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Best Community Colleges in Washington

There are more than 40 community and technical colleges in Washington, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That count includes a total of 34 public institutions, all of which are directed in part by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC).

The total enrollment count across all SBCTC schools was just shy of 374,000 students in a 2018 report published by the Board, with almost half of that number seeking workforce training and around 40 percent pursuing transfer to Washington universities.

Whether your personal goals are more academic or more career-oriented, attending one of the best community colleges in Washington can help you get where you want to go. Check out our list of the state's best two-year schools below.

THE TOP 10 COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN WASHINGTON

1

Spokane Community College (Spokane)

Spokane Community College is one of the largest institutions among the top Washington community colleges, educating around 20,000 students each year. The main campus in the city of Spokane welcomes the largest percentage of students each year, but the institution also maintains six education centers throughout the Spokane Valley.

The degree catalog here features more than 120 degree and certificate programs in subjects as diverse as surgical technology, urban forestry, baking, dentistry and criminal justice. It's also one of the more robust online colleges in Washington, with more than a dozen degrees and certificates that can be earned entirely through online courses.

Career-focused degrees and certificates dominate the list of most popular programs at SCC. The top degree here in 2017 was automotive technology, and the top certificates were utility line construction, dental assisting and welding and fabrication.

2

South Puget Sound Community College (Olympia)

Founded as Olympia Vocational Technical Institute in 1962, South Puget Sound Community College has grown into a comprehensive institution that offers students two very different campus options. Its primary location in Olympia sits amid natural woodlands, while its recently inaugurated Lacey campus is located in a city center.

As well as offering career certificates and associate degree programs in traditional college major subjects, SPSCC gives students the opportunity to pursue their interests through academic pathways. Pathways allow you to take courses that match your interests or fit your goals, whether you're trying to graduate quickly or learn on a part-time basis.

One unique approach taken by SPSCC is the bundling of two or more courses into experiences called learning communities. Students in a given learning community can earn credit for each of its linked courses.

3

Edmonds Community College (Lynnwood)

Students at Edmonds Community College can choose from a catalog of nearly 130 associate degree and certificate programs in 25 areas of study. Students may even be able to earn Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.S.) degrees in certain subjects, thanks to a partnership with Central Washington University.

Quarterly enrollment here is reported at more than 10,000 students -- a number that's a little over one-quarter the size of the resident population of the northern Seattle suburb of Lynnwood where the campus is located. Around half of the students on the attendance rolls at Edmonds in 2017 took at least one online class through the institution's eLearning office.

Students looking for a rich extracurricular life are likely to find what they're after here, as well. Edmonds provides more than 50 student clubs and regionally competitive athletic teams in five different sports.

4

Shoreline Community College (Shoreline)

Shoreline Community College sits just 10 miles from downtown Seattle, which makes it a key source of workplace talent in one of the nation's most bustling metros. The college is just as diverse as its surrounding communities, attracting close to 1,000 international students from all around the world each year.

More than 100 academic and professional programs are available at Shoreline, including 40+ Associate in Arts (A.A.) plans that fit into the statewide Direct Transfer Agreement. It's also one of the top online community colleges in Washington, offering close to 30 degrees and certificates through distance education.

What's more, SCC offers the American Honors Program, which features a more challenging curriculum to better prepare advanced students for four-year university programs. Participants collaborate with a community of scholars to share their ideas and work on in-depth academic projects.

5

Bates Technical College (Tacoma)

Founded in the basement of a local elementary school way back in 1940, Bates Technical College has one of the longest histories of any of the top Washington community colleges. Today, the career-focused institution operates three campuses in the Tacoma area and educates more than 6,700 students each year.

Adult students who want to learn new skills in their current vocation or work toward a new career are likely to feel right at home on the Bates campus. Just shy of 50 percent of enrolled students in 2017 remained employed while in school, and the median age of students here is 32.

Degree offerings at Bates include a wide range of programs recognized by accrediting organizations in their specific industries, such as the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

6

Lower Columbia College (Longview)

Founded as a junior college in 1934, Lower Columbia College became a comprehensive state institution in the 1960s. Nearly 6,000 students take courses here each year, with most attending in person on the campus in southern Washington. Approximately one in three students was enrolled in at least some online study in 2017.

