2020 Best Online Community Colleges

By OnlineU Staff | Updated 6/22/2021
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Millions of students each year start their higher education journey at a community college. Some are looking to enter an occupation requiring an associate degree. Others are seeking an affordable way to take general education courses before transferring to a bachelor's degree program. Along the way, many of them learn useful and marketable skills and gain an important credential.

For many students, online education provides a convenient way to learn. In 2018, nearly two million community college students took at least one distance education course, with almost 15% taking online courses exclusively. For applicants considering an online degree, we've ranked the best online community colleges below, based on retention rate, number of online associate degrees offered, and percentage of students enrolled online. We've also provided an overview of community colleges and information about the online learning experience, costs of an online degree, and career outcomes for graduates.

View our methodology or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Locations
# 1 #1 Foothill College $3,555 Los Altos Hills (CA)
# 2 #2 Sussex County Community College $5,200 Newton (NJ)
# 3 #3 Bismarck State College $5,499 Bismarck (ND)
# 4 #4 Georgia State University-Perimeter College $4,050 Decatur (GA)
# 5 #5 North Dakota State College of Science $4,484 Wahpeton (ND)
# 6 #6 Marshalltown Community College $5,696 Marshalltown (IA)
# 7 #7 Florida Gateway College $3,099 Lake City (FL)
# 8 #8 Southeast Technical Institute $8,415 Sioux Falls (SD)
# 9 #9 Seminole State College of Florida $2,393 Sanford (FL) (and 3 others)
# 10 #10 Bucks County Community College $5,115 Newtown (PA)
# 11 #11 Georgia Highlands College $2,850 Rome (GA)
# 12 #12 Cochise College $3,616 Douglas (AZ)
# 13 #13 Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College $4,807 Shell Lake (WI)
# 14 #14 Richmond Community College $2,584 Hamlet (NC)
# 15 #15 Lake Superior College $5,653 Duluth (MN)
# 16 #16 Wallace State Community College-Hanceville $3,930 Hanceville (AL)
# 17 #17 Southwest Virginia Community College $5,329 Richlands (VA)
# 18 #18 Cowley County Community College $3,565 Arkansas City (KS)
# 19 #19 Eastern Oklahoma State College $4,947 Wilburton (OK)
# 20 #20 Alexandria Technical & Community College $5,970 Alexandria (MN)
# 21 #21 Snead State Community College $3,483 Boaz (AL)
# 22 #22 Arkansas Northeastern College $2,430 Blytheville (AR) (and 3 others)
# 23 #23 Lakeshore Technical College $4,095 Cleveland (WI)
# 24 #24 Hillsborough Community College $2,654 Tampa (FL)

2020 Best Online Community Colleges by State

All States

2020 Best Online Community College Ranking Details

#1 Foothill College

  • Annual Tuition: $3,555
  • Locations: Los Altos Hills (CA)
  • Accreditation: WASC ACCJC

A community college in Los Altos Hills, California, Foothill College offers 15 online associate degrees. Students can choose from Associate of Arts degree programs in anthropology, art history, English, graphic and interactive design, history, humanities, Japanese, music technology, psychology, sociology, Spanish, women’s studies and other disciplines. An Associate of Science in Geography is also available. FC uses the Canvas course management system to deliver all coursework. Some online courses include tests that must be proctored in person, and limited on-campus attendance may be required. Not all fully online courses are offered every quarter or even every year. FC’s graduation rate is nearly 62 percent, and 27 percent of FC students are online learners.

#2 Sussex County Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,200
  • Locations: Newton (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Sussex County Community College offers three online associate degrees: an Associate of Arts in English, an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts with multiple concentrations, and an Associate of Science in Business Administration. Online classes are taught by the same faculty who develop the course curriculum and are offered asynchronously, meaning students can access coursework when it is most convenient. Sussex uses the Canvas learning management system and offers instructions on how to use this platform.

#3 Bismarck State College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,499
  • Locations: Bismarck (ND)
  • Accreditation: HLC

A total of 18 online associate degree programs are available at Bismarck State College, located in Bismarck, North Dakota. Associate degrees are offered in administrative assistant, cybersecurity and computer networks, electrical transmission systems technology, nuclear power technology, petroleum production technology and many other subjects. Students have weekly assignments, quizzes and tests, and they are required to participate in class discussions and meet deadlines. Information, assignments and updates are communicated through a dedicated BSC email account, and actual coursework is delivered using the Blackboard learning management system. Approximately 42.5 percent of BSC’s students are online learners.

