Best Community Colleges in Kentucky
Kentucky community colleges operate more than 70 campuses across the state, providing accessible higher education to prospective students from the banks of the Ohio to the Mississippi. Each of the public two-year schools in the Bluegrass State belongs to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), which serves over 106,000 students annually at its member institutions.
Whether you hope to complete some core lower-division courses for transfer to Kentucky universities or help your career with a new set of skills or additional training, being aware of the best community colleges in Kentucky can help you make the most of your decision. Check out our list of the ten best Kentucky community colleges and see how they can help you succeed.
Hopkinsville Community College (Hopkinsville)
The catalog of degree and certificate programs at Hopkinsville Community College leans heavily toward career training, although students preparing for university transfer can earn Associate in Science (A.S.) degrees in fields like biology and engineering. Pre-med, pre-vet and pre-physical therapy programs are available as well.
Two HCC campus locations and multiple learning sites exist to serve students in south central Kentucky, and a range of online degrees and courses are available through Kentucky Virtual Campus. On-demand distance education programs here include medical information technology and logistics and operations management.
HCC may also be one of the best Kentucky community colleges for working pros and other non-traditional students. Nearly two-thirds of the student body at this Hopkinsville institution is aged 25 or over.
Jefferson Community and Technical College (Louisville)
Jefferson Community and Technical College could be one of the best community colleges in Kentucky for students hoping to transfer into a university degree program after finishing their associate degree. Students who left Jefferson and enrolled in bachelor's programs had the highest rate of successful university graduation in the state.
There are a few significant upsides for adult learners who enroll at this Louisville institution. Certain programs may offer course credit for relevant life or work experience, and our data show that child care services are available to students.
The catalog at Jefferson features a diverse mix of education and training options, including programs in radiography, insurance and risk management, and African-American studies. Aspiring auto mechanics can choose from manufacturer-approved programs like Honda GLADA, Toyota T-TEN and Mercedes-Benz Accelerate.
Bluegrass Community and Technical College (Lexington)
The largest number of campuses among our top Kentucky community colleges belongs to Bluegrass Community and Technical College, which operates eight total learning centers. Transfer degrees and a selection of technical programs are available at three sites in Lexington, as well as satellite locations in Danville, Georgetown, Lawrenceburg and Winchester.
The eighth location doesn't look much like a traditional college campus, but a certain type of student is likely to appreciate the difference. BCTC operates the North American Racing Academy (NARA) — the only accredited community college horse racing school in the U.S. — out of the Thoroughbred Training Center in northeast Lexington.
BCTC may also be one of the best Kentucky community colleges for creative students. Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.) programs are available in theatre and filmmaking and cinematic arts.
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College (Elizabethtown)
If you're hoping to land some financial aid help for your community college education, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College should be near the top of your list. This central Kentucky school reported that around 95 percent of enrolled students in 2018 received some type of financial aid award.
Health care study plans at ECTC include training in high-demand fields like nursing, respiratory care and medical information technology, as well as a program in the high-paying specialty field of diagnostic medical sonography. An associate degree in paramedic technology is offered in cooperation with Owensboro Community and Technical College.
Flexibility is a priority here, with evening and weekend courses available for working students with busy weekday schedules. Close to 44 percent of students take at least some of their courses online.
Big Sandy Community and Technical College (Prestonsburg)
Big Sandy Community and Technical College maintains four campuses in eastern Kentucky — the main site in Prestonsburg and three satellite locations in Pikeville, Paintsville and Hager Hill. Total enrollment here is around 4,400 students.
BSCTC is one of the top online community colleges in Kentucky by enrollment, reporting that nearly two thirds of students have at least one online class on their schedules. Nearly 90 percent of all students are awarded some form of financial aid, and first-time college students receive aid packages in 98 percent of cases.
BSCTC offers more than 30 degree and certificate programs in career-focused subjects as well as common academic majors. The most popular areas of study in 2018 included liberal arts, computer and information technology, business administration systems, nursing and electrical technology.
Ashland Community and Technical College (Ashland)
Ashland Community and Technical College has one of the smaller student bodies among the top Kentucky community colleges, reporting enrollment of fewer than 2,600 students in 2018. Approximately half of ACTC students take full-time schedules, and first-time college students make up around 19 percent of those enrolled.
As is often the case at colleges that serve smaller numbers of students, ACTC offers a closer-knit learning environment than some of the other schools on our list. The student-faculty ratio is 17:1, for example, and the student body is spread over three area campuses.
