Saint Paul College was once again named one of the best higher education institutions in the U.S.
Haven't heard of it? That's probably because few publications -- aside from Washington Monthly -- acknowledge a group of schools currently educating more than two out of five college students.
With the importance of an education beyond high school tried to future earnings, the low-cost option of attending community colleges has helped fuel their rapid growth in enrollment. Roughly 11 million students attend community colleges. That's about 42 percent of the U.S. collegiate population.
But as Washington Monthly's web editor Daniel Luzer notes, it's a "vast category of schools that other college guides never bother to evaluate."
"While [U.S. News & World Report] glorifies schools that promise to initiate their students into the elite," Lurzer writes, "the best community colleges serve a far more important mission: granting lower-income and minority students admission into the middle class."
Saint Paul College in St. Paul, Minn., ranked as No. 1. Saint Paul was originally a vocational high school called the Saint Paul Technical and Vocational Institute. It began offering college courses in the 1990s and officially became a college in 2002, according to a Washington Monthly 2010 profile of the school, when it was also crowned as the bets in the nation.
Washington Monthly's ranking of the best community colleges is based on U.S. Department of Education measures of student retention and completion, and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement. The CCSSE survey includes responses on teaching practices, student workload, interaction with faculty and student support.
Check out the slideshow below for the top eight community colleges, and head over to Washington Monthly's website for the full ranking.