Community Colleges: Changing Individuals, Meeting Global Needs

Community Colleges: Changing Individuals, Meeting Global Needs

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Most community colleges provide open access, enabling both U.S. and international students to benefit from the high-quality and low-cost courses they offer. 

Community colleges constitute the largest segment of higher education in the United States. They include nearly 1,200 institutions with an enrollment of 11 million students, 6 million of whom are seeking a degree or certificate. Most community colleges provide open access, enabling both U.S. and international students to benefit from the high-quality and low-cost courses they offer. These students are enormously diverse-in terms of goals, needs, backgrounds, and life circumstances. 

Community colleges were created to serve their localities, and they continue to place high priority on responding to local needs. At the same time, these colleges increasingly recognize that their students will live in a multicultural, interdependent society. For this reason, community colleges are expanding their programs and services to embrace the "world community." A basic goal is to help students become more comfortable and competent in moving personally and professionally among cultures of the world. Another is to prepare students to engage in worldwide activities related to education, business, and social interaction. To achieve these goals, community colleges are engaged in a wide range of efforts to internationalize the learning experience. They are incorporating international components into new and existing curricula; providing special programs, activities, and classes for their growing immigrant and foreign student populations; initiating study abroad programs; encouraging faculty exchanges; and recruiting international students to the campus.

Just how extensive is this commitment to international education? Results of a survey released last spring by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) found that more than 80 percent of responding colleges have integrated international components into course work and 83 percent sponsor activities to promote global awareness. Reflecting increased demand, enrollments in colleges with international business programs grew from 23 percent to 60 percent over the last five years. Forty-four percent of the responding colleges had recruited or hired faculty and staff from other countries or with international experience. And seventy-eight percent either sponsored or worked in partnership with others to offer travel and exchange programs for study abroad. Moreover, Open Doors 2001 reports that over 91,000 international students were enrolled in associate degree programs in 2000/01.

As the primary advocacy, leadership, and service organization for community colleges in the United States, AAAC actively supports an international role for community colleges in all dimensions of worldwide education and training. It is increasingly evident that community colleges are strategically positioned and experienced to educate and train individuals to function successfully in a multicultural and advanced technological environment that crosses all boundaries of education, communication, language and business. Moreover, community colleges are providing assistance to other countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam where there is a heightened interest among countries to adopt the U.S. community college model.

As part of its effort to enhance global education, AACC has just launched a Community College International Recruitment initiative. Its purpose is to assist institutions with their international recruiting efforts and to elevate the profile of community colleges in global education and exchange. The initiative will provide an opportunity for community colleges to attract foreign students by sponsoring a series of international recruitment fairs. The fairs will be designed solely for two-year institutions and will be held in the most common countries of origin of U.S. international students. The recruitment fairs will be available on-line as well, thus extending their reach to students worldwide at no cost. Further, AACC is developing both an International Student Study Guide to inform international students about American community colleges and a Web site to specifically address the questions and interests of international students. Information on these community college international recruitment services is available at

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By Judith T. Irwin
Judith T. Irwin serves as the Director of International Programs and Services at the American Association of Community Colleges. She is responsible for elevating the national and international profile of the association and community colleges in global education and exchange. Prior to joining AACC, Irwin was the managing director of the Business-Higher Education Forum, a membership organization of chief executives to major American corporations, colleges and universities and museums. Contact:

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