ACTC also offers a few rare degree programs, such as a certificate in Appalachian studies and an A.A.S. in automated and semi-automated chemical manufacturing. Associate of Arts (A.A.) subjects for university transfer include education, psychology and social work.
Henderson Community College (Henderson)
Originally founded as the University of Kentucky Northwest Center in 1960, Henderson Community College has grown into a hot destination for students in the northwestern section of the state. Training programs for career advancement and university transfer plans are available at the main campus in Henderson and its second location in Morganfield.
Like most of the top Kentucky community colleges, HCC reports relatively affordable tuition rates for resident students. Total tuition and fees for two 12-credit semesters came in under $4,250 in 2018, which is less than the statewide average.
Several programs in marine technology, such as marine engineering and marine logistics, are available here, and education students can enroll in 2+2 transfer agreement plans that give them an easy pathway to a bachelor's degree at Murray State University.
Gateway Community and Technical College (Covington)
Student success was a standout category for Gateway Community and Technical College, which posted our list's second-highest retention rate for first-year students and a graduation rate that only two other schools in the state could match. It also featured a ratio of 15 students per faculty member — one of the best in the state — so instructors should have plenty of time to help students outside of class hours if they need it.
Training programs in the trades at this Covington school include plumbing technology, welding technology and computerized manufacturing and machining. Students hoping to train for a high-demand field with future growth potential can earn an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree or several certificates in energy technologies.
West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah)
West Kentucky Community and Technical College is one of the larger institutions among the best Kentucky community colleges, reporting 2018 enrollment of around 6,200 students. Despite that relatively large student body, WKCTC admins manage to keep the student-faculty ratio to a comfortable 18:1. Approximately 63 percent of the student body is female.
The main WKCTC campus in Paducah is the only full-service location maintained by the institution, but a trio of off-campus learning sites exists to serve students with specific educational goals. Creative types can earn an A.F.A. in visual arts at the Paducah School of Art and Design, while those interested in automotive technology, air conditioning technology or welding technology can earn their credentials at the Skilled Craft Training Center down the road in Hickory.
Madisonville Community College (Madisonville)
Schedule flexibility is one of the bright spots at Madisonville Community College, which reported distance education enrollment of nearly 47 percent and offers coursework in the evening and on weekends for students with work or family responsibilities. That flexibility seems to be paying off for students — the graduation rate at this western Kentucky school is the highest in the state.
Programs in advanced integrated manufacturing and advanced integrated technology can teach students how to operate, install, manage, inspect, troubleshoot and repair the cutting-edge electrical and mechanical systems used in modern factories. Students who want to put their mechanical skills to use in the health care industry can study biomedical technology systems. A program in surgical assisting can be completed entirely online.
CTE in Kentucky
CTE, or career technical education, works to provide students with a solid foundation of both academic instruction and hands-on technical work, in order to prepare them equally for the workforce or more advanced study. CTE programs in Kentucky seem to be making a difference for high school students — those who focused their education on CTE subjects graduated at a rate of 98 percent in 2018.
College-level learners are seeing the rewards of these study plans, as well. More than 80 percent of trade school and community college CTE students in Kentucky successfully finish their programs and earn a certificate, diploma or associate degree.
Here are some information resources that go into more detail about CTE in Kentucky:
- The Kentucky Department of Education has some helpful information on career technical education program areas and the career pathways used to guide CTE study in the state, as well as an equipment cost calculator for CTE students.
- A program called Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) aims to bring career technical education plans in carpentry, welding, manufacturing and electrical to Kentucky students of all ages.
- The College for Technical Education is a Kentucky-based non-profit organization that offers a range of 9-month CTE programs.
CTE programs at the college level are primarily administrated by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), and all our ten best community colleges in Kentucky are members. Check with an adviser or registrar at your preferred schools to find out more about the CTE opportunities available to you.
Transferring Credits in Kentucky
Around ten years ago, Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) launched a wide-reaching initiative to help students complete their academic journey with a bachelor's degree or better from Kentucky universities. Called KnowHow2GOKY, the media-based program provides information and access to resources for students at all levels.
If you're considering making a transfer into a university program from one of Kentucky's community colleges, the KnowHow2Transfer portion of the initiative can answer some frequently asked questions and give you an idea of how the transfer process works. It also shows how a variety of individual bachelor's programs at specific universities handle incoming transfer students and can direct you to transfer counseling services if needed.