Students at LCC can choose their degree from a list of 15 subject areas that includes engineering, criminal justice and pre-professional study of medicine and law. Registered nursing programs are the most popular study plans here by a wide margin, followed by business management and early childhood education.

The city of Longview, located just north of the border with Oregon, features numerous city parks and a short drive to the Pacific Ocean. It's got a resident population of around 38,000 -- a great size for a college town.

7

Big Bend Community College (Moses Lake)

Big Bend Community College offers around 40 associate degree and certificate programs to students in central Washington. Most programs come from one of six areas of study that include industry, manufacturing and trades; business; healthcare; and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

If you're fascinated by flight and flying machines, BBCC offers a range of degree and certificate programs that can help you turn your passion into a career. Associate of Applied Sciences (A.A.S.) degrees are available for aspiring commercial pilots and aircraft mechanics, as well as a certificate in unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

BBCC also has a quirk to its scheduling approach that students with busy work or home lives might find especially welcome. During the oil embargo of the 1970s, the institution chose to lengthen individual classes and shorten the overall instructional week to just four days.

8

Pierce College (Puyallup)

It's not often that a new community college has substantial enrollment in its first year, but Pierce Community College is the exception to the rule. More than 1,500 students walked through the doors of PCC in 1967, and its current enrollment of more than 20,000 learners shows that it continues to attract a large student body to this day.

Three brick-and-mortar campuses -- the main locations in Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom and an off-site center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord -- make it one of the more accessible colleges in the greater Tacoma area. Online courses are available as well, both self-paced and with required attendance.

PCC offers nearly 70 programs of study, including professional certificates and associate degrees in fields like nursing, science and business. Students here can also earn B.A.S. degrees in teaching, dental hygiene and emergency management.

9

Everett Community College (Everett)

Everett Community College is another of the larger SBCTC institutions, welcoming around 19,800 students in the 2016-17 academic year. It also may be one of the best Washington community colleges for first-generation college students -- close to 30 percent of those enrolled in 2017 reported being the first member of their family to pursue higher education.

ECC offers degree programs in seven academic divisions, including such high-tech fields like aerospace and advanced manufacturing. One initiative within the transitional studies division, known as Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST), pairs language instructors with professional/technical faculty to teach literacy and job skills in one program.

Students at ECC may also earn over two dozen bachelor's and advanced degrees right on campus at the Everett University Center, thanks to partnerships with five area universities. Bachelor's degree subjects include nursing, engineering and organic agriculture.

10

Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla)

Enrollment numbers for Walla Walla Community College show that more than 6,200 students attended courses during at least one of the semesters in the 2017-18 academic year. The main campus in Walla Walla played host to the majority of those enrolled -- approximately 4,500 -- with the location in Clarkston and the virtual campus admitting roughly 850 and 1,000 students, respectively.

The numbers also suggest that students in the traditional college age range may feel more comfortable here than at some other schools in the state. Around 46 percent of students at WWCC are under the age of 24, and one in four members of the total student body are pursuing university transfer study plans.

WWCC also had one of the more close-knit learning environments among the best community colleges in Washington. The student-faculty ratio here was just 15:1 in 2017.

Resources for Washington Transfer Students

You may already know that you can save money on your first four semesters of a bachelor's program by first enrolling in a community college program, but that may not be the only reason to start your college journey at a two-year school. According to a report recently cited in The Seattle Times, community college transfer students at Washington universities are more likely to finish their bachelor's degrees than their counterparts in any other U.S. state.

The Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) acknowledges two statewide transfer agreements for community college students seeking university enrollment:

  • Direct Transfer Agreement (DTA)
  • Associate of Science-Transfer (AS-T)

DTA plans are the more flexible of the two, focusing on general education courses and including around 30 credits of major-specific electives and prerequisites. AS-T plans contain fewer general education credits to allow for additional math and science classes.

The state also has more than a dozen major-related programs (MRP) -- course plans in individual subjects of study that fit within either the DTA or AS-T framework. Check with your advisor for tips on how to conduct your own transfer process as smoothly as possible.

For additional insight into education in the state, check out the top universities in Washington.

Methodology

We ranked community colleges in Washington 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:

1. The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 15%
2. 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: 30%
3. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 5%
5. The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 30%
6. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016: 10% (2.5% each)
        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.