Lists of the top universities and four-year colleges in the nation can be found in publication after publication. But there’s a relative dearth of US community college rankings. Why? Kevin Carey of the independent think tank Education Sector offers a worthy explanation in an article for the Washington Monthly.
We believe that ranking community colleges is important. Nearly half of all American students begin their college careers at two-year institutions. But unlike in the four-year sector, students don’t compete to get into community colleges, and community colleges don’t compete in a national market for students. So there is little demand for national rankings of the kind published annually by U.S. News & World Report—and by the Monthly elsewhere in these pages. That means that students, educators, and policymakers have no comparable, consumer-friendly information when evaluating two-year schools.
Alongside Carey’s article, Washington Monthly ranks the top 50 community colleges in the nation based on the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and graduation rates from the Department of Education. As described in the Monthly’s methodology, 85% of the ranking is based on weighted CCSSE benchmark scores in “Active and Collaborative Learning” (29%),”Academic Challenge” (19%), “Student-Faculty Interaction” (14%), “Student Effort” (12%), and “Support for Learners” (12%). The remaining 15% is based on graduation rates.
So what schools made the list? Here are the top 15:
- Saint Paul College (MN)
- Hesston College (MN)
- Carolinas College of Health Sciences (NC)
- Maryland Community College (NC)
- Itasca Community College (MN)
- Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College
- Leech Lake Tribal College (MN)
- Alexandria Technical College (MN)
- Southwestern Community College (NC)
- Chippewa Valley Technical College (WI)
- Washington County Community College District (ME)
- Georgia Military College, Milledgeville
- Umpqua Community College (OR)
- Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College
- Western Wyoming Community College
Carey spends a good bit of space in his article explaining what these colleges have in common. Here are the three main takeaway points:
- “Selectivity Does Not Equal Excellence” — Carey says the common notion is that the colleges with the toughest admission standards are the best. Not true, he argues. “The list of America’s best community colleges proves this notion wrong. While all the schools on it are inexpensive, have open admissions, and are largely unknown outside their local communities, they stand out in teaching and helping students earn degrees. When it comes to quality of instruction they outperform not only their two-year peers, but many elite four-year research universities as well.“
- “Money Isn’t Everything” — The colleges in the top 50 are the best at making do with what they have, Carey writes. “Community colleges receive far less funding per student than do four-year institutions. This is despite the fact that they are more likely than four-year institutions to enroll students who delay entry to college, have jobs and families, receive a substandard high school education, and struggle economically. In a just world, they would be funded more generously, not less, than four-year schools to compensate for the more difficult job they do.”
- “Make It Harder and More Will Graduate” — According to Carey, “Some colleges allege that poor graduation rates are an unavoidable—even laudable—consequence of maintaining high academic standards. But CCSSE researchers have found the opposite to be true. The higher the level of ‘Academic Challenge’—one of the five CCSSE measures that contribute to our rankings—the more likely students are to earn degrees, even after controlling for student preparation.”