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Best Community Colleges in Montana

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Two-year college institutions in Montana come in three types: standard community colleges, tribal colleges and schools that are directly affiliated with Montana universities. Each type of college can deliver a quality education, but there may be subtle differences between them to consider when choosing where to earn your degree.

All of the public two-year schools in Montana belong to the Montana University System. The state system also encompasses the primary and secondary campuses of Montana State University and the University of Montana, the state's two large public universities. For the following ranking, we gathered data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and crunched the numbers to find out which ones were the best community colleges in Montana — check out the list below.

THE TOP COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN MONTANA

1

Great Falls College Montana State University (Great Falls)

Founded as an independent vocational technical center in 1969, Great Falls College Montana State University joined the MSU system in 1994. More than 50 degree and certificate programs are available here, including an Associate of Science in Nursing (A.S.N.) with clinical sections in local hospitals.

GFC MSU has also received national recognition for some of its degree programs. In 2019, the institution was designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education for the quality of training offered in its network support and security associate degree program.

Great Falls is the third-largest city in Montana, with a 2018 population of close to 59,000 residents. Several museums, a performing arts center and beautiful natural features give students plenty to keep them busy in their downtime.

2

Helena College University of Montana (Helena)

The average class size at Helena College University of Montana was just 11 students in 2019, and that's not the only indication that the learning environment here is an intimate one. The student-faculty ratio was 12:1 the same year, and the number of full-time students enrolled was fewer than 450.

Vocational and occupational students at HC have over 30 degree and certificate plans to choose from, including one that results in an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in metals technology and another that culminates in a degree or certificate in computer-aided manufacturing. Students who aren't yet sure what they want to study can enroll in one of two general transfer degrees that allow them to explore their options and earn credits that can transfer into a university program.

3

Flathead Valley Community College (Kalispell)

Located just 30 miles from majestic Glacier National Park and about 60 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, Flathead Valley Community College maintains two campuses in northwestern Montana. FVCC is the largest institution among the top community colleges in Montana, welcoming more than 2,300 students each year.

As you might expect from the area around Glacier National Park, the town of Kalispell is in close proximity to some truly breathtaking landscapes. Residents have access to top-notch camping, skiing, hiking, canoeing, rafting, hunting, rock climbing and more.

A diverse array of degree and certificate programs is offered here, ranging from tech-focused plans like an A.A.S. in programming and game development to creatively oriented degrees in music and theatre arts. Nearly 30 different subjects of study are available for transfer students.

4

Miles Community College (Miles City)

Miles Community College began its life way back in 1939, offering classes for its first 20 years out of spare rooms at the local public high school. The Miles City institution took on its current moniker in the 1960s and moved into a permanent campus location not long after.

MCC might be one of the best Montana community colleges for online study. The institution, which first started training instructors in teaching via interactive broadcast in 1987, offers nearly 10 degree plans that can be completed online, including an A.A.S. in small business management and three separate plans in general studies.

Campus-based students at MCC have a wide variety of agriculture and animal science programs from which to choose. Associate degree options are available in equine studies, agribusiness, agricultural production and more.

CTE in Montana

Over the last several years, career technical education (CTE) has been enjoying a renaissance all across the country. CTE programs in Montana are designed to increase higher education achievement by providing access to practical and technical skills alongside traditional classroom-based instruction.

Statistics collected by Advance CTE, a national nonprofit agency that works to enhance student success through career and technical education, show that CTE initiatives in Montana are achieving their goal. The graduation rate for high school students who concentrate their study on CTE subjects is 98 percent, and roughly nine out of ten CTE graduates go on to find jobs, join the military or enroll in higher education and advanced training programs within six months of leaving high school.

Here's a short list of available resources at the state level to help prospective students learn more about the CTE landscape in Montana:

  • The training and education page maintained by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry can help you find locations for CTE opportunities in Montana and give you insight into some state initiatives.
  • Visit the trades and technical portion of the online site for Montana Technical University to get an idea of the types of college-level CTE programs available in Montana.

Remember to check with advisors at the school you plan to attend to find out which programs might be available to you.

Transferring Credits in Montana

If you're looking to transfer into a bachelor's degree program after finishing your first few semesters in community college, make sure to check the transfer agreements offered by your destination school. Here are a few of the public and private universities in Montana that may have subject-specific transfer agreements with your community college:

  • Montana State University-Billings
  • Montana State University-Northern
  • Montana Tech of the University of Montana
  • Highlands College of Montana Tech
  • University of Providence

Some of our best Montana community colleges also have transfer agreements with out-of-state schools. Institutions in Missouri, Idaho and the Canadian province of Alberta all have agreements with select two-year schools in Montana.

What's more, several of the community colleges in the Montana University System provide a simple and affordable transfer method for its students who have earned at least 12 college credits. By filling out a document known as the Transmittal Form, you can authorize your community college to send all records, including your official transcripts, to a destination school within the system.

You can also explore the top universities in Montana for more insight into higher education in the Treasure State, and get some general guidance about the transfer process and how to make it work for you in our college transfer guide.

Resources for Community College Students in Montana

  • All two-year schools in Montana are part of the Montana University System, which provides institutional information and a searchable inventory of degree programs.
  • MontanaWorks, an initiative of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, allows students and graduates to search its expansive job board or learn about professional licensing in the state.
  • Learn about college scholarships in Montana and other important financial aid information at the scholarships and financial aid page of the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

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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