Community College and ESL Programs for International Students
Benefits of Choosing a Community College
Why do students from all over the world choose to come to the United States and study at a community college? There are numerous answers to that question but some of the most important are: the option to complete the first two years of a Bachelors degree before transferring on to a university, the affordable tuition rates compared to a four year university, the flexible English language requirements and the focus by faculty on classroom teaching.
The community college system in the United States presents a truly remarkable opportunity to enter higher education. I speak as someone who was born and raised in the United Kingdom, a country that does not provide the same level of open access to higher education. In the United Kingdom, a student at the age of 18 who has completed secondary education, has the option of attending a university but the United Kingdom has nothing comparable to the United States community college system. In America, most community colleges offer an open access policy and once enrolled, students can use the opportunities available to them at the college as a stepping-stone towards a variety of qualifications including an Associates degree and completing the first two years of a Bachelors degree.
The beauty of the community college system is that not only does it offer affordable education, when compared to four-year universities, but it also provides a high quality education. For example, in California, several research studies have been undertaken which monitor transfer students from California community colleges who transfer into the four-year university system. These studies have shown that students who start at a community college do as well, if not better, than the students that originally begin at the four-year institution in terms of their grades and graduation rates.
One of the first things that impressed me after moving to America was the amazing level of academic student support available to students at community colleges. At many colleges, international students are assigned a dedicated international counselor who provides assistance and advice in choosing classes and options in navigating a student’s chosen path to a four-year university or a particular Associate degree program. Where a student goes after attending a community college and what university they ultimately transfer to is of course determined partly by the dedication and energy the individual student devotes to his or her studies, but it is also greatly assisted by the fantastic support services that a community college can offer. A community college does not provide only academic counseling but will offer a wide variety of other support services. There are great services such as one-to-one tutoring sessions, study skills seminars and dedicated open computer labs for homework assignments. I recently heard a student explain that you “have to try really hard not to succeed at a community college.” What they meant by this was that there are so many great support services available that a student would have to go out of their way to actively avoid all these valuable services that are made freely available to them.
Affordable tuition is also a key component of what community colleges can offer. According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) the average cost of tuition at a community college is 50% lower than at a four-year university. This means that at a two year community college an international student can expect to pay approximately $5,500 per year, whereas the estimate at a public four year university it is $12,127.
For many international students, community college is the perfect fit. If you think a community college is the right choice for you what are the next steps you need to take when it comes to choosing the right college? It is important to think about the location of the college. Do you have a particular state that you would like to live in? Do you want to be in a small town family environment or experience life in the big city? Do you ultimately want to earn a Bachelors degree? Do you already have an idea about which university you would like to transfer to? Do you know the popular transfer destinations of the community colleges that you are interested in attending? All these factors may influence which college you decide to attend.
Ultimately whichever community college you decide to attend you should know that they all provide a wide range of programs and services and can be a wonderful place to start your educational adventure in the United States.