Best Community Colleges in Pennsylvania
The state of Pennsylvania has a long history of taking higher education seriously. From the first official university founded in the U.S. to cutting-edge online schools in Pennsylvania, students in the state have plenty of great options when it comes to college degree programs and professional training.
The trouble is that students looking into two-year institutions don't always have an easy time determining which one's best. Data from Community colleges in Pennsylvania is available somewhat differently from that in other states, also — the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC) network is a transfer information resource that lists 14 official two-year public institutions, along with its 18 universities and one two-year private school, and community college students statewide are served by branch campuses, satellite centers and instructional sites associated with those 14 regional hubs.
Of the 14 schools ranked, here are the top 5 community colleges in Pennsylvania by the numbers, along with a bonus bit of information about each one's strengths. For additional information about our rankings, check out our Methodology below.
Butler County Community College
Affordable tuition and a second-place ranking for PA TRAC transfer rate combined to put Butler County Community College at the head of our list. That favorable transfer rate wasn't the only figure in the college's favor, either — the western Pennsylvania school also produced a higher percentage of graduates with completed degrees or certificates than all other schools but one, and its total cost of attendance came in well below average, ranking second overall.
- Total enrollment, Fall 2015: 3,573
- Comfortable classes: Average class size is often linked to increased student engagement — smaller can be more conducive to retention and graduation. Small class sizes can allow faculty to provide students with increased individual and small group attention.
Bucks County Community College
This institution in far eastern Pennsylvania moves up several spots to the No. 2 position in our list of the best community colleges in Pennsylvania based on favorable ranking for number of students in distance education courses, as well as low cost of tuition and 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The college also took the top spot statewide for retention rate, which suggests that Bucks County Community College has what it needs for students to complete their education.
- Total enrollment, Fall 2015: 8,611
- Learning for all ages: The Early Learning Center at Bucks has provided enjoyable and educational child care for three- to five-year-old children of students since 1973. Facilities include an outdoor playground, art facilities, indoor kinetic activities and other play-based, supervised learning experiences.
Montgomery County Community College (Blue Bell)
Students at Montgomery County Community College graduate at a relatively high rate — good for the No. 3 spot on the list — and the Whitpain Township school stands in a four-way tie with other online schools in Pennsylvania at No. 5 for its rate of distance education enrollment. Students also stay in school for the long haul — MC3 is tied for one other school in the list for second place in retention ranking. Cost of tuition and books and supplied landed the college square in the middle of our study.
- Total enrollment, Fall 2015: 12,372
- Power of the arts: MC3 helped to launch a cultural initiative designed to energize economic and cultural development in Montgomery County. The plan, called Creative MontCo, aims to engage diverse communities through arts and creativity.
Northampton County Area Community College
Northampton Community College enjoys a host of top-five finishes among our metrics. The Bethlehem school ranked second for number of students enrolled in distance education classes and other scheduling considerations, such as weekend/evening classes and day care services are available on campus for students who need them. The college was third in total cost of tuition and books, tied for second in transfer rate, and tied for third for graduation rate.
- Total enrollment, Fall 2015: 10,269
- Career program success: A recent NCC graduate survey indicates that students who complete its career training programs go on to find employment in their field at a rate of 90 percent. A few considerable salaries were also reported, such as the median annual figure of $76,440 for graduates of the computer maintenance and service technology program.
Community College of Beaver County
Moving up few notches this year to the fifth spot in our study of top community colleges in Pennsylvania, Community College of Beaver County in Pennsylvania's far western reaches has the third-best graduation rate of all the schools on this list. As seems to be the case with one of the best-graduating community colleges in Pennsylvania, its transfer rate per 1,000 students to PA TRAC schools is also solid - sixth overall. CCBC holds its own among the online schools in Pennsylvania, as well, tying for fifth place with a 29 percent rate of enrollment in some type of distance education.
- Total enrollment, Fall 2015: 2,303
- Sky-high sciences: CCBC offers some of its programs through the nearby Aviation Sciences Center in Beaver Falls, which features a professional pilot program, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV/drone) program, an aerospace management program and a highly rated training program for air traffic controllers.
We ranked the 14 member schools of the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges. In addition to the primary campuses, there are a total of 12 branch campuses and 87 instructional centers around the state. However, data is not collected separately for these secondary sites, so the final analysis includes only the main campus for each of the 14 institutions.
Each school was scored on a 5-point scale, using the following seven data points.
- Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Total cost of attendance, including tuition & fees plus books & supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Average retention rate for full- and part-time students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Number of transfer agreements per 1,000 students with other institutions in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center, 2017
- Flexibility, based on three data points* from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
*If school offers credit for life experiences, weekend or evening programs, and offers on-campus daycare.
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed Sept 2017, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Participating PA TRAC Colleges & Universities, Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center, Accessed Sept 2017, https://www.patrac.org/AboutPATRAC/ParticipatingCollegesandUniversities/tabid/301/Default.aspx
- Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, The College Board, accessed Sept 2017, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time
- Cost of Living, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sperling's Best Places, accessed Sept 2017, http://www.bestplaces.net/cost_of_living/city/pennsylvania/Pittsburgh
- The Plan for Arts & Culture in Montgomery County, Creative Montco, accessed Sept 2017, http://creativemontco.net/the-plan-for-arts-culture-in-montgomery-county/