The role of community colleges in the development of local communities in the US is regularly celebrated in the news. They provide an energizing alternative route for students who might not be ready or able to progress directly to undergraduate study and who might otherwise find themselves going straight to work.
It’s no wonder the system is getting more and more support at the state level. Politicians and academics are keenly aware of the social and economic benefits of investing in local learners – not least, ensuring a reliable, broad base of skilled, educated workers who might otherwise have slipped through the system.
It may be surprising, then, to hear that many such colleges are committing to international student recruitment, with 24% of their programs likely to be fully internationalized within the next six or seven years. In fact, while this will equate to a threefold rise between 2014-2024, it echoes a 35-year-long shift towards a global outlook from this category of institution. Many of these courses have a global basis - international marketing, economics, or trade, for example – offering international and local students the opportunity to take a broader view of the nuances of regional business practice and culture.
Educators and businesses see a ‘globally educated citizenry’ and the ability to appreciate and co-operate with multiple international perspectives as strengths for the individual and society as a whole. All the same, fewer than 2% of community college students study or intern abroad, and industry voices have claimed that American educators are less interested than others in giving their students opportunities to study overseas. Internationalized programs create connections and co-operation, giving American students and faculty a better shot at getting the international experience that can lend them an edge in the marketplace and ultimately benefit local communities.
But what can community colleges offer the international student over a regular university education?
Affordability is a big player. A community college education might cost as little as a quarter of a university degree, year on year – and there are fewer years to pay for overall. Classes are usually a lot smaller, too, especially compared to the first couple of years of a four-year degree, meaning closer interaction with faculty and a better sense of value in the classroom.
Some students may see community college as a stepping-stone to that four-year institution, and use the college experience to develop their language skills and acclimatize to the local culture and learning methods. On a more formal level, community college can provide the pathway programs or study credits required to make that leap.
Community colleges can use these advantages to develop their marketing and recruitment strategies. Like any marketing strategy, for this to be sustainable requires institutions to identify not just those populations that are already flocking to US schools, but emerging markets for whom that connection is just waiting to be made.
International student recruitment is a substantial undertaking. Partnership with marketing specialists who have a multilingual approach and a global reach can empower a community college to reach carefully-targeted markets and share the story of what makes that institution a unique and desirable destination.
It’s an excellent opportunity to connect local talents with ambitious international students, creating a diverse and globally-aware community within a school, the region, and the US as a whole.