Best Community Colleges in Pennsylvania
Whether they're looking to train for a new career or get a head start on their core coursework before transferring to Pennsylvania universities, students in the Keystone State have plenty of choices when it comes to college degree programs.
There are 14 public community colleges in Pennsylvania as well as a number of private career colleges. These schools play an important role in helping the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania meets its goals for the PAsmart program. This initiative is focused on ensuring students and workers have the skills needed for 21st Century jobs.
Two-year schools play a dual role in helping the commonwealth meet its education needs. First, many offer career technical education that directly prepares students for in-demand occupations. Plus, the best Pennsylvania community colleges are an affordable way to complete the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree. Thanks to transfer agreements between schools, students can complete their first two years of college at a reduced cost and then apply those credits toward a four-year degree at Pennsylvania colleges and universities.
Keep scrolling to see the top community colleges in Pennsylvania as well as more about career technical education and transfer agreements in the commonwealth.
Westmoreland County Community College (Youngwood)
Founded in 1970, Westmoreland County Community College has one of the most diverse selections of degree and certificate programs of any school that made our list. A total of more than 160 study plans are available on the seven campuses and learning centers located in Westmoreland, Fayette and Indiana Counties.
The sheer volume of distance education programs available at WCCC earns it a mention among the best online community colleges in Pennsylvania. No fewer than 25 degrees, diplomas and certificates can be earned entirely through online courses, with an additional 20+ that deliver 50 percent of their credits online. Options for distance learners include an associate degree in business management and a certificate in cyber security.
The campus environment at WCCC is rural, which can be perfect if you prefer a peaceful environment in which to study. It's also one of the smaller schools on our list, with yearly enrollment of around 5,000 students.
Bucks County Community College (Newtown)
Bucks County Community College is an eastern Pennsylvania school that operates three campuses in the region northeast of Philadelphia. The school has an affordable tuition rate and notes that two years of education at Bucks costs less than a single year at a private university.
In addition to the more than 120 degrees, certificates and career training programs available at its multiple brick-and-mortar locations, Bucks makes it possible to earn more than 20 degrees and certificates through online courses alone. Among these are certificates in historic preservation and social media & digital marketing, which require 24 or fewer online classroom credits and culminate in an in-person internship.
Students and alumni with three- to five-year-old children can take advantage of high-quality, educational child care at the Newtown Campus's Early Learning Center. Services include an outdoor playground, art facilities, indoor kinetic activities and other play-based, supervised learning experiences.
Delaware County Community College (Media)
With a yearly total enrollment of around 28,000 learners and for-credit enrollment of roughly 12,000, Delaware County Community College has one of the largest student bodies among the best community colleges in Pennsylvania. Along with its primary location in Marple Township, the Philadelphia-area institution maintains numerous satellite campuses and learning centers throughout Delaware and Chester Counties.
The academic catalog at DCCC is well balanced, featuring around 35 certificates, over 20 degrees for university transfer and close to 30 Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) plans for career-minded students. Two dozen programs are offered fully or partially online, including an associate degree in business administration and an associate degree in liberal arts. Transfer agreements are in place with more than 50 four-year schools.
Campus life at the main DCCC location is vibrant. Students can enjoy art exhibitions, performances, literary readings and more than 30 academic, social and special interest clubs to join. Aspiring college athletes have eight sports to choose from, as well.
Montgomery County Community College (Blue Bell)
Also known as MCCC, Montco and MC3, Montgomery County Community College stands tall among online colleges in Pennsylvania. Nearly 40 degree and certificate programs are offered entirely online, including two-year plans in information technology, computer networking-cyber security and other valuable tech-related disciplines.
Despite educating more than 10,000 students each year, Montco retains a fairly close-knit campus environment. The student-faculty ratio was 16:1 in 2018, and the average class size was just 16 students. Students hoping to transfer to one of the top four-year schools in Pennsylvania after finishing their associate degree will have more than 30 partner universities to choose from.
