International Students are finding the merits of U.S. Community Colleges

When I faced the decision many high seniors are grapping with today as they decide where to pursue a higher education,  the community college route  was non-starter.  In my home town,  a junior college( as known in the 80’s) was just that- a last resort for students who were low achievers  in high school. Things have radically changed in the past 25 years and it seems that community colleges have finally ascended to an exalted place in the eyes of students, parents and the higher education community.   In fact,  the Obama Administration recently announced major federal funding increases to enhance program delivery and vocational training at U.S. community colleges.

What exactly is a Community College?

Primarily, these schools are publicly-funded facilities offering higher education to anyone who is interested, especially those in the local community. A community college traditionally offers certificates, diplomas and/or Associate’s degrees in several courses of study. At many community colleges, credits can be transferred to a four-year university for those students seeking a Bachelor’s degree. Students who attend community colleges often come from a variety backgrounds and purposes including high school students participating in dual enrollment programs to adults who are seeking a career change or skills enhancement for career advancement.   In the past few years,  the domestic and international student seeking academic pathway into a four-year university has been a fast growing segment of the community college population.

Community Colleges are widespread in the U.S., particularly in the State of California

As of January 2012,  there were more than 1100 community colleges operating around the United States.  California, alone,  hosts 112 community colleges and some college districts span entire metropolitan basins, such as Los Angeles City College District.  Community colleges enroll more than seven million students nationwide, including nearly 2 million students enrolled in community colleges in the State of California . International students are also a fast growing segment whom make up as much as 15% of the student enrollment on some campuses.  In fact, the latest Open Doors Report( 2010-2011) indicated nearly 90,000 international students were enrolled at U.S. Community Colleges .

What is the allure for international students?

  • Vocational training programs that feed into local and global industries needs- Aviation,  Business Management, Fashion Design, Hospitality/Tourism,  Logistics,  and Nursing.
  • Transfer pathway into leading four-year undergraduate programs- community colleges and four-year institutions, including the UC system, have formalized transfer admission guarantees(TAG).
  • Affordable Cost-  U.S. community college tuition and fees are approximately 50% lower than those at 4-year colleges and universities.
  • A good starting point for students who have TOEFL or IELTS scores below requirements of traditional 4-year institutions.    Many community colleges have strong intensive English language programs and programs that allow international students to quickly mainstream into academic classes.

Community Colleges importance promoted by the U.S. Government overseas. 

The growing importance of community colleges has also been acknowledged the U.S. Department of State.  EducationUSA offices are increasingly coordinating stand-alone fairs to promote community colleges overseas and even the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs has created a J1 exchange program- Community College Initiative- dedicated to promoting the merits of community colleges overseas.  California ETEC co-administrated  this program from 2008-2011, a program that brought 1000 Egyptian students to 16 host colleges in California and another 25+ community colleges around the United States.

Most importantly,  visa approvals appear to be way up for community college applicants around the globe.   As  community colleges step-up student recruitment efforts globally,  more foreign students will begin their study in the U.S. at 2 year institutions.  As acknowledgement of the role community colleges are expected to play recruiting and preparing prospective 4-year students globally,  many 4-year institutions have begun efforts to develop joint-promotion strategies and expand TAG agreements with partner community colleges.    California ETEC will encourage such cooperative efforts and aggressively promote the benefits of community colleges in our promotions throughout Asia. 



Attracting Government Funded Scholars and J1 Sponsored Students to your campus

A growing consideration in today’s international student attraction planning is how U.S. schools can gain a share of foreign government scholars and J-1 scholars sponsored by the U.S. government.   If one examines the most recent SEVIS Quarterly Report , it is no surprise that Saudi students are now the 4th leading source of international students in the United States, exceeding 43% grow in 2010-2011.  The break neck rise of Saudi scholars in the U.S. directly corresponds with the edict of the King Abdullah in 2004  to increase the number of Saudis, particularly women, studying in Western countries.

Government funding of overseas study to the U.S. is  not isolated to Saudi Arabia, in fact in the past several years several other Gulf States, newly liberated Arab countries and even developed countries have announced or launched well coordinated scholarship programs.  Countries actively supporting and funding overseas scholarships include:

  • Bahrain
  • Chile
  • Iraq
  • Finland
  • Kuwait
  • Libya
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Sweden
  • UAE

In addition to the tapping the largess of foreign governments,  the U.S. government sponsors thousands of students each year under J1 programs managed by the State Department’s  Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.   One such program,  Community College Initiative, was launched in 2008 and brings students from more than 15 countries for 1 year academic study and cultural enrichment.   California ETEC served as co-administrator of the California  CCI Egypt program from 2009-2011 that brought 200 Egyptian students to 15 different host community colleges.    For many of the host campuses, this was their first experience having Egyptian students on campus and hosting J1 students.

