Finding the Best Online Community Colleges

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Top 10 Best Online Community Colleges

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Top Online Community Colleges

Some community colleges offer a handful of online programs and courses. Others go above and beyond, with strong collections of distance learning options, hybrid programs, technological resources and faculty with experience delivering lessons to and engaging with students remotely. Furthermore, these schools keep their commitment to the community intact, with tuition, fees and support services that help students move their higher education in the right direction. See which online community colleges truly stand out.


Minimum Qualifications

  • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
  • At least 10 online associate degrees or certificate programs
  • Annual in-state tuition below $5,000

Ranking Metrics

Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:

  • Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates
  • Count and breadth of online programs available
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • % of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
  • Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college
  • Availability of academic/career counseling services
  • Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
  • 3-year loan default rate
  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.

Data Sources

Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.

  • Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017


Where flexibility and affordability meet

Like for-profit schools and non-profit universities, community colleges across the country have added distance learning to their program and course lists, helping students earn credits and work toward a degree with maximum flexibility. Yet one important thing sets community colleges apart: affordability. Using insight from distance learning experts and online students, the following guide examines how (and why) community colleges hit the cost and flexibility sweet spot.


JENNIFER KOEBELE, MS ED. Jennifer Koebele, MS Ed. is a freelance writer and educator from Charlotte, NC. She has more than a decade of experience researching and writing on topics related to higher education, college financing and technology.


  • Jennifer S., Distance Learning Instructor, Tompkins Cortland Community College, Dryden, NY
  • Mark Thompson, Florida Tech, Online Student
  • Nicole Campbell, Online Student, Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC)


As the cost of tuition and fees at colleges and universities continue to rise, students are looking for creative ways to keep expenses down. Traditionally, community colleges have provided students the opportunity to pursue a certificate or degree at a low financial cost. Whether students wish to pursue an associate degree, receive training to enter the workforce, or earn a two-year degree to transfer to a four-year institution, community college can be an effective solution.

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The increase in the number of online degree programs in the U.S. makes attending community college even easier. According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are over 1,655 community colleges in the country, many which offer distance learning programs and courses. By making online classes available, community colleges are able to reach students located close by and in remote areas.

Distance learning has many benefits, including flexibility, fewer expenses and the ability to continue working. Of course, it is important for students to make sure the school they attend is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized agency.


Distance learning gives students the opportunity to pursue a certificate or degree without being physically present in the classroom. Instructors utilize a variety of formats when teaching classes online. Some classes require students and instructors to be online simultaneously (synchronous), while other classes provide more flexibility, allowing students to log in within a certain period of time (asynchronous). Hybrid courses are a combination of in-person instruction and online learning.

Instruction takes place through interactive videos, digital textbooks and virtual learning software such as Blackboard. Students interact with instructors and peers via e-mail, online discussion boards and Skype.

Advantages of Distance Learning

Flexibility: Students can complete coursework from any location where there is a computer and internet connection, allowing them to fit classes around busy family and work schedules.

No commuting: Location flexibility allows students to save money on the costs associated with commuting, such as gas and wear and tear on a vehicle.

Greater choice: Prospective students who live in small communities without nearby schools can attend online degree programs even if there is not a community college located nearby.


U.S. Distance Learning Association
Nonprofit association that supports Distance Learning research and development across the complete arena of education, training and communications

Distance Education Associations and Professional Organizations
Links to associations and organizations compiled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison


A community college is a two-year institution of higher education that offers different levels of instruction. Generally, community colleges are open to everyone, providing a quality learning opportunities with low tuition and fees. Students attend community college for a variety of reasons:

Career education: Students complete a two-year degree or certification program that allows them to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. There are numerous career options for students to pursue in these programs, depending on the school. Here are some examples:

  • Accounting Certificate (entry-level accounting)
  • Automotive Technology Certificate (automobile repair technician)
  • Dental Assisting (Dental Assistant)
  • Early Childhood Education: (Preschool or daycare employee)
  • Information Technology (entry-level IT position)
  • Nursing (Certified Nursing Assistant)
  • Paralegal Studies (Paralegal)
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Explore Online Degree Programs

Transfer education: After completing a two-year degree program, students can transfer to a four-year institution to pursue a BS or BA degree. For example, University of California Board of Regents reports that 30 percent of UC graduates attended a community college before transferring to the university. Many colleges and universities have articulation agreements with community colleges that clearly spell out what students need to do in order to transfer. provides a list of schools with articulation agreements.

