Seven million: the number of students enrolled in community colleges during 2010. About 40 percent of all undergraduates, half of Hispanic students, over 30 percent of African American students and 28 percent of white students go to community college after high school. Almost 45 percent of all low-income students start their higher education programs at these two-year institutions. Two organizations have created community college ranking systems that can help prospective students choose the right school.

The Decision Makers

In 2012, at the request of CNNMoney, the American Institutes of Research and Matrix Knowledge Group assembled a list of American community colleges with at least 200 full-time freshmen. Schools were ranked by "student success:” the percentage of students who finished within three years or transferred to a four-year school. The Aspen institute, together with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, identified 2013's top 120 community colleges out of more than 1,000. “Student success” was one measurement in this ranking system. Aspen specifically looked for schools where students did well regardless of race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. This study also considered how the student success factor improved over several years.

Best in the West

According to CNNMoney, the top community college is in the west. East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program and Technical Center in West Covina, California, has a 93 percent success rate. This school has over 10 programs, including business management, child development, emergency medical technician and graphic arts. Two western institutions tied for first place on Aspen’s list. 75 percent of the students at Santa Barbara City College in California earn a “C” or better in their classes. Walla Walla Community College in Washington was also cited as number one. It offers about 80 programs with classes both online and in the classroom.

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Great in the Great Plains

In the midwest, CNNMoney recognizes Utah State University’s College of Eastern Utah in Price as a leading community college with an 84 percent success rate. The Price campus concentrates on educating students who will work and excel in the region. The Aspen Institute labels Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota, "a finalist with distinction." Enrollment has been increasing for the past decade. Over 1500 new students joined the school in the fall of 2012.

Southern Hospitality

The top southern community college on CNNMoney’s list is Georgia Military College in Milledgeville. The student success rate is 75 percent. Only a small number of GMC students live on campus. 95 percent commute to the school because of work and family responsibilities. Brazosport College is a southern finalist on Aspen’s list. Located in Lake Jackson, Texas, this community college has a very large campus. Over 150 acres hold more than 25,000 students.

Excellence in the East

CNNMoney’s list has no eastern schools in the top 50. The first in the region is Genesee Community College in Batavia, NY. Its success rate is 54 percent. In addition to the main campus, GCC has six other centers in neighboring communities. On the other hand, Aspen calls Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY, a finalist with distinction. The school has about 15 academic departments and offers more than 30 associate degree programs.

About the Author

Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.