#4 Georgia State University-Perimeter College

  • Annual Tuition: $4,050
  • Locations: Decatur (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Perimeter College merged with Georgia State University in 2016, making it the largest associate-degree-granting institution in the state of Georgia. Today, nearly 8,000 online students are enrolled at the college. Many online programs are available and cover subjects such as business, health sciences, sport management, nursing, and more. Online students have access to a large number of resources and support services including, but not limited to, tutoring, productivity tools, technical support, disability services, mental health counseling, and career services.

#5 North Dakota State College of Science

  • Annual Tuition: $4,484
  • Locations: Wahpeton (ND)
  • Accreditation: HLC

North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, North Dakota, offers 11 online associate degree programs. Distance learners can choose from such fields as administration and finance, business technology management, health information technician, medical coding, paramedic technology, pharmacy technician and web design/web developer. Transfer degrees are available for those who are undecided about their major, but want to complete general requirements to transfer to a four-year institution. The Blackboard learning management system is used to deliver course material. Nearly half — 47.5 percent — of students at NDSCS are online learners, and the school has a 70 percent retention rate.

#6 Marshalltown Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,696
  • Locations: Marshalltown (IA)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Marshalltown Community College is part of the Iowa Valley Community College District. Located in Marshalltown, Iowa, the schools offers one fully online associate degree: an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts. This program is designed for students looking to earn credits to transfer to a university in the state. Marshalltown Community College has agreements with multiple schools, including Iowa State University and University of Iowa, that allow for a complete transfer of credits from the online Associate of Arts program. All online classes are delivered via Blackboard Learn on the semester schedule. Some courses are taught synchronously, with defined due dates, while other classes allow students to follow along with the curriculum on their own. Associate of Arts students take 64 credits to earn their degrees, with required courses in communications, humanities, social science, math, and physical sciences.

#7 Florida Gateway College

  • Annual Tuition: $3,099
  • Locations: Lake City (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Florida Gateway College offers online associate degrees in business administration, early childhood education, and environmental science technology. Online courses are delivered through the Canvas learning management system. Through this platform, students can access coursework, participate in discussions, and submit assignments. Distance students have access to online library resources, tutoring services, and career center services. Additionally, one-on-one academic advising services are available as well as assistance with enrolling in online courses. Tuition for in-state students is very affordable at $103 per credit and online, out-of-state students benefit from discounted rates.

#8 Southeast Technical Institute

  • Annual Tuition: $8,415
  • Locations: Sioux Falls (SD)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Located in Sioux Falls, SD, Southeast Technical Institute offers online associate degrees in accounting, business administration, computer programming, entrepreneurship, healthcare leadership, and marketing. Southeast Tech participates in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement which means that programs offered by the school meet national standards. Online courses include videos, lectures, and direct communication with faculty. Each week, students are expected to submit assignments. Occasionally, proctoring may be required for exams; however, students who are unable to travel to the Southeast Tech testing center may use an instructor-approved proctor.

#9 Seminole State College of Florida

  • Annual Tuition: $2,393
  • Locations: Sanford (FL) (and 3 others)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Located in Sanford, Florida, Seminole State College of Florida offers 17 online associate degrees. The school’s Associate of Science programs are offered in such subjects as administrative office management, computer programming and analysis, entrepreneurship and business management, social media and marketing, and supply chain management. An Associate of Arts is available as well. Several online bachelor’s degree programs are also offered at SSCF. Coursework is delivered via the Canvas learning management system, and technical support is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Nearly 19 percent of SSCF’s total student enrollment is comprised of online learners.

#10 Bucks County Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,115
  • Locations: Newtown (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Bucks County Community College, a two-year institution of higher learning near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offers 24 online associate degree programs. Students can choose from many different subjects, including business administration, computer science, emergency management, English (3 tracks), entrepreneurship and small business management, fire science, history, psychology, social work, and technical entrepreneurship. Coursework is delivered entirely online by the Canvas learning management system, but some programs require an internship or field work; proctored testing may also be required. Approximately 12 percent of BCCC students are online learners, and the college has a retention rate of 68 percent.

#11 Georgia Highlands College

  • Annual Tuition: $2,850
  • Locations: Rome (GA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Georgia Highlands College offers eight online associate degrees and over 100 online courses. The web-based courses are taught by GHC faculty members and have the same start and end dates as the traditional courses. Some courses are delivered through an eClassroom, which require students to meet virtually through the Zoom video conferencing platform at specific times. Online students at GHC can also take eCore classes through a partnership with the University System of Georgia. These courses are taught by faculty members from other institutions within the university system. Multiple support services are available to distance students including advising, technical support, and time management tools.

