Friday, January 25, 2013

FYI: Why International Students Should Consider Community Colleges

Originally posted on US News and World Report on Oct 4, 2012

Two-year colleges can help students improve English skills, save money, and adapt to U.S. education.

American community colleges offer international students a cheaper entry point into their higher education pursuits via low tuition rates on freshman and sophomore level classes, often with the added bonus of an easier transition to U.S.-style academics, experts say. Students then transfer to four-year schools to complete their bachelor's degree.

For instance, the tuition and fees at Diablo Valley College in Northern California are nearly $6,000 for 24 credits (a one hour class that meets three times a week is 3 credits), while it costs more than $16,500 for the same number of credits at nearby San Jose State University. Based on two years of attending community college, the price difference and savings could be enough to pay for a student's junior year of tuition, fees, textbooks, and meals.

Using those saved funds, students have a variety of college choices to choose from for the latter two years. Washington's Green River Community College, for instance, will attract around 100 four-year schools from around the country for a college fair held in November, including Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University, and Arizona State University, says Ross Jennings, Green River's associate vice president of international programs.

Nineteen four-year universities offer guaranteed admission to Green River Community College students, as long they meet requirements such as grade point averages ranging from 2.0 to 3.5 and complete a specified number of credits, Jennings says. Similarly, Diablo Valley College has guaranteed admissions agreements with most University of California schools, according to Gloria Zarabozo, international students admission and services director.

According to Jennings, top universities recruit international students from community colleges because of their proven academic performance in college-level courses, English speaking and comprehension skills, and knowledge of how American school systems work.

Jennings estimates that 90 percent of international students he recruits are attending Green River Community College to ultimately transfer to a more prestigious university, as defined by the students.

Community colleges generally offer English language classes to prepare students to take traditional college-level English composition, Zarabozo says. Tutoring services also help community college students build language skills, she notes.

Darina Pogodina, a Russian student at Boston's Bunker Hill Community College, has benefited from such programs. Although she already has a bachelor's degree from her home country, she's at Bunker Hill to improve her English skills, in addition to earning an associate degree and completing prerequisites for a master's program in the United States. She says her Bunker Hill professors "speak slower and are helping her feel comfortable with a U.S.-style education."

Since colleges vary in support for international students, it's a good idea for students to contact international services or admissions departments by phone or E-mail during the application process to ask about services offered, Jennings says. Students need to get a feel for how easy it is to communicate with college staff based on their current language skills, he says.

Choosing courses is also a crucial part of adjusting to U.S. college life. International students often do not get to select individual classes while in high school, Jennings notes, and may stick with the same group of students throughout high school.

When students have course options, majors may change as well as school choice for completing their bachelor's degree. Community colleges allow for a period of adjustment to American schools before incurring four-year school tuition rates.

Ultimately, Jennings notes, students need to look at all of their options and consider what's best for themselves academically and for their family financially.

Word List:

  • rate: a fixed amount of money that is charged or paid for something
  • latter: being the second of two things, people or groups that have just been mentioned, or the last in a list
  • prestigious: respected and admired as very important or of very high quality
  • prerequisite: something that must exist or happen (for example: completed certain classes) before something else can happen or be done
  • crucial: extremely important, because it will affect other things
  • to incur: if you incur costs, you have to pay them
Pronunciation Practice:
= freshman
= sophomore
= latter
= guarantee
= recruit
= comprehension
= knowledge
= prestigious
= prerequisite
= crucial
= incur