Best Community Colleges in Illinois

Find out how enrolling in one of the best community colleges in Illinois can help you transition into the workforce.

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by Staff Writers

Published on January 19, 2022 · Updated on June 3, 2022

Edited by Taylor Gadsden
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There are a total of 48 community colleges in 39 districts in Illinois. The Illinois Community College Board was established in 1965 as an outstanding initiative that provided state residents with an alternative pathway toward securing entry-level jobs in high-demand industries.

More than 600,000 students now attend in-person classes and online community colleges in Illinois, which offer a variety of affordable academic programs that include two-year associate degrees, credit courses, short-term training programs, and professional certificates. Furthermore, many Illinois community colleges now offer fully online courses to provide students with a more convenient learning setup.

Why Study in Illinois?

Educational Opportunities

If you are struggling to meet the financial demands of four-year colleges and universities, then enrolling in a community college in Illinois may provide a less expensive option.

Along with the benefit of completing a two-year associate degree, you can also transfer the credits you earn from your courses to a four-year school, where you can pursue a bachelor's degree.

Economy

Out of all 50 states, Illinois ranks sixth in population and fifth in GDP, trailing only California, Texas, New York, and Florida. Illinois benefits from a diverse economy, with emerging industries in agriculture, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, business services, education, and energy.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in Illinois is almost seven points below the U.S. average, which means that living here is more affordable than in most states in the country.

Among all living costs, only transportation in Illinois is currently higher than the national average; all other expenses in the state are cheaper. Housing costs are almost 21 points below the national average. Costs for groceries, healthcare, and utilities in Illinois are also below the national average.

Cultural and Community Offerings

Chicago may be Illinois's best-known feature, but the state also offers a diverse array of cultural activities. Tourists and residents can visit state-of-the-art theaters, vibrant jazz bars, historic towns, and scenic outdoor trails.

Illinois also houses an excellent lineup of museums and cultural centers, including the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Fine Line Creative Arts Center, McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, Hieronymus Mueller Museum, and Creek Bend Nature Center.

Climate

The climate in Illinois has four distinct seasons and is characterized as continental, with long summers and very cold winters. On average, the state of Illinois gets slightly less snow than the national average and a significant amount of rain. The best time of the year to visit Illinois or go on an outdoor activity is from June to September, when the weather is typically warm and sunny.

Top Degree Programs in Illinois

Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs Best Online Associate in General Studies Programs Best Online Associate in Health Science Programs Best Online Associate in Agriculture Programs Best Online Associate in Communications Programs

Featured Online Programs

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

Illinois Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate in Illinois was 6% as of October 2021. The state is still recovering from the drastic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the market. Employers in the state offered a total of 40,900 new jobs in October 2021 alone, according to the BLS and the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

5 Illinois Jobs in Demand for 2021


Transportation and Material Moving Occupations

Along with its high projected job growth, the transportation industry already employs about 581,300 professionals in Illinois. Earning associate degrees and other postsecondary certificates qualify graduates to assume entry-level roles as air traffic controllers, flight attendants, material moving machine operators, sales workers, and water transportation workers.


Food Preparation and Serving Occupations

The food preparation and serving industry currently offers 418,400 jobs in Illinois, making it the fifth-largest industry in the state. Completing an associate degree and/or professional certification allows graduates to work as supervisors in food preparation and serving, assistants to chefs and head cooks, and cooks for private households.


Education, Training, and Library Occupations

With student enrollment projected to increase in Illinois, the demand for employees in the education industry will also grow. Although most jobs in this industry require a bachelor's degree, preschool teachers, teacher assistants, library assistants, technical education teachers, and ESL teachers only need associate degrees.


Healthcare Support Occupations

Due to an aging population, healthcare occupations are projected to grow throughout Illinois. Completing an associate degree can lead to careers as audiology assistants, dental assistants, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, home health and personal care aides, practical and vocational nurses, medical assistants, nursing assistants, and occupational therapy assistants.


Computer Support Occupations

Most companies and businesses that hire computer support specialists only require an associate degree or a postsecondary education certification. Computer support specialists offer their expertise to computer users and organizations.


Best Accredited Community Colleges in Illinois

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

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Best Community Colleges in Illinois

  1. Frontier Community College
    Location

    Fairfield, IL

    Tuition

    $3178

    FCC is one of four Illinois Eastern Community College (IECC) institutions on this ranking. The school offers over two dozen academic programs -- including four associate degrees -- that prepare degree-seekers to transfer to a four-year school. This Illinois community college boasts certificates in health informatics, light vehicle diesel service, and phlebotomy, as well as many other programs that prepare learners for in-demand careers.

    Degree- and certificate-seekers at all IECC schools use the same distance education program, and each semester students can select from more than 200 online courses. Distance education learners who want face-to-face contact can complete a degree or certificate in a hybrid format, in which some courses take place on FCC's Fairfield campus. The school holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

    Like all IECC schools, FCC accepts students who hold a GED certificate. High school students can enroll concurrently with their principal's permission. Incoming degree-seekers interested in institutional aid should submit the school's general scholarships application by the March 15 deadline.