Developmental education: High school graduates who are not academically ready to enroll in college-level courses can take remedial education classes at community colleges. For example, Columbus State Community College has a Developmental Education Department with the goal of providing an educational opportunity for each learner to assist the college with the retention of students. Students take basic level courses and receive special support services.

Industry training: Local companies contract with community colleges to provide specific training or courses for their employees. Many community colleges have a Center for Workforce Development that provides training on-site or on campus by experts to enhance employee skills. Services may include consultation and planning development and continuing professional education. Some examples of industry-specific skills are:

  • Electrical Pre Apprenticeship
  • Construction Estimating
  • Computer Skills
  • Project Management
  • Technical Writing

Continuing education: Individuals can take non-credit courses for personal development and interest in continuing education programs at community colleges, which can include courses, conferences and certificate programs. Students have the opportunity to refresh their knowledge and skills in self-directed and group-based classes. Individuals pursue continuing education to:

  • Earn a GED
  • Receive on-the-job training
  • Participate in corporate training
  • Gain English as a Second Language (ESL) experience
  • Build a business
  • Strengthen basic skills
  • Enjoy personal development


Department of Developmental Education, Columbus State Community College
An example of a comprehensive developmental education department, including goals

Developmental Education Aligned to the Common Core State Standards
Article about the connection between Common Core State Standards and developmental education

Developmental Education in Community Colleges
An in-depth examination of developmental education programs offered by community colleges

Tips for Transferring from a 2-Year to a 4-Year College
Timeline for transferring to college or university along with suggestions for making the process run smoothly

UC Seeks to Increase Transfer Students from Community Colleges
Article about California’s goal for transferring community college students to University of California schools


Students save a considerable amount of money by attending classes at community colleges. According to The College Board, the average tuition and fees at community colleges are less than half that of public four-year institutions and one-ninth that of private four-year institutions.

Community college students who enroll in online degree programs, or who take online classes, can save even more money because of the cost-saving benefits of distance learning, such as:

  • No commuting and parking fees
  • Ability to eat meals at home
  • Fewer childcare expenses
  • Uninterrupted work schedule
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Explore Online Degree Programs

Even students at four-year institutions are beginning to understand the financial benefits associated with online community college classes. In some cases, students are taking online classes at community colleges and applying the credits to their bachelor’s degree requirements, saving hundreds of dollars per course.


Distance Education Training Council
DETC is a private, nonprofit organization that operates as a national accreditor of distance education institutions

Get 4-Year Credits with Online Community College Classes
Article about how students at four-year institutions are taking classes at community colleges to save money

Why Distance Education?
The benefits of Distance Education by the Career Institute


The flexibility of distance learning means students can create their own timelines in many cases. However, the following schedule illustrates how some students approach an online program from start to finish.


Most schools have an online application link on their website. In some cases, students must print out the application and mail it in. Applications are also available at high school guidance offices, libraries and human service agencies. In addition to submitting an application, students must send or fax their official transcript or a copy of their GED diploma and scores to the college. If applying for financial aid, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Year One

In order to graduate with an associate degree in two years, students must take five classes per semester, or 15 credit hours. During the first two semesters, students enroll in core general education courses.

  • Career Education: You have some time before you need to begin actively searching for a job. However, the first year is a good time to begin to investigate places where you would like to work. Seek internship and volunteer opportunities to build your resume.
  • Transfer Education: If you plan on transferring to a four-year school, meet with your transfer advisor during the first semester. Begin researching colleges and universities that interest you so that you can become familiar with their transfer policies. Begin to visit each school and talk to the transfer coordinator in the admissions office.

Year Two

The second year at community college involves taking classes within a student’s major. These classes prepare students to enter the workforce or transfer to a four-year institution.

  • Career Education: Students who will begin working after graduation need research job opportunities early. Each school has a career development center where students can receive guidance during their job search, including resume assistance, mock job interviews and job leads.
  • Transfer Education: Students planning to transfer to a college or university need to take entrance exams, fill out applications, and update FAFSA® forms. Many community colleges have articulation agreements with four-year institutions, so it is important to speak with your advisor.

Questions to Ask Before Enrolling

  • Does the institution have a special transfer relationship with any four-year colleges?
  • Will the institution accept all of my earned credits if I transfer?
  • Do I need to earn a minimum GPA to transfer?