Each public college or university in the state abides by a policy that provides certification of students who have completed their general education requirements, which functions as a transfer agreement for at least 30 credit hours of completed coursework. Some institutions also offer completion degrees, which can also make transfer easier for students who graduate with a full-fledged A.A., A.S. or A.A.S. degree.
Check out our college transfer guide for more information on transfer agreements and bachelor's degree completion programs in Kentucky.
Resources for Community College Students in Kentucky
- The Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) site features information about two-year schools in the state and provides helpful links for prospective community college students.
- The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education oversees all institutions of higher education in the state, both two-year schools and universities, and can give you some insight into Kentucky college life.
- Check out the Paying for College section of the KCTCS website for information about scholarships, grant programs, work-study, student loans and more.
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/
- Kentucky Community and Technical College System, accessed December 16, 2019: About, https://kctcs.edu/about/; Fact Sheet, https://systemoffice.kctcs.edu/for_the_media/fact_sheet.aspx;
- School pages, accessed December 16, 2019: College at a Glance, Hopkinsville Community College, https://hopkinsville.kctcs.edu/about/College-at-a-Glance/index.aspx; Learn on Demand Programs, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, https://kctcs.edu/education-training/kctcs-online/learn-on-demand/what-we-offer/programs/; Program Finder, Jefferson Community and Technical College, https://jefferson.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Our Campuses and Sites, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, https://bluegrass.kctcs.edu/about/campuses/index.aspx; Program Finder, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, https://bluegrass.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Program Finder, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, https://elizabethtown.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Emergency Medical Services Technology through OCTC, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, https://elizabethtown.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/emergency-medical-service-technology.aspx; College at a Glance, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, https://bigsandy.kctcs.edu/about/college-at-a-glance/index.aspx; Program Finder, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, https://bigsandy.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; College at a Glance, Ashland Community and Technical College, https://ashland.kctcs.edu/about/college-at-a-glance/index.aspx; Admissions, Ashland Community and Technical College, https://ashland.kctcs.edu/admissions/index.aspx; Program Finder, Ashland Community and Technical College, https://ashland.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; College at a Glance, Henderson Community College, https://henderson.kctcs.edu/about/college-at-a-glance/index.aspx; Program Finder, Henderson Community College, https://henderson.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; 2+2 Education Programs, Henderson Community College, https://henderson.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/2-plus-2-education-programs.aspx; Marine Technology, Henderson Community College, https://henderson.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/marine-technology.aspx; Education & Training, Gateway Community and Technical College, https://gateway.kctcs.edu/education-training/; Program Finder, Gateway Community and Technical College, https://gateway.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Energy Technologies, Gateway Community and Technical College, https://gateway.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/energy-technologies.aspx; Program Finder, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/; College at a Glance, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/about/college-at-a-glance/index.aspx; Campus Maps, West Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/about/campuses/index.aspx; Program Finder, Madisonville Community College, https://madisonville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/; Surgical First Assistant Program, Madisonville Community College, https://madisonville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/surgical-first-assistant-program.aspx; Advanced Integrated Technology, Madisonville Community College, https://madisonville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/advanced-integrated-technology.aspx; Career and Technical Education, Murray State University, https://www.murraystate.edu/academics/CollegesDepartments/CollegeOfEducationandHumanServices/coehsacademicunits/AdolescentCareerSpecialEd/CareerandTechnicalEducation.aspx;
- Kentucky, College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed December 16, 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=KY&ct=1&ic=2;
- JCC to award college credit for experience in childhood field, NNY360, December 10, 2019, accessed December 16, 2019, https://www.nny360.com/communitynews/education/jcc-to-award-college-credit-for-experience-in-childhood-field/article_5c1ead54-75fe-5264-ac19-28886838df88.html
- Kentucky, Advance CTE, accessed December 16, 2019, https://careertech.org/Kentucky
- Association for Career and Technical Education, accessed December 12, 2019: Why CTE?, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/; State Profiles, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/state-profiles/;
- KnowHow2GOKY, accessed December 16, 2019: About Us, http://knowhow2goky.org/aboutus; KnowHow2Transfer, http://knowhow2goky.org/kh2t/;
- Policies and Agreements, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, accessed December 16, 2019, https://kctcs.edu/degrees_training/transfer/policies_and_agreements.aspx
- TRACK: Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Education, accessed December 16, 2019, https://education.ky.gov/CTE/cter/Pages/TRACK.aspx