While the point of this post is not to dwell on the challenges that funded scholars bring to campus, it is important to note that government funded students are more than likely going to require more support than the typical F-1 student who is self-funded.

Below are a few lessons learned hosting funded scholars from the Egypt/Middle East

a) be prepared to provide high-touch support

b) pre-arrival academic counseling and placement test evaluation a must

c) address housing, meal and other lifestyle matters prior to student


d) establish a clear line of communication with funded scholars and designate

and acknowledge contact points for all aspects of academic and student life

on campus

e)  Good Luck!


How to start the process to identify opportunities to  host funded scholars?

We suggest you consider a visit to Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and other Gulf States equivalents in Washington DC.   You will also find representatives from all Middle East and Gulf States sponsoring students at the annual NAFSA Conference.  A number of panels at NAFSA detail specific steps to get listed with the appropriate educational consulates in order to qualify as a host college in the U.S.    Finally,  we suggest you speak with colleges or universities that are currently hosting foreign government or U.S. funded J1 scholars.


A Word to the Wise- How to Idenfity Accredited Schools in the United States

2011 will be well remembered for the surprising number of  schools with SEVIS status exposed for illegally issuing F-1 Visas to students that either did not attend the school or were  merely  enrolled to a shell campus – a location that neither had a campus nor any meaningful delivery of academic programming.   Who is to blame for the proliferation of such “sham” universities?    It seems that a confluence of circumstances including lack of information, greed and outsized demand for study visas in  China, India and Vietnam have been the main drivers for this emerging problem.

Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, California and North Virigina University located in Annandale, Virigina were two of the more egregious cases that surfaced last year.   In the case of Tri-Valley,  nearly 1500 students from India were registered to school being run out of a modest office building with a made up list of faculty and no students actually attending classes.   Northern Virginia University  a non-accredited, for profit- university was authorized by SEVIS to enroll 50 students, but  US Embassy and State Department officials found more than 2400 students, 90 percent from a single region in India, registered to the school.

As a record number of would-be international students consider study in the U.S., it is important that these students are steered toward credible programs that are accredited by the appropriate governing authorities.

What  a prospective international student or international student advisor should know?

  • There are six regional accreditors of U.S. Higher Education-   Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools;  New England Association of Schools and Colleges; North Central Association of Collegs and Schools;  Northwest Accreditation Commission;  Western Association of Schools and Colleges; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
  • Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools(ACICS) governs independent colleges and schools of higher learning.
  • A list of unaccredited institutions of higher education can be found doing a simple Wikipedia search
  • Accreditation of English Language Training Programs Act was signed in to law on December 10, 20120.   This new law requires all English Language Training Schools seeking to enroll F-1 Non immigrant students to receive accreditation by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of the Department of Education.

How to avoid being scammed by a fraudulent school? 

  • Schedule an appointment with your in-country EducationUSA Office to identify accredited schools in the United States.   EducationUSA staff will be able to provide no-cost, unbiased student advising services.
  • Request proof of accreditation from the language school or academic institution you are planning to seek admission
  • If you are working with a study agent,  ask that the agency to provide information about the accreditation council which approved the school in question.
  • Verify with your local government that the academic credits you will receive from the U.S. institution will be recognized in-country.
  • Finally,  please contact if you have any questions about accreditation or would like a referral to a local resource who can assist you answering questions about U.S. institutions. 

The Vietnam Education and Training Center(VETEC™) Advantage

California ETEC’s first contact with the Vietnam Education Market was in 2006.  After coordinating a series of in-country events( customized student fairs,  agent matchmaking receptions,  school visits), we concluded the best way to support the growing interest of U.S. schools in Vietnam was to get closer to the market.  The first step in this process was CA ETEC being selected to coordinate the Meet Vietnam Education Forum in San Francisco,  November 2009.  This event was sponsored by the Vietnam Government with the express purpose of enhancing institutional linkages between Vietnamese and U.S. colleges and universities.   As a by-product, we established useful contacts at the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training(MOET).    Follow on events were also conducted in 2010-2011 in Vietnam to encourage U.S. schools to pursue more pro-active education exchange with local high schools and universities.    While these events yielded modest outcomes- J1 scholar exchange, teacher exchanges and student placements at U.S. institutions,  the distance of the Vietnam market and its’ growing importance required a more permanent commitment.    In 2011,  California ETEC proposed establishing a stand-alone center in Ho Chi Minh City- VETEC™ – for funding support from the U.S. Department of Commerce( Market Development Cooperator Program).    On September 12th, 2011,   California ETEC received notice that the VETEC ™ project was selected to receive federal funding support- the first such initiative ever funded with a focus on the Vietnam market.