#12 Cochise College

  • Annual Tuition: $3,616
  • Locations: Douglas (AZ)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Cochise College provides online learning options to more than 2,500 students. Online courses are offered through their Moodle system and have quite a few degree programs including Computer Programming, Economics, Liberal Studies, Computer Information Systems, and Business Administration. You can also take courses in the Arizona General Education curriculum which allows students to fulfill the general education requirements at all Arizona universities. Students who complete an AGEC with a minimum GPA of 2.5 and a grade of C or better in each course are guaranteed to be admitted to any Arizona public university.

#13 Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

  • Annual Tuition: $4,807
  • Locations: Shell Lake (WI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College offers several online associate degree options in subjects such as accounting, early childhood education, and information technology. Many virtual learning options are available for students who are unable to attend traditional, on-campus classes. The most flexible option is internet-based courses delivered through Blackboard, which can be accessed at any time. Other courses are offered via interactive television (ITV), requiring students to attend a remote classroom site, for example in a nearby library, museum, or secondary school. With this technology, students are easily able to participate in group discussions with the instructor and other classmates over video conferencing. WITC also offers free webinars for those who are looking to explore other academic or career fields. Within six months of graduating, 94% of WITC graduates receive employment.

#14 Richmond Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $2,584
  • Locations: Hamlet (NC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Richmond Community College offers 100% online associate degrees in accounting, business administration, criminal justice, early childhood education, healthcare management technology, and information technology. Distance-learning students who are unable to travel to the Richmond CC campus may use ProctorU for exam proctoring services. Other student services include online counseling, tutoring, a career center, library resources, and disability services. Tuition is very affordable at just $76 per credit hour for in-state students and $268 per credit hour for out-of-state students.

#15 Lake Superior College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,653
  • Locations: Duluth (MN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Lake Superior College offers over 20 online associate degrees in subjects such as computer programming, cybersecurity, paralegal studies, and business administration. LSC uses the Brightspace learning management system which is developed by D2L. Distance-learning students are expected to regularly log in and participate in coursework. Failure to do so for 14 consecutive days will lead to a failing grade. Tutoring services are available over email, phone, and online meetings. Students who are looking for career guidance can take advantage of an online career workshop. The college also offers a MyMilitary career workshop that is geared toward veterans.

#16 Wallace State Community College-Hanceville

  • Annual Tuition: $3,930
  • Locations: Hanceville (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Wallace State Community College offers a wide variety of online associate degrees and certificates. These programs cover subjects such as art, business management, child development, criminal justice, computer science, and mathematics. Online courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. For exam proctoring, WSCC uses the Respondus LockDown Browser system. Students have free access to the Microsoft Office suite and a tutoring lab to help with coursework in English, math, science, computer science, and writing.

 

#17 Southwest Virginia Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,329
  • Locations: Richlands (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Southwest Virginia Community College offers several online associate degrees and certificates in fields such as accounting, business management, early childhood education, emergency management, and psychology. Online courses are delivered via the Canvas learning management system; detailed instructions are available on how to use SVCC’s online tools and resources. Distance students have access to Virtual Advisers who are available via live chat, email correspondence, or phone calls. Tutoring services are also available through Zoom web conferencing.

#18 Cowley County Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $3,565
  • Locations: Arkansas City (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

While its central campus is found in Arkansas City, Kansas, Cowley County Community College has several other locations across the state as well as an online college. Cowley County CC offers over 30 degrees that can be completed online, which include Associate of Arts degrees in everything from accounting to history, an Associate of Science in computer science, Associate of Applied Science degrees in fields such as medical transcription and business administration, and various Associate of General Studies programs. Most courses are asynchronous, meaning they do not require online attendance at specific times. Tuition for online associate programs is $115 per credit.

#19 Eastern Oklahoma State College

  • Annual Tuition: $4,947
  • Locations: Wilburton (OK)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Eastern Oklahoma State College offers online associate degrees in business administration, criminal justice, computer information systems, general studies, psychology, and sociology. Eastern is an approved institution with the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, which means that their online programs meet national standards. Online courses are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system and Honorlock is used for remote exam proctoring. Free online tutoring is available to students at any time and in a variety of subjects through Tutor.com. For students seeking help with writing projects, Eastern offers Academic Success Coaches.

#20 Alexandria Technical & Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $5,970
  • Locations: Alexandria (MN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Approximately 4,000 students are enrolled at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota, and 27 percent are online learners. The college offers a total of 16 online programs, nine of which are associate degree programs. They include Associate of Arts degrees in economics, history, liberal arts and sciences, psychology and sociology. Students can also choose degrees in business, accounting, legal administrative assistant and speech-language pathology assistant. Several of the degree programs are designed for easy transfer to a four-year college or university. The community college has a 61 percent retention rate and a 71 percent graduation rate.

#21 Snead State Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $3,483
  • Locations: Boaz (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Snead State Community College offers 100% online associate degrees in business, elementary education, and pre-nursing. Most coursework for these programs is delivered through the Blackboard system. Although face-to-face meetings are not required, some courses may require exam proctoring. For prospective students who are unsure if they are ready for online learning, Snead State offers a technical skills self-assessment. Snead State maintains many affiliations and memberships to ensure that the college’s online program offerings are high quality. For example, the college is a member of the Alabama Consortium for Technology and Learning and subscribes to Quality Matters, an organization that focuses on evaluating the quality of online courses.

#22 Arkansas Northeastern College

  • Annual Tuition: $2,430
  • Locations: Blytheville (AR) (and 3 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arkansas Northeastern College is a two-year institution in Blytheville offering students the opportunity to earn an associate degree online. The school is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission and offers general studies degrees, as well as concentrations in criminal justice, business, criminology, and early childhood education. Earning an associate degree online through ANC prepares students to transfer to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor's degree in their chosen discipline, though students looking to pursue immediate entry-level employment can do so through the criminal justice program. Credit hours cost $70 in-county, $80 out-of-county, and $130 for out-of-state and international students.

#23 Lakeshore Technical College

  • Annual Tuition: $4,095
  • Locations: Cleveland (WI)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Lakeshore Technical College offers online associate degrees in accounting, marketing, human resources, information technology, and supply chain management, among other subjects. Many flexible learning options are available including fully online courses, blended courses that combine online and in-person meetings, interactive television (ITV) courses, and print-based correspondence courses. Fully online courses are the most flexible options and are delivered through the Blackboard learning management system. Before starting an online course, students must complete online orientation.

#24 Hillsborough Community College

  • Annual Tuition: $2,654
  • Locations: Tampa (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Hillsborough Community College offers several online associate degree programs in fields such as business administration, psychology, criminal justice, and fire science. Over 240 online courses are available and coursework is delivered through the Canvas learning management system. There are two types of online courses available at HCC: those that require live class meetings and those that do not. Distance students communicate with each other and instructors over live chat, email correspondence, and videoconferencing. Many support services are available including tutoring, counseling services, an academic success center, and tech support.

Overview of Online Community Colleges

The U.S. is home to over 1,400 community colleges. Most are publicly funded, with the goal of serving their local communities. They usually offer two-year associate degrees, which can help graduates qualify for certain technical or vocational fields or serve as the foundation for a bachelor's degree. Many community colleges also offer certificates, which are skill-based credentials that can improve a student's employment prospects in their field.

Because of the localized history of community colleges, only a dozen of these institutions are exclusively online and feature no campus offerings. However, hundreds of schools with physical campuses also offer fully online or hybrid associate degrees. This allows students around the country to enroll in especially attractive or affordable programs, and it grants flexibility to local students with work or family responsibilities that prevent them from attending class sessions at given times.

Do Most Community Colleges Offer Online Courses and Online Degrees?

With the rising popularity of online learning, students may wonder what their online options will be at community colleges. Although recent data is scarce, 92% of U.S. community colleges offered at least one online degree program in 2016. There is anecdotal evidence from around the country that community colleges will offer more online courses in the future than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prospective students may wonder which states have the most options for online community college. The most populous states tend to have a higher number of community colleges, which usually means that these states have more available online programs. For example, California offers thousands of online courses through 115 schools in its community college system, including classes for 21 associate degree programs.

Accreditation

Accreditation indicates that a school's quality has been independently verified, so it's important for prospective students to check a school's accreditation status. Colleges usually list their accreditation information on their websites.

Community colleges earn accreditation by passing a review by a national or regional accrediting body. Once a college is accredited, its students can apply for federal financial aid and transfer credits to other schools. Credit transfer is especially important for associate graduates who want to pursue a bachelor's degree — many regionally accredited colleges don't accept transfer credits from schools that aren't also regionally accredited.

