Best Online Community Colleges 2022

Our higher education experts at BestColleges have ranked the top online community colleges and trade schools in the country. read on to compare schools by cost, convenience, and academic quality; find your path forward today.

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Published on July 30, 2021 · Updated on April 1, 2022

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Technology and the internet have made higher education more accessible than ever, with ever-increasing numbers of colleges and universities offering digital learning. In fact, according to Babson Survey Research Group, 70% of education leaders say that online learning will be a critical factor in their institutions' long-term growth.

An associate degree online is a great place to start your academic journey, even if your ultimate goal is to get a bachelor's or master's degree. These programs are usually much more affordable than the typical four-year school, and they also offer the flexibility you need to take classes and complete assignments on your own schedule.

Thanks to credit transfer agreements, high-quality instruction, and the efficiency that comes with online learning, it's no surprise that it has become such an attractive option for students across the country and around the world.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students.

Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our Ranking Methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Choose to Attend an Online Community College or Trade School?

Is it Cheaper to Attend an Online Community College or Trade School than a Traditional University?

Attending an accredited online community college or trade school offers a range of benefits, especially when it comes to saving on expenses. While online programs usually charge the same tuition rates as their on-campus counterparts, they also provide flexibility and freedom that can save you a considerable amount as you work toward your degree.

Because you can complete your coursework from anywhere with an internet connection, you may realize savings in the form of reduced childcare and transportation costs, along with fewer academic fees.

The total amount of money you spend on your associate degree online will depend on many different factors, including the type of degree you pursue, your chosen area of study, and your desired career path. These factors also may affect the length of time required to meet your course requirements, especially if your program includes an internship or practicum.

The cost of earning a trade school certificate online is typically tens of thousands of dollars less than earning a degree from a four-year university. Some programs can be completed in as little as one year, compared to spending four or five years working towards a bachelor's degree. However, earning an online associate's degree remains the most affordable community college option.

If you need help paying for online community college classes or trade courses, financial aid is available in the same way as with on-campus schools and programs. As long as your school is accredited, you may qualify for aid based on financial need.

Learn more about a trade school education in our Guide to Trade School vs. College.

Average Full-time Cost of Community College, 2016-17
Tuition $3,520
Room and Board $8,060
Books and Supplies $1,390
Transportation $1,760
Other Expenses $2,270
TOTAL $17,000

Salary for Associate Degree Graduates

Earning an online associate degree is an investment that can pay incredible dividends, both short and long term. Equipped with a degree, you'll qualify for many jobs unavailable to those with a high school diploma alone. A College Scorecard study found that college graduates typically earn $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetimes.

If you want to earn more money and provide yourself with greater career opportunities, exploring various online associate degree programs is an important first step. The table below reflects the value an associate degree can provide:

Online Trade Schools, Technical Colleges, and Career Colleges

Trade schools, like community colleges, typically offer students the opportunity to earn a degree in two years or less at relatively low tuition rates. However, trade schools are somewhat different from colleges in that they provide more focused training on specific jobs or industries. Community colleges, meanwhile, tend to offer more generalized degrees.

true Trade Schools

These schools provide focused study on a broad range of vocations, such as automotive repair, plumbing, and cosmetology. They are typically government backed or approved, and their credits will typically transfer to other accredited institutions. Students usually receive certificates, rather than degrees, upon completing these programs.

Technical Colleges

These two-year colleges are similar to trade schools in that they train students for specific careers. However, graduates typically receive associate degrees—rather than certificates—as a result of their coursework. Technology-related programs, such as information technology, are common areas of study.

Career Colleges

The term "career college" is usually associated with for-profit schools that are not accredited and therefore not recognized by most reputable two-year or four-year institutions. These programs focus on specific careers, and students often complete them in nine months to a year.

Still not sure if community college is right for you? Visit our blog to learn more about the benefits of community college.

How to Choose an Online Community College or Trade School

Choose Your Career Path and Major

Before you begin looking at community colleges or trade school programs online, think about your long-term career goals and the vocations that interest you most. Your desired career path will inform your choice of a major and ensure you're working toward a degree that will allow you to enter a specific field.

