According to AACC and Columbia University, roughly 42-45% of America’s baccalaureate students start at a community college. They attend community colleges first because of convenience, cost savings, small classes, and having more time to think about their final choice of universities.
Community colleges for the most part have given them just that plus something unique in America: freshman and sophomore credit transfer to a university of their choice and a customised application process specifically for transfer by eliminating requirements such as TOEFL/IELTS, SAT/ACT and, in many universities, high school transcripts.
“For years we have focused on dispelling the myths regarding community colleges”
Some universities have worked out articulation agreements with community colleges where, provided that all of the transfer admission criteria have been met, students may get a guaranteed admission as a junior when they apply as a transferred student.
Take my three colleges for example, San Mateo Colleges of Silicon Valley have agreements with over 150 universities in our network called College University Partnership, which vastly increases the choices of guaranteed admission. This contributed to our high rankings by IIE three years in a row (#14 in 2020).
Reasons for attending a community college as a freshman before transferring to a university as a junior should not be special or reserved for the US students only. But in reality, less than 5% of international bachelor degree students in the US who enroll in a community college use this opportunity, or are even aware of it, herein an issue of equal opportunity.
Most only know and attempt the extremely competitive process of applying directly to their dream university. High admission selectivity means high failures, thus leaving many broken dreams, traumatised youngsters whose university denial will mar them for the rest of their lives.
In fact, those international students desiring a bachelor’s degree aren’t all that different from American students. And they should leverage the opportunity. This is our argument that the overall numbers of international students in America may increase from 5% to as much as 40%.
The challenges for accomplishing this increase are real:
- The concept of community colleges is difficult to explain
- Transfer officers of universities do not travel outside the USA to promote their work as freshmen admissions officers do
- Attending a community college is not considered as baccalaureate study
- There is no ranking for community colleges, therefore, to go through a community college to get to universities like UC Berkeley seems too good to be true
- If you step on an international high school campus, you see and hear universities, particularly the famous ones to a fault
- Parents equate low tuition of community colleges to low quality
- Agents have to make efforts to overcome the above and they have to get volume
- Agents think the lifecycle of a community college student is more complex than university referrals
For years we have focused on dispelling the myths regarding community colleges and have conducted extensive outreach to address these misconceptions. For example, we would bring transfer officials from universities to travel with our colleges on the road. These co-presentations were much more convincing to students and parents as they were hearing directly from the university regarding university transfer admissions.
We have also conducted on the ground and online webinars to distribute the data and testimonials of successful transfers. We include in our presentation that 30% of the junior class at UC Berkeley and roughly 60% at CSU campuses are transfer students.
In the end, we realised that an effective way of increasing international community college enrolments lies in how we position ourselves and how we describe what we do. We decided to position ourselves as providing college courses for students to earn credits and to compare and contrast them with AP and IB. This reduced the concerns and baggage associated with attending a community college for two years in order to transfer.
Due to articulation, the courses are the same as those offered by a university, except that tuition is much cheaper. Furthermore, our courses are taught by American professors. The students experience true American classroom learning prior to entering an American university.
And in our case, if there is any doubt about the quality of courses, credit transfer, or even guaranteed University Transfer Admissions, they can consult with the 150 universities in our CUP network. This way, a student may choose to take some courses from us for many purposes other than transferring and if they accumulate enough credits, we can discuss university transfer admissions with them. Small, but firm steps before the giant leap.
We also championed the term of UTA to describe what community colleges do and compare it to the only other way of getting a bachelor’s degree, which is University Freshmen Admission.
This way, it eliminates the confusion caused by a myriad of ways to describe the role of community colleges, such as pathway, 1+1+2, 2+2, bridge studies, etc. When UTA and UFA are presented side by side, it allows people to see community colleges as equal partners to universities with the same purpose and outcomes. UTA compliments UFA.
“Countries are contemplating our online credit learning plus UTA programs as a way to reduce the expenses of their students”
Back in 2018, we had already started our “credit learning” approach because we believed that a large number of students abroad may not get the opportunity to come to the US but would still like to take our online classes to enrich their portfolio, to earn points on their domestic university applications, and to substitute their high school or college courses with ours.
Some countries are contemplating our online credit learning plus UTA programs as a way to reduce the expenses of their students obtaining a US bachelor’s degree. Covid helped our colleges to expedite our online credit learning program referred to as Global Online Learning. We were ready when the world moved online. Our work has received the highest honour given to US exporters – the President’s E-award that was started by president John F. Kennedy.
By advocating fairly and enthusiastically the benefits of community colleges to foreign applicants, adopting the right combination of strategies, and being inclusive, community colleges indeed help universities to increase their student diversity and population. The eventual numbers will of course be in a range left and right of 40% but the future is bright and promising!
About the author:
Jing Luan, Ph.D. is Provost of International Affairs of San Mateo County Community College District. He is President of American International Recruitment Council; the founding director and Chairman of Study California (studycalifornia.us) – consortium of California education institutions; Chairman of the College University Partnership (CUP) of 150+ universities; former Vice President of Community Colleges for International Education (CCIE) and Vice President of the Global Beca Foundation.