Regional accreditation is the most rigorous form, and the agencies that accredit community colleges are typically the same as those that accredit four-year colleges.Only the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) has a subdivision that accredits community colleges in its region, called the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC). If you attend a community college that is primarily online, the Distance Education Accreditation Commission (DEAC) will also certify your school.

What Is It Like To Pursue Community College Online?

Online degree programs deliver classes through internet-based learning platforms, such as Blackboard or Canvas. Most programs are primarily asynchronous. This means that faculty post recorded lectures, assignments, and discussion questions, and students log in at convenient times to complete coursework. Some courses and degree programs feature synchronous lectures or video discussions among classmates, and many colleges offer hybrid programs that mix in-person class sessions with online work.

Online degree programs deliver classes through internet-based learning platforms, such as Blackboard or Canvas.

Colleges usually maintain that the quality of education is equal between their on-campus and online programs, with the same curriculum, course materials, and learning outcomes. Many distance courses are even taught by the same faculty as in-person classes, and these professors hold virtual office hours for students in online sections. In most cases, online students can also access library resources over the internet and schedule phone or video appointments with librarians or academic advisers.

However, there are definite differences in the online and in-person learning experiences despite the identical curriculum. Students can't ask questions or interact with classmates during asynchronous lectures, and they may lose some informal networking opportunities by not being physically present on campus. Lab work for STEM students may also differ. Rather than work with their classmates in a campus facility, students may need to work in another lab approved by faculty, or even at home using a lab kit.

Should I Attend Online Community College?

There is no absolute answer to this question, because everyone's circumstances are different. Individuals have different job and family responsibilities, educational and career interests, and learning styles. However, community college has given an affordable leg up to many alumni as they enter the workforce or transfer to another degree program.

One of the key reasons students attend community college is the generally low cost, which can help reduce future debt by allowing students to take about half a bachelor's degree course load at a lower tuition rate. Another reason students attend is the variety of careers that they can embark on with an associate degree in hand.

If you intend to enroll at a community college, then it may be worth researching available distance-learning options. If your local college doesn't have the particular degree program you're seeking, it's possible that another one will. If you choose another community college in the same state, you can still take advantage of state-based financial aid programs to help reduce your costs.

I'm Ready to Apply to an Online Community College - What Do I Need To Know?

Prerequisites and Admissions

Community colleges are intended to serve as inclusive educational resources, so they operate on an open-access principle that guarantees admission for most applicants. Applicants may need to take placement tests to determine their level placement in certain subjects, but these tests aren't meant to exclude students entirely.

Applicants to degree and certificate programs usually need a high school diploma or equivalent. The equivalent can be:

  • a GED,
  • a home-school diploma,
  • or a passing score on an approved ability-to-benefit test that demonstrates the educational competence of a student who doesn't have a diploma.

Some high-demand degree programs have caps on the number of students. In these cases, the application process is selective and admissions officers may consider a student's GPA, placement test scores, record of extracurricular activities, and general fitness for the program.

Application Materials

Prospective students generally fill out an online application and submit official high school transcripts and scores from college-placement tests. Transfer students will also send transcripts from any postsecondary institutions they've attended.

Applicants usually pay a nonrefundable fee that covers the work of processing the application. Many colleges waive this fee for applicants who demonstrate financial need; check with the admissions office for more information. Most community colleges accept applications at any time, so students can begin whenever the first class in their program is offered.

Choosing a Location

Most community college students attend a school near their home, because the majority of students attend at least partially in person, even though only a tiny percentage live on campus. It's possible for a fully online student to enroll anywhere in the U.S. if a particular program is appealing or not available near their home. However, students will forgo financial aid programs offered by the state where they live, which are awarded only to that state's residents if they attend an in-state school.

Other Factors To Consider

When applying to community colleges and deciding where you'd like to go, there are some important factors to consider in addition to location. Studies suggest that community college students enrolled in campus programs perform better and complete courses at a higher rate than online students. The reasons aren't always clear, but the researchers recommend that schools prepare students for the challenges of online learning through special orientations, stay on the lookout for students at risk of dropping out, and offer more and better technical support and academic advising.

Before deciding to pursue an online degree, prospective applicants can research how well a community college has adopted these three recommendations. They can make a list of questions to determine how invested a college will be in their success, including:

Does the college offer an orientation geared specifically to online or hybrid students?

Can I speak to an academic adviser before committing to the school?

How do the college's admissions officers describe the level and quality of technical support that students receive?

What do the school's graduates say about their experiences?

