Best Community Colleges in Washington
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Founded over 54 years ago, Washington's system of community colleges now encompasses 34 schools that serve about 278,000 students every year. In 2017, The Seattle Times reported that about half of Washington's high school graduates enrolled in a community college. These colleges work with local businesses and emerging industries to determine their workforce needs and help students learn the skills required to fill these roles.
Some community college students earn their associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution and continuing their education. Community colleges in Washington also offer short-term customized training for specific businesses, such as UPS, Seven2, and Fluid Motion.
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Why Study in Washington?
Community colleges in Washington offer multiple educational pathways that can facilitate a student's academic and career goals. From training certificates to associate and applied bachelor's degrees, students can pursue the best option for their unique situation.
Washington's Jobs Skills Program trains students to fill roles in specific industries. Businesses pay at least 50% of the college expenses for participants. These community colleges also offer numerous bachelor's degree programs, including in nursing, computer sciences, digital marketing, dental hygiene, and cybersecurity.
Washington's Gross State Product (GSP) reached over $531 billion in 2019 and grew over 4.5% in the five years preceding the pandemic. It was the number one state in GSP growth during this period and one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation.
Amazon claims the top spot as the largest private employer in the state. The tech industry also continues to dominate, with almost 200 Washington businesses receiving funding from venture capital firms in 2020. Microsoft moved to the state in 1979. Now, its global headquarters comprise 125 buildings on 500 acres of land.
Cost of Living
The cost of living represents the money needed to afford the necessities, such as food, housing, transportation, and healthcare. Washington's cost of living is about 12% higher than the national average. The state has the 14th highest cost of living in the U.S., surpassed by states like California, New York, Vermont, and Maine.
Of course, like most states, some areas are much more expensive to live in than others. For example, according to Bankrate's cost of living calculator, people that live in the Seattle-Bellevue area pay an average of 32% more than those living in Kennewick and Richland.
Cultural and Community Offerings
Washington is a diverse state, with many residents of Asian, Native American, Latino/a, African, and European descent. Ranchers, loggers, fishers, and high-tech entrepreneurs make Washington their home. This diversity translates to hundreds of annual festivals in the state, in which people share food, music, and art from around the world.
Washington also boasts the oldest continuously operating farmers market in the nation. Seattle's Pike Place Market attracts 10 million people a year looking for fresh-off-the-boat fish and much more. Washingtonians, known for their love of the outdoors, can venture to Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier, and the Columbia River Gorge to access nature.
Located in the Pacific Northwest, Washington maintains mild, yet foggy and drizzly weather conditions as a result of the warm currents of the Pacific Ocean. Summer days usually peak at 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and during winter the temperature rarely drops below 45 degrees. On the other side of the Cascade Mountain Range, Eastern Washington sees much warmer, dryer summers and colder winters.
While Seattle averages just 37-inches of annual rainfall, the Cascades can get up to 200 inches of snow, creating the perfect conditions for skiing at one of several ski resorts.
Top Degree Programs in Washington
Featured Online Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
Washington Employment Outlook
Washington's unemployment rate continues to decline after peaking during the pandemic. The Employment Security Department (ESD) of Washington State reports that in August 2021, the state's unemployment rate fell to 5.1%, slightly lower than the national unemployment rate of 5.2%. From August 2020 through August 2021, employment increased by 174,600 jobs.
According to ESD, the average yearly salary for state residents was $76,740 in 2020, up 10% from 2019. Some of the top industries currently hiring in Washington include hospitality, education, government, manufacturing, and business. The following represent some of the top jobs within these industries obtainable with an associate degree.
5 Washington Jobs in Demand
Industrial Engineer Technicians
Industrial engineer technicians work in various industries, including computer and electronic manufacturing, transportation, and professional and technical services. They study workflow and production costs and determine alternatives that may increase production while lowering overhead. These technicians also collect data and prepare diagrams to assist in improving processes.
