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 700,000 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.
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.
Howard College (Big Spring)
Created by county-wide vote in 1945, the Howard Community College District serves around 4,500 students in near-west Texas. The main campus of Howard College is located in Big Spring, about an hour northeast of Midland-Odessa, and it operates satellite locations in nearby Lamesa and San Angelo.
Howard offers close to 50 two-year degree programs, including pre-professional Associate of Science (A.S.) plans for doctors and engineers and Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees in art, music, history and communication. Around three dozen certificate plans are available as well, in subjects like business, computer science, health care and criminal justice.
Students who are deaf or hard of hearing also have a unique option in Big Spring. Across town from its main campus, Howard operates the SouthWest Collegiate Institute for the Deaf (SWCID), the nation's only self-contained community college environment that focuses on the needs of hearing-impaired learners.
Ranger College (Ranger)
Ranger College is located off of Interstate 20 between Fort Worth and Abilene. It's been named one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the country, and the numbers stand behind that claim -- enrollment at Ranger has climbed more than 250 percent since 2008.
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.
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, and students can 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.
Palo Alto College (San Antonio)
Palo Alto College was founded in 1985 with an initial class of just 231 students. The San Antonio institution grew rapidly over the next three decades, and today its student body consists of over 9,000 learners.
More than 70 programs of study are available at PAC, including around 20 Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees and numerous certificate plans that can take as few as 16 credits to complete. The catalog of certificates is diverse, as well -- aspiring professionals can study transportation management, landscape and horticultural science, data entry, marketing, floral design and more.
This recognized Hispanic-serving institution is also one of the top Texas community colleges for transfer students. Programs called Transfer Guides can help align your study plan with your university goals, and transfer rates for Hispanic-identifying students are more than four times higher than the national average.
Richland College (Dallas)
Approximately 20,000 students attend this Dallas institution, which was established in 1972 as one of seven campuses in the Dallas 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, a recognition conferred by the White House and U.S. Department of Commerce that no other community college to date has earned.
Some of the programs at Richland have earned accolades of their own, as well. The A.A.S. degree in digital forensics was recently awarded a grant by the Texas Skill Standards Board, a state-run council designed to ensure that Texas students are learning the right skills to help them succeed in today's competitive economy.
McLennan Community College (Waco)
Students who like a fairly close-knit academic atmosphere might feel right at home at this mid-sized Waco institution. McLennan Community College reports an average class size under 20, which can keep you from feeling like an anonymous face in the lecture hall crowd.
Founded in 1965, MCC offers more than 120 total programs of study. Around half of them lead to associate degrees, either in traditional academic disciplines or career-ready training fields, while the other half culminate in non-degree certificates in subjects like bookkeeping, law enforcement, marketing, paralegal services and entrepreneurship.
Other MCC highlights include its Distinguished Lecture Series, which has hosted such well-known figures as investigative journalist Bob Woodward, TV personality and science enthusiast Bill Nye and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. The campus also features the Bosque River Stage, a riverside amphitheater where students can unwind with live music and other performances.
Galveston College (Galveston)
Located on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston College has been educating students in coastal Texas for over 50 years. Between its academically oriented transfer programs and career-focused training plans, GC has something for every one of the roughly 7,300 degree-seeking and non-credit students it serves each year.
Numerous distance education courses are available for students who need some extra flexibility. Distance programs at GC typically have no class meetings other than a single orientation session with your instructor, so you can study and complete the required work independently of a fixed course schedule.
GC is also part of the Achieving the Dream network, a national initiative to help more community college students complete their career education programs or transfer successfully to four-year schools. The initiative concerns itself primarily with communities that face endemic discrimination, financial hardship and other significant barriers to success.
St. Philip's College (San Antonio)
St. Philip's College educates more than 11,000 students annually and put up especially high numbers terms of first-time college students. More than half of the student body is under 22 years old, and over 90 percent of students with zero prior college experience successfully complete their first semester.
The vast majority of programs at St. Philip's are designed to prepare you to succeed in the workforce. Some non-degree programs may require just three or four courses to complete, while two-year A.A.S. plans provide deeper skills development in fields like health care technology, web development, automotive technology and more.
Additionally, students who need some schedule flexibility when pursuing their degree are in luck at this San Antonio school. More than 40 degree programs are available at least partially in the virtual classroom, with over a dozen study plans using 100 percent online courses.
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 12,000 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 $3,570.
If you're looking to change careers or enhance your skillset, Brookhaven has that covered as well. Workforce and continuing education programs like industry certification courses are a solid part of the catalog here.
Houston Community College (Houston)
With over 20 locations around the Houston metro area, Houston Community College works to make academic success possible for as many of the city's 2.3 million residents as it can. The total student body across all those locations is as large as you might expect -- nearly 115,000 in 2017 -- with more than 85,000 of those enrolled working toward degrees or certificates.
More than 100 programs of study are available for HCC students. Degree and certificate plans here cover both sides of the community college spectrum, with career-focused programs in respiratory therapy, cosmetology and welding technology sharing catalog space with traditional academic majors like English, math, chemistry and philosophy.
Along with placing campuses at all corners of the largest city in Texas, HCC facilitates educational access with its open-enrollment model. All qualifying students who apply are admitted regardless of their standardized test scores and past academic performance.
Initiatives for Transfer Students
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 4-year universities in Texas.
We ranked the 58 Texas Association of 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 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.
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- 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/