How Much Does Online Community College Cost?

Tuition and fee rates at community colleges can vary, but they're designed to be more affordable than other education options. For example, the schools on our list range from $2,393 to $8,415 in annual tuition, with a median cost of $4,072. This compares favorably to the rates we've manually collected for both online bachelor's degrees and online associate degrees as a whole (from both two-year and four-year colleges).

  • The median annual tuition for an online associate degree is $8,300 and the median cost per credit is $268.
  • The median annual tuition for an online bachelor's degree is $13,919 and the median cost per credit is $449.

Because most community colleges are public institutions funded by property taxes, the cost structure often has three tiers:

  1. In-district tuition is lowest, designated for students whose legal residence is near the school.
  2. Out-of-district tuition is for students who live in the same state but out of the college's community.
  3. Out-of-state tuition is for students whose legal residence is in another state.

Tuition and fee rates at community colleges can vary, but they're designed to be more affordable than other education options.

Non-resident online learners won't always pay the out-of-state rate, because some colleges offer online tuition at either the in-district or out-of-district rate regardless of residency. Community colleges may also be subject to a tuition reciprocity agreement, whereby students from a neighboring state pay less than the out-of-state rate. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrations (NASFAA) lists the largest reciprocity exchanges, but check your state's higher education agency if you don't see your state listed.

Community college students will need to pay fees in addition to tuition, which vary by school and may be different for online and in-person students. Students must also buy books and supplies. Very few enrollees pay on-campus housing costs, though some pay for a meal plan. Fully online students can avoid transportation costs that commuters must consider.

Financial Aid

Community college students are eligible for many of the same types of financial aid as students in four-year schools. These include scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and loans from government or private sources.

The usual first step in applying for financial aid is to complete the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA), which is the gateway to all federal and most state and institutional aid programs. A completed FAFSA details an applicant's personal or family financial situation, including their level of need and the amount their family is expected to contribute toward their education.

No matter how much a student contributes toward their own degree, they should first exhaust all possible sources of gift aid, which doesn't need to be repaid. Below are a few categories of grants and scholarships that can help reduce a student's costs and future debt burden:

Federal aid. The Pell Grant awards a variable amount based on a student's financial need, and Federal Work-Study allows a student to work a part-time job in the public interest in exchange for partial funding.

State grants. Many states provide need-based funding to eligible residents attending community college, with awards differing by state. Examples include Florida's Student Assistance Grant Program and Washington's College Grant.

Scholarships. Schools, organizations, and private donors endow scholarships to be awarded based on academic merit, community service, program of study, or representation of underrepresented groups. Examples include the American Indian College Fund's Full Circle Scholarship, which fully funds a year of study, as well as the $1,000-2,5000 Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholarship for students who intend to transfer to a bachelor's program after graduation.

Career and Salary Outcomes

Completing a program at a community college can have a positive effect on employability and earnings. Students learn knowledge and skills relevant to their field and start to build a professional network of people with the same goals and interests, all of which can help their careers.

Completing a program at a community college can have a positive effect on employability and earnings.

The median annual salary for an associate-degree holder is $46,124, which is about $7,300 more than what workers with a high school diploma make. Below are some fast-growing careers that associate degree alumni can potentially pursue, with data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • Medical diagnostic technicians operate complex imaging machinery to help doctors make diagnoses. Their pay varies by imaging specialty, and most specialties require a special certification to work in the field.
  • Nuclear medicine technologists administer radioactive medication that allows for certain diagnostic images that help doctors treat their patients. These technologists earn median annual wages of $80,000 and require certification.
  • Occupational therapy assistants help patients relearn daily activities after illness or injury. They earn a median $61,000 per year and enjoy a very rapid 32% rate of job growth.
  • Physical therapist assistants help therapists who treat their clients' pain and improve their mobility. PT assistant jobs pay a median of $50,000 annually and the field is expanding very fast, with 29% job growth projected through 2029.
  • Radiation therapists use radiation-emitting technologies to treat disease, including cancer. They earn a median wage of $87,000 per year and must be certified or licensed, depending on the state they practice in.

Although associate degrees can provide great career benefits, prospective students may wonder about the stigma associated with earning a degree online. There are some lingering negative associations that stem from online learning's early days, when it was mainly offered by low-quality for-profit schools. However, there is good news:

  • Research indicates that online learning's cachet is improving with HR and business leaders.
  • Most employers won't know that an applicant earned a degree online, because nearly every school issues identical diplomas and transcripts to both online and on-campus students.
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