Best Community Colleges in Wisconsin

If you're looking for a transfer or technical degree program, you'll want to explore the Wisconsin Technical College System. Comprised of 16 institutions and 49 campuses that serve every community in the state, the WTCS is where you can find the best community colleges in Wisconsin.

More than 300,000 people enroll in the state's technical colleges each year. The system provides an affordable education to students with diverse career goals and from a variety of backgrounds. These include students who plan to eventually transfer to four-year schools and earn bachelor's degrees as well as those looking for technical degrees and certificate programs that will take them directly into the workforce after graduation.

In total, there are more than 500 education options available through WTCS institutions. These include two-year associate degree programs, one and two-year technical diploma and other short-term diploma and certificate programs. In some cases, students may be ready to enter the workforce after as little as a semester of study.

The best Wisconsin community colleges are those that provide flexible scheduling, strong support services and generous financial aid. Some serve as online colleges as well with numerous programs for distance learners. Here's a closer look at the schools that rise to the top in the Badger State.



Nicolet Area Technical College (Rhinelander)

As one of the top community colleges in Wisconsin, Nicolet Area Technical College is known for making its degree programs accessible to both traditional students and adult learners. It offers both one and two-year technical diploma programs as well as associate degree programs and continuing education classes.

Also known simply as Nicolet College, the school has a robust distance learning program that includes numerous online courses. So many, in fact, that 45 percent of students take some or all of their courses via distance education. Some programs, such as the administrative professional associate degree, can be earned entirely one.

Nicolet attracts nearly 2,000 students each year. Those who choose not to study online take classes on a wooded campus near scenic Lake Julia. In addition to its academic buildings, the college maintains seven technical labs.


Lakeshore Technical College (Cleveland)

As another of the top Wisconsin community colleges, Lakeshore Technical College has a reputation for helping adult learners achieve their education goals. The school offers more than 100 options for students who want technical training or an associate degree program. More than a dozen programs can be completed 100% online, including an associate degree program in accounting and an agriculture technician diploma.

Beyond those programs, LTC also offers workforce training, apprenticeships and adult basic education. Including those enrolled in degree and certificate programs, Lakeshore Technical College serves more than 10,500 people each year.

To help students finish their education, LTC offers financial aid and scholarships. There are also LTC Career Coaches available to help students select the right pathway for their goals. In addition to on its main campus in Cleveland, the school offers classes in Manitowoc and Sheboygan.


Northcentral Technical College (Wausau)

With a rich history, Northcentral Technical College has spent more than 100 years perfecting what makes it one of the top community colleges in Wisconsin. The college was founded in 1912 as the Wausau Industrial School and, since the start, has maintained a commitment to graduating employable students in in-demand fields.

There are more than 190 programs available at NTC. Technical degrees and apprenticeships offer hands-on experience for those who want to go directly to the workplace after graduation. Meanwhile, hundreds of transfer agreements allow those earning associate degrees to continue their education at a four-year school if they choose. The school has dozens of online programs include an associate degree in business management and an accelerated leadership diploma.

Like other top Wisconsin community colleges, NTC has an affordable tuition rate. It also offers approximately $425,000 in scholarships annually to offset the cost.


Fox Valley Technical College (Appleton)

From certificate to diploma to degree programs, Fox Valley Technical College offers more than 200 career-focused education programs. There is also the opportunity to take individual classes for personal enrichment, and businesses may use the school to offer customized workforce training classes.

Fox Valley Technical College has been providing workforce development training since 1912. Since then, it has grown into an education leader and serves more than 50,000 people annually. FVTC has one of the largest total enrollments of any school within the Wisconsin Technical College System.

While its main campus is in Appleton, the college maintains 14 other learning locations to support the various needs of its students. Those enrolled can also choose from dozens of online programs and online courses, including an associate degree program in industrial engineering technology and a certificate program in family child care.


Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (Shell Lake)

With more than 100 degree, diploma and certificate programs available, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College says it teaches the skills people need to get hired. The college notes 94 percent of its graduates are employed within six months of completing their program, and 54 percent of those working in a field related to their training report salary increases after five years.

WITC offers associate degree and certificate programs in more than 60 career areas including farm operation, advanced EMT and IT-cybersecurity specialist. More than two dozen programs are available online. The college says 98 percent of its students are satisfied or very satisfied with the training they received at WITC.

While its administrative office is located in Shell Lake, the school's on-campus programs are offered in four locations: Superior, Rice Lake, New Richmond and Ashland.


Western Technical College (La Crosse)

Western Technical College provides both hands-on and online learning opportunities for its students. The school offers more than 100 programs and pathways. These include fully online degrees, apprenticeships and opportunities for women and minority students to prepare for nontraditional occupations.

The flexible environment at Western makes it an appealing choice for those both young and old. Traditional students can live on campus while adult learners may be able to earn credit for prior college, work or military experience.

Those studying on the La Crosse campus have access to a library, learning commons and wellness center. Career services, child care and counseling are also available. Plus, Western Technical College hosts numerous activities throughout the year and is home to a number of student clubs and organizations.


Mid-State Technical College (Wisconsin Rapids)

With four campus locations as well as online degree programs, Mid-State Technical College makes it convenient for students to earn a degree, diploma or certificate. The school has a track record of success too with 95 percent of graduates employed within six months of finishing their program.

There are more than 60 degree programs at Mid-State that provide training for in-demand fields such as nursing, business and information technology. Plus, technical diploma and certificate programs can prepare students for specific occupations such as that of a phlebotomy technician or court reporter. The school has apprenticeship programs for more than a dozen occupations ranging from arborists to steamfitters.

Mid-State prides itself on providing hands-on training at an affordable tuition rate. Its campuses are located in Wisconsin Rapids. Adams, Marshfield and Stevens Point.


Moraine Park Technical College (Fond du Lac)

You can prepare for more than 100 career paths at Moraine Park Technical College. The school offers classes at five locations and has online courses available as well.

A comprehensive degree catalog is part of what makes MPTC one of the top community colleges in Wisconsin. Not only does the school have dozens of associate degree and technical diploma programs, but it also offers nearly 60 certificate and apprenticeship programs. That means you're likely to find a program that fits your career path.

Moraine Park Technical College has a long history, dating back to the founding of Fond du Lac Continuation School in 1912. Today, the college has three campus locations in Fond du Lac, Beaver Dam and West Bend. Regional learning centers are located in Jackson and Ripon.


Chippewa Valley Technical College (Eau Claire)

At Chippewa Valley Technical College, students can choose from vocational programs, technical degrees or transfer degree programs. Depending on their selection, graduates will be ready to either enter the workforce immediately or continue their education at a four-year school where they can earn a bachelor's degree.

Student success is part of what makes CVTC one of the best Wisconsin community colleges. The school reports 95 percent of graduates are employed within six months of graduation, and 88 percent are working in their selected career field. The average starting salary for CVTC graduates with an associate degree is more than $46,000.

The college offers more than 130 degree, certificate and apprenticeship program options. In addition to its campuses in Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Technical College has four regional locations. Online programs are available in fields such as early childhood education and human resources.


Milwaukee Area Technical College (Milwaukee)

At Milwaukee Area Technical College, students are invited to transform themselves. The college features affordable tuition, accessible campuses and numerous degree programs. All that adds up to MATC being one of the best community colleges in Wisconsin.

More than 200 education options are available at Milwaukee Area Technical College. These include associate degree, technical diploma, certificate programs and apprenticeships. In hands-on fields, students learn using industry-standard equipment and technology, and instructors across all subjects typically have substantial real-world experience. A low student-faculty ratio means plenty of opportunity for one-on-one interaction with teachers and other staff members.

MATC says it has one of the most diverse student bodies in Wisconsin. The college has six Milwaukee campus locations, and a number of online degree programs are also offered, including an accelerated Associate of Arts in the liberal arts.

CTE in Wisconsin

Students enrolled in the best Wisconsin community colleges can pursue two types of education: academic degree programs or career technical education. While academic degree programs are intended to provide credits that transfer toward a four-year degree program, career technical education — or CTE — is designed to teach skills used in specific occupations.

CTE programs cover diverse fields from accounting to welding. These occupations are separated into 16 career clusters to make it easy for students to quickly see which jobs relate to their interests. For example, those interested in art may want to focus on the arts, audio/video technology and communications career cluster. Within the cluster are career pathways for fields such as performing arts, journalism and broadcasting and visual arts. Each includes a plan of study that outlines the education needed for jobs in that pathway.

Career clusters and pathways are one way the state and schools try to make it easier for students to narrow down their degree and certificate program choices. CTE in Wisconsin is also supported in the following ways.

  • Promise Programs are offered by nearly a dozen of the top community colleges in Wisconsin, and these give eligible students the chance to earn a degree tuition-free.
  • Wisconsin school districts can receive CTE Technical Incentive Grants for encouraging students to pursue CTE training and coursework.
  • High school students can get a head start on a CTE program or credential by earning college credit early through dual credit programs or a youth apprenticeship.

To find out more about CTE in Wisconsin, visit the websites of the schools listed above or check out the following resources.

Transferring Credits in Wisconsin

Students who enroll in vocational training programs to earn certificate, diploma and technical degree programs don't usually have to worry about transferring credits to another school. However, those who earn an associate degree program may want to eventually earn a bachelor's degree.

To make that easier, many of the best Wisconsin community colleges have entered into transfer agreements. These ensure credits earned by their graduates can be used toward a four-year degree program. All members of the Wisconsin Technical College System are part of the Universal Credit Transfer Agreement. It guarantees at least 30 credits from a core set of classes completed at one of the state's two-year schools will be accepted by the University of Wisconsin System. Other classes may transfer as well. Learn more about how transfer agreements typically work in our guide on how to transfer schools.

Regardless of whether you are planning to go to a state university or attend a private four-year college, it's best to know in advance if and how your credits will transfer. Decide which of the best four-year colleges in Wisconsin is right for you and then talk with a transfer credit advisor to determine how the classes from your associate degree will be accepted.

Resources for Community College Students in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Technical Colleges - The Wisconsin Technical College System has put together a website specifically to help students explore careers and plan for their education.

Higher Educational Aids Board - This state agency oversees the state financial aid system in Wisconsin.

WisConnect - Offered by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, this site lets people search for internships as well as explore labor market information and access other student resources.


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:

  1. The published in-district tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  2. The published in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  3. The in-district per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  4. The in-state per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  5. Percentage of students receiving financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Percent of students that transferred to a 4-year institution and completed within 8 years, College Scorecard, 2017
  7. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  8. Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  9. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  10. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  11. 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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