Best and Worst Colorado Community Colleges, According to New Study

Community College of Denver graduates from 2016. Additional photos and more below.
Community College of Denver graduates from 2016. Additional photos and more below. Facebook
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."

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The profile pic from the Facebook page of Morgan Community College, which topped the Colorado roster.
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

Location: Trinidad

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)

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A screen capture from a video on the Northeastern Junior College Facebook page.
Number 3 in Colorado: Northeastern Junior College

Location: Sterling

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

Location: Littleton

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)

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts