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More Americans are enrolled in community colleges than in any other type of higher education institution. But these popular post-secondary schools are not very well understood outside the United States. What are community colleges? Why should international students take a closer look at them?
Community colleges have also been called "two-year" colleges or "junior" colleges, but the preferred name is community college. These institutions, found throughout the United States, mainly serve local communities. Unlike four-year, bachelor's degree-granting colleges and universities, community colleges usually do not have dormitories. They are "commuter schools," often situated close to expressways and public transportation routes so that students can reach the campus easily from the surrounding area.
Community colleges, therefore, are busy places. Many students take only one or two classes, which they schedule to attend either before or after their work hours, in the evenings, or even on weekends. Many community colleges are open early in the morning until late at night. Because they are usually funded by the state or local tax money they keep their doors open to all students. Everyone living in the area served by the community college is eligible and welcome to attend. Because they serve so many people with so many different educational needs, community colleges offer lots of different kinds of programs. Thus, there are several kinds of programs that may be of interest to international students.
International students are probably most interested in the first program on this list: university-transfer programs. Community colleges offer the first two years of a normal four-year bachelor's degree program. Thus, students who attend a community college can prepare themselves to transfer to a four-year institution by completing the lower division courses at the community college instead of at a university. After two years, students can apply to the four-year college or university to complete their degree.
International students may also be interested in the technical programs and job-training programs that community colleges offer. For example, many community colleges have certificate programs in such fields as: air conditioning, automotive technology, aviation and aeronautics, building and construction, business, electronics, medical technology, police and fire department training, child and family studies, and many other areas with promising careers.
Community colleges also provide basic-skills courses for students who need help with reading, writing or math. These students may need special preparation to get a job or continue their education.
Many people also attend community colleges to enroll in special-interest classes. These classes may be for recreation or hobbies, such as sports, dancing, music or art. Community colleges, by definition, serve the community with the kind of programs that citizens need and want. Community college education is available to adults of any age and background.
As a result, community colleges have a unique place in the educational system of the United States. These quality institutions are the fastest-growing segment of American higher education and now enroll more students than any other kind of institution. Community colleges make high-quality education convenient and affordable to virtually everyone.
For international students coming to the United States, community colleges offer excellent educational opportunities. Community colleges usually have an easy, open-admission process. Generally, for successful admission to a community college, an international student needs to have evidence of high school completion, adequate English proficiency, and adequate finances for the stay in the United States.
Community colleges generally have lower tuition costs than four-year colleges and universities. Students can save money during their first two years of their undergraduate studies. Then they can transfer to any four-year institution to complete the final two years of a bachelor's degree. Community colleges are fully-accredited institutions. Credits earned at a community college can be transferred to several other institutions.
Students will find a receptive, supportive learning environment at community colleges. Sometimes classes are smaller and students can benefit from more individual attention from the professors. There are often special programs to assist students who need extra help with English or math or any other subject.
Community colleges also offer international students a clear view of American society. Although some of the traditional features of a college campus - such as dormitories - are missing, there are a variety of other aspects of the community college environment that make it a very special part of higher education in the democratic society. Simply stated, community colleges are in the business of helping people - including international students - realize their educational dreams.
Ken Bus, Director
International Education Programs
Glendale Community College