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.