Online Degree Profile: Associate of Arts in Business Administration

Although each school is different, these courses exemplify what’s typically found in an Associate of Arts in Business Administration online degree program.

  • Required Hours: 60 credit hours
  • Time to Complete: 2 years (4 semesters)
Business Administration Courses:

24 credits total 

  • BUS 100- Introduction to Business (3 credits)
  • BUS 185- Business Law I (3 credits)
  • BUS 220- Introduction to International Business (3 credits)
  • BUS 101- Principles of Management (3 credits)
  • BUS102- Introduction to Marketing (3 credits)
  • BUS 106- Human Resources Management (3 credits)
  • ACCT 131- Principles of Accounting 1 (3 credits)
  • ACCT 132- Principles of Accounting 11 (3 credits)
General Education Courses:

36 credits total at 100 or 200 level

English Composition
  • WRIT 120 College Writing (4 credits)
  • WRIT 130 Research Paper (2 credits)
  • MATH 160 College Algebra (3 credits)
  • MATH 180 Applied Calculus (3 credits)

SPC 101 Fundamentals of Oral Communications (3 credits)

  • SCIE 112 Intro to Human Biology (4 credits)
  • SCIE 211 Understanding Science: Principles,Practice & Theory (2 credits)
Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • ECON 210 Introduction to Microeconomics (3 credits)
  • ECON 220 Introduction to Macroeconomics (3 credits)
  • PSYCH 110 General Psychology (3 credits)
Arts and Humanities
  • HUMN 211- Intro to Ethical Analysis and Reasoning (3 credits)
  • HUMN 232- Introduction to Literature (3 credits)


10 Tips for First Year Community College Students
Suggestions for making the first year of community college successful from Folsom Lake College in Folsom, CA

College Insider
Tips for transferring from community college to a four-year college

Federal Student Aid
Online FAFSA® form

Internship Programs
Website with information and resources for finding internship opportunities

Tips on Transferring from a 2-Year to 4-Year College
Includes interview with Stephen Handel, Ph.D., Executive Director, Community College Initiatives, The College Board


Community college distance learning programs are ideal for many situations, from students who have just graduated from high school to working professionals seeking greater job security. There are online programs for people of all ages who wish to learn for personal advancement, degrees and pleasure.

[Community college students] come from all types of backgrounds — recent high school graduates, men and women employed full-time, women returning to school after raising children. Community college — and online programs in particular — is ideal for so many situations.

Jennifer S.
Distance Learning Instructor Tompkins Cortland Community CollegeDryden, NY

Working Professionals: Job Security and Advancement

Unemployment is on the rise, and competition for available jobs is high. Professionals with advanced training and education have an advantage when it comes to keeping their jobs or getting promoted to higher roles. Additional training can also increase an employee’s chances of receiving a raise in salary.

Next Step: Contact your local community college for information about their continuing education classes and certificate programs that you can complete during your free time. Your employer may even reimburse you for taking classes.

I didn’t go to college after high school because I wanted to start working right away. Last year I started thinking about going back but didn’t think I could make it work with my schedule. Turns out my employer helps out through the tuition assistance program and I schedule classes around my work schedule. So in the end it was an easy decision.

Mark Thompson
Florida TechOnline Student


Benefits of Continuing Education
Description of the benefits for full-time employees who take continuing education classes

Continuing Education Programs Benefit Employees and Employers
Article about the success of continuing education programs in the workplace

National Council for Continuing Education and Training
Organization committed to providing benefits that keep members up to date on new trends, help them to maintain a personal and professional network, and give access to leading-edge programs.

Peterson’s Education and Career Center
Educational opportunities at all levels, including distance education for continuing education

Working Professionals: Changing Careers

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Americans change jobs an average of every five years. For those professionals interested in making a career change, education can be the key to success. Community colleges offer online certification and training programs that ease the transition between careers. People can keep working their existing jobs while training for their career move by scheduling online classes around work hours. In fact, The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) found 21 percent of full-time community college students also work full-time.

Next Step: Schedule an appointment with the Career Services department at your local community college. They have career assessment tests to help you identify your strengths and interests.