Campus-based students here enjoy a selection of more than 100 degree and certificate plans. If you've got a GPA over 3.2 and want some extra academic challenge, the Honors Program can help you stay engaged.
Community College of Philadelphia (Philadelphia)
According to its annual enrollment numbers, the Community College of Philadelphia's main campus is one of the busiest two-year schools in the state. Total enrollment for the 2018-19 academic year was more than 26,000, with most students enrolled in for-credit courses.
CCP also operates three satellite learning centers for students located closer to the western, northwestern and northeastern borders of its service area. Female and African-American students hold demographic majorities at CCP, according to 2019 statistics, making up 64 percent and 43 percent of students, respectively.
More than 70 degree and certificate programs are available here, and media-savvy students have an extra reason to be excited. The college has an associate degree in digital video production and is home to the broadcast studios of CCPTV. This is a public cable channel that helps produce content created by CCP students and professors and broadcasts it to households throughout the city of Philadelphia.
Harrisburg Area Community College (Harrisburg)
Harrisburg Area Community College has the distinction of being Pennsylvania's oldest and largest community college. Founded in 1964, it was the first community college established in the commonwealth.
Today, students can choose from more than 120 educational programs that may result in associate degrees, diplomas and certificates of proficiency. HACC notes a little more than a quarter of its students come to earn transfer credits while others are looking for a technical education or workforce training.
HACC offers its programs on five campus locations as well as online. Distance learners can choose from general education programs such as an associate degree in liberal arts or specialized training for a specific occupation like professional bookkeeping or web development and design. Some degrees may combine online with on-campus classes.
Butler County Community College (Butler)
Affordable tuition was one of the brightest spots for Butler County Community College, known as BC3 to students and faculty. Butler County residents pay $5,100 in tuition and fees for a 30-credit year in 2019-202, making it about half the average price of a public four-year institution.
Close to 80 degree and certificate programs are available for BC3 students, including 18 programs designed specifically to help you shift into a university bachelor's program. In fact, BC3 may be one of the top Pennsylvania community colleges for aspiring transfer students — roughly 70 percent of students here are enrolled in programs that can be transferred to four-year schools.
Students who need extra flexibility in their schedules can choose from more than 100 online and distance courses. Certain certificates in business and tech, such as an accounting skills certificate, can be earned entirely online.
Northampton County Area Community College (Bethlehem)
Founded in 1967, Northampton Community College serves more than 35,000 credit and non-credit students each year. Degree programs are available in more than 100 fields of study, such as business, technology, social and leisure services, health care, science and the arts. Some programs, such as an associate degree in business administration, can be earned entirely online.
Education at NCC is relatively inexpensive, especially for residents of Northampton County. Local students who enroll in 12-18 credit hours of coursework in a given semester are all charged the same flat rate, which can be as low as $1,605 for students residing in some Northampton County school districts.
The numbers also suggest that NCC alumni go on to find career success after graduation. A recent survey indicates that graduates of its career training programs land jobs in their field at a rate of 90 percent.
Pennsylvania Highlands Community College (Richland)
Having first opened its doors in 1994, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College stands as one of the younger degree-granting schools in the state. In the 25 years since its founding, Penn Highlands took on its current name, earned full accreditation and opened several satellite campuses to reach students throughout its service area.
The widest variety of programs, courses and services can be found at the main Penn Highlands campus in Richland. The institution's other learning centers in Somerset, Huntington, Ebensburg, Altoona and Johnstown each offer a selection of programs in popular disciplines.
Penn Highlands also deserves mention among the online community colleges of Pennsylvania, thanks to its variety of career training programs and four academic degrees that can be earned entirely through online courses. These include a medical coding specialist diploma and a paralegal studies associate degree. An online readiness quiz can help students determine whether online learning will work for them.
