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Community Colleges in the United States

Stepping Stones to Higher Education

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 and 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, primarily serve local communities.  Most community colleges are “commuter schools,” 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 at times before or after their work hours, or in the evenings, or even on weekends.  Community colleges classes start early in the morning and continue until late at night.  Because they are funded by state and local tax money, community colleges keep their doors open to all students.  Everyone living in the area the community college serves is eligible and welcome to attend.

List of Students:
Community college in Tallahassee, Florida

Community college in Gallatin, Tennessee

West Kentucky Community & Technical College

Community college in Holyoke, Massachusetts

Community college in Raymond, Mississippi

Community college in Troy, New York

Community college in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Community college in Senatobia, Mississippi

College in Owensboro, Kentucky

Community college in Harriman, Tennessee

Community college in Spokane, Washington

Community college in Tallahassee, Florida

Serving so many people with so many different educational needs, community colleges offer lots of different programs. These are:

  • University transfer programs
  • Technical programs
  • Job training programs
  • Basic skills programs
  • Special interest programs

International students are probably most interested in the first program on this list.  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 in the community college instead of in the university.

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, emergency 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 English as a second language, reading, writing, or mathematics.  These students may need special preparation for their jobs or in order to 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 dancing, music, or art.  Community colleges by definition serve the community with the kinds of programs that the citizens want and need.  Community college education is available to adults of any age or educational background.

Community colleges have a unique place in the educational system of the United States.  They bring higher education within reach of millions of people who might not otherwise have a chance to go to college.  The fastest-growing segment of American higher education, community colleges 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 from other countries, community colleges offer some distinct advantages over other institutions.  First of all, community colleges usually have an easy, open admission process.  Evidence of high school completion, adequate English proficiency, and proof of sufficient finances are usually all that is required for admission.

Second, community colleges generally have lower tuition costs than four-year colleges and universities.  Students can save money during the first two years of their undergraduate studies.  Then they can transfer to any four-year institution to complete the bachelor’s degree. All community colleges are fully accredited institutions.  Credits earned may be transferred to any other institution.  Most universities welcome students who transfer from community colleges, although they may place a limit on the number of credits that they will accept.

The third main advantage of community colleges is that students will find a receptive, supportive learning environment.  Classes are smaller, and professors are devoted entirely to teaching.  There are special programs to assist students who need extra help with English or math or any other subject.  Community colleges are in the business of helping people realize their educational goals and dreams.

Finally, community colleges offer international students a realistic view of American society.  They will meet fellow students who are also struggling to reach their goals.  Though some of the traditional features of a college campus—such as dormitories—may be missing, there are many reasons why the community college experience has become the stepping stone to higher education in a democratic society.

Used by permission of the author: Mr. Ken Bus, Director, International Students Program, Glendale Community College, Glendale, Arizona USA, Glendale Community College is one of the Maricopa Community Colleges.

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