Debunking Myths about Community Colleges (EdUSA Webinar)



Hello and welcome to a short webinar hosted by the Commission for Educational Exchange between the United States, Belgium and Luxembourg. In addition to administering the Fulbright Programs for Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union the Commission for Educational Exchange also offers educational advising for students in Belgium who are thinking about studying in the United States. EducationUSA makes applying to a U.S. college or university clear by identifying your five steps to U.S. Study In today’s video, we’ll talk briefly about common misconceptions about community colleges and debunk the myths that international students might have about these institutions. To begin with, what IS a community college? The Department of Homeland Security gives the following definition: “Community colleges, sometimes called junior colleges, are two-year schools that provide affordable postsecondary education as a pathway to a four-year degree.” It’s important to distinguish community colleges, also called junior colleges from the four-year institutions that most Americans describe interchangeably as “universities” or “colleges.” At four-year universities and college, which include both public and private institutions as discussed on this slide, the end result is a bachelor's degree At two-year community colleges, the end result is an associate’s degree. As we’ll discuss, many students then continue their studies and complete the final two years of university study at a four-year institution. Community colleges have a reputation of tending to attract students from the local community but according to the American Association of Community Colleges, more than 12.4 million students are enrolled in over 1000 community colleges across the United States. More than 700 of these colleges are authorized to accept international students. 25% of international undergraduate students in the United States, including 18.4% of Belgian undergraduate students, are enrolled in community colleges. Despite the popularity of community colleges, many international students might not fully understand what community colleges have to offer. Let’s look at five common misconceptions. The first misconception that international students might have about community colleges is that they provide low quality education. The truth is that community colleges provide students with a high quality education, but often at the fraction of the cost of a four-year college or university According to a survey by the International Business Times in 2015, the vast majority of students attending community colleges rate their teachers as “good” or “excellent”. One of America’s best-known community college professors is Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden. After 15 years as an English professor at Delaware Technical and Community College, she began teaching at Northern Virginia Community College when she and her husband moved to Washington DC in 2009. The second misconception that international students might have about community colleges is that community colleges lack prestige and recognition. The truth is that countless community colleges are well respected institutions. 33% of all community college students transfer to four year universities In the fall of 2014 the top schools for transfer students were, UCLA, UC-Davis, Ohio State, Rutgers, and Texas A&M! The third misconception that international students might have about community colleges is that they do not provide students with enough support services. The truth is that community colleges provide their students with excellent support services. At the Community College of Philadelphia services such as academic advising, career services, counseling services, and learning labs are just some of the examples. Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, provides services such as college adjustment experience, tutoring, and technology assistance. The fourth misconception that international students might have about community colleges is that there is nothing to do on campus. Many students imagine community colleges that are attended by students who commute to and from campus, and return to their homes at the end of the day. At Snow College in Utah, ninety percent of students live in residence halls or off-campus apartments and have their pick from over 40 different student organizations. The truth is that on campuses of community colleges there are various organizations that students can join to get involved in on campus. Many people do not realize that community colleges even have sports teams! In addition, many community colleges also have clubs on campus or provide students with the opportunity to found their own clubs and organizations. Students who are looking for a community college with the engagement and feel of a traditional four-year residential college should prioritize this in their search! The final misconception that international students might have about community colleges is that attending a community college will limit their future options. The truth is that community colleges help to open doors for students. From gaining invaluable skills or transferring to a four year university, community colleges provide their students with countless future options. Some graduates of community colleges that you may know are Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Lucas, and Morgan Freeman! So, why do almost half of all undergraduate students in the United States decide to begin their studies at a community college? We'll highlight four reasons: flexible admissions requirements, high quality undergraduate focused programs, transfer opportunities, and financial investment. First, community colleges appeal to students because of their flexible admissions requirements. While the vast majority of U.S. universities require rising freshman applicants to submit scores from either the SAT or ACT, most community colleges do not require either of these tests. They may also have lower English proficiency requirements along with opportunities for intensive English as a Second Language, or ESL, programs for students with lower English levels. In addition, community colleges may have a later application deadline, which can make them an attractive option for students who may be starting the application process later in the year. Many students complete their general education requirements while they are attending community colleges, as the same introductory general education courses, for example, Biology 101 or Introduction to U.S. History are offered at both community colleges and four year universities. In addition, classes – even introductory courses – are taught by professors, rather than doctoral students or teaching assistants like at many large universities. Since they are usually not doing additional research or mentoring doctoral students, the professors who teach at community colleges are focused primarily on teaching undergraduates and this can mean a higher level of personal attention for students. Many students use two year community colleges as a stepping stone to a four year university: after completing two year’s of study at a community college, they transfer to a four-year institution to complete their bachelor’s degree. This process is assisted by transferrable credits – that is, community college courses that are recognized by their four-year university equivalents – and transfer, or articulation, agreements. Some schools may even offer guaranteed transfer agreements, through which a four-year university has a specific agreement with a community college to guarantee the transfer providing all transfer admission criteria for example, a particular GPA is met. Articulation agreements help to simplify the transfer process, but they vary from college to college and state to state so it is important that students considering a “two plus two” option do their research in advance. Another benefit of a community college is that it can help to reduce the costs associated with higher education, as community colleges are often the least expensive option for higher education in the United States. Students who begin at a community college report savings between $12,000 and $66,000 over the course of their studies. Similarly, graduates of a two-year community college are eligible for an additional year of Optional Practical Training, or OPT, before transferring to a four-year institution. Community colleges provide additional benefits for international students. Some of these benefits include: having time to adapt culturally, having extra time to choose a major, and having the opportunity to improve your English skills. International students who begin at a community college have more time to adapt to life in the United States, and will arrive at their four-year institution with all the tools necessary to succeed. There are over 4,000 accredited universities in the United States — so the sky is the limit! Do your research by perusing college and university websites, using university search engines, visiting campuses or taking online “virtual tours”, and taking advantage of in-country alumni networks. Of course, you can always contact your local EducationUSA Advising Center for personalized advice. The right school for you is out there – and it just might be a community college!

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