Cosmopolitan Community Colleges: Growth in International Student Enrollment

Cosmopolitan Community Colleges: Growth in International Student Enrollment
Learn about why the number of international students enrolling at American community colleges is increasing, as well as which states lead the way in international enrollment.

The secret of American community colleges has been revealed – to the entire world – and the population of international students enrolling in American community colleges is rapidly increasing.

The 2009 Open Doors report, issued by the Institute of International Education, provides a snapshot of current trends in international student enrollment in both community colleges and other institutions of post-secondary education. For anyone interested in the path that international student education is taking in America, the report is essential reading.

Texas and California Lead the Way in International Community College Students

The Open Doors report includes a list of the 40 community college with the highest populations of international students. Texas’s Houston Community College System tops the list; it boasts over 5,000 international students, which is about 9% of its total student population. Two other Texan community colleges also made it into the top ten: the Woodlands’s Lone Star College System, which enrolls over 2,000 international students, and Dallas’s Richland College, which enrolls over 1,200 international students. The percentage of the total student population that is of international origin for these two schools is 4.4% and 7.8%, respectively.

California also appears to lead the way in international student enrollment at community colleges. Like Texas, California is home to three of the top ten community colleges in terms of international student enrollment: Santa Monica College (in Southern California), De Anza College (in the Silicon Valley), and the City College of San Francisco. Twelve of the community colleges from the entire list of 40 are located in California.

The state of Washington is also home to a large number of international community college students, housing six of the community colleges that made the list.

This video explains how to apply to a ccomunity college as an international student.

Top Places of Origin for International Community College Students

The Open Doors Report also provides a breakdown of the most common countries of origin for international community college students. South Korea is the most prominent home country for international students enrolling in community colleges. Between the 86,000 international community college students in the United States, 13.3% are from South Korea. The next most highly represented country in terms of international student enrollment in community colleges is Japan, followed by Vietnam, China, and Mexico.

Why Community Colleges for International Students?

Affordable Tuition Cost

International students who come to the United States often arrive without the benefit of large bank accounts. Choosing to complete the first two years of undergraduate study at a community college before transferring to a four-year degree program translates into real savings, which can be very attractive for those who are newly arrived in the United States. There are also free tuition programs for select international students attending American community colleges.

Smaller Class Sizes, More Personal Attention

Paul McVeigh, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, speculated in a 2007 column in the Institute of International Education’s quarterly journal Connections that international students may be especially attracted to community colleges due to their tendency to have smaller class sizes than large public four-year universities.

Community colleges are also known for providing individualized academic support to their students and for emphasizing teaching over faculty research. International students can greatly benefit from the increased support and personal attention that community colleges offer.

This video reports on low-cost community colleges as an option for international students.

Instructors Sensitive to Needs of International Students

Instructors at community colleges are usually accustomed to teaching students who bring a diversity of prior life experiences to the classroom. This can make them a great match for international students, as the instructors are sensitive to these students’ unique needs. McVeigh writes that community college teachers tend to be adept at “negotiat[ing] cultural differences” in the classroom.

Opportunity to Master the English Language

Many community colleges offer Intensive English Programs (IEPs) to students who are not yet proficient in the English language. For international students who are not yet proficient enough in English to pass the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) that is required for admission to most four-year colleges or universities, a community college can be the perfect place to gain mastery of English before transferring to a four-year degree program or before entering the workplace.

International Student Enrollment Trends Heralded as Positive

The Open Doors report indicates that the international student enrollment at community colleges in the 2007-08 school year was up 3.1% from the previous year. International students now make up 1.7% of the country’s total population of community college students. Among all levels of post-secondary education, the international student enrollment increased 8% in the 2007-08 year – the third consecutive year of growth and the largest percentage increase in international student enrollments since 1980-81.

Allan E. Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, highlights the positive aspects of this growth in international student enrollment in the press release accompanying the Open Doors Report, saying, “American higher education continues to be highly valued throughout the world. U.S. campuses offer unparalleled opportunities for creativity, flexibility, and cultural exchange. Students from all over the world contribute substantially to their host campuses and to the U.S. economy.”

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