Best Community Colleges in New York
New York has a rich history when it comes to higher education. With schools dating back to the earliest days of the nation, the state has developed a reputation for quality instruction, and that reputation extends to community colleges as well. Students interested in a degree or technical training at a two-year school have a range of good options available.
Unlike other states that have a statewide community college board, New York community colleges are overseen by the state's two main public university systems. The State University of New York, or SUNY, supervises 30 community colleges that are sponsored by local governments, and the City University of New York — also known as CUNY — maintains six community colleges.
The best community colleges in New York offer a mix of degree options, including transfer degrees, technical degrees and certificate programs. Many offer online courses, and all of them provide ways for students to continue their education at top New York universities after graduating.
Nassau Community College (Long Island)
Since admitting its first class of students in 1960, Nassau Community College has grown into the largest single-campus community college in the state. Around 225 acres of campus facilities and greenspaces await students who enroll at this Long Island school.
Academically oriented programs at NCC include biology, chemistry, Afro-American studies and foreign languages. Several technical degrees and certificate programs are available as well, in subjects like medical laboratory technology, culinary arts, information technology and mortuary science.
Nearly 30,000 students attend classes online or on-campus at this SUNY school. Hundreds of classes are available through distance education, and numerous campus-based coursework can be taken on an evening schedule if your days are dedicated to work or family.
Westchester Community College (Valhalla)
Westchester Community College may be one of the best community colleges in New York for students seeking an affordable path to a certificate or degree. This SUNY institution in the tiny hamlet of Valhalla posted the lowest in-state tuition rate of any school to make our top ten, charging an average of just over $4,800 for a year of instruction.
WCC also has one of the more intimate learning environments on our list. Despite educating around 11,500 students each semester, the student-faculty ratio here is a comfortable 14:1.
Students here can choose from a wide range of Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees. Subjects of study include the performing arts, nutrition care, energy systems and mechanical technology.
Onondaga Community College (Syracuse)
This institution northwest of the Finger Lakes in the geographic heart of the state is one of the best New York community colleges for outgoing transfer students, according to the numbers. More than 21 percent of Onondaga Community College alumni go on to successfully complete their bachelor's degrees after transferring.
Around 50 training and education programs are offered at OCC, including short-term, career-ready certificates in warehouse operation, manufacturing and phlebotomy. The list of degree options includes several programs in the arts, such as A.S. plans in photography and music.
Fewer than 10,000 students attend courses at this SUNY institution each semester, giving it the comfortable feel of a mid-sized school. Around 82 percent of the student body receives some form of financial aid.
Rockland Community College (Suffern)
Rockland Community College is another prospective destination for students looking to save as much as they can on their college bills. Just one other school on our list charged a lower average amount for in-state tuition and fees in 2018 than this SUNY location.
The town of Suffern has a population under 5,000, according to U.S. Census Estimates, so students who like a quiet environment in which to study might enjoy going to school here. Around 6,800 students attend courses each semester at RCC, but more than 27 percent of them earn some or all of their credits via online study.
Tech-savvy students can earn a certificate in Web development or associate degrees in computer support, cybersecurity and computer information systems. Around 10 A.S. and A.A.S. plans are available fully online.
Tompkins Cortland Community College (Dryden)
Students hoping to pay for some of their education with financial aid programs might want to give Tompkins Cortland Community College some extra consideration. The Dryden institution reported that 92 percent of students enrolled in 2018-19 received some form of student aid.
Tompkins Cortland offers several unique hands-on learning and internship experiences, such as a Disney College Program that includes a full-time paid internship at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and a Farm to Bistro program for culinary students. An honors college and opportunities to study abroad also add value to the student experience at this SUNY school.
Flexible scheduling options are a mainstay of the catalog here. More than 20 hybrid degrees and certificates can be completed using between 50 and 80 percent online courses.
Erie Community College (Buffalo)
Also known as SUNY Erie, Erie Community College offers more than 100 education options that feature affordable tuition and flexible scheduling. Students can take classes at the main campus in Buffalo or two satellite campuses in Williamsville and Orchard Park, and around 25 percent of the student body takes at least some of their credits through distance education.
