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Jing Luan, President, San Mateo Colleges, US

Jing Luan, President of San Mateo Colleges of Silicon Valley, says international students shy away from community colleges in America because they don’t know enough about them. He wants to change that – using data, evidence and through College-University Partnerships that provide international access to the best US universities.


"I realised that community colleges are being humiliated and nobody knew enough to defend them"

The PIE: Tell me more about your College-University Partnerships?

 Jing Luan: The College-University Partnership basically puts both university and community college application on the same platform. After you’ve finished high school, you can think about your university eligibility. If you are confident, and you want to try the traditional way, you can go ahead and do the university application. If you’re not happy, you can still come here and apply for community college freshmen later. Or do both together.

“46% of American bachelor’s degree students started out in a community college”

The PIE: How many universities are officially part of the CUP? And are you presenting this with university brand names when you pitch this to agents?

 JL: 58 for now, but we’re still adding [more]. CUP doesn’t work with agents because we don’t know how the message may be changed. We work with high schools directly. We want to count first of all on our government support, such as EducationUSA or the US Commercial Services. These two government offices support us in the different things we do.

The PIE: You are rolling out your CUP in the spring. Do you have a timetable of countries you will go to with the US Embassy?

JL: We are going to China, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and India, because they are of strategic importance. In Indonesia we have done a lot of work, we signed a MoU with the governor of North Sumatra to promote our scholarship programs.

Myanmar is also of strategic importance to America. You can see how many Fortune 500 companies are moving into Myanmar. We have over 100 Myanmar students studying at my three colleges.

We actually had a principal from a private high school saying, ‘you’d better meet with the kids, because they put your schools in their top ten.’

Things are really changing, slowly, but solidly, toward embracing community colleges part of full access to American higher education.

The PIE: And Pakistan?

JL: Pakistan has a very good education system. You go to Pakistan, you can speak English and you don’t even feel like you are speaking to foreign students or colleagues. We wanted to bring more Pakistani students into America [but] they have had some visa issues. The CUP program will definitely help them solve that.

“Our language school students can stay and matriculate into our academic program”

We are choosing countries and then we are going to select high schools to become CUP schools. The counsellors in the school will be trained, and students will be inducted into the CUP program. Students will need to provide information such as their family income and their high school transcripts, so they [can be] deemed eligible for a university in CUP.

The PIE: So do you work a lot with high schools as well as agents? No one talks about how effective high school channels can be, there is a lot of focus on agents.

 JL: Agents are an important partner of ours, but our most important partner right now are high schools. But going forward, we have clearly understood that the ideal future is no recruitment by my office – it’s by the students themselves.

I’ll tell you an example. We work with a high school in China, which was recommended by the US embassy. The principal was ecstatic about where her students have transferred after us: 90% of all her students have gone to top 100 universities. 60% to top 50 in America. She said, ‘I could never be able to do this, before I met you’.

JL: Some say that community colleges are not offering adequate English language support. How would you respond to this?

Jing: [As] community colleges, we always have had a gauge of student preparedness – with TOEFL and IELTS. Community colleges also offer very small classroom setting. Students will be able to assimilate content with a lower level of language. We have partnered with language instruction providers in the past but now we have our own intensive language program, at Skyline College and Canada College. Our language school students can stay and matriculate into our academic program. Since we have so many universities giving you a guaranteed transfer, why would you even want to mess around with your money and chances?

The PIE: It’s a very solid proposition. It’s interesting that no one has really been making that proposition emphatically.

JL: I realised that community colleges are being humiliated and nobody knew enough to defend them. We should stand up and say – let me tell you why we are so proud of American community colleges. First of all, 46% of American bachelor’s degree students started out in a community college! Secondly, we have a guaranteed relationship to all these universities, sanctioned by the government.

“Agents are an important partner of ours, but our most important partner right now are high schools”

Some say: ‘You only charge $6000 for annual tuition. The university charges $36,000, so you must be cheap, you must be of not good quality.’ Well, if we have a legal articulation relationship with UC Berkeley, which we do, would you think that UC Berkeley is so stupid that they are just going to allow their course quality to be reduced?

No, because we have spent so much time articulating the transferrable courses between our faculties. The articulated courses are carefully reviewed on a yearly basis.

Also, don’t for a minute think you are paying for what you are getting from an expensive university as a freshman.

The university is charging you a huge overhead because they are research universities. They have huge labs, expensive projects, high-flying professors. We don’t. Our instruction cost, which is around $6,000 right now for yearly tuition, actually is higher than a University of California campus. They can have large classrooms, we can’t go over 30 students in a class, by law. This is what parents don’t know, that they are actually paying more for the graduate students to benefit – not for their freshmen years. The first two years, they are not even going to have access to the expensive labs, forget about lectured by the professors who have won the Nobel prize.

The PIE: How are you able to offer scholarships?

 Jing: There are many parents who are well-to-do. When they see that their children are getting into top-notch universities, they have all the money in the world to thank you with. So we say, ‘contribute to our private foundation.’ When you solve an education problem for parents they thank you in the most beautiful way.

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