  2. Elgin Community College
    Location

    Elgin, IL

    Tuition

    $4580

    With courses available online and on campus, ECC boasts associate degrees for transfer and over 130 career and technical education programs. This community college in Illinois features four campuses throughout the state, in Elgin, Hanover Park, Burlington, and Streamwood.

    ECC's program offerings include a citizenship program that helps immigrants pass the U.S. naturalization test. Additionally, Illinois residents ages 50 and over can take a specialized program that conveys valuable networking and job search skills. All degree-seekers use Desire2Learn software to view recorded lectures and submit assignments.

    Prospective learners can apply for the spring, summer, or fall semester. As a military friendly school, ECC provides student support services to active-duty military personnel and veterans. Other financial aid opportunities include ECC Foundation Scholarships, which are open to students with a minimum 2.0 GPA.

  3. Olney Central College
    Location

    Olney, IL

    Tuition

    $3176

    OCC is another Illinois Eastern Community College institution on this list. The school features a special relationship with Franklin University in Ohio; students who earn an associate degree at OCC can transfer seamlessly to a bachelor's completion program at Franklin. The school offers several certificate programs, such as medical office assistant, professional bookkeeping, and administration of justice.

    Online students at OCC can transfer an associate degree to any out-of-state school that participates in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. All OCC learners receive access to a learning skills center, where they can receive tutoring at no additional cost. This community college in Illinois also offers courses for adult learners preparing for the GED.

    OCC extends in-state tuition to some degree- and certificate-seekers who live in western Indiana. Also, online students pay the same tuition as their in-state peers. Learners may qualify for financial aid, and institutional scholarships use different applications and deadlines.

  4. Richland Community College
    Location

    Decatur, IL

    Tuition

    $5127

    RCC educates nearly 3,500 students on its Decatur campus annually, most of whom pursue associate degrees. Available associate degrees at this Illinois community college include African American studies, drafting and design engineering, and engineering technology - facilities maintenance. The college also boasts certificate programs in in-demand fields, such as web programming and environmental sustainability.

    Online learning programs can be completed part time, full time, or on accelerated tracks. Students use Canvas to complete asynchronous coursework and submit assignments; they also receive free antivirus and productivity software. Learners at RCC benefit from special programs, such as 2+2 agreements with nearby four-year colleges and dual-credit enrollment for Illinois high school students.

    RCC helps prospective degree-seekers select a program by explaining how each program prepares degree-seekers for specific career paths. The college also provides information on each career's projected growth rate. Each year, RCC awards over 100 scholarships to eligible students. Veterans and their dependents also benefit from a reduced tuition rate.

  5. Lincoln Trail College
    Location

    Robinson, IL

    Tuition

    $2354

    Another Illinois Eastern Community College (IECC) institution, LTC offers four associate programs and over 30 certificate programs. Certificate options at this Illinois community college include computer security and forensics, interconnect technician, and public service management.

    LTC also boasts continuing education courses for residents living in and around the school's Robinson campus. Learners can take classes like defensive driving, computer literacy, and GED preparation. Online students benefit from the same courses as their peers at other IECC schools.

    LTC accepts new students in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. IECC uses the same application for its four member schools, and the college must receive all application materials at least 30 days before applicants intend to start courses. Financial aid opportunities exclusive to LTC students include general and transfer scholarships. Incoming learners who possess excellent GED scores may qualify for additional financial aid opportunities.

  6. Morton College
    Location

    Cicero, IL

    Tuition

    $4327

    Degree-seekers at MC can pursue transfer programs, such as those awarding AA, AS, associate in liberal studies, or associate in fine arts degrees. Students can also prepare directly for a career by enrolling in programs such as accounting, early childhood education, and supply chain management.

    Online learners at MC use Blackboard to access asynchronous course content. Some courses may require field trips or small group meetings at set times. To help both online and on-campus students succeed, MC requires that incoming learners complete a five-part orientation process that involves meeting with academic and financial aid advisors.

    MC boasts resources to help prospective students apply, transfer credit, and receive financial aid. Incoming degree-seekers with ACT, SAT, or AP scores do not need to take placement tests. Active-duty military personnel automatically qualify for reduced tuition at this community college in Illinois. The college also awards merit scholarships throughout the year. Scholarships require an additional application.

  7. Lake Land College
    Location

    Mattoon, IL

    Tuition

    $4913

    Students at LLC can prepare for a bachelor's completion program or a new career. The college's workforce- and transfer-ready programs include horticulture, physics, and secondary education. The college also boasts special admission-track programs, such as dental hygiene and nursing; these admit only the most qualified applicants.

    In addition to traditional degrees and certificates, LLC also features four career preparation programs that align with the state's fastest-growing fields, such as truck driving and asphalt inspection. Like many community colleges in Illinois, LLC also offers defensive driving courses to community members who live near campus.

    Financial aid opportunities at LLC include Foundation Scholarships that award up to $5,000. Students can submit a single scholarship application -- by the February 1 deadline -- to apply for multiple awards. Incoming in-district students with an excellent high school GPA and test scores may qualify for additional scholarships. Degree-seekers can also set up a tuition payment plan.

  8. College of Lake County
    Location

    Grayslake, IL

    Tuition

    $4275

    From its Grayslake campus, CLC awards degrees and certificates in 10 academic areas. The wellness and health sciences department features the largest number of programs, including certified nursing assistant, kinesiology, and yoga. The college's personal enrichment programs include courses that help adult learners master areas like technology, wellness, and photography.

    Each year more than 9,000 students enroll in online and hybrid courses at this Illinois community college. Online students use Blackboard to interact with professors and peers. Online course offerings include GED preparation courses and professional development in areas such as business writing and sales.

    Applicants to AA and AS programs should possess either a high school diploma or GED certificate. Programs with limited enrollment have additional application steps beyond those required for general admission. This community college in Illinois requires all incoming degree-seekers to meet with financial aid and academic advisors before registering for courses.

  9. Danville Area Community College
    Location

    Danville, IL

    Tuition

    $4796

    DACC offers five transfer degrees and two career degrees. Unlike many other community colleges in Illinois, DACC boasts a specialized 3+1 transfer program, where degree-seekers spend only one year taking courses at a four-year school. These students can save thousands of dollars compared to their peers who complete traditional bachelor's completion programs.

    DACC uses Blackboard to deliver online course content. All online degree-seekers take an online learning orientation course before attempting academic courses. Some courses may require on-campus proctored testing. Online and on-campus students can access extensive student services like academic advising, student employment, and tutoring.

    Prospective learners with a high school diploma or GED certificate can apply. DACC accepts some high school students ages 16 and under, although these learners must submit a permission letter from their principal. More than three-fourths of DACC degree-seekers receive college-funded or federal financial aid. Financial aid opportunities are available for both full- and part-time students.

  10. Rend Lake College
    Location

    Ina, IL

    Tuition

    $7963

    RLC's academic programs attract degree-seekers and high school students interested in earning college credit. In fact, high school students who enroll concurrently make up 50% of RLC's student body. The college's six academic departments include international studies, allied health, and arts and sciences. Online learners use Canvas to take courses asynchronously.

    Career services at this Illinois community college include career planning surveys and one-on-one advising. RLC also connects degree-seekers with popular career and job search websites and resources. Additionally, the college partners with businesses in the Ina area to post positions and recruit talent.

    Applicants submit either a high school diploma or GED scores. Homeschooled students should submit ACT or SAT scores. The Rend Lake College Foundation awards multiple scholarships that require only one application. These award $500-$1,500 but are non-renewable. Work-study programs and need-based grants can also help students pay for their certificate or degree.

Click here to see the best colleges in Illinois.

Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges in Illinois

Are community colleges worth it? true

Since not all students can afford the higher tuition fees and costs of enrolling at a four-year university or college, community colleges present a viable pathway toward an entry-level job in the workforce. With reduced costs and a quicker route for securing a degree, attending a community college is certainly worth it.

Community colleges provide students with alternative educational options that include two-year associate programs and skills training programs that can be completed entirely online. Community college students can also enroll in courses where credits earned are transferable to four-year higher education institutions.

How many community colleges are in Illinois? true

There are a total of 48 community colleges in Illinois, which are spread across 39 public community college districts. The state's community colleges work in partnership with the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The City Colleges of Chicago system is composed of seven campuses, while the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges system is composed of four colleges. Other community colleges in Illinois include Harper College, Lake Land College, Lincoln Land Community College, Elgin Community College, Oakton Community College, John Wood Community College, Moraine Valley Community College, and College of Lake County.

What is the number one community college in Illinois? true

With more than 200 online courses spread across 24 academic programs, the Frontier Community College is considered the best community college in Illinois.

Located in Fairfield, Illinois, FCC was established in 1976 and is now one of the four institutions that comprise the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges system. FCC offers associate degrees, transfer degrees, and certificate programs in arts and sciences, business, education, health and wellness, public safety, and technology.

How much does community college cost in Illinois?

The cost of attending a community college in Illinois averaged $7,932 in tuition and fees for in-state students in 2021. Out-of-state students paid an average annual rate of $10,666 in 2021.

As for private community colleges like Coyne College, Fox College, Kendall College, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Chicago, Lincoln College of Technology-Melrose Park, and Taylor Business Institute, tuition rates can reach $15,965 per year.

Is community college free in Chicago?

Students in community colleges in Chicago can now apply for career training programs without any fees. The City Colleges of Chicago system created the Future Ready initiative, an educational platform that offers more than 60 career training programs that students can participate in at no cost. The Future Ready initiative plans to enroll more than 3,000 students online and in person.

Students can also apply for free tuition through the Chicago Star Scholarship. Since 2015, this scholarship has granted almost $5 million in financial assistance.

Feature Image: Bob Krist / The Image Bank / Getty Images

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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