, diploma and certificate programs are listed in the catalog at DMACC. Aspiring filmmakers can choose between earning a certificate or diploma in video production, and students interested in wine grape production can earn a certificate in viticulture.
If you like the idea of studying on a busy college campus, DMACC might be a great choice for you. More than 23,000 learners enroll here each term.
CTE in Iowa
Career technical education, better known as CTE, works to provide students with valuable workforce skills alongside the academic essentials they need to succeed in higher education. It's offered at both the high school and college levels, and it's producing substantial results for young learners. No fewer than 98 percent of high school students who focus on career technical education subjects go on to earn their diplomas successfully.
The numbers also point to substantial workforce opportunities for college students studying CTE subjects in Iowa. More than 50 percent of the state's "good jobs" — positions that pay a median salary of $55,000 for adults under 45 — are available to candidates without a bachelor's degree.
Here's a quick list of resources for potential students looking to learn more about CTE in Iowa:
- The Iowa Department of Education's career and technical education page provides information on the state's CTE standards, approved programs of study and more.
- This article by KMA News details Career EdVantage, a program designed to help students in southwestern Iowa succeed in career technical education programs.
- The online professional and continuing education page at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges showcases the type of non-credit CTE programs available in Iowa.
The Iowa Department of Education oversees 15 of Iowa's 18 public two-year schools and serves as the primary source of career technical education at the college level. If you're planning to pursue a CTE degree or certificate at one of these institutions, check with an advisor to learn about your options.
Transferring Credits in Iowa
The best community colleges in Iowa work to make it easy to transfer credits from their institutions to four-year colleges and universities in Iowa and elsewhere. While knowledge of transfer agreements may not be necessary for students in career readiness programs, those planning to pursue a bachelor's degree after graduation should definitely know about them.
Many two-year schools in Iowa forge transfer agreements with colleges and universities to ensure that their general education credits can be accepted without much trouble. 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.
We've also got a comprehensive college transfer guide to help students better understand the process and how you can help your transfer go smoothly. Check it out for more information.
Resources for Community College Students in Iowa
- The community colleges page at the Iowa Department of Education features a wealth of information on public two-year schools in the state.
- The University of Iowa features a college prep guide that's aimed at students from grades 8 through 12, but has some helpful info for adult students as well.
- The Iowa College Student Aid Commission, also known as Iowa College Aid, can help students and parents find scholarships and grants to help pay for school.
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.
- About Iowa College Aid, Iowa College Student Aid Commission, accessed December 27, 2019, https://www.iowacollegeaid.gov/About
- Agreements, Transfer in Iowa, accessed December 27, 2019, http://www.transferiniowa.org/agreements.php
- Association for Career and Technical Education, accessed December 27, 2019: Why CTE?, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/; State Profiles, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/state-profiles/
- Career EdVantage program unveiled, KMA News, September 24, 2019, Mike Peterson, accessed December 27, 2019, http://www.kmaland.com/news/career-edvantange-program-unveiled/article_a9fddeaa-deeb-11e9-bf67-97469effde25.html
- Community Colleges, Iowa Department of Education, accessed December 27, 2019, https://www.educateiowa.gov/community-colleges
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Iowa, College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed December 27, 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=IA&ct=1&ic=2;
- Iowa, Advance CTE, accessed December 27, 2019, https://careertech.org/Iowa
School pages, accessed December 27, 2019
- Indian Hills Community College
- Academics, http://www.indianhills.edu/academics/index.php
- Life at IHCC, https://www.indianhills.edu/life/index.php
- Online Learning, http://www.indianhills.edu/online/index.php
- Eastern Iowa Community Colleges
- Colleges and Centers, https://eicc.edu/about-eicc/colleges-and-centers/
- EICC Transfer Guides and Agreements, https://www.eicc.edu/future-students/transfer-programs/transfer-guide/
- Our Programs, https://www.eicc.edu/future-students/our-programs/
- Online Classes, https://www.eicc.edu/future-students/online-classes/
- Online Professional and Continuing Education, https://www.eicc.edu/continuing-education/certificates/
- Iowa Lakes Community College
- About, https://www.iowalakes.edu/about-us/
- Programs of Study (A-Z), http://catalog.iowalakes.edu/content.php?catoid=1&navoid=16
- Program: Associate in Science Transfer Degree, AS, http://catalog.iowalakes.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=1&poid=21&returnto=16
- Program: Associate in Arts Transfer Degree, AA, http://catalog.iowalakes.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=1&poid=22&returnto=16
- Northeast Iowa Community College
- History, https://www.nicc.edu/about/history/
- Online and Blended Learning, https://www.nicc.edu/academics/online/
- Locations, https://www.nicc.edu/about/locations/
- Kirkwood Community College
- Programs, https://www.kirkwood.edu/programs
- Western Iowa Tech Community College
- Programs Offered Online at WITCC, https://www.witcc.edu/distance/programs.cfm
- North Iowa Area Community College
- About, https://www.niacc.edu/about/
- Health, https://www.niacc.edu/health/
- Marshalltown Community College
- About MCC, https://mcc.iavalley.edu/about-mcc/
- Dental Assisting, https://mcc.iavalley.edu/academic/healthcare-wellness/dental-assisting/
- Healthcare & Wellness, https://mcc.iavalley.edu/academic/healthcare-wellness/
- Online, https://mcc.iavalley.edu/academic/online/
- Ellsworth Community College
- About ECC, https://ecc.iavalley.edu/about-ecc/
- Scholarships, https://ecc.iavalley.edu/admissions/financial-aid/scholarships/
- Academics, https://ecc.iavalley.edu/academics/
- Online, https://ecc.iavalley.edu/academic/online/
- Des Moines Area Community College
- Programs of Study at DMACC, https://www.dmacc.edu/programs/pages/programs-v.aspx