Over the years, Colorado colleges in general, and public colleges in particular, have performed weakly in national rankings. Unfortunately, the same scenario has played out in a new study of the best community colleges in the state. Nine Colorado institutions were analyzed among 728 nationwide, with only one school from here landing in the top half of the rankings and the lowest-rated facility finishing only fifteen slots away from dead last. And the latter's location is mighty close to home.
The findings come courtesy of WalletHub, which deserves credit for taking community colleges seriously. With the cost of attending a four-year college skyrocketing, community college may be the only option available to many folks hoping to increase their earning potential via higher education. And while plenty of politicians have talked about making community college attendance free, such plans remain in the idea stage in Colorado.
The authors of the study determined the best and worst community colleges by compiling points in three self-explanatory categories: Cost & Financing, Education Outcomes and Career Outcomes. The complete methodology is below — and by its standards, Colorado community colleges were mediocre across the board.
According to WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez, corresponding via email, "There's definitely room for improvement in Colorado as compared to other states. For instance, eleven colleges from Minnesota made it to the top 100, with one ranking first overall. Twelve California colleges also made it to the top 100. Five Arizona colleges and four Montana colleges also made it to the top 100."
In contrast, the study found that only Aims Community College in Greeley found its way into the top 100 by any of the main measures; it was 96th in Cost & Financing. Does this indicate that it's difficult for students to get a good deal at a Colorado community college?
"Generally speaking, it does," Gonzales allows. "Aims Community College, for instance, ranked 33rd in Average Amount of Grant or Scholarship Aid Received at $6,047, and 54th in Per-Pupil Spending at $20,336. But it tied for last in the Presence of Free Community-College Education category, with no legislation under consideration to provide free community college education across the state."
And then there's the Colorado schools' lousy marks in the Career Outcomes category. "Let's look at the three bottom-ranking Colorado colleges in this category," Gonzalez suggests. "The Community College of Denver ranked 405th in Return on Educational Investment at 50.6 percent and 543rd in Student-Loan Default Rate at 23.2 percent; Aims Community College ranked 450th at 45.2 percent and 443rd at 20.2 percent in these respective categories; and Lamar Community College ranked 218th at 70.1 percent and 517th at 22.3 percent, respectively. Their common ground is the extraordinarily high student loan default rate."
Unsurprisingly, a number of the institutions that didn't fare well in the report pushed back, Gonzalez acknowledges: "Some of the lower-ranking colleges responded to our study by pointing out the many benefits of their curriculum. While we do not dispute these advantages, it is important to note that they were not included in our study. We have pointed these schools to our methodology, in which we clearly explain which aspects were and were not included in the analysis."
When asked if it's possible to have a positive outcome from enrollment at a Colorado community college even if the institution winds up toward the lower end of the rankings, Gonzalez responds, "Of course. Our methodology includes only certain aspects of the college (and post-college) experience offered, especially when it comes to finances."
Still, you can bet there are plenty of community college administrators in Colorado and elsewhere that can't be happy with these grades. Continue to see the complete rankings for community colleges in Colorado, followed by a breakdown of the way the scores were determined.
Number 1 in Colorado: Morgan Community College
Location: Fort Morgan
Total score: 48.70
Cost & Financing rank: 477 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 127 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 117 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 123 (out of 728)
Number 2 in Colorado: Trinidad State Junior College
Total score: 45.06
Cost & Financing rank: 372 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 151 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 327 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 272 (out of 728)
Number 3 in Colorado: Northeastern Junior College
Total score: 43.81
Cost & Financing rank: 612 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 174 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 127 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 338 (out of 728)
Number 4 in Colorado: Arapahoe Community College
Total score: 43.52
Cost & Financing rank: 566 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 658 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 115 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 355 (out of 728)
Number 5 in Colorado: Aims Community College
Total score: 43.29
Cost & Financing rank: 96 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 216 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 588 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 370 (out of 728)
Number 6 in Colorado: Front Range Community College
Total score: 42.75
Cost & Financing rank: 470 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 556 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 217 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 406 (out of 728)
Number 7 in Colorado: Lamar Community College
Total score: 40.83
Cost & Financing rank: 365 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 494 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 422 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 517 (out of 728)
Number 8 in Colorado: Community College of Aurora
Total score: 39.74
Cost & Financing rank: 376 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 667 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 397 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 576 (out of 728)
Number 9 in Colorado: Community College of Denver
Total score: 33.72
Cost & Financing rank: 510 (out of 728)
Education Outcomes rank: 703 (out of 728)
Career Outcomes rank: 592 (out of 728)
WalletHub ranking: 713 (out of 728)
In order to determine the best community colleges in the U.S., WalletHub’s analysts first selected a sample of 728 schools from the list of member institutions in the American Association of Community Colleges. However, some schools were excluded from our sample due to data limitations. Please note that the AACC is not affiliated whatsoever with WalletHub and was used strictly as an informational resource.
We evaluated the schools based on three key dimensions, including: 1) Cost & Financing, 2) Education Outcomes and 3) Career Outcomes. We constructed the three dimensions using 14 total metrics, each grouped with related metrics in the appropriate category and listed below with its corresponding weight. We graded each metric on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the best community college.
Finally, we determined each school’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its total score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Cost & Financing — Total Points: 33.33
• Cost of In-State Tuition & Fees: Double Weight (9.52 Points)
• Presence of Free Community-College Education: Full Weight (4.76 Points)
Note: This metric considers the presence or absence of legislation to provide free community-college education or if such legislation is currently under consideration.
• Average Amount of Grant or Scholarship Aid Received: Full Weight (4.76 Points)
• Per-Pupil Spending: Full Weight (4.76 Points)
• School Spending Efficiency: Full Weight (4.76 Points)
Note: This metric was calculated by dividing per-pupil spending by the cost of in-state tuition and fees.
• Faculty Salary: Full Weight (4.76 Points)
Note: This metric was adjusted for the local cost of living.
Education Outcomes — Total Points: 33.33
• First-Year Retention Rate: Full Weight (6.06 Points)
• Graduation Rate: Full Weight (6.06 Points)
• Transfer-Out Rate: Half Weight (3.03 Points)
• Credentials Awarded per 100 Full-Time-Equivalent Students: Full Weight (6.06 Points)
Note: “Credentials” refer to degrees and certificates.
• Student-Faculty Ratio: Full Weight (~6.06 Points)
• Share of Full-Time Faculty: Full Weight (~6.06 Points)
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Career Outcomes — Total Points: 33.33
• Return on Educational Investment: Double Weight (22.22 Points)
Note: This metric measures the ratio of starting salary for graduates to cost of education.
• Student-Loan Default Rate: Full Weight (11.11 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the National Center for Education Statistics, Council for Community and Economic Research and College Measures.