Best Community Colleges in Texas
Community colleges are a big part of higher education in the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC), more than 730,000 Texas residents are enrolled in community college programs — more students than the total reported by Texas universities and over half of all public higher education enrollment in the state.
Texas is divided into 50 community college districts, ranging in size from over 71,000 students in Dallas to around 1,500 in some smaller districts in the Panhandle. More than 80 total institutions offer certificate and associate degree programs to first-time college students, returning learners and career changers in Texas.
These two-year schools will play a crucial role in helping the state achieve its goal of having 60 percent of Texans hold a certificate or degree by 2030. Known as the 60x30TX plan, this initiative promotes career technical education (CTE) as well as four-year degrees.
If you're deciding which one of the state's campus-based and online colleges to attend, it can help to know which ones are the best by the numbers. Take a look at our list of the best Texas community colleges and see if one may be able to help you achieve your academic and career goals.
Central Texas College (Killeen)
Military life is has tremendous influence over the city of Killeen, where Central Texas College is located, and the school's approach to higher education reflects its close affiliation with the U.S. armed services. Along with its main campus in Texas, CTC partners with more than two dozen military installations across the country to offer classroom courses and more for enlisted personnel and officers.
CTC is also one of the top community colleges in Texas for online courses and degrees, particularly in terms of variety and availability. More than 60 associate degree and certificate programs are available online here, such as an online associate degree in criminal justice and an online certificate in business management. Students can also choose from a catalog of over 450 individual online courses.
Military servicemembers aren't the only ones who benefit from the distributed campus model at CTC. Civilian sites near Brady, Gatesville, Lampasas, Fredericksburg and Marble Falls also offer the institution's degree and certificate plans.
Lone Star College System (The Woodlands)
The Lone Star College System includes seven colleges, 12 centers and more than 20 online programs. The system has the largest Hispanic population in the nation and is second in the nation when it comes to granting associate degrees to those students.
There are more than 200 educational programs offered through the Lone Star College System, and the college was the first in the state to offer registered apprenticeship programs. In addition to degrees and certificates, LSC offers industry training through non-credit Fast Track programs. Online programs include a computer programming specialist certificate and an associate degree in accounting.
More than 87,500 students were enrolled at LSC during the fall 2019 semester, and they pay a tuition rate that is only a fraction of that charged by nearby universities.
Eastfield College (Mesquite)
As a part of the Dallas County Community College District, Eastfield College serves a diverse population of more than 16,500 students. Approximately half of those enrolled are first generation students, meaning they are the first from their family to attend college.
While face-to-face classes remain the most popular option at Eastfield College, nearly a third of students take classes online. These courses run on an 8-week term and can be accessed from any mobile device. Fully online programs include transfer degrees such as an Associate of Arts and career and technical programs like a criminal justice certificate.
Whether you want to study on-campus or online, Eastfield College offers comprehensive support resources including career services, veteran services and a food pantry. The college also has free training opportunities for high school students and small business owners.
Richland College (Dallas)
Approximately 20,000 credit students attend this Dallas institution, which was established in 1972 as one of seven campuses in the Dallas County Community College District. Flexible scheduling is available to students here, whether you're looking for traditional 16-week spring and fall semesters or shorter flex terms that take place throughout the year.
Richland College has received some high praise in the more than 40 years of its existence. One example is the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award. Richland was the first community college to receive this recognition conferred by the White House and U.S. Department of Commerce.
The programs at Richland include dozens of degrees and certificates that cover eight instructional divisions. These include popular programs in business and health care as well as more unique degrees such as an associate degree in interactive simulation and game technology which teaches skills for video game designers. For distance learners, Richland has more than 20 fully online degrees and certificates.
Brookhaven College (Farmers Branch)
Located in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Brookhaven College is another of the seven institutions in the Dallas County Community College District. Since its founding in 1978, Brookhaven has grown to educate more than 13,000 students each year and offers more than 70 degree and certificate programs.
The numbers show that Brookhaven may be one of the best community colleges in Texas for students looking for an affordable college experience. The institution reports a total annual cost of less than $1,800 for Dallas County residents taking 15 credits or fewer during the year, which represents approximately 50 percent savings on the national average yearly community college tuition of $3,440.
If you're looking to change careers or enhance your skillset, Brookhaven has that covered as well. Popular programs include an associate degree in accounting and emergency medical services training. Workforce and continuing education programs like industry certification courses are a solid part of the catalog here.
Ranger College (Ranger)
Ranger College is located off of Interstate 20 between Fort Worth and Abilene. Founded in 1926, the college has seen significant growth in recent years and offers affordable programs covering a dozen areas of interest. Cosmetology, machining and nursing are among the available options.
Ranger is also one of the oldest two-year institutions in Texas. Its first class of students was enrolled here nearly 100 years ago, when the school operated out of the third floor of a local high school building. It's grown considerably since then, not only moving into its own dedicated campus in the town of Ranger but expanding to include learning centers in Brown and Erath Counties.
The institution also partners with more than 40 area high schools to offer dual-credit programs, which can save time and money on a college education. Dual-credit courses count both toward high school graduation and college degree or certification programs.
North Lake College (Irving)
With four campus locations, North Lake College is part of the Dallas County Community College District. The school opened in 1977 and serves more than 11,500 students in its credit programs. It's an affordable option that offers flexible scheduling choices.
Students can earn transfer degrees or gain technical training at North Lake College. The school has a core curriculum of 42 credit hours that serves as the basis of many of its associate degrees. Thanks to transfer agreements, these credits are guaranteed to transfer to public colleges and universities in Texas.
CTE programs at North Lake in fields such as construction management provide hands-on training and practical workplace skills. There are also online degrees and certificates that can be a convenient way for busy adults to finish their education.
Cedar Valley College (Lancaster)
Whether you want to study online or on-campus, Cedar Valley College is one of the best community colleges in Texas. The school is part of the Dallas County Community College District and was founded in 1977.
In the years since, Cedar Valley College has gone to earn numerous accolades thanks to its innovative programs. The school received two national awards for sustainability in 2016, launched a Rising Sons program in 2018 to encourage success among minority males and saw its largest graduating class ever in 2019.
Students at CVC can earn associate degrees and certificates or complete continuing education classes. Some online courses run on 8-week terms, and night and weekend courses are available as well. Popular programs at CVC include real estate and veterinary technology.
El Paso Community College (El Paso)
Affordable is one way to describe El Paso Community College. In-state students may have tuition rates as low as $1,500 per semester. What's more, 74 percent of students receive financial aid to reduce their costs even further.
There are more than 130 academic and career programs offered at EPCC. These fall into one of eight categories and may result in an associate degree or certificate of completion. Teacher education, business and criminal justice are all popular majors. For those who need continuing education, more than 300 classes are offered at El Paso Community College.
EPCC was established in 1969 and is in the process of revitalizing its campus. The school has identified six major construction projects that will help it expand academic space, facilitate more hands-on learning and create technical and workforce training facilities.
Clarendon College (Clarendon)
Located in the Texas Panhandle, Clarendon College is the oldest institution of higher education in its area. The school was founded in 1898 by the Methodist Episcopal Church but is now part of the state's community college system.
Academics at CC cover the liberal arts, career and technical education, agriculture and science and health. Students can earn a certificate of completion or an associate degree, depending on which program they select. The college's agriculture program is well-regarded, and its career and technical programs can help students prepare for state licensure. Online courses are available for some programs.
As one of the top community colleges in Texas, Clarendon College including a learning resource center and Honors College. Housing and dining are available on campus.
CTE in Texas
All the top community colleges in Texas have career technical education programs which are designed to take students directly from the classroom to the workplace. CTE in Texas is broken into 16 career clusters that cover major industries such as manufacturing, health science and information technology. Within each cluster, community colleges may have education pathways designed to lead students to a specific occupation.
A variety of initiatives and programs in Texas are designed to encourage students to consider career technical education:
- Many community colleges offer dual enrollment options that allow high school students to earn college credit early.
- Cedar Valley College gave 100 Dallas County residents a free three-credit course in 2018-2019 through its Platinum Pass program.
- The Texas Success Center is working to implement the Texas Pathways program which encourages education that aligns with the needs of the labor market.
