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You are here: Home > Online Articles > Why International Students Should Explore the Junior College Pathway



Why International Students Should Explore the Junior College Pathway

By Martin Walsh, TIE columnist


By Martin Walsh

A fundamental transformation is underway in the college counseling profession.

Overwhelmed by the cost of attending college, depressed by admit rates that have been on a downward slide for the last decade, and discouraged by a byzantine application process and less than transparent evaluation rubric, a growing number of parents and students are looking for alternative pathways.

In many ways, this behavior mimics that of the broader economy, with consumers increasingly seeking alternatives to legacy businesses; Uber and Airbnb are prime examples of this phenomenon. While higher education has not evolved as quickly as other industries, alternative pathways to advanced learning are emerging.

Certainly, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) represent one alternative, and some of the most recognized institutions in the world offer MOOCs. Moreover, “MOOCish” options exist through programs like Coursera. Arizona State University offers freshman the option of taking their first full year online for a fraction of the cost of a year on campus. But, MOOCs appeal to only a fraction of the student population. Let’s face it, some students want a campus community and weekly, face-to-face, interactions with their professors. Which brings us to an often overlooked and misunderstood option: community colleges.

What is a community college?

For those new to the profession, community or junior colleges are two-year schools that offer certificates and associate degrees. The two-year associate degree allows students to subsequently transfer to a university to complete a bachelor’s degree in the following two years. So why would an international student want to study at a community college? There are a number of compelling reasons.

Why international students should consider community colleges

1. It’s cheaper! American community colleges offer international students a less-expensive entry point into their higher education pursuits thanks to lower tuition rates on freshman- and sophomore-level classes. Students can then transfer to a four-year university to complete their bachelor’s.

For instance, the tuition and fees at DeAnza Community College in Silicon Valley are US$6,984—a far cry from the US$28,000 U.C. Berkeley charges for the same number of units. Furthermore, the total estimated cost of attending DeAnza for international students is US$24,500 per school year. While a sizable sum, this figure represents a significant savings over the US$58,000 estimated cost for an international student to attend Cal, or the US$66,000 estimated yearly cost for the same student to attend the University of Miami.

2. Articulation Agreements pave the way for admission to a top university. Articulation agreements are transfer agreements between community colleges and four-year universities. They provide students with a “road-map,” giving them the courses and grades needed to make the transition from community college to university.

Depending on the system, these agreements may even guarantee admission into a four-year school if the student meets all course and GPA requirements outlined. When formal agreements are in place, there is no need to worry about which course credits will transfer and which ones won’t. The program is clearly laid out ahead of time, removing the mystery from the application process.

No longer random and certainly much less stressful, admission to a university can be planned out. One important caveat: most statewide articulation agreements cover the transfer from community college to four-year public universities within the state. They oftentimes don’t ensure the transferability of student courses taken at out-of-state schools or at other four-year institutions, nor do they describe how such courses would count toward another four-year school’s degree requirements. This is especially true when a student’s major or concentration changes.

3. Community Colleges are often more welcoming to international students. Many community colleges provide ESL courses and other services to help international students adapt to a new language and culture.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit De Anza College, which is located a short drive from the headquarters of Apple Computers. In many ways, De Anza could be considered a model community college for international students. First, the office of International Student Programs (ISP) is truly a one-stop shop, providing international students with a dedicated set of multi-lingual counselors who provide students with guidance on course selection, immigration, and admission evaluation when it comes time to transfer.

Moreover, De Anza’s track record of working with international students is stunning. Over 70 countries of origin are represented on campus, and roughly ten percent of the student population is international. The ISP hosts events, including college and career fairs, all geared toward international students. Staff at this office does all it can to ease the difficult transition many international students experience when coming to the United States.

As ISP Program Supervisor Joe Ng explained, “We offer a centralized guidance program for international students. Any international student exploring the community college option should make certain that there is a support system in place prepared to deal with the unique needs of the international student population.” I echo Mr. Ng’s comment and, based upon my research, not all community colleges are equal. Some are far more prepared to work with international students than others.

4. Applying is much easier! There are no essays and some community colleges do not even require an SAT or ACT score. Moreover, admission rates are usually close to 100 percent—a refreshing change of pace and wonderful confidence-builder for students who did not get accepted to a Stanford or Duke.

5. Student success is the mission. During my visit to De Anza College, what stood out more than anything were the efforts made by administration and teachers alike in helping students move on. Unlike some competitive four-year institutions, community colleges are not designed to “weed out” or “flunk out” students. Rather, the goal is to provide students with the tools needed to move on to a top university. For those high school kids that thrive in a more nurturing environment, I can’t think of a better option than the community college system.

Taking the time to visit

When visiting colleges in California, Florida, Texas, or Massachusetts, I strongly encourage international school counselors to make their way to some of the community colleges. The most popular community colleges for international students include:

• Miami-Dade (Florida)
• Diablo Valley (California)
• De Anza (California)
• Green River College
• Lone Star College System
• Santa Monica College
• Houston Community
College System (Texas)

Fifteen years ago, I rarely discussed the community college option with international school counselors. But with community colleges making great academic strides, I feel that these affordable, easy-to-navigate institutions should show up on the college list of most, if not all, international students.

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