Several degrees and certificates can be earned through online courses at SUNY Erie, including an A.S. in sports and leisure studies and certificates in entrepreneurship and homeland security. Campus-based students have some rare and interesting study options to choose from, like certificates in brewing science and casino gaming machine repair.
Aspiring student athletes have several outlets for their sporting passions here, as well. SUNY Erie fields competitive teams in eight men's and nine women's sports.
Suffolk County Community College (Selden)
Student success was one of the top metrics at Suffolk County Community College. The Long Island school posted the second-highest retention rate among schools that made our list, suggesting that students here tend to stick with their degree programs past the first year, and students who transfer into university programs successfully complete their bachelor's degrees at the fifth-highest rate among all schools in the state.
Automotive technology students at Suffolk can enroll in T-TEN, the manufacturer-approved service education program for Toyota vehicles, as well as a standard A.A.S. program in automotive service and a certificate plan in automotive maintenance and light repair. Students of the culinary arts can study baking and pastry arts, restaurant management and hotel and resort management at the associate degree level.
Jefferson Community College (Watertown)
A close-knit learning environment is available at this northern New York school near the shores of Lake Erie. Jefferson Community College educates around 3,300 students each semester, and the average class size of 17 can keep you from feeling like an anonymous warm body in class. Jefferson also boasts a comfortable student-faculty ratio of 18:1.
The degree catalog here features two-year degree programs for job training or transfer purposes, as well as certificates and single courses designed to help students advance their careers. Students in select fields may be able to shift into bachelor's degree study while continuing to study on the Watertown campus, thanks to four-year programs in business administration and childhood education that are offered jointly with SUNY Potsdam.
Hudson Valley Community College (Troy)
Located northwest of Albany, Hudson Valley Community College welcomes nearly 11,000 students through its doors each term and could lay claim to being the most flexible school among the top community colleges in New York.
More than 20 degree and certificate programs, in subjects like marketing and health information management, are available in the virtual classroom at HVCC. The more than 60 percent of students taking classes online at this SUNY school was the highest in the state in 2018, and students have access to entire degree plans that can be completed through evening courses.
Campus-based students can train for career fields like computer-aided drafting, digital media and criminal justice, as well as study fine art, biological sciences, the humanities and more as academic disciplines.
Queensborough Community College (Bayside)
Queensborough Community College is the only two-year school from the CUNY system to make this year's list. This college of more than 15,000 credit-seeking students features one of the lowest average costs for in-state tuition and fees among our top ten schools, charging students a mean figure of just over $5,200 for a year of study.
The academic catalog here includes several joint degrees, such as an A.S. in forensic accounting offered in conjunction with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Creative students can pursue degrees in digital art and design, film and media production, dance, music and more.
Queensborough reports that more than half of associate degree completers here choose to transfer to four-year institutions. Roughly 90 percent of students here graduate without any federal student loan debt.
CTE in New York
Legislators and educators across the country are becoming aware of the positive effect that career technical education (CTE) can have on student success and graduate career potential. CTE programs in New York aim to provide a combination of technical training and academic instruction that prepares students in high school or college for the realities of both the workforce and advanced education.
Take a look at this quick survey of CTE data in New York:
- The graduation rate at New York CTE high schools was 92 percent in 2018-19, beating the statewide average graduation rate by ten percentage points.
- Around 86 percent of college students who complete CTE programs in New York begin a job, an apprenticeship program or military service within six months of graduating.
- CTE schools in New York received nearly $57 million in federal funds through the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) to expand opportunities for vocational and technical students.
Residents of the nation's largest metropolis can find out more about CTE in New York City at the info hub for career education in the City. The New York State Education Department publishes a wide range of helpful information about CTE throughout the state.
Transferring Credits in New York
While some people attend community colleges for career training, others use it as a jumping-off point for an affordable bachelor's degree at one of the dozens of universities in New York. Credits from an associate degree plan can often be transferred in to fulfill lower division requirements at a four-year school.
New York students benefit from the fact that community colleges operate as part of the SUNY and CUNY systems. Both university systems engage in transfer agreements that can make it relatively easy to shift your focus to a university after finishing your associate degree.
For example, SUNY guarantees that any student transferring from a SUNY community college with an A.S. or A.A. degree will be granted admission to its universities. The transfer agreement at CUNY ensures that general education core courses will qualify for transfer from two-year schools to universities within its system.
It's also possible to transfer from the best New York community colleges to schools outside of the big state systems, especially if your two-year school participates in institution-to-institution transfer agreements. Check with an adviser or transfer counselor to find out more about options at your specific school, and take a look at our credit transfer guide for more detailed general info.
Resources for Community College Students in New York
- Information about many of the public two-year schools in New York can be found at the SUNY and CUNY system sites.
- Private colleges and universities in the Empire State are organized by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York — check out their admissions and financial aid site to learn about schools and funding options.
- Students looking at public community colleges in New York can find state-based grant and scholarship programs at the financial aid portal of the New York Higher Education Corporation.
- Learn about federal work-study programs, grants, loans and more at the Federal Student Aid office of the U.S. Department of Education.
We ranked 35 community colleges in New York, all of which were affiliated with either the City University of New York or the State University of New York systems. The schools were ranked on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services.
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.
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Complete Campus List, State University of New York, accessed October 31, 2019, https://www.suny.edu/attend/visit-us/complete-campus-list/
- Colleges & Schools, City University of New York, accessed October 31, 2019, https://www.cuny.edu/about/colleges-schools/
- School pages, accessed October 31, 2019: About, Nassau Community College, https://www.ncc.edu/aboutncc/; Fast Facts, Nassau Community College, https://www.ncc.edu/aboutncc/fastfacts.shtml; Programs of Study, Nassau Community College, https://collegecatalog.ncc.edu/current/programs/; About the College, Westchester Community College, https://www.sunywcc.edu/about/about-the-college/; Programs of Study, Westchester Community College, https://catalog.sunywcc.edu/content.php?catoid=42&navoid=6602; Search Programs, Onondaga Community College, http://www.sunyocc.edu/programs; Degrees and Certificates, Rockland Community College, https://www.sunyrockland.edu/study-at-rcc/academics-and-degrees/degrees-and-certs; Online Learning, Rockland Community College, https://www.sunyrockland.edu/study-at-rcc/academics-and-degrees/elearning; College Info, Tompkins Cortland Community College, https://www.tompkinscortland.edu/college-info; Online Learning, Tompkins Cortland Community College, https://www.tompkinscortland.edu/academics/online-learning; Honors College, Tompkins Cortland Community College, https://www.tompkinscortland.edu/academics/honors-college; Study Abroad, Tompkins Cortland Community College, https://www.tompkinscortland.edu/academics/study-abroad; About ECC, Erie Community College, https://www.ecc.edu/about/; Locations, Erie Community College, https://www.ecc.edu/locations/; Degrees & Certificates, Erie Community College, https://www.ecc.edu/degrees/; Athletics, Erie Community College, http://athletics.ecc.edu/landing/index; Majors and Programs, Suffolk County Community College, https://sunysuffolk.edu/explore-academics/majors-and-programs/index.jsp; Culinary Arts and Hospitality, Suffolk Community College, https://sunysuffolk.edu/explore-academics/majors-and-programs/culinary-arts/index.jsp; About Jefferson, Jefferson Community College, https://www.sunyjefferson.edu/about/index.php; Programs of Study, Jefferson Community College, https://www.sunyjefferson.edu/academics/programs/index.php; Degree & Certificate Programs, Hudson Valley Community College, https://www.hvcc.edu/programs/all/index.html; Online Programs, Hudson Valley Community College, https://www.hvcc.edu/programs/all/online.html; Queensborough Community College, http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/index.html; About, Queensborough Community College, http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/about/index.html; Programs of Study, Queensborough Community College, http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/academics/programs-of-study.html;
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed October 31, 2019: New York, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=NY&ct=1&ic=2;
- Suffern village, New York, QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed October 31, 2019, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/suffernvillagenewyork/PST045218
- New York, Advance CTE, accessed October 31, 2019, https://careertech.org/New York
- Association for Career and Technical Education, accessed October 31, 2019: Why CTE?, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/; State Profiles, https://www.acteonline.org/why-cte/state-profiles/;
- Perkins V, Perkins Collaborative Resource Network, accessed October 31, 2019, https://cte.ed.gov/legislation/perkins-v