International students benefit community colleges

By Ellie Ashford

An American Council on Education (ACE) brief offers recommendations to college leaders on how best to internationalize their campuses and explains why that is important.

Community colleges are not only attractive options for international students, they also bring many benefits to the colleges, states a new ACE report.

“Colleges that want to attract international students must be ambassadors to the U.S. community college systems – one of America’s proudest inventions, on par with baseball and apple pie,” says Linda Serra Hagedorn, professor emeritus of the School of Education at Iowa State University, who wrote the report.

Stress the value

According to 2018 Open Doors data, international students represent approximately 10 percent of the total international enrollment in degree-granting U.S. higher education institutions. While the number of international students at four-year institutions nationwide has risen steadily since 2002, the number at community colleges has stayed relatively constant, at about 100,000.

Some of the reasons international students choose community colleges over four-year institutions include lower costs, more access to online courses, the ability to finish quickly and the availability of workforce programs not available at home.

The report encourages community college leaders to build on those benefits by emphasizing community college value and transfer outcomes.

The returns for the college

Community colleges that recruit international students find those efforts pay off in many ways, the report notes. At Santa Monica College in California, for example, international students pay substantially more for courses and fees than do in-state students. That brings an extra $105.6 million to the college budget.

International students also bring more than financial benefits, the report adds. “At a time when cultural, racial and ethnic relations are most needed, these students provide the opportunity for ‘just in time’ lessons in humanity and diversity,” it says.

A welcoming campus

The report says community colleges can improve their services to international students by providing immediate assistance, such as helping them find housing. It also suggests helping them to adjust culturally, providing comprehensive orientation sessions, and advising and offering more help with academics.

To improve a college’s ability to attract students from abroad, the report offers these recommendations:

  • Create an internationalization plan or add internationalization strategies to existing plans.
  • Contract with an international recruiter.
  • Consider focusing on a single country initially to build a critical mass of students who can form their own support network.
  • Build an international-friendly website. Have it translated into other languages; while prospective students might know English, their parents might not.
  • Use orientation as a tool for acculturation and college readiness, including placement tests, and familiarize students with the campus and community.
  • Ensure staff members are trained to process paperwork for international students to facilitate their enrollment process.
Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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