If your potential career requires a bachelor's degree, choose an online community college program that will enable you to transfer your credits to a four-year program later. If you're interested in a specific trade, vocational school offers an alternative education with a direct career path.

Think about your long-term career goals and the vocations that interest you most.

Also note that some schools don't offer all types of majors, and so you'll want to avoid enrolling at a college where you cannot pursue the career you want.

If you're deciding whether to pursue an online trade certificate or associate's degree, consider the limitations of being certified in one trade. While trade programs typically require less time to complete, associate programs provide you with a wide variety of skills that aren't necessarily tied to one specific occupation.

Finally, consider your local economy and the industries and employers that seem to be doing the best in your state. Opting for a career in a high-demand field can help ensure you secure a job after graduation.

Get the Facts

Once you've chosen a career path and major, take some time to research potential online associate degree programs. Check to see if each program meets your requirements, and if not, eliminate it from your list of possible schools. Below are several key factors to consider during this search:

Program Cost

When you're on a tight budget (and most college students are), even a small variance in tuition and fees can make a big difference. Make sure you know how much each school charges per term or per credit, and look into any technology and academic fees you may need to cover.

Transfer Policies

At some point, you may wish to transfer to a different institution, especially if you plan on pursuing a bachelor's degree. Try to find schools that have transfer agreements with other institutions. You will want as many credits as possible to transfer.

School Size and Type

Think about the type of academic experience you would like. If you prefer smaller class sizes, look at schools that highlight their small instructor-to-student ratios. Also consider whether you'd prefer a private or public college. Public schools may be less expensive, but private institutions generally offer more personalized instruction.

Program Length

How long will it take you to complete your program if you're attending full time or part time? See if you can find a planning guide for each program and determine how many credits you'll need to take each term to graduate within a certain period of time.

On-campus Requirements

Some online associate degree programs require students to attend class or seminars on campus periodically. If you live close to the campus, this might not be a problem. But if you live far away, an on-campus requirement could be extremely difficult to meet—especially if you have children, a full-time job, or other personal obligations.

Accreditation for Online Community Colleges

Among the most important factors when choosing an online community college is the school's accreditation status. All reputable colleges and universities are either regionally or nationally accredited. Regional accreditation is considered the more prestigious of the two, and there are six regional bodies for institutions across the country.

Many online-only schools are nationally accredited. These institutions still offer high-quality programs, and they tend to come with the added benefit of lower tuition. Some programs within schools may be independently accredited, as well.

The nonprofit Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education, a federal agency, oversee accrediting agencies. Both organizations maintain strict standards related to the processes accrediting agencies use when analyzing schools and programs nationwide.

This consistency is important, as it ensures that accrediting bodies use standardized, fair procedures when awarding schools with accreditation. Thus, students can rest assured that their programs are providing them with a quality educational experience.

Online Community Colleges & Trade Schools by State

One of the great things about the many community colleges online is that you can attend school in any state you wish. This can open up opportunities you might not have considered, giving you an excuse to embark on a new adventure. Conversely, there are so many great options out there that you're likely to find a school that meets your needs close to where you already live.

See the map below to browse online community college and trade school programs across the United States:

Online Community Colleges and Trade Schools

State

What Associate Degrees Can I Earn Online?

If you wish to get an associate degree online, you should understand that there are several types of these degrees available. The option you choose may have a long-term impact on your academic career, as it will affect the majors available and the four-year programs into which you can transfer. It could even influence the careers available to you after graduation. Take some time to understand the types of associate degrees and find the best one for you.

true Associate of Arts (AA)

These programs typically focus on general education classes, rather than those concentrated on a specific career or major. This can prepare you well for transferring to a bachelor's of arts program in the future. Courses usually include English, mathematics, social sciences, and laboratory science.

Associate of Science (AS)

This two-year degree can be a great option if you wish to enroll in a bachelor of science program in the future. In most cases, an AS degree provides a strong academic foundation rather than specific career training. Some AS programs offer concentrations in majors like biology, computer science, physics, and health science.

Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

These programs are usually focused on preparing students to enter specific career fields upon graduation. They may require you to complete a few general education classes, but most of the coursework is concentrated on your chosen major. Examples of AAS programs include computer technology, healthcare systems technology, and hospitality management.

Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)

This category includes specialized programs that train you for a specific vocation. Unlike AAS degrees, AAA programs tend to focus more on the visual arts, music, and advertising. Students may take some general education classes, along with major-focused coursework like photography, graphic design, and art history.

Common Areas of Study for an Associate Degree

When you select a major for your online associate degree program, you make an important decision concerning the subject areas you will explore during your time in school. In fact, this decision could influence which bachelor's programs you can transfer into once you've completed your two-year degree. And, of course, your major affects the jobs you may qualify for in the future.

Below are a few of the most common majors within community college online programs:

Business Administration

This major covers a range of topics related to the business world, including management, sales, marketing, accounting, and organizational structures. Students also learn how to apply their newly acquired skills in a practical setting, while preparing themselves to move seamlessly into a four-year business program.

Healthcare

These programs provide a comprehensive introduction to the healthcare sector for students who typically go on to engage in more focused health services bachelor's degree programs. Students take courses across the sciences, along with those pertaining to research, clinical procedures, and various healthcare professions.

Education

Students in these online associate degree programs learn about theories and practice in teaching and learning, along with basic educational psychology. They also learn how to plan lessons, contribute to the social and academic growth of students, and manage school health and safety issues. Many students later enroll in four-year elementary or secondary education programs.

Social Sciences/History

These are general majors that prepare students for various bachelor-level programs. They may cover a range of subjects, including sociology, ancient and modern history, social issues, and political science. The ultimate goal is to give students a solid foundation of knowledge of social institutions and behaviors.

Psychology

Honing in on the study of the social behaviors of individuals and groups, an associate degree in psychology gives students a base of knowledge that they can use in their future studies. Students learn about various subfields of psychology, how to conduct thorough research, and how to conduct scientific experiments and tests.

Communications

This major explores the multiple facets of communication among people, including in person, in groups, and through different forms of media. Interpersonal, organizational, professional, and intercultural communication are key areas of study.

Typical Curriculum for Online Associate Programs

Most of the online community college courses you'll take will be general education classes. These typically revolve around core subjects like English, the humanities, mathematics, and the sciences.

For example, your school could require you to complete two science classes, with the options including astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics. Therefore, you'll have some flexibility as to which classes you take to meet various general education requirements. Some programs may require you to take other types of general education courses, such as those focused on cultural literacy, communication, or foreign languages.

Often, the general education classes you take as part of an associate degree online program are the same as those you'd find in a four-year program. This is why so many students choose to complete this coursework at a less expensive community college before transferring into a bachelor's-level program at a four-year university.

Most of the online community college courses you'll take will be general education classes.

You may also be able to complete some major-focused or upper-division classes through an online community college. This is especially true if you pursue an AAS or AAA degree, which both focus on preparing students to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.

Trade schools entail an entirely different curriculum. Rather than building knowledge across a variety of general education subjects, trade school curriculums focus on developing knowledge and skills for a specific career. Many trade school jobs require specialized training, often necessitating more hands-on work. While some associate programs offer courses with practical work, most curriculums are too broad to develop the skills required for a specialized trade.

How Do Online Classes Work for Community College?

Most online associate degree programs involve specialized software or digital platforms that allow students to access course materials, take part in class forums, interact with instructors, and complete assignments and exams. These platforms also give students access to technical support and tutoring resources. Ultimately, online programs aim to replicate the in-person educational experience, while making the best use of technology to make the learning process as efficient as possible.

In many courses, you will need to interact with your fellow students. This takes place via online discussion boards and forums, through which you may discuss assignments, ask questions, and provide feedback on the subjects covered in class. Your instructor will also post grades to the platform. If you have any questions or wish to discuss your grade with your instructor, you will have the opportunity to do so online.

