Community colleges are the gateway to higher education in the US for a growing number of students. They are the largest and fastest-growing sector of higher education in America. Community colleges are two-year colleges offering students an opportunity to begin their higher education in a small community-based environment.
These colleges offer various types of courses, which are mostly job-oriented. Often, students in the US do not take admission in degree colleges after high school and instead opt for community colleges, which increase their chances of finding employment. There are cases where students move on to degree colleges after completing their stint at community colleges.
Depending on the courses, students are awarded associate degrees or certificates.
US community colleges offer international students numerous benefits, including opportunities to improve English language skills and develop an understanding of the American culture. These colleges provide students with an opportunity to earn credits for the first two years of a four-year bachelor’s degree at high quality, accredited institutions. They also allow students to access training for associate-degree or non-degree careers, and they offer continuing education and personal development classes for the broad spectrum.
According to Rachel Sunden, deputy director of American Center, Kolkata, community colleges are the best option for those willing to study in the US at low cost. “The courses offered by community colleges are affordable. They are in fact much less expensive than the four-year degree courses offered by various US universities and are comparatively easier to get into,” said Sunden. And, there are several scholarships on offer too.
The best part of studying at a community college is that it offers a chance to get lateral entry into degree courses in the US. “In states like California and Virginia, students completing two-year courses in community colleges needs to spend just two more years in degree colleges instead of four years and get a degree. In this way, students can get a degree by spending less money. No wonder community colleges have become a successful model for both domestic and international students,” Sunden said.
India, too, is keen to start community colleges and would be looking at the US for giving inputs on how to start and run them. “India has recognised the role of community colleges and the US would love to be of help. Next week, secretary of state John Kerry will be in New Delhi, which would provide further scope for discussion on the matter,” said Sunden.
Five students from Kolkata, two from Manipur and one from Siliguri have been selected for the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) 2013 and are currently preparing to leave for the US. Consul General Dean Thompson said, “Community college initiative is an extraordinary opportunity for these young people and would be a life-changing experience for them.”
CCIP is a fully funded programme where the students would get to spend one-year at a community college. Sudipto Paul, a second-year economics honours student of Asutosh College would be studying film making at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. “I aspire to become a film director and am looking forward to do this course. Graduation is no longer my priority,” Paul said.
Agreed Pooja Kaur, a first-year English honours student of South City College, who would be studying adventure tourism at Miami Dade College in Miami, Florida. “This will be the right opportunity for me to learn something which can become my living,” she said.
Adil Ahmed Khan, the youngest of the lot, has passed higher secondary from Mohammed Jan HS School on Zakaria Steet with 58% marks but is yet to take admission in any degree colleges in the city as he is preparing to leave for the US to study information technology at Eastern Iowa Community College, Muscatine, Iowa.
The youngest of the five sisters and four brothers said, “It is a dream come true. I am now confident that I would be able to contribute some money to my family soon after I complete my education. My family is struggling to make both ends meet. Hence, there is no point for me to take admission in a general degree college,” Khan said.
While these students, chosen under CCIP, would not be spending a single penny, for those wanting to get into a community college in the US next year this is the right time to start. “There are several scholarships on offer and the entrance too is easy. Community colleges not only cater to youth but people of all ages. We have instances where people who have university degrees and have good work experience too enrol in community colleges to change career course,” said Sunden.
The distinguished alumni of US community colleges, include California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, NASA space shