The personal finance website WalletHub has released its state-by-state ranking of the best and worst community college systems and ranked Virginia among the country’s best at No. 16.
As the website pointed out in its report, cost is often a major consideration when choosing a college, and with tuition rates continuing to rise every year — not to mention all the other expenses related to attendance — many would-be students are unable to afford a university education.
Community colleges offer students the ability to get higher education without having as much financial strain, WalletHub noted. During the 2020 to 2021 academic year, tuition and fees for full-time, in-state enrollment at a public two-year college averaged $3,770 per year versus $10,560 at a public four-year institution and $37,650 at a four-year private school. Students who earn their general-education credits at a community college before transferring to an in-state public four-year university can potentially save a lot of money.
The website went on to say that other than serving as an affordable, and in some cases free, option for education, community colleges have a number of attractive qualities. They often provide more flexible schedules, smaller class sizes, and rigorous coursework. Some even go beyond two-year programs to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees. These advantages appeal especially to students who need to balance their studies with other commitments such as family and work.
The website cautioned, though, that individual community colleges vary in quality and affordability. To determine where students can receive the best education at the lowest price, WalletHub compared more than 650 community colleges across 19 key indicators of cost and quality.
Those 19 key indicators were further divided into three key dimensions: cost and financing, education outcomes, and career outcomes.
The indicators in the cost and financing dimension used by WalletHub to determine its rankings were the cost of in-state tuition and fees, the presence of free community-college education, the average amount of grant or scholarship aid received, the availability of employment services for students, the per-pupil spending, the school spending efficiency, faculty salary, core revenues per full-time-equivalent enrollment (FTE refers to the total number of credits taken divided by 15 for a semester of 30 for a year. The idea is to aggregate part-time students into full-time students.)
The indicators in the education outcomes used by WalletHub to determine its rankings were the first-year retention rate, the graduation rate, the transfer-out rate, the credentials awarded per 100 full-time-equivalent (FTE) students (“credentials” refers to degrees and certificates), the student-faculty ratio, the share of full-time faculty, the presence of special learning opportunities (these include accelerated programs, cooperative (work-study) programs, distance education, dual enrollment, weekend/evening college etc.), and the presence of credit for life experiences.
The indicators in the career outcomes dimension used by WalletHub to determine its rankings were the student loan default rate, the median salary after attending (which measures the median earnings 10 years after entering the school), and the share of former students earning above the average earnings of a high school graduate (which measures the share of former students earning more than $25,000 or above the average earnings of a high school graduate aged 25 to 24, six years after they first enrolled.)