When it comes to taking exams, many online community college classes require students to go to a certified testing center. There, professional proctors will issue your exam and ensure you are completing it within the allotted time frame and without the use of textbooks or other course materials, if necessary. In other situations, you may be able to take your exams online, but may have a limited amount of time to complete them.

Popular Online Associate Degree Programs

Applying to an Online Community College or Trade School

Once you've found a community college online program that meets your needs, your next step is to apply to that school. You will need to prepare a few documents regarding yourself and your academic history. There may also be an application fee and, for some associate degree programs, an admissions essay. Below is an overview of the most common application requirements:

Nearly all associate degree programs require prospective students to have a high school diploma or GED certificate to be eligible for admission. Some may require you to have completed certain prerequisite courses, such as a certain level of English or math. If you don't meet these requirements, you may need to take a remedial class before you can officially begin the program.

The application fee varies from college to college, but in general, you can expect to pay between $20 and $50 to apply to your desired program. Some schools don't have application fees, while others may waive the fees for applicants who can demonstrate financial need.

In addition to paying an application fee and providing your high school transcripts/GED certificate, you may need to submit a resume, one or more letters of recommendation, and a personal statement or essay. These materials give you an opportunity to make your case for why you deserve to be accepted to your desired community college online program.

Transferring to a Bachelor's Program from an Online Community College

Many students may wish to transfer into a bachelor's program after they complete their community college studies. Getting an early start can help ensure your online associate degree credits transfer seamlessly into a relevant four-year program.

To transfer credits, you'll work with a transfer counselor at the college or university you'd like to attend. This person informs you which credits will or will not transfer, and how transferred credits will cover various general education requirements. This process typically works best if you've planned ahead and attended a community college that has an established transfer arrangement with the four-year school in question.

Not all schools will accept your online associate degree program credits, and so it's important to do some research and make sure the courses you're taking will help you achieve your academic goals. In general, most transfer students find they can complete a bachelor's degree in about two years if they get an associate degree first.

What are Transfer Agreements?

Many community colleges online have credit transfer or transfer articulation agreements with four-year colleges and universities. These arrangements allow students to first obtain an associate degree and then use the credits they've already earned toward a bachelor's program. This can be incredibly helpful if your long-term goal is to continue your studies, as it ensures you won't waste your time on courses that will not ultimately count toward a more advanced degree.

Contact each of your prospective associate degree online programs to determine if they have credit transfer agreements with other institutions. If so, find out if you might wish to attend any of those institutions in the years to come so that you can plan the most efficient way to achieve your educational and professional goals.

2022 Best Online Community Colleges

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#1 Online College in Indiana

Ivy Tech Community College

School Information
Location Indianapolis, Indiana
Graduation Rate 25%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 58% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $150
Out of State | $293

Indiana-based ITCC offers 17 fully online degree programs in such high-demand fields as criminal justice, cyber security, and software development. The free application asks for high school GPA, ACT, SAT, or PSAT scores, or college transcripts to demonstrate college readiness. 

Students can begin their studies in one of five start terms throughout the year in January, March, June, August and October. Once enrolled, distance learners have access to an array of virtual services including tutoring, advising, and career development.

#2 Online College in Arkansas

Ozarka College

School Information
Location Melbourne, Arkansas
Graduation Rate 56%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 62% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $121
Out of State | $219

Ozarka, located in Melbourne, Arkansas, administers over 30 associate degrees and certificates, spanning fields from allied health science to culinary arts. Approximately 600 of the college's total student body of 1,600 enroll in online programs or classes each year. 

Committed to providing educational access, Ozarka's open door admission policy only requires submission of official transcripts from high school, GED, or previously attended colleges. Students can arrange for tutoring sessions online and academic advising through online, email, or phone appointments.

#3 Online College in Mississippi

Holmes Community College

School Information
Location Goodman, Mississippi
Graduation Rate 37%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 53% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $125
Out of State | $125

Degree-seekers looking for an alternative to the traditional classroom experience will find several options at Holmes Community College. Students can earn online associate of arts and associate of applied arts degrees in fields such as medical office technology, paralegal technology, criminal justice, and medical billing and coding. 

