Best Community Colleges in Virginia
The Virginia Community College System (VCCS) was established in 1966 with the goal of extending educational opportunity to as many citizens of the commonwealth as possible. Just two colleges opened that year, but as many as 7,500 students enrolled to pursue workforce training or the beginnings of an academic degree.
Twenty-one more institutions became part of the system over the next six years, and today there's not a resident of Virginia more than 30 miles from a community college. More than 240,000 students earn credits each year through the system's network of two-year schools, and its workforce training programs have served the needs of more than 13,000 employers.
If you're thinking about pursuing an associate degree or certificate as part of your educational journey, knowing about the best community colleges in Virginia can help. We analyzed National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data to work out which schools were the best in the commonwealth. Check out our list of the top Virginia community colleges below.
Tidewater Community College (Norfolk)
The numbers suggest that this Norfolk-based institution is one of the best Virginia community colleges for students hoping to transfer into bachelor's programs. Tidewater Community College posted the highest rate of successful university transfer among all the nearly two dozen schools of the VCCS.
TCC has the second-largest student body among two-year schools in Virginia, educating nearly 21,000 students each term. It operates a total of 11 instructional sites throughout South Hampton Roads, including four full-service campuses and seven regional learning centers for students with limited access to urban centers.
The catalog of fully online programs at TCC includes transfer-ready Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees in business administration and social sciences. Certificates in law enforcement and personal training and fitness can be earned in as little as nine months.
Piedmont Virginia Community College (Charlottesville)
Since its founding in 1972, Piedmont Virginia Community College has educated more than 210,000 students and awarded over 12,000 degrees and certificates. Around 5,400 students attend classes here each year.
Students who have to balance family responsibilities with classroom time have a few options at PVCC. Families who live in eligible counties have access to the United Way Child Care Scholarship Program, and enrolled students receive a discount on child care at the local YMCA.
High-tech career programs at PVCC include certificates in cybersecurity, electronics technology and computer and network support technologies. Several study plans in the arts are available as well, such as Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees in music, theatre and drama and studio art and certificates in motion graphics and graphic design.
New River Community College (Dublin)
Students hoping to stretch their tuition dollar might want to keep New River Community College at the front of their minds while on their college search. Only one other two-year school statewide reported a lower average tuition and fees cost than this western Virginia institution.
NRCC is also one of the top online community colleges in Virginia by enrollment. Administrators here reported that more than 45 percent of the 2018 student body took advantage of the flexible scheduling of distance education courses.
Aspiring members of law enforcement can earn two valuable Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees at NRCC. The police science program teaches students about the practical and theoretical considerations in modern policing, and the forensic science degree covers basic lab science and investigation skills.
Central Virginia Community College (Lynchburg)
Central Virginia Community College grew from an original student body of 216 learners in 1967 to a total of more than 4,100 enrolled students 50 years later. Satellite learning centers operate in Amherst, Appomattox and Bedford counties.
Students can take courses in career-based fields like welding, energy technology, nuclear technology, medical coding and more. A catalog of over 100 online courses can allow busy working students to schedule their degree plan around their other responsibilities.
The city of Lynchburg has all the vital signs of a great college town. With a population around 80,000 and a location near the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail, students here are likely to have plenty to do when not in class or studying.
Thomas Nelson Community College (Hampton)
Thomas Nelson Community College is one of best community colleges in Virginia for pre-university study. The Hampton institution reported 45 percent enrollment in transfer degree plans in 2018-19 and posted one of the highest rates of successful university transfer in the commonwealth.
TNCC offers close to 20 degree and certificate programs in the virtual classroom. Subjects of study in online programs here include information systems technology, social science, Web design, business management and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).
Aspiring transfer students at TNCC should take note of the institution's co-enrollment agreement with the prestigious College of William and Mary. The agreement ensures acceptance to the heritage institution and locks in TNCC's tuition rates for co-enrollment courses taken at the university, among other benefits.
John Tyler Community College (Chester)
As one of the larger institutions among the best Virginia community colleges, John Tyler Community College educated more than 10,000 students during the 2018-19 academic year. The main campus of JTCC opened in Chester in 1967, and a second permanent location in Midlothian was inaugurated in 2000.
The degree catalog at JTCC leans more toward vocational plans than academic majors, with nearly 80 career and technical education programs. The transfer-oriented Associate of Science (A.S.) program in general studies is the most popular individual degree plan here, followed by business administration and pre-nursing education.
The popular general studies degree is available completely online, along with programs in business, liberal arts and criminal justice. Online plans that lead to career studies certificates include cybersecurity, museum studies and early childhood education.
Virginia Highlands Community College (Abingdon)
No other institution on our list has a higher proportion of online students than Virginia Highlands Community College. This southwestern Virginia school of roughly 2,400 students reported more than 54 percent distance education enrollment in 2018-19.
