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Best Community Colleges in Minnesota

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Minnesota takes the education of its citizens seriously, and the attention that's paid to regional community colleges in the Land of 10,000 Lakes serves as evidence of that priority. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that Minnesota is home to nearly 40 campus-based and online community colleges, and just about all of them have institutional initiatives in place to help students succeed.

While some two-year schools in the state are privately run, 30 are part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. These schools have some of the lowest tuition rates in the state, and more than half of those enrolled receive financial aid to further reduce their educational costs.

You may be planning to continue your education after spending some time in the workforce, or you may be getting ready to take the first steps out of high school and into college. Either way, the top community colleges in Minnesota offer degree and certificate programs — including career technical education — that can help you reach your academic potential or kick off a new career. Take a look at our list of the ten best Minnesota community colleges and learn more about your options.

BEST COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN MINNESOTA 2019-20

1

Riverland Community College (Austin)

According to Riverland Community College, students are at the heart of its mission. The two-year school seeks to foster student growth through the values of service, innovation and respect, and those themes can be found in many of the school's academic and career training programs.

Students who plan to eventually earn a bachelor's degree can follow one of Riverland's transfer pathways. These programs are made possible through partnerships with four-year schools such as Winona State University and the College of St. Scholastica. Depending on the program, a transfer agreement allows students to remain in Austin to study or earn their bachelor's degree on an accelerated schedule.

Career technical education options include degree, diploma and certificate programs in fields such as agribusiness and cybersecurity. Approximately 25 programs are available online.

2

North Hennepin Community College (Brooklyn Park)

Since its founding in 1966, North Hennepin Community College has grown into one of the largest and most diverse institutions among the best community colleges in Minnesota. The student body is nearly 10,000 strong, with students of color making up approximately half the enrolled population.

Liberal arts, nursing and business administration are the top three majors at NHCC, with computer science just barely missing the cut. The institution is also one of the more comprehensive online colleges in the state, offering nearly a dozen associate degree programs and more than 20 certificate paths in the virtual classroom.

Located upriver from downtown Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park is a city with a lot to offer. It's the fourth-largest municipality in the Twin Cities metro area, features over 1,400 acres of parkland within the city limits and is expected to be connected to the region's light rail train line as early as 2024.

3

Inver Hills Community College (Inver Grove Heights)

Student success is at the top of the list of institutional values at Inver Hills Community College, and multiple initiatives are in place to help students make the most of their time in school. For one, select bachelor's and master's degrees can be earned right on the Inver Grove Heights campus thanks to partnerships with four-year schools like the College of St. Scholastica and Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.

What's more, the Adult Success through Accelerated Pathways (ASAP) program can help add some speed and flexibility to degree plans for returning students. Prior learning assessments (PLAs) can provide course credit for job training and life experience, and personalized degree planning and advising are available throughout the program.

Inver Hills has also been recognized as a great option for military veterans, earning a No. 5 ranking among all community colleges nationwide from Military Times in 2020.

4

Anoka-Ramsey Community College (Coon Rapids)

With campuses in Coon Rapids and Cambridge, Anoka-Ramsey Community College is an affordable choice for higher education. It has the lowest tuition rate in Minnesota, and 75 percent of its 12,300 students receive financial aid.

ARCC promises a personalized learning experience, unique undergraduate research opportunities and a vibrant student life. The school has more than 100 degree, diploma and certificate programs in fields ranging from music to biomedical technology. There are also eight bachelor's degree programs offered at ARCC thanks to partnerships with nearby universities. For distance learners, the college offers eight fully online programs.

Adult students may be eligible to receive credit for prior learning, and the school's TRIO programs offer additional support for first-generation and low-income students as well as those with disabilities.

5

Minnesota State Community and Technical College (Fergus Falls)

Minnesota State Community and Technical College is one of the nominally youngest institutions in the state, taking on its current name and structure about 20 years ago, but its history stretches back further than that. Two older institutions, Fergus Falls Community College and the three-campus Northwest Technical College, merged in 2003 to better serve the educational needs of their shared region.

More than 70 degree and certificate programs are available at M State. Delivery of study plans here is split up in to seven program clusters, including one that's dedicated to agriculture, food and natural resources and one that focuses on transfer programs.

M State may be one of the best community colleges in Minnesota for younger students hoping to get a head start on college. Nearly three-fourths of the students enrolled here — 74 percent — are under the age of 24.

6

Normandale Community College (Bloomington)

Normandale Community College, the largest two-year institution in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, boasts for-credit enrollment of nearly 15,000 learners. Despite the high enrollment, Normandale administrators managed to keep the average class size to 24 students.

The general A.A. degree is the most popular major here, but the catalog lists numerous subject-specific options for academic majors and career preparation programs. A.S. degrees can be earned in engineering, food science and special education, while certificates can be earned in global studies, computer technology and casino management.

Partnerships with four-year schools like St. Paul's Metropolitan State University make it possible for Normandale students to earn certain bachelor's and master's degrees without ever leaving campus. Computer science, communication studies, elementary education and a Master of Business Administration are just a few of the advanced programs available.

7

Minneapolis Community and Technical College (Minneapolis)

As another of the top community colleges in Minnesota, Minneapolis Community and Technical College says it is flexible, personal and affordable. The school is located in downtown Minneapolis and enrolls more than 11,000 credit students each year.