- Annual Median Salary in Washington (2020): $66,260
- Job Outlook in Washington (2018-2028): 4% growth
Most registered nurses work in hospitals and outpatient facilities. They assess and record patients' conditions and medical histories. These professionals also provide care by administering medicines, treatments, and diagnostic tests. Nurses often provide emotional support and instruct patients and their families on managing their condition. State licensure is required.
- Annual Median Salary (2020): $89,650
- Job Outlook in Washington (2018-2028): 21% growth
Web developers design and build websites using content creation and management tools, programming languages, and supporting code. They may also perform tests to measure a website's speed and monitor traffic. These developers may specialize in different types of websites and construction areas, such as back-end or front-end development.
- Annual Mean Salary in Washington (2020): $133,790
- Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 13% growth
Health Information Technologists
Health information technologists combine their healthcare and information systems knowledge to help develop, modify, and analyze computerized healthcare systems. They may assign patients' diagnosis codes and collect treatment and follow-up information. These technicians may also evaluate a healthcare facility, compiling reports on the use of hospital beds, diseases treated, and types of surgeries performed.
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians
Occupational health and safety technicians help ensure the safety of workers by enforcing workplace safety and environmental regulations. They may conduct tests, measure hazardous conditions, investigate accidents, evaluate equipment, and implement procedures to avoid safety violations. Many of these technicians work for the government and in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
Popular Career Paths in Washington
Best Accredited Community Colleges in Washington
Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team
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Best Community Colleges in Washington
Walla Walla Community CollegeLocation
Walla Walla, WATuition
WWCC's multiple academic pathways appeal to students with varied academic interests and career goals. The college's divisions -- many of which offer transfer degrees and certificates -- feature unique options, including carpentry, commercial truck driving, and energy systems technology. E-learners at this Washington community college use Canvas to access asynchronous course content.
The Advising and Counseling Center at WWCC provides in-person and online counseling services. The Career Services Department delivers workshops, one-on-one advising sessions, mock interviews, and resume critiques. WWCC proudly participates in the federal TRIO program to provide additional resources to economically disadvantaged students.
Like all Washington community colleges on this ranking, WWCC accepts GED certificates. The college also accepts transfer credit and awards credit for prior learning through an exam. Additionally, incoming learners without ACT or SAT scores take placement tests to determine initial English and math courses. Foundation scholarships for WWCC students use a March 31 application deadline.
Big Bend Community CollegeLocation
Moses Lake, WATuition
BBCC offers students numerous associate degrees and certificates. Those seeking an associate degree can select from six areas of interest, including aviation, healthcare, and STEM. Professors help learners stay on top of grades by using the Academic Early Warning System; when a student's grade drops, their professor sends them an email encouraging a face-to-face meeting.
Student life at BBCC provides learners with many opportunities to socialize and network outside of class. The college hosts men's and women's basketball, wrestling, and baseball teams. Unique clubs include the Aviation Club, the Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu Club, and Phi Theta Kappa.
BBCC recommends that prospective degree-seekers attend an information session before applying. Placement tests require a small fee. Scholarship application requirements include high school or undergraduate transcripts and two recommendation letters. Additionally, BBCC uses a March 13 scholarship application deadline.
South Puget Sound Community CollegeLocation
The 10 areas of study available through SPSCC include unique programs in hospitality, cultural studies, and manufacturing. The college also offers six transfer degrees, two of which train the next generation of registered nurses. AAS degrees include culinary arts and medical assisting, and certificate-seekers can choose from more than 20 options.
SPSCC delivers online, weekend, and evening courses in 13 programs. The fully online AA transfers seamlessly to in-state colleges and universities, and online degree-seekers enjoy the same academic options and student support services as on-campus learners. Student support services at this Washington community college include optional study abroad opportunities. These programs last four weeks and take place between academic semesters.
Prospective students can apply for the spring, summer, fall, or winter semester. The school's nursing and dental assisting programs feature special application requirements such as additional applications or immunizations. After degree-seekers submit FAFSA results, they can access the college's financial aid portal to explore and apply for scholarships.
Everett Community CollegeLocation
The eight academic pathways at EvCC feature degrees and certificates in the arts, business, and healthcare. Unlike other Washington community colleges on this ranking, EvCC features a Transitional Studies division that helps learners earn GED certificates and hone English and math skills. Successful Transitional Studies students can enter an associate or certificate program.
Distance education students at EvCC use Canvas. To help online learners succeed, EvCC developed Starfish, a software program that allows degree-seekers to identify and remedy barriers to academic success. Other valuable student support services at this Washington community college include career interest and readiness assessments as well as one-on-one counseling and advising sessions.
EvCC accepts new learners at four points throughout the year. The college's open-enrollment policy means that all applicants with a high school diploma or GED scores can attend. Incoming degree-seekers may qualify for foundation, East County, or cap and gown scholarships. These and other financial aid opportunities have their own application requirements.
Shoreline Community CollegeLocation
Shoreline provides transfer degrees in three areas: general studies, natural sciences, and physical sciences. These options make Shoreline an excellent choice for STEM students. Professional and technical programs at this Washington community college include degrees and certificates in biotechnology, criminal justice, music performance, and more than a dozen other subjects.
Online students can select from seven transfer degrees and over 20 certificates. Unlike on-campus courses, online classes offer a flexible schedule that allows learners to start a program or course at many points throughout the year. Like on-campus degree-seekers, online students can access online advising and tutoring resources at no extra charge.
Some programs at Shoreline use rolling admissions, while others have specific application deadlines. Some programs may have additional application requirements. Financial aid opportunities at Shoreline include federal work-study programs, need-based grants, and merit-based scholarships. Students submit only one form to apply to over 140 foundational Scholarships.
Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges in Washington
Are community colleges worth it?
Yes. Community colleges offer many different educational opportunities that can lead to various careers. Students may enter the workforce after gaining job training, or earning a certificate or associate degree. Others study for two years at a community college before attending a four-year college or university to continue their education.
These colleges also offer options for nontraditional students with outside obligations who feel uncertain about pursuing higher education or want to attend part-time. Starting your education at an affordable community college can also save you a substantial amount of money.
Does Washington have good community colleges?
WalletHub recently ranked the best community college systems in the nation, and Washington landed in the number three spot based on cost, financing, and education and career outcomes. With 34 community colleges in the state to choose from, students can attend college in just about any area of Washington.
In addition to offering traditional certificates and associate degrees, several community colleges offer applied bachelor's degree programs, as well. Administrators and advisors also work with employers and industry experts to ensure their graduates possess the skills they need to succeed.
How much does it cost to go to community college in Washington?
During the 2021-2022 academic year, tuition for a full-time in-state student was $4,343, a fraction of what it costs to attend a four-year university or college. Nonresident students pay $9,947. Students should also budget for additional campus-based fees and the cost of books and supplies as well as room and board, if applicable.
Some schools also offer applied bachelor's degrees. For these programs, in-state and out-of-state students pay $6,965 and $19,302 in annual tuition fees, respectively. Some schools waive Oregon border county residents' out-of-state fees, while others offer tuition discounts for senior citizens and military veterans. Approximately 38% of students receive need-based financial aid.
What is the cheapest community college in Washington?
The Washington State Legislature and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges set the tuition fees for all community colleges in Washington. This means that tuition rates for each college are relatively equal. The slight variations that exist are due to college-specific fees, such as lab and technical fees.
Students may want to consider a college's location when choosing a school, as the cost of living throughout the state of Washington varies significantly. For students looking to reduce their financial burden, areas like Spokane and Yakima offer lower living expenses than cities like Seattle and Bellingham.
Is Washington a good place to live and study?
For students who love the outdoors and don't mind a little rain, Washington offers vibrant cities, beautiful landscapes, and a great education system. Its cultural diversity means plenty of festivals and opportunities to learn about different perspectives while experiencing food, art, and music from around the world.
The rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula receive about 140 inches of rain each year. However, in western Washington, you'll likely experience more light drizzles than constant downpours.
Featured Image: Joel Rogers / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images