This open admission college admits all applicants who have completed a high school diploma or GED. Holmes participates in the Mississippi Virtual Community College network that allows students to take online courses from any member school.

#4 Online College in Ohio

Eastern Gateway Community College

School Information
Location Steubenville, Ohio
Graduation Rate 19%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 97% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $132
Out of State | $245

A leader in distance education in Ohio, EGCC features online degree programs in several fields including health, public service and safety, engineering and IT, business, and education. The college uses an open door policy accepting students throughout the year. Applicants must submit high school or GED transcripts and scores from ACT, SAT, or ACCUPLACER exams. 

Working adults can take advantage of the Free College Benefit program that allows them to earn a certificate or degree with no out-of-pocket costs.

#5 Online College in Texas

Houston Community College

School Information
Location Houston, Texas
Graduation Rate 18%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $85
Out of State | $227

At HCC, distance learners can choose from over 60 online academic and workforce degree programs, ranging from anthropology to supply chain management. Most programs feature completely online delivery formats, although some courses require face-to-face sessions. The college follows an open admission process, accepting students with a high school diploma or GED. 

Online students can access a broad range of support services including academic and career advising, personal and mental health counseling, course tutors, and technical assistance available seven days a week.

#6 Online College in Kansas

Allen County Community College

School Information
Location Iola, Kansas
Graduation Rate 39%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 73% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $61
Out of State | $61

Allen Community College serves over 2,500 students each semester at its campuses in Iola and Burlingame, Kansas and online. Students can earn several certificates and associate degrees online, including the highly ranked pharmacy technician/assistant program. Campus-based students can also choose from 100 online courses to compliment their in-person classes. 

The college accepts any applicant who has a high school diploma or GED. Distance learners receive a full array of student services, from academic advising to career placement assistance.

#7 Online College in South Dakota

Lake Area Technical College

School Information
Location Watertown, South Dakota
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $124
Out of State | $124

Founded in 1965 as the first technical school in South Dakota, LATC administers 31 programs including 13 hybrid E-degrees and certificates that combine distance learning with campus-based classes. E-degree students complete some classes online and come to campus for hands-on training and/or clinical requirements. LATC offers E-degrees in several high-demand fields such as computer information technology, nursing, and robotics, 

The college's streamlined admission process requires applicants to submit high school transcripts and ACT or ACCUPLACER scores.

#8 Online College in Texas

Lone Star College System

School Information
Location The Woodlands, Texas
Graduation Rate 18%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 40% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $90
Out of State | $257

An open enrollment institution with campuses throughout the north Houston region, LSC provides accessible academic and workforce-oriented programs to over 85,000 students. Distance learners can choose from over 30 fully online degrees and certificates, hybrid programs, and individual online classes in fields ranging from business and professional services and engineering to health sciences and teaching. 

LSC also offers fast track non-credit programs that provide workforce training in manufacturing, informational technology and other hands-on fields.

#9 Online College in Mississippi

Itawamba Community College

School Information
Location Fulton, Mississippi
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 67% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $140
Out of State | $240

Based in northern Mississippi, ICC has become one of the largest providers of online courses in the state. The college offers seven fully online associate degree options in popular fields such as business and marketing management, early childhood education, and hospital management.

Distance learners can access a variety of resources to ensure their academic success, including supplemental instructional help, virtual tutoring, and technical support. The easy-to-use admissions process asks applicants to submit high school or GED transcripts and ACT, SAT, or ACCUPLACER scores.

#10 Online College in Iowa

Northwest Iowa Community College

School Information
Location Sheldon, Iowa
Graduation Rate 69%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 67% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $200
Out of State | $200

From its beginnings as a technical high school in 1964, NCC has grown into one of Iowa's top ranked community colleges offering on-campus and online programs. Through its membership in the Iowa Community College Online Consortium, NCC students can enroll in over 750 courses and programs. Distance learners can earn certificates and associate degrees in rapidly expanding fields such as medical coding, web and graphic design, and health information technology. 

NCC uses an open door admission policy, admitting students who have either a high school diploma or GED.

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BestColleges.com 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.

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