VETEC™ Opening in Summer 2012 

VETEC™ will be located in a prime location in Ho Chi Minh City, maintain a bi-lingual staff, offer year-round student advising services and ongoing assistance and support colleges and universities seeking to start or expand student recruitment and exchange activities in Vietnam.


Future student recruitment success in the highly competitive Vietnam market will require a strategic approach that can only be gained through having an ongoing presence in-country.    VETEC™ will offer U.S. schools a viable alternative and/or supplement to working through study agents or participating in high-cost, low yield study fairs that  are multiplying in Vietnam.

Visit our dedicated  website ( to learn more  how your school can leverage  VETEC™ and succeed in the Vietnam market

A competitive landscape calls for new international student recruitment strategies

In earlier posts we have discussed that a growing number of schools are seeking to expand their international student recruitment activities.   While some schools are going about this objective through passive or arm chair means other schools are deploying  dedicated recruiters around the  global  to seek out students.  What is becoming more clear, however, just participating in student fairs or selecting study agents to represent your school does not guarantee recruitment success.  Unlike a few years ago,  your school is now likely to encounter 50 or more U.S. schools at major study fairs in Asia and find agents are already top heavy  representing like schools.   Unfortunately,  Woody Allen’s quote that just showing up was 80% of success, is no longer valid.

So how does a school cope with the ever growing competition for qualified students in Asia?   California ETEC fields this specific question from  schools on nearly a weekly basis.  CA ETEC has responded by developing new, innovative recruitment models that can help schools successfully compete in these crowded markets.   Our  customized recruitment services offer alternatives to the high-cost, low-yield study fair participation or settling with an agent(s) based strategy.

What a custom recruitment program consists of: 

  • A dedicated staff person, managed in CA ETEC local country office, exclusively promotes your school
  • Continuous branding and marketing of your program in-country
  • Develop market specific collateral materials and local website presence
  • Coordinate and launch digital marketing campaign
  • Expanding from recruitment to internationalization™ program 

The above program is now being offered in China and will soon be launched in Vietnam      ( and an expected rolled out in Korea is planned later in the year.  Please contact California ETEC to learn how your school can adopt customized recruitment strategies in these important countries.

Debunking the myth of the Arm Chair International Student Recruiter

Does international student recruitment success require  huge  capital investments?  Well, if you survey the marketing and recruitment budgets  of the leading host schools for international students-  SMC,  UC Extensions,  USC,  NYU, Purdue,  etc.,  I am pretty sure you would be staggered by their investments to grow and maintain their international student enrollments.   No question, in this arena it does take money to achieve big-time recruitment success.   That being said, it does not mean spending money insures outcomes.   It also raises the question whether or not schools with limited marketing budgets can  succeed through “arm chair” marketing.   That is,  using passive marketing tools such as buying leads,  print ads,  catalog shows, direct marketing, and participating in regional agent matchmaking events.   We are repeatedly asked by schools seeking to expand their international student recruitment if they should participate in some random arm-chair promotion.  In fact,  we reviewed one email marketing offer that circulated before Christmas,  “  Still considering how to spend your Spring recruitment budget….an offer for the Armchair recruiter who has everything. “   Our experience has shown that sporadic, one-off marketing activities rarely generate tangible outcomes.   What is more troubling to  paraphrase Senator Everett Dirksen,  “A thousand here and a thousand there and  pretty soon you’re talking a real investment !”

At CA ETEC we have concluded the only certain formula for long-term success recruiting international students must follow these protocols:

1)   Organic growth of an international student program takes patience,  administrative support,  creativity and perseverance-  (We suggest you look at Ohlone College in Fremont, California)

2)   The most effective promotions are ones that will be sustained with ongoing personal touch.  The practice of “helicopter marketing” dropping in for a few days, dropping off literature and leaving to return back a year or so later is not effective.

3)   Focus  recruitment efforts on a few markets where your school can leverage staff and faculty resources and differentiate program strengths.

4)   Develop a strategy to stay actively engaged in those priority countries that your school plans to target.   California ETEC offers in-country support in China and Vietnam and many other credible organizations offer similar support in other high priority recruitment markets.