Lehigh Carbon Community College (Schnecksville)
Lehigh Carbon Community College students have more than 90 programs of study available, in subjects like business, the humanities, education, computer science, health care, engineering and more. The student-faculty ratio here is 19:1 and the campus has a strong female majority — more than 62 percent 2018.
Just over 10,000 students attend courses here each year, with around one third committed to full-time school and the remainder taking part-time schedules. The average courseload of a full-time student is approximately 14 credits, while part-time students take an average of around six.
LCCC's nearly 40 career-focused A.A.S. programs make up the largest portion of awarded degrees in most years, with Associate in Arts (A.A.) programs in second place and Associate in Science (A.S.) plans in third. The most popular major here, whether for transfer or graduation, is liberal arts and can be earned online or on-campus.
CTE in Pennsylvania
You'll find career technical education programs, also known as CTE, at most of the best community colleges in Pennsylvania. CTE is often grouped into career clusters with pathways within each cluster that leads to specific jobs. For example, a school might offer education pathways within the education and training career cluster that lead to jobs in administration, teaching or support services positions.
Since many in-demand jobs require career technical education, there are a number of initiatives to encourage CTE in Pennsylvania:
- The Pennsylvania Career & Technical Education Resources Center has a Programs of Study initiative that is designed to help high school students prepare for the workforce, CTE postsecondary education and apprenticeships.
- Top community colleges in Pennsylvania often have dual enrollment programs that let high school students earn college credit early.
- Career Ready PA is an initiative of the Pennsylvania Department of Education to promote workforce readiness.
Pennsylvania community colleges and career schools can provide more information about career technical education. Visit their websites to see which programs they offer. You can also find more information about CTE in Pennsylvania at these links:
- Pennsylvania Career and Technical Education - Known as Pennsylvania CTE, this website has information on Programs of Study, career and technical education organizations and more.
- Career and Technical Education Centers - For a link to a list of Career and Technical Education Centers in Pennsylvania, visit this Department of Education website.
Transferring College Credits in Pennsylvania
More than 30 community colleges and universities in Pennsylvania participate in the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC), which means that they share a portfolio of courses and degree programs designed to transfer seamlessly between them. Here are the two types of agreement covered under the PA TRAC umbrella:
- Statewide transfer plans, otherwise known as Program-to-Program (P2P) Articulation Agreements, provide direct pathways to enrollment at four-year PA TRAC schools by aligning your associate degree with the first 60 credits of a bachelor's program.
- School-to-school transfer agreements are struck between individual community colleges in Pennsylvania and public or private universities both within and outside the state.
Most of the searchable agreements in the PA TRAC database list public universities as their destination schools, but those hoping to finish their bachelor's degree at a small private college may still be able to take advantage of transfer-based associate degree programs. PA TRAC has five private institutions among its list of schools, and your community college may offer school-to-school agreements with private colleges.
When you're ready, be sure to explore the top four-year schools in Pennsylvania and find more about education in the state. Plus, our guide on How to Transfer Colleges can shed light on the process of moving from a two-year school to a four-year school.
Resources for Community College Students in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Department of Education - The Department of Education website has links to all 14 public community colleges in the commonwealth.
- Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges - This non-profit organization serves as an advocate for public community colleges in Pennsylvania.
- PAsmart - This Pennsylvania government website lets visitors explore education, find apprenticeships and discover career paths.
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.
