With college costs mounting and student debt remaining a hot topic of conversation, public opinion on four-year colleges has begun to shift, as people contemplate whether they are in fact the only—or best—option for all students. An estimated 8.7 million undergraduates enrolled in public, two-year colleges during the 2016–17 academic year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A 2019 study from TD Ameritrade found 36% of Gen Z students considered attending a community college before a four-year college, while 21% considered attending a community college instead of a four-year college.
While there are many reasons to choose a community college over a traditional four-year program, one key factor is cost. Student Loan Hero reports that the average cost-per-credit for a two-year public school is $135, compared to $324.70 for a four-year public school. Cheaper classes may put slightly less pressure on students to settle and choose a career path immediately. Community colleges also allow for flexibility in ways traditional schools may not: Students who work full-time can attend school part-time. Whether it’s to save money or experiment with career choices, community colleges not only serve as an alternative but also a gateway to four-year universities.
The cost of a four-year college continues to dominate the national conversation, as the United States contemplates major domestic legislation in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Many progressives have endorsed plans that would make public colleges free in America. Others are more skeptical, proposing more modest, loan-forgiveness ideas. These changes would have substantial effects on the education sector.
Stacker looked at data from Niche's 2021 Best Community Colleges in America to compile this list of the top 100 community colleges nationwide. The data is based on rigorous analysis of academic, financial, and student life data from the U.S. Department of Education, along with reviews from students and alumni. The community college list includes public junior colleges, public technical schools, and all other public, two-year colleges.
Read on to see how community colleges across the nation stack up.
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