Best Community Colleges in Minnesota
Minnesota is a state that 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.
You may be planning to continue your education after spending some time in the workforce, and 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 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.
Mesabi Range College (Virginia)
Total enrollment at Mesabi Range College is around 1,700 students, so you're likely to feel comfortable here if you'd rather avoid a large, busy campus. The institution maintains two locations in northern Minnesota: a residential campus in Virginia and a satellite center a few miles down the road in Eveleth.
Career and technical degree plans at Mesabi Range fall into two main categories -- Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) programs -- while aspiring university transfer students work toward an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree. The different locations each offer a different range of degrees, with the Virginia campus focusing on business and education while the Eveleth campus takes most of the health care and trade/technical students.
Mesabi Range students hoping to find some help with the price of college may be in luck. Around 80 percent of dependent students receive some form of financial aid.
Minnesota State Community and Technical College
Minnesota State Community and Technical College is one of the nominally youngest institutions in the state, taking on its current name and structure fewer than 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 two-thirds of the students enrolled here in 2017 -- 61 percent, to be exact -- were under the age of 22.
Century College (White Bear Lake)
Century College is one of the largest institutions among the top Minnesota community colleges, serving more than 21,000 credit and non-credit students each year, but that doesn't mean you'll feel like an anonymous face in the crowd. The degree-seeking population at Century College consists of fewer than 8,500 learners and the student-faculty ratio is 24:1.
Degree and certificate options at Century College include some valuable 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.
Minnesota West Community and Technical College
Minnesota West Community and Technical College is another institution with multiple locations around the state, created when Southwestern Technical College and Worthington Community College merged in 1997. The institution consisted of five campuses at the time of the merger, but increasing demand led to five new learning centers being built in the roughly twenty years since.
Just over 3,000 students seek degrees, certificates and other credentials here, which can require as many as 72 semester credits for an associate degree or diploma and as few as nine credits for select certificates. Minnesota West may also be one of the best online community colleges in Minnesota, offering nearly 50 study plans exclusively through online courses.
Minnesota West also maintains transfer agreements with both in-state and out-of-state institutions. Distant schools ready to accept Minnesota West grads include South Dakota State University, Franklin University (Ohio) and Buena Vista University (Iowa).
St. Cloud Technical and Community College (St. Cloud)
Founded in 1948, St. Cloud Technical and Community College was just the second technical college established in the state. This central Minnesota institution sits about one hour away from the Twin Cities metro area and just one block from the banks of the Mississippi River.
SCTCC is a fast-growing community college in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, having doubled in size over the last ten years. Today, around 6,000 students attend for-credit classes at SCTCC, where career-focused programs in welding, plumbing, carpentry, computer programming and culinary arts share catalog space with subject-specific transfer pathways in biology, psychology and more.
Statistics suggest that the long history of technical and practical programs here has given the St. Cloud institution a leg up when it comes to preparing students for the workforce. The job placement rate for SCTCC graduates was 97 percent in 2017.
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 though 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. 6 ranking among all community colleges nationwide from Military Times in 2017.
Itasca Community College (Grand Rapids)
Approximately 1,600 students attend classes at this Grand Rapids institution, where around 15 associate degrees and 10 certificates can be earned on campus. Itasca Community College also offers online courses, including a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) certificate that can be earned entirely through distance education courses.
Perhaps as a result of its proximity to numerous state forests and other wilderness areas, ICC offers a range of degrees that may not be available at other similar institutions. The catalog here contains four A.A.S. degrees and one diploma program in natural resource subjects, concentrating on law enforcement, wildland firefighting, forest resources and geospatial analysis.
The city of Grand Rapids has a population of just over 11,000 residents -- considerably smaller than its Michigan namesake -- but there's no shortage of opportunities for relaxation and recreation in your time away from class. Golf, hiking, cycling, fishing, canoeing, skiing, snowmobiling and more await you in the areas around town.
North Hennepin Community College (Brooklyn Park)
In the decades 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 numbered more than 10,000 in 2017, with students of color making up approximately 46 percent of 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 degrees and more than 20 certificates 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 plans to begin construction on a light rail train line in 2018.
Normandale Community College (Bloomington)
Normandale Community College is the largest two-year institution in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, boasting for-credit enrollment of nearly 15,000 learners. Despite the college's high enrollment, Normandale administrators managed to keep the average class size to 24 students in 2017.
The general A.A. degree is the most popular major here, but the catalog lists numerous subject-specific options for both academic majors and career preparation programs. Two-year plans include A.S. degrees in engineering, food science and special education, with shorter programs in global studies, creative writing, computer technology and casino management for certificate students.
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 (M.B.A.) degree are just a few of the advanced programs available.
Hibbing Community College (Hibbing)
The history of Hibbing Community College goes back more than 100 years, placing it among the oldest two-year colleges in the country. Hibbing Junior College, as it was called at its founding, admitted its first class of eleven students in 1916, and the college has evolved since then into a comprehensive institution that serves over 1,200 students annually.
HCC offers a handful of degree and certificate programs that are laser-focused on specific segments of the job market. The CISCO Network Technician certificate, for example, is a two-semester plan that leads to an industry certification exam, and the A.A.S. degree in military law enforcement offers military service credit for eligible students.
On top of that, fans of Bob Dylan who go to HCC are in for a surprise. The legendary songwriter grew up in Hibbing, and artifacts of his life and work are on permanent display at the Hibbing Public Library.
Initiatives for Transfer Students
Helping students to transfer 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 transfer and articulation agreements, either 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 degrees in a specific discipline, like business or education.
Learn more 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.
We ranked 30 Minnesota community colleges on the following factors:
Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points:
- The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- 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
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- 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.
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- QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed June 18-19, 2018: White Bear Lake city, Minnesota, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/whitebearlakecityminnesota/PST045216; Grand Rapids city, Minnesota, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/grandrapidscityminnesota/PST045216;
- White Bear Lake Tourism, Explore White Bear, accessed June 18, 2018, http://www.explorewhitebear.org/
- 2-Year Schools, Best for Vets: Colleges 2017, accessed June 19, 2018, https://bestforvets.militarytimes.com/2017-11-01/colleges/2-year/
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- Quick Facts, About Us, Brooklyn Park, accessed June 19, 2018, http://www.brooklynpark.org/quick-facts/
- Bob Dylan Collection, City of Hibbing, accessed June 19, 2018, http://www.hibbing.mn.us/residents/library/bob-dylan-collection
- Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, accessed June 18, 2018: Transfer Information, http://www.minnstate.edu/admissions/transfer.html; Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MnTC), http://www.minnesota.edu/?id=1168
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/