Supporting International Students the Right Way

By Emily Rogan

One college in California has been welcoming students from around the world for more than 50 years. Here’s what it has learned and established.

Recently, there’s been a flurry of press about the number of Chinese students attending American colleges. Enrolling international students is nothing new for Pasadena City College (PCC), in California. PCC not only is prepared to support these students and help them transition to life on campus but also embraces them as a valuable addition to the overall student population.

PCC’s international student program has been around for more than 50 years, and about 10 years ago, the school created an international student center, says Russ Frank, interim associate dean of international education. Since 2011, Chinese and other international students have made up about 4–5 percent of PCC’s 30,000 students.

For institutions educating foreign students, data reporting and federal requirements changed after 9/11. One of the four faculty members who work in the center is responsible for reporting data to the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, there is a director and two advisers who help students with admissions, visa processing and cultural adjustment. But Frank says the benefit of having these students on campus outweighs any potential pitfalls in terms of logistics.

“When we talk about 21st-century skills and global competency,” he says, “a lot of our [American] students don’t have a chance to visit another country; only a small number study abroad. Having international students provides a diverse, richer voice in the classroom.”

In addition, international students tend to be “really good students,” he says. Since 2013, 46 percent of those who transferred to a four-year university chose one ranked in the top 50, according to Frank.

Creating that support system

PCC helps make the adjustment to life in America — and on campus — a little easier for international students:

PCC partners with local language schools to help students demonstrate a basic level of English before entering college classes. They can enroll in an ESL program for resident and international students, which runs concurrently with their core classes.

International students can participate in the same Pathways program as other first-year students. They attend a weeklong orientation and a first-semester college-success course. They also have access to the College Success Center, which can address cultural issues and study techniques.

They have access to coaches — graduate students provide mentoring and can help connect students with other services, such as academic support or psychological counseling.

They are encouraged to go to club week as part of the student-success course. That’s where they learn about campus clubs and can get engaged with the community.

The goal, says Frank, is to break down barriers as much as possible and help students get what they need to be successful.

Making a stronger international program at your college

At PCC, Frank says, administrators are always looking for ways to increase the diversity within the international student population. “We want to have a richer learning experience for all our students,” he says. For those looking to establish a stronger support system for international students, Frank offers these suggestions:

Look for resources that already exist on campus, and pool them to better serve students.

Take advantage of professional development offered by organizations such as NAFSA.

Connect and network with administrators from other colleges and universities to discuss issues and brainstorm solutions.

Photo courtesy of Pasadena City College

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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