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed October 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- School pages, accessed October 10-12, 2018: About BC3, Butler County Community College, https://www.bc3.edu/about/index.html; Who We Are, Butler County Community College, https://www.bc3.edu/about/who-we-are/index.html; Tuition and Fees, Butler County Community College, https://www.bc3.edu/paying/tuition-fees.html; Online & Distance Education, Butler County Community College, http://academic-catalog.bc3.edu/content.php?catoid=10&navoid=478; Distance Education Programs and Courses, Butler County Community College, https://www.bc3.edu/programs-classes/online-distance-education/online-programs-courses.html; College History, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, http://www.pennhighlands.edu/about/history/; Richland Campus, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, http://www.pennhighlands.edu/about/locations/richland/; Locations, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, http://www.pennhighlands.edu/about/locations/; Online College, Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, http://www.pennhighlands.edu/about/locations/online-college/; Fast Facts, Delaware County Community College, https://wwwtest.dccc.edu/about/news-information/fast-facts; Programs of Study, Delaware County Community College, https://www.dccc.edu/academics/programs; Locations, Delaware County Community College, https://www.dccc.edu/about/locations/all-locations; About LCCC, Lehigh Carbon Community College, https://www.lccc.edu/about-lccc; Statistics, Lehigh Carbon Community College, https://www.lccc.edu/about-lccc/statistics-(1); Key Facts, Community College of Philadelphia, https://www.ccp.edu/about-us/key-facts; Locations, Community College of Philadelphia, https://www.ccp.edu/locations; Welcome to CCPTV, Community College of Philadelphia, https://www.ccp.edu/about-us/welcome-ccptv; About, Westmoreland County Community College, https://westmoreland.edu/pages/future-students/about/; Online Learning, Westmoreland County Community College, https://westmoreland.edu/pages/future-students/considering-distance-education/about-online-classes-and-distance-learning/; Online Programs, Westmoreland County Community College, https://westmoreland.edu/pages/future-students/considering-distance-education/online-programs/; Academic Programs, Westmoreland County Community College, https://westmoreland.edu/pages/future-students/academic-programs/; LCCC History, Luzerne County Community College, https://www.luzerne.edu/about/history.jsp; Facts and Figures, Luzerne County Community College, https://www.luzerne.edu/about/facts.jsp; Campus Locations, Luzerne County Community College, https://www.luzerne.edu/about/oc/; Main Campus - Nanticoke, Luzerne County Community College, https://www.luzerne.edu/about/oc/location.jsp?offcampus=MC; Tuition & Fees Breakdown, Northampton Community College, https://www.northampton.edu/admissions/tuition -- financial-aid-scholarships/tuition-and-fees/tuition-and-fees-breakdown.htm; College History and Facts, Northampton Community College, https://www.northampton.edu/about/college-history-and-facts.htm; Fact Sheet, Northampton Community College, https://www.northampton.edu/about/college-history-and-facts/fact-sheet.htm; Programs and Majors, Northampton Community College, https://www.northampton.edu/academics/programs-and-majors.htm; Montgomery County Community College, https://www.mc3.edu/; About Us, Montgomery County Community College, https://www.mc3.edu/about-mccc; Degrees and Programs, Montgomery County Community College, https://www.mc3.edu/degrees-and-programs; Honors Programs, Montgomery County Community College, https://www.mc3.edu/degrees-and-programs/honors-programs; Program Finder, Montgomery County Community College, https://www.mc3.edu/degrees-and-programs/programs; History, Bucks County Community College, http://www.bucks.edu/discover/history/; Academic Majors, Bucks County Community College, http://www.bucks.edu/academics/courses/majors/; Online Degrees and Certificates, Bucks County Community College, http://www.bucks.edu/bucks-online/majors/; Newtown Campus, Bucks County Community College, http://www.bucks.edu/campus/newtown/; Early Learning Center, Bucks County Community College, http://www.bucks.edu/resources/campusresources/elc/; Transfer Agreements with Pennsylvania Community Colleges, Penn State University, https://priorlearning.psu.edu/transfer-agreements-pennsylvania-community-colleges; About HACC, Harrisburg Area Community College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.hacc.edu/AboutHACC/index.cfm
- U.S. Census Bureau, accessed October 2019: https://www.census.gov/
- Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center, accessed October 2019: Participating Colleges and Universities, http://www.pacollegetransfer.com/AboutPATRAC/ParticipatingColleges/tabid/301/Default.aspx; Transfer Degrees, http://www.pacollegetransfer.com/TransferDegrees/tabid/4473/Default.aspx
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds