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 and transfers to Virginia universities.
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. Nearly 250,000 students earn credits each year through the system's campus-based and online colleges, 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, it can help to know which institutions are the best community colleges in Virginia. 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.
Wytheville Community College (Wytheville)
Approximately 3,700 students take credit courses at Wytheville Community College, where administrators understand that a flexible scheduling approach can be a great help to busy learners. Almost two thirds of students at WCC pursue their degrees part-time, and more than 75 percent of students here say that flexibility is important to them.
WCC also stands tall among online colleges for Virginia students, offering more than a dozen degree and certificate programs that require only online courses to complete. Around 25 percent of WCC students are enrolled in online courses exclusively, while others use individual distance education classes to add flexibility to campus-based programs.
Career-focused associate programs at WCC include machine technology, dental hygiene and police science. The Wytheville school also offers five Associate of Arts and Sciences (AA&S) degrees designed for university transfer.
Patrick Henry Community College (Martinsville)
Student success is paramount to the mission of Patrick Henry Community College, and the institution does everything it can to set its nearly 3,000 students up for a successful job search or college transfer. Financial help is just one area where PHCC shines in this regard -- the student body here is awarded around $7 million in student aid packages each year.
A wide array of degree programs are available at PHCC, ranging from full two-year associate degrees to career studies certificates (CSCs) that typically focus on occupational skills and require less than a full year of study to complete. CSC programs include horticulture, logistics, EMT/paramedic training, hospitality management and media design.
PHCC also provides online tools that can help students determine what careers are best for them and search for job and internship opportunities. A brick-and-mortar career center can also help you find the right line of work for you.
Central Virginia Community College (Lynchburg)
Known to some as "Harvard on the Hill," 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. The current selection of programs ranges from short-term industry training to more than 20 two-year degree plans.
Students can take courses from eight areas of study, including manufacturing, business, education and public safety, and satellite learning centers operate in Amherst, Appomattox and Bedford counties. Distance education students can choose from a catalog of over 100 online courses.
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 the largest institutions among our top Virginia community colleges, serving more than 13,000 students and awarding more than 1,500 degrees and certificates in 2016-17. Study plans here include nearly 130 standalone programs and over a dozen transfer degrees.
TNCC may also be one of the best online community colleges in Virginia, offering close to 20 degree and certificate programs in the virtual classroom. Subjects of study in online programs here include child development, 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.
Rappahannock Community College
One of the younger two-year institutions 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.
RCC students who need some tuition flexibility can sign up for a program called the Tuition Management System (TMS) Payment Plan, which distributes your semester's tuition expense across three, four or five payments. The cost to participate in the plan is $35-$45, depending on the schedule you choose.
Lord Fairfax Community College
Small class sizes have been known to contribute to positive learning outcomes, and administrators at Lord Fairfax Community College make an effort to provide that type of intimate environment whenever possible. The average size of a class here is just 24 students, which can help you develop better relationships with professors and classmates alike.
More than 75 associate degree and certificate programs are available at this multi-campus institution, where more than 7,500 course-credit students and 10,000 professional development seekers attend classes annually. The two main campuses are located in Fauquier County and Middletown, with learning centers in Luray and outer Warrenton.
Among other programs, LFCC offers several study plans in the hot career fields of health information management (HIM) and information systems technology. Around half a dozen transfer-oriented plans in engineering and the sciences are also available.
Dabney S. Lancaster Community College (Clifton Forge)
Dabney S. Lancaster Community College was originally established as a branch of Virginia Tech in 1962, but it joined the VCCS five years later and grew into an well-respected institution in its own right. Students have nearly 50 degree and certificate programs to choose from, including certificates in urban forestry and sustainable agriculture.
Enrollment at DSLCC is relatively low -- just over 1,800 students take courses here each year -- which allows administrators to keep the student-faculty ratio to one of the most comfortable figures in the state. There were fewer than 13 students per faculty member here in 2016, nearly 25 percent better than the national university average.
The town of Clifton Forge is a cozy municipality with a population of fewer than 4,000 people. If you like a quiet environment in which to study, DSLCC has got you covered.
John Tyler Community College (Chester)
Another one of the larger institutions among the best Virginia community colleges, John Tyler Community College educated nearly 14,000 students during the 2016-17 academic year. The main campus of JTCC opened in Chester in 1967, and a second dedicated campus location was inaugurated in Midlothian in 2000.
The degree catalog at JTCC leans more toward career-focused plans than academic majors, with nearly 80 programs designed as career and technical education. That said, though, 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.
That popular general studies degree is also 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.
Piedmont Virginia Community College (Charlottesville)
Since its establishment in 1972, Piedmont Virginia Community College has educated more than 200,000 students and awarded over 12,000 degrees and certificates. Around 5,500 students attend classes each year at the Charlottesville institution, which also offers the TMS Payment Plan for students seeking some flexibility in terms of tuition.
Students who have to balance family responsibilities with classroom time have a few options at PVCC. Those who live in Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties have access to the United Way Child Care Scholarship Program, and enrolled students receive a 20 percent discount on child care at the local YMCA.
Hardworking parents aren't the only student group that PVCC goes out of its way to support. It also earned the Gold Award on the 2018-19 list of military friendly schools released by Victory Media.
Mountain Empire Community College (Big Stone Gap)
This mid-sized school near the western tip of the commonwealth offers more than 80 degree and certificate programs in education, business, science and career education. Total enrollment at Mountain Empire Community College in 2016-17 was around 3,700 students.
The rich musical history of the Appalachian Mountain region is an important part of the local culture around MECC. The Big Stone Gap school offers a two-semester career studies certificate in old time music and produced Mountain Music School -- a week-long event designed to help students age 10 and up experience the region's music and learn the basics of traditional instruments -- in 2018.
MECC also provides access to a wealth of on-campus and online resources for students. Just one example is online tutoring and writing lab Smarthinking, which allows you to submit questions and writing work 24 hours a day.
Initiatives for Transfer Students
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) reports that any qualifying graduate from a community college in Virginia can obtain guaranteed admission to more than 30 Virginia colleges and universities. Read about the top 4-year Virginia universities for an idea of where these transfer possibilities can take you.
Colleges and universities with guaranteed admissions provisions include quite a few notable schools. Here's a list of just a few:
- Public institutions
- University of Virginia
- Virginia Tech
- College of William and Mary
- Old Dominion University
- Private institutions
- 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 in-state students who graduated from community colleges in Virginia.
Students planning to transfer should make their plans known to advisors as early as 15 credits into their associate program. VCCS admins also suggest that you select a major and a destination school by the midpoint of your degree plan.
We ranked 23 schools belonging to the Virginia Community College System.
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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- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed June 25-26, 2018, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=VA&ct=1&ic=2
- About Lynchburg, The City of Lynchburg, Virginia, accessed June 26, 2018, http://www.lynchburgva.gov/about-lynchburg
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Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/