Smart students entering college will look for the best value for their buck. Rather than begin their academic career in an expensive private school, they often enroll in a two-year public college before transferring to a four-year university. Others may decide on a career that doesn’t require a degree from a conventional four-year institution. For instance, they may wish to learn a trade at a technical school.

Culling data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Bankrate ranked more than 900 two-year public colleges using six criteria: graduation rate; student retention rate; student-faculty ratio; in-state tuition and fees; percentage of full-time, first time undergrads getting financial aid; and the average amount of aid they received from various sources. We excluded schools that didn’t report information on these six criteria to the NCES, as well as private institutions and schools with fewer than 100 full-time students. The data reflect full-time, first-time degree- or certificate-seeking students who entered college in fall 2008.

Following are the top 25 two-year public colleges based on this ranking.

Top 25 two-year public colleges

Rank Institution name Retention rate, 2011 (percent) Graduation rate (percent) Number of students per instructor In-state tuition and fees per year Percentage of undergrads receiving financial aid* Average amount of grant aid received**
1 East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program

Calif.
98 87 14 $3,700 100 $3,567
2 Erwin Technical Center

Fla.
89 85 12 $2,887 71 $5,189
3 Altamaha Technical College

Ga.
66 59 12 $2,100 97 $5,415
4 Flint Hills Technical College

Kan.
77 67 12 $4,180 90 $5,248
5 White Mountains Community College

N.H.
63 42 7 $7,696 92 $5,510
6 Linn State Technical College

Mo.
77 57 12 $5,550 95 $6,072
7 North Central Kansas Technical College

Kan.
65 81 10 $4,441 83 $4,287
8 Charlotte Technical Center

Fla.
74 55 7 $3,386 66 $4,184
9 Mayland Community College

N.C.
89 47 9 $2,243 61 $4,652
10 Colby Community College

Kan.
68 51 10 $2,944 97 $4,181
11 Lake Area Technical Institute

S.D.
82 69 16 $5,776 94 $4,972
12 Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology

Pa.
64 47 15 $6,830 80 $10,267
13 Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas

Ark.
53 17 7 $2,550 97 $5,401
14 Dawson Community College

Mont.
63 56 13 $4,245 95 $6,139
15 Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

N.C.
77 34 13 $2,250 95 $5,418
16 Southeastern Technical College

Ga.
55 41 12 $2,498 99 $5,974
17 Traviss Career Center

Fla.
30 66 8 $2,845 100 $2,840
18 Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

Wis.
72 41 10 $3,571 84 $4,660
19 Cleveland Community College

N.C.
63 40 11 $2,222 83 $5,268
20 Imperial Valley College

Calif.
75 28 29 $1,038 84 $5,656
21 Northwest Louisiana Technical College

La.
58 58 21 $1,494 88 $4,898
22 Acadiana Technical College, Lafayette campus

La.
63 52 16 $1,474 80 $4,647
23 Western Piedmont Community College

N.C.
60 26 10 $2,155 86 $5,831
24 Southwest Georgia Technical College

Ga.
56 36 13 $2,048 95 $5,655
25 Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

N.M.
43 21 17 $675 80 $4,490

*Undergrads are full-time, first-time students. ** Aid includes grants from federal, state, local and institutional sources.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics.

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