You can learn more about CTE in Texas by visiting community college websites and speaking to admission counselors. You can also click the following links for more information:
- Career Clusters - The Texas Education Agency has information on all 16 career clusters. Click on each cluster for more details, including possible pathways.
- Pathways Initiative - The TEA also has additional information about CTE pathways here.
Transferring Credits in Texas
Many of the best Texas community colleges maintain articulation agreements, specific scholarships and other transfer student assistance initiatives for those hoping to move into bachelor's degree programs after completing their first two years at a local institution. Individual schools in the various community college districts hold partnerships with four-year colleges and universities in Texas, including the following top-tier institutions:
- Texas A&M University
- Texas Tech University
- The University of Texas at Austin
- The University of Texas at San Antonio
- Southern Methodist University
On top of these one-to-one agreements, 12 community colleges in the state participate in the Texas Pathways Project, a project sponsored by the Texas Success Center and designed to help institutions develop guided pathways from high school to college. The initiative, which includes McLennan Community College and the Dallas County Community College District, is designed to gather data on each institution's implementation of guided academic pathways and encourage knowledge sharing at biannual gatherings of representatives from the member schools.
Similarly, a number of colleges in Houston have formed their own pathways project called Houston GPS. The alliance is meant to boost student success in the area by improving graduation rates and making the transfer process between colleges easier.
For additional insight into education in the state and to learn about Texas schools you can transfer to after community college, read on about the top four-year universities in Texas. We also have a guide on How to Transfer Colleges that can walk you through the process.
Resources for Community College Students in Texas
- Texas Association of Community Colleges - All 50 community college districts in the state belong to this association.
- Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board - Known as THECB, this state agency is overseeing the 60x30TX plan.
- College for All Texans - Run by the THECB, this website provides education information for students, military members and adult learners.
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.
- 60x30TX, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Accessed October 2019, http://www.60x30tx.com/
- About Lone Star College, Lone Star College, Accessed October 2019, http://www.lonestar.edu/about-lsc.htm
- Enrollment and Demographic Information, Eastfield College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.eastfieldcollege.edu/aboutefc/fastfacts/pages/default.aspx
- Fast Facts, North Lake College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.northlakecollege.edu/aboutnlc/fastfacts/pages/default.aspx
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed October 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- Home, Cedar Valley College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.cedarvalleycollege.edu/aboutcvc/fastfacts/pages/default.aspx
- Building the Future, El Paso Community College, Accessed October 2019, https://buildthefuture.epcc.edu/building-the-future
- Welcome to CTC Distance Education, Central Texas College, http://online.ctcd.edu/index.cfm
- El Paso Community College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.epcc.edu/
- About, Richland College, https://www.richlandcollege.edu/aboutrlc/pages/default.aspx;
- History, Clarendon College, Accessed October 2019, https://www.clarendoncollege.edu/about
- Introducing the Platinum Pass at Cedar Valley College, Cedar Valley College, Accessed October 2019, https://cedarvalleycollege.mycareerfocus.org/fall-2018-volume-1-issue-1/introducing-the-platinum-pass-at-cedar-valley-college/?mode=grid
- What We Do, Texas Success Center, Accessed October 2019, https://tacc.org/tsc/what-we-do
- Texas Association of Community Colleges, accessed June 13, 2018: Community College Enrollment, https://www.tacc.org/pages/data-and-info/community-college-enrollment; Fall Enrollment: 2008-2016, https://www.tacc.org/uploads/tinymce/data%20and%20info/enrollment/bycollege08_16.pdf;
- About, Texas Skill Standards Board, accessed June 14, 2018, http://www.tssb.org/about
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- "Houston colleges join together to form guided pathways, increase graduation rates," Education Dive, accessed August 2018, https://www.educationdive.com/news/houston-colleges-join-together-to-form-guided-pathways-increase-graduation/529630/
- Fast Facts, Brookhaven College, https://www.brookhavencollege.edu/aboutbhc/fastfacts/pages/fast%20facts.aspx; Tuition, Brookhaven College, https://www.brookhavencollege.edu/pc/cost/tuition/pages/default.aspx