Several degrees and certificates in agriculture and natural resources technology are available here, including one-semester study plans in crop production, landscape management and indoor plant care. Other available vocational programs include radiography, emergency medical services technology and occupational therapy assisting degrees and certificate plans in Web design and development, database security and design, cybersecurity and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drone piloting.
VHCC also features a recreational amenity that few two-year schools can boast. A 9-hole disc golf court snakes through the rolling hills of the Abingdon campus.
J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College (Richmond)
Known to students and faculty as Reynolds Community College, this institution based in the capital city of Richmond educates more than 8,700 students each semester but still maintains a fairly close-knit learning environment. Only one other school on our list posted a student-faculty ratio better than the comfortable 18:1 reported here.
Two campuses are available within the Richmond city limits, as well as a satellite location about 30 miles down the road in Goochland. Reynolds is also one of the top online community colleges in Virginia, reporting distance education enrollment of nearly 40 percent and offering a list of fully online programs that includes degrees or certificates in early childhood education, health information management, social sciences, cybersecurity, business administration and entrepreneurship.
Northern Virginia Community College (Annandale)
Students who enroll at Northern Virginia Community College have a tendency to work hard to see their programs through. No other institution among the best community colleges in Virginia reported a higher rate of first-year students returning for their sophomore sessions than this Annandale school, and just one school on our list had a higher rate of successful university transfers.
Two Associate in Fine Arts (A.F.A.) degrees are available at NOVA, and both are designed to transfer into university degree programs. Students in the cinema program study screenwriting, film production and editing, while those seeking a visual art degree focus on drawing, photography and the history of design. Certificates are available in professional writing, music recording technology, architectural drafting and more.
Rappahannock Community College (Glenns)
One of the younger two-year schools in the commonwealth, Rappahannock Community College held its first graduation ceremony in 1973. Today, RCC educates over 4,500 students each year and maintains guaranteed admissions agreements with more than 30 public and private four-year schools.
Courses here are held at two main campuses — one in Glenns and one in Warsaw — in order to serve students on either side of the Rappahannock River. Satellite learning sites can be found in Lancaster, King George and New Kent counties, and more than a dozen online degree and certificate programs are available.
University transfer programs available at RCC include degrees in pre-engineering and sustainable science. Over 25 career studies certificates are offered here as well, in fields like game design and development and autism studies.
CTE in Virginia
Career technical education (CTE), sometimes referred to as career and technical education, is a relatively new framework for high school and college education that works to provide effective training for high-skill and high-demand careers alongside a foundation of relevant academic study. CTE programs in Virginia help streamline and demystify the step-by-step process of moving through school and into the workforce.
The numbers show that CTE schools in Virginia are already making a difference. High school students who concentrate their study in career technical education subjects graduate at a rate of 98 percent, nearly a dozen percentage points higher than the statewide average, and 96 percent of those graduates go on to college, employment, advanced job training or military service within six months.
Here's a brief guide to CTE resources in Virginia:
- The career and technical education page on the Virginia Department of Education (DOE) site is a good source for news, announcements, and information about CTE programs in Virginia.
- Virginia ACTE is the local affiliate of the nationwide Association for Career and Technical Education can provide some info on the CTE vision in Virginia and details about public CTE policy.
- The Virginia DOE also goes into specifics on the career clusters used in CTE instruction and features links to career and college planning resources.
Career technical education programs at the college level are handled by the Virginia Community College System, which contains all 10 of our best community colleges in Virginia. Remember to talk with an adviser or administrator at your school to find out about the career technical education programs available to you.
Transferring Credits in Virginia
If you're looking to transfer into a university degree program after your time in community college is done, we've got some good news for you. The Virginia Community College System (VCCS) maintains a transfer agreement that allows any qualifying graduate from a community college in Virginia to obtain guaranteed admission to more than 30 Virginia colleges and universities.
The list of colleges and universities that honor this transfer agreement includes several notable schools. Here's a list of just a few:
- University of Virginia
- Virginia Tech
- College of William and Mary
- Old Dominion University
- Virginia Wesleyan College
- Regent University
- Randolph College
- Virginia Union University
In addition to those opportunities, some destination schools add additional incentives for transfer students. For example, Regent University — a private institution in Virginia Beach — offers up to $2,000 each year in grant money for Virginia residents who graduated from VCCS colleges.
To learn more about transfer agreements and how they can affect your educational journey, check out our credit transfer guide.
Resources for Community College Students in Virginia
- The Virginia Community College System site has information on statewide workforce innovations and financial aid as well as two-year schools in the commonwealth.
- The Virginia Foundation for Community College Education (VFCCE) is an independent organization working to enhance educational opportunity in the commonwealth and provide scholarships to qualifying students.
- The U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office can give you details of federal aid programs like Stafford Loans and the Pell Grant, straight from the source.
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.
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- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
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