April 6, 2016
Leadership & Awards
We take a closer look at some of the nation’s best community colleges to see what they are doing to offer a high quality education at a low cost, with a high success rate and a good return on investment.
Greg Jarboe
Community College Rankings vs. the New College Scorecard

In the editorial mission statement of The Advocate of Affordable College, we promised to take a closer look at some of the nation’s best community colleges to see what they are doing to offer a high quality education at a low cost, with a high success rate and a good return on investment.

For example, SmartAsset, a financial technology company, recently published its second annual study of the top 10 and top 100 community colleges in America. SmartAsset looked at 565 out of the 1,047 public two-year colleges from across the country and the data used in their study comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and collegemeasures.org.

SmartAsset used four metrics to determine the top schools: The student-teacher ratio at each school, in-state tuition, the graduation and transfer rate at each school, and the ratio of the average starting salary to the overall cost. We think their methodology, which considers quality, cost, success rate, and ROI, is a welcome step forward, even if the latest study produced the some surprising results, including:

  • Arizona and Kansas schools rate well. Arizona and Kansas each claim three of the top 15 spots in SmartAsset’s ranking, with Kansas’s Fort Scott Community College taking the top overall spot.
  • The Northeast gets an F. Only two northeast states have any of the nation’s best community colleges (Maine has three and Massachusetts has one). Notably absent are New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, which boast a number of the nation’s top four-year schools, but no top community colleges.

Empowering Students to Choose the College that is Right for Them

In September 2015, President Obama announced a new College Scorecard – which provide an alternative to the rankings provided by US NewsThe Aspen Institute, SmartAsset, and other organizations.


Increasing the number of Americans with college degrees is a key part of President Obama’s strategy to grow the economy and ensure that prosperity is shared widely. For students, higher education may be the single most important investment they can make in their futures to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.

With college costs and student debt on the rise, the choices that American families make when searching for and selecting a college have never been more important. Yet, students struggle to find clear, reliable data on critical questions of college affordability and value, such as whether they are likely to graduate, find middle-class jobs, and pay off their loans. At a time when America needs colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll, many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students. And college leaders and state policymakers who seek to improve institutions’ performance often lack reliable ways to determine how well their schools are serving students.

It is why President Obama announced new steps from the Department of Education to help students, parents, and their advisers make better college choices including:

  • A new College Scorecard – at CollegeScorecard.ed.gov – redesigned with direct input from students, families, and their advisers to provide the clearest, most accessible, and most reliable national data on college cost, graduation, debt, and post-college earnings. This new College Scorecard can empower Americans to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach. The old way of assessing college choices relied on static ratings lists compiled by someone who was deciding what value to place on different factors.  The new way of assessing college choices, with the help of technology and open data, makes it possible for anyone – a student, a school, a policymaker, or a researcher – to decide what factors to evaluate.
  • New, comprehensive and updated data on higher education institutions. For the first time, the public can access the most reliable and comprehensive data on students’ outcomes at specific colleges, including former students’ earnings, graduates’ student debt, and borrowers’ repayment rates. These data are also available for various sub-groups, like first-generation and Pell students. Because these data will be published through an open application programming interface (API), researchers, policymakers, and members of the public can customize their own analysis of college performance more quickly and easily.
  • Customized tools for students, with 11 organizations already using these data to launch new tools. Today, ScholarMatchStartClass and College Abacus are using this new, unique data that help students search for, compare, and develop a list of colleges based on the outcomes data that the Department is making available to the public for the first time. PayScale, which offers consumers a large salary database, will use the new data to analyze various colleges’ return-on-investment for different student groups while InsideTrack, which is a team of coaches and consultants working to improve student outcomes, will use the data to develop and implement effective student-centered initiatives. ProPublica, a non-profit investigative journalism newsroom, has built a tool with the open data to help consumers make more informed decisions.

The Advocate of Affordable College agrees that access to better data will help students choose colleges that will help them learn, graduate, and find jobs. Access to better data will help colleges assess how well they help all types of students succeed during and after college.  Better information can unite students, parents, advisers, policymakers, and institutions on goals to lower costs and to help more students graduate. 

Two-year colleges by state where students earn high salaries after graduation

For example, many two-year community colleges can offer students valuable opportunities to excel in their careers. Depending on the programs that the school offers and excels in, the career ambitions of its students, and the skills that students gain while in school, two-year degrees can provide a great value to students. Here are 45 two-year public colleges across the U.S. at which earnings exceed those of the typical two-year college.

Institution Name


Median Earnings of Students 10 Years After Entering the School

Prince William Sound Community College



Marion Military Institute



NorthWest Arkansas Community College



Scottsdale Community College



Los Angeles County College of Nursing and Allied Health



Colorado Northwestern Community College



Capital Community College



Delaware Technical Community College-Stanton/Wilmington



Santa Fe College



Georgia Highlands College



Kapiolani Community College



Northwest Iowa Community College



College of DuPage



Vincennes University



Manhattan Area Technical College



Louisiana State University-Eunice



Quincy College



Prince George’s Community College



Southern Maine Community College



Schoolcraft College



Inver Hills Community College



Linn State Technical College



Highlands College of Montana Tech



Carolinas College of Health Sciences



North Dakota State College of Science



Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture



NHTI-Concord’s Community College



County College of Morris



New Mexico Military Institute



Truckee Meadows Community College



Fashion Institute of Technology



Ohio State University-Marion Campus



Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City



Clackamas Community College



University of Pittsburgh-Titusville



University of South Carolina-Sumter



Mitchell Technical Institute



Lamar Institute of Technology



Salt Lake Community College



Northern Virginia Community College



Vermont Technical College



Bellevue College



University of Wisconsin Colleges



Potomac State College of West Virginia University



Casper College




This list from the new College Scoreboard includes only predominantly two-year-degree-granting public schools with higher median positive earnings 10 years after beginning at the school than the median earnings for all predominantly two-year-degree-granting schools. Only the predominantly two-year-degree-granting public school with the highest median positive earnings in each state is shown in the list.

Are there other community college rankings that students, families, and their advisers should consider. And The Advocate of Affordable College will look at them in the coming weeks and months.

(Greg Jarboe is the editor of The Advocate of Affordable College blog and the former editor of the Knowledge Transfer blog. He’s also the president and co-founder of SEO-PR, an instructor at the Rutgers Business School, the content marketing faculty chair at Market Motive, as well as the author of YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day.)