Minneapolis College offers programs that result in transfer degrees, technical degrees, diplomas and certificates through eight schools devoted to fields such as business and economics, design and the arts and trade technologies. Online and blended courses are available in some programs.

For students who are unsure what to study, the college offers exploratory majors in areas such as health sciences and public services and information technology. These allow students to take classes that can be applied toward a number of different programs while they determine whether a particular field is right for them.

8

Century College (White Bear Lake)

Century College, one of the largest institutions among the top Minnesota community colleges, serves more than 21,000 credit and non-credit students each year. The degree-seeking population at Century College, however, consists of fewer than 9,000 learners and the student-faculty ratio is 24:1.

Degree and certificate options at Century College include high-tech subjects, such as cybersecurity and big data analytics, alongside traditional academic majors like history, English, mathematics and psychology. Radiologic technology, nursing, medical assisting and other in-demand career fields are also represented in the catalog.

The city of White Bear Lake, where Century College is located, is almost the perfect size for a college town. Its population is around 25,000 — large enough to provide a fair complement of urban amenities, but small enough to provide peace and quiet when you need it.

9

Lake Superior College (Duluth)

While it has one of the lowest tuition rates in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, Lake Superior College doesn't cut corners on quality. The school makes regular appearances on lists of the best Minnesota community colleges.

LSC offers 90-plus degree, diploma and certificate programs. The popular liberal arts and sciences associate plans can help students cover core courses before transferring to a bachelor's program. LSC is also an experienced distance education provider with a 20-year history in eLearning. Both its cybersecurity certificate and associate degree in accounting are offered online as are more than a dozen other programs.

Those who prefer to learn in a traditional setting can take classes on LSC's scenic Duluth campus which is located near the Lake Superior shoreline.

10

Rochester Community and Technical College

Rochester Community and Technical College has made it a mission to provide affordable, accessible and quality education programs. The two-year school was founded in 1915, making it Minnesota's oldest original community college.

Students can choose from more than 170 degrees, diplomas and certificates at RCTC. Some of its most popular programs include a liberal arts transfer degree, nursing associate degree and business certificates. However, RCTC also offers specialized programs that may not be found at many other schools. These include training in equine science, advanced hospital nursing assistant and horticulture technology.

RCTC has put a handful of its programs online, including a coding specialist diploma and health information technology degree. Adults across all programs may be eligible to receive credit for prior learning.

CTE in Minnesota

Career technical education programs focus on teaching practical skills that can have students ready to start a new career immediately after graduation. And according to the Minnesota Department of Education, these programs really work — 87 percent of Minnesota students who completed a postsecondary CTE program found employment after program completion.

Here are a few of the ways Minnesota supports and promotes career technical education:

  • February is designated CTE Month and special events, such as a legislative day, are held to promote CTE programs.
  • The Minnesota Department of Education has a New CTE Teacher Initiative that is designed to give educators the skills and support they need to be successful instructors.
  • High school students can receive early college credit in both academic and CTE fields thanks to concurrent enrollment options.

Check out the websites of the best Minnesota community colleges for information on their CTE programs. Or you can learn more about CTE in Minnesota at these links:

  • MN Career PathwaysCreated by Minnesota Colleges and Universities, this site not only includes information on pathways but also extensive resources to explore careers and learn about training options.
  • Minnesota Department of EducationThe state's Department of Education also has a page devoted to career technical education and related initiatives, including a description of what elements a high-quality CTE education should include.

Transferring Credits in Minnesota

Helping students to progress out of their community college programs and into universities in Minnesota is a high priority statewide, so the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MinnState) designed a goal-based general education approach that makes transferring easier.

The Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MnTC) requires students to complete three, six or nine credit hours in each of ten goal areas, which include communication, critical thinking, natural sciences, global perspective and ethical and civil responsibility, among others. Any MnTC goal area course taken at one MinnState institution can transfer easily to another, provided that the curriculum is completed with a GPA of 2.0 or better.

Individual Minnesota universities may also maintain an articulation or transfer agreement with individual two-year schools in the state or in a broader distribution. Perhaps the broadest of these agreements is the Minnesota Cooperative Admissions Program (MnCAP), which encompasses more than 90 majors at the University of Minnesota. Some more specific agreements may be designed around degree programs in a specific discipline, like business or education.

Our guide on how to transfer schools provides more general information the transfer process. Plus, to learn about education, financial aid, careers and more in Minnesota and for additional insight into education in the state, explore options at the top 4-year Minnesota universities.

Resources for Community College Students in Minnesota

Minnesota State Colleges and UniversitiesThis system of higher education includes Minnesota community colleges and public four-year universities.

Minnesota Office of Higher EducationThe Minnesota Office of Higher Education is a comprehensive resource for community college students. It offers information on everything from preparing for college, career technical education options and paying for college.

CareerForceOnce you graduate, this website run by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development can help you find a job.

Methodology

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:

  1. The published in-district tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  2. The published in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  3. The in-district per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  4. The in-state per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  5. Percentage of students receiving financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Percent of students that transferred to a 4-year institution and completed within 8 years, College Scorecard, 2017
  7. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  8. Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  9. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  10. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  11. 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.
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