Approximately 13 million students are enrolled in community colleges across the United States. Nearly 45% of all students earning a bachelor’s degree attended a community college.
More international students are attending community colleges, which offer a popular alternative for completing the first two years of a bachelor's degree. They see community college as a starting point in their effort to earn a four-year or graduate degree from an American university. These first two years are designed to provide a strong foundation of general knowledge before a student begins concentrating on a major field of study.
Transfers and Training
In fact, many university advisors recommend that students attend community college "college transfer" programs first, and then transfer to universities for the final two years. Students transfer or use their credits from community colleges to earn a four-year degree. Many community colleges and four-year institutions also have articulation agreements to make transferring even easier.
For example, when students apply for admission to the Seattle Community Colleges, they may request a Transfer Admission Guarantee from the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Students spend their first two years at the Seattle Community Colleges, then transfer to finish their degrees at Johns Hopkins.
In addition, community colleges often host “transfer fairs” and invite four-year institutions to come and recruit their students to complete the bachelor’s degree.
In addition to college transfer programs, U.S. community colleges offer a wide range of workforce (job-training) programs. These programs train students in hundreds of careers: business administration, computer programming, nursing, fashion design, hotel and restaurant management, nanotechnology, commercial photography, engineering or advertising art. Students who complete these courses earn degrees or certificates. International students who complete a workforce program that is a minimum of nine months are then eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training and gain some paid working experience in their field.
Helping the Local Community
Community colleges meet the educational and vocational needs of local communities. Almost all community colleges in the USA are government-supported. By maintaining an "open door policy" with low tuition costs and few entrance requirements, community colleges have offered many U.S. citizens a chance to get a college education. **
What’s the Difference?
Community Colleges and four-year universities are different. Here’s how:
- Admission is easier. TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores and academic requirements are usually lower for admission to U.S. community colleges than to four-year institutions. Many community colleges also offer ESL (English as a Second Language) programs or developmental math for students whose scores are too low to begin academic studies immediately.
- Costs are lower. Tuition at community colleges can be as much as 20% to 80% less than at four-year American universities and colleges. This is a tremendous cost savings for the first two years of the bachelor’s degree.
- Student enrollment in classes, or at the institution in general, is often smaller than at four-year schools.Teachers and advisors are able to provide more one-on-one attention to students. Many U.S. and international students say that attending smaller schools for the first two years helped them make a good transition into larger four-year schools for the final two years.
- Classroom environments are more supportive. In the U.S. educational system, students often compete for good grades. International students who do not speak English fluently are at a disadvantage. Often, they do better and feel more comfortable in smaller classes where there is less competition. In addition, community colleges typically offer free tutoring to support students’ success.
- Adjusting is easier. Two years at a community college can help an international student improve English language skills and grow accustomed to the U.S. educational system and culture.
Article by Andrea Insley, Ed.D.
Andrea Insley, Ed.D., is Executive Director, Global Initiatives at Seattle Central Community Colleges in Seattle, Washington.