Community colleges lauded as USA’s secret weapon

The USA’s international education sector remains beleaguered by slowing enrolment numbers, a difficult political environment, and a dollar value making it less competitive compared with other study destinations. But better promotion of community colleges and the transfer system that offers a 2+2 access route into US higher education could be the country’s secret weapon.

This was a message that came through from various stakeholders speaking at the AIRC Conference in Florida this month.

Jing Luan, provost, international education at San Mateo County Community College District in Silicon Valley, used data to back his arguments, showing that at highly ranked UC Berkeley, for example, the number of transfer students admitted was rising year on year while freshman admissions were declining.

With many community colleges having transfer agreements enshrined in law, he argued that earning an associate degree at community college and then transferring to complete a bachelor’s degree at university was a low cost, low risk access route.

“The top 50 universities in America admitted 62,000 transfer students [in 2013],” he related, citing further data revealing only a handful of freshman (year one) students from China being admitted into many Ivy League schools in 2016.

Andrew Chen, managing director of WholeRen Education, an innovative US-based agency that services clients in China and has four offices in China too, backed the position that the transfer route into top tier universities is an effective model.

His company offers Chinese students support while in the US and undergoing the transfer process, advising on transfer from community college and from a lower-ranked to a higher-ranked university. His company helps educate parents in China about this opportunity.

“Community college, this system does not exist in China, so the transfer system doesn’t exist,” he explained to The PIE News.

He added, “I always say that President Trump did one good thing for international education, because both him and his daughter transferred into UPenn Wharton School.”

“You’ve got to understand the strength of the Indian middle class, there’s a lot of volume”

Zepur Solakian, CEO of the Centre for Global Advancement of Community Colleges, was also attending the event to advocate for wider consideration of associate degrees for international students considering the US.

She raised an observation that with tuition fees being substantially lower, not all education agencies were financially motivated to recommend such programs if their commission is a proportion of tuition fees.

Responding, Sushil Sukwhani, director of Edwise International in India, said this was not a reason for his counsellors not recommending the 2+2 route. But he noted that the families of Indian students were focused on the prestige of its well ranked institutions.

“[Parents] want to say that their children got into an institution of high recall, that people have heard of,” said Sukwhani, who said more joined-up promotion of community colleges from Education USA and other parties would be helpful.

“Commission should not be the stumbling block,” he continued. “You’ve got to understand the strength of the Indian middle class, there’s a lot of volume out there.

“There are a lot more students at a different price point and you can serve the cause of education in India and the USA [via this route] and.. get volumes to increase.”

Solakian observed that typical fees at community college range from US$6000-12,000 per year. This compares with fees of US$20,000-40,000 at university-level.

Celebrating its ninth year, the American International Recruitment Council is a membership organisation comprising education agencies that have paid to undergo an accreditation process and US education institutions.