A career and education planning system for students

Keirsey Personality Test
More than 40 million people have taken the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS-II) to assess personality types

O*NET Online
Free database that contains information on hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors

The Meyers & Briggs Foundation
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality inventory assessment based on the theories of C.J. Jung

US Bureau of Labor Statistics
Information about working conditions, training and education, and job prospects for a wide range of occupations

Traditional Students: Living in Remote Locations

Even though community colleges strive to be accessible to all members of the community, it is not always easy. For people who live in remote areas, it can be tough to attend classes on campus. Online programs at community colleges make it possible for these students to pursue certifications and degrees from home as long as they have access to a computer and an internet connection.

Next step: Call the nearest community college to inquire about their online programs. Many schools will even allow you to take placement tests from a remote location so that you do not have to travel to the campus.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Distance Learning
Article CUNY Queensborough Community College

Distance Education Survey Results
Instructional Technology Council article part of Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges

Community College FAQs
Questions and answers

Advantages of Attending a Community College
Texas Southmost College

Traditional Students: Needing a Flexible Schedule

Flexibility is one of the biggest benefits of distance learning. Over 60 percent of community college students are over the age of 22. Many of them hold full-time jobs and families. For these students, the availability of online programs makes it easier to schedule around their responsibilities.

Next step: Visit the website for your local community college for information about their distance learning programs.


  • Name: Kathleen Schvvoeneck
  • Coursework: A.S. in Veterinary Technology

Why did you choose distance learning at a community college?

Community college was the most affordable way for me to start my degree program. It was about half the price of a four-year college. I chose online education because of the flexibility. At the time, I had an infant and two dogs and needed to study at odd hours like when my daughter napped. The self-paced program made it much easier for me to juggle everything.

What was your biggest fear and did you overcome it?

Two things really worried me. First, I had been out of school for six years, so I was scared that I’d be really rusty with basic skills. I was a little, but soon got in the groove. Second, I had never taken a class online before. How did it work? Was it the same as a traditional class? After talking to the counselors at the school and to a few other students, I had a lot more confidence. Third, I was taking courses to be a veterinary technician, a very hands-on profession. I was skeptical how an online program would handle this. I learned that academic coursework took place online (email, chat, Blackboard) and hands-on activities at clinics and offices that had relationships with the school.

We know some of the differences between online and traditional courses and programs. How are they similar?

The work. I’ve taken classes in both formats, and each one still had work to complete, tests to take, and people to communicate with. I needed to be organized and disciplined. Having a schedule helped, although maintaining it could be tough at times.

What factors were the most important to you when searching for an online program?

Three things really stood out. (1) Accreditation. I wanted to make sure the program I chose had been accredited by a government-approved agency, especially with my first time learning online. (2) Cost. I needed a program that fit into my budget, especially with a family. (3) Job placement. I wanted to attend a school with a good job placement program. The last thing I wanted to do was earn a degree and not be able to find a job afterward.


4 Types of People Who Benefit from Community College
How older and younger students benefit

Community College Spotlight
Flexibility of community college programs

Community College vs. 4-Year College
Examination of

Community Colleges Need You
American Psychological Association

The Need for High Speed: Online Course Taking Behavior among Community College Students
Jillian Gross Molly Kleinman University of Michigan


There are numerous myths associated with both distance learning and community colleges. Let’s take a look at some of the most common assumptions.

1. Community colleges are for people who can’t gain admission to four-year institutions.

Many people believe that students attend community college because they can’t get into a four-year college or university. Community colleges play a significant role in the U.S. educational system. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, almost half of undergraduates in the country attend community colleges. Millions of learners would not be able to access the education they need to be prepared for the workplace without the existence of community colleges. Accredited community colleges meet rigorous quality standards. In addition, instructors at community colleges come from a wide range of backgrounds and specialties.

2. Distance learning programs are not as good as traditional programs

It is important for students to research their options before choosing any program. There are hundreds of community colleges with top-notch distance learning departments. Many times the courses offered online are the exact same courses offered in a traditional classroom. Students interact with expert teachers as they build skills, develop a portfolio and advance in their careers.

3. Community colleges are for people who pursue vocational careers

Although many community colleges have excellent vocational programs, that is only a small part of what they offer. Community colleges allow students to transfer after two years to a four-year institution for further education. Community colleges have continuing education and training programs for people of all interests and backgrounds.

4. Transferring to a four-year university is complicated

Most community colleges have a support and transfer system in place to make the transition to another college or university a seamless process. Many four-year institutions have articulation agreements with community colleges to guarantee transfer credit. Distance learning credits transfer just as easily, as long as the community college is accredited by the proper regional agency. It is essential that students meet with their academic advisor on a regular basis to ensure they are taking the appropriate classes.


While anyone can benefit from distance learning, some people are better suited for it than others. It is a good idea to think about your personal learning style before enrolling in a program. The following questions can help you decide whether you are a good match for online community college classes.

Do you have a computer and internet connection?Students are required to have a computer with a reliable internet connection. They must also be comfortable communicating via email and chat.
Can you invest time in the course?Online classes are not easier than on-campus classes. Students must still perform research, complete assignments and interact with other students. These tasks require students to log in everyday.
Are you self-motivated?Self-discipline is important. Although online classes are flexible and convenient, students must be motivated to complete coursework on time and to meet the instructor’s expectations.
Are you a procrastinator?In order to have a successful experience at an online community college, students must not leave work to the last minute. In fact, it is important to log in routinely to check for new assignments and instructions.
Do you enjoy reading?Online classes require students to do a large amount of reading and students need to keep on top of reading assignments. The volume of reading required can be overwhelming if students don’t keep up with it on a regular basis.
Are you confident enough to speak up?The only way an instructor will know if there is an issue is if the online student shares concerns. Students need to have the confidence to address questions and concerns as they arise.
Can you communicate clearly in writing?Online students need to be able to communicate effectively through their writing when contributing to online discussions, sending emails to the instructor, and completing coursework.
Do you have strong time management skills?Experts list time management as the number one skill necessary for a successful online learning experience. There are numerous apps and software programs that can help you strengthen your time management skills.
Are you able to communicate without face-to-face contact?Some people have a hard time communicating without being in the same room as the other person. Due to the nature on online learning, contact will be over Skype or through email.


10 Ways to Ensure Distance Learning Success
Tips for succeeding as an online learner

CNM Community College Online Resources
Website with a wide range of Distance Learning resources including a fact sheet with tips and suggestions

Distance Learning Education Network

The American Distance Learning Consortium

What Every Student Should Know about Online Learning
John E. Reid, Jr. PhD. Coordinator of Distance Education Technology at Kennesaw State University addresses ways to ensure a successful online learning experience


Accreditation ensures that schools maintain academic programs, faculty and resources (physical, technological and financial) dedicated to high quality higher education. Both government and private educational agencies work together during the accreditation process. The U.S. Department of Education, for example, does not accredit programs directly, but does endorse the entities responsible for conducting the examinations, all of which must be listed in the Federal Register. The six most notable accrediting bodies in the nation work on a regional basis, each covering a specific set of states and sovereign territories. For a detailed breakdown of the accreditation process, the criteria and the players, including profiles on each major body involved, please visit our complete guide to college and university accreditation.

At the two-year college level, accreditation varies by location. For example, in the western region, governed by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), a special sub-division of the WASC handles quality assurance. This Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges examines all campus-based, online and hybrid programs and courses designed for completion in two years or less. In other regions, the parent agency the one that accredits universities may vet community, junior and sometimes vocational education. Before enrolling at an online community college, make sure to research its accreditation status thoroughly.

Other Accrediting Agencies & Resources

Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and CollegesAccreditation of postsecondary, non-degree and degree-granting institutions organized to educate students for occupational, trade and technical careers, including distance education.

Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
Accreditation of institutions of higher education that offer continuing education and vocational programs that confer certificates or occupational associate degrees, including those programs offered via distance education.

Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
Accreditation of private postsecondary institutions offering certificates or diplomas, and postsecondary institutions offering associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees in programs designed to educate students for professional, technical, or occupational careers, including those that offer those programs via distance education.

Council on Occupational Education
Accreditation throughout the United States of postsecondary occupational education institutions offering non-degree and applied associate degree programs in specific career and technical education fields, including institutions that offer programs via distance education.

Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Commission
Accreditation of postsecondary institutions in the United States that offer degree and/or non-degree programs primarily by the distance or correspondence education method up to and including the professional doctoral degree, including those institutions that are specifically certified by the agency as accredited for Title IV purposes.


Distance learning programs at community colleges provide students with many opportunities. The benefits of online education include flexible scheduling, affordability and greater choice. Online programs at community colleges combine these benefits with the advantages of attending a two-year program.

In addition to giving students the opportunity to take affordable classes before transferring to a four-year school, community colleges have programs for people exploring new careers, building new skills and exploring personal interests.

With careful planning and research, students can find the best online community college program for their needs to ensure their future success, no matter what their future career plans include.

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