Community College and ESL Programs for International Students
The US Community College Experience
Few International Programs Directors have the personal experience of being an international student in the USA. Here is the experience of one who has.
Many years ago I entered the United States with two pieces of luggage, a small white plywood desk, a bicycle, a microwave oven, and a twin bed. As I waited at the border crossing, I nervously clenched my immigration paperwork. My passport and 1-20 immigration documents were crumpled and damp with sweat. In a few days I would begin classes at a community college. My border crossing that day would come to represent my crossing over to another life and a second chance at my education. My experience from that point on has contributed to my strong commitment to international education and the value of a community college education.
I previously studied at a large, very prestigious university. I was young and had just graduated from a small high school. My university classes were huge, consisted of hundreds of fellow students of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds. I was a devoted student with barely passing grades. It was difficult for me to learn in such an anonymous setting and I was very, very lonely. Fortunately, the end of my second year, I had the opportunity to study abroad in the United States. I would find a new beginning at a community college.
The contrast between my start in a large university and my start at the community college, led me to fully embrace and extol the qualities of a community college education. There were so many misconceptions about community colleges. I was questioned about why I would "go backward" by attending a community college. It was implied that the education would be of a substandard quality. This was not the case at all. Instead, I found professors at the community college that taught and were also actively working in their fields. In my experience, the university professors were more research oriented and teaching freshman was not their main focus. At the community college, I really appreciated the first hand knowledge of the professors, their understanding of current issues in their field as well as the relevancy of the class curriculum.
The small class size at the community college, never more than 25 students, was conducive of direct interaction between students and professors. Professors knew students by their first name and really cared about student's goals as well as their educational success. The professors made time for the students. Professors were readily available before and after class.
Another bonus was the fact that the community college was such a great deal financially! Dollar for dollar, a community college education is less expensive than the equivalent at a 4-year institution. And yet, the course credits count towards the same 4-year degree. It is crazy to think that a financially struggling student would not take advantage of the lower tuition cost of a community college. When I compared community college tuition with the tuition of a large well-known giant university close by, the non-resident tuition for the university was almost 4 times greater.
When you visit a community college, one of the first things you will notice is the smaller size. This attribute enables faculty and support staff to be more accessible and very student service oriented. Counselors and advisors exist with a wide variety of resources for students. All support services—from the cashier, to the library, to language partners, to academic advisors—are working together to create a supportive environment where students will thrive both academically and personally. My advice to new students is to make use of all the support services available to you. Join a club. Make new friends. Join a study group.
Most community college students transfer to 4-year bachelor programs with ease. In many cases the entire associate degree transfers and the student is placed in the junior year of the bachelor degree program. Admission committees at many universities review college applications from community college graduates with higher ratings because student transcripts exhibit proven success with college academic courses. Transfer students are already familiar with the higher education process and have shown academic success.
And finally, the key word I think of when I think of study at a community college is accessibility. Admission is a simple process. Most community colleges have an "open door policy". If a student wants to succeed academically in a nurturing environment, save money, and receive a quality education at the same time, a community college is an excellent place to begin.