A fundamental transformation is underway in the college counselling profession. Overwhelmed by the cost of attending college, discouraged by a byzantine application process and less than transparent evaluation rubric, a growing number of parents and students are looking for alternative pathways.
While higher education has not evolved as quickly as other industries, alternative pathways to advanced learning are emerging. Certainly, MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) represent one alternative – and some of the most recognised institutions in the world offer MOOC’s. But it appeals to only a fraction of the student population. Some students want a campus community and weekly, face-to-face, interactions with their professors which brings us to an often overlooked and misunderstood option, community colleges.
What is a community college
For those new to the profession, community or junior colleges are two-year schools that offer certificates and associate degrees. The two-year associate degree allows the student to then transfer to a university to complete a bachelor’s degree in the following two years. So why would an international student want to study at a community college? There are a number of compelling reasons:
•It is cheaper. American community colleges offer international students a cheaper entry point into their higher education pursuits via lower tuition rates on freshman and sophomore level classes. Students can then transfer to a four-year university to complete their bachelor’s dgree. For instance, the tuition and fees at DeAnza Community College in the Silicon Valley are $6,984, a far cry from the $28,000 UC Berkeley charges for the same number of units.
•Articulation agreements pave the way for admission to a top university. These agreements are transfer agreements between community colleges and four-year universities which provide the student with a roadmap of the courses and grades needed to go from community college to university. Depending on the system, these agreements may even guarantee admission into the four-year school if the student meets the course and GPA requirements outlined in the agreement. When formal agreements are in place, there is no need to worry over which course credits will transfer and which ones don’t. The programme is clearly laid out ahead of time, removing the mystery from the application process. One important caveat, most statewide articulation agreements are generally focussed on community college to four-year public universities within the state. They often do not safeguard student courses taken at schools out of state or at other four-year schools.
•Community colleges are often more welcoming to international students. Many of them provide ESL courses and other services to help international students adapt to a new language and culture.
•It is much easier to apply to community colleges. No essays and, for some community colleges, no need for a SAT or ACT score. The application process is incredibly easy. Moreover, the admission rates are usually close to 100%; a refreshing change of pace and wonderful confidence builder for students who did not get into the Stanfords or Dukes of the world.
•Student success is the mission. Unlike some competitive four-year institutions, community colleges are not designed to “weed out” or “flunk out” students. Rather the goal is to provide students with the tools needed to move on to a top university. For those high school kids that thrive in a more nurturing environment, the community college system could be a good option.
(The author is college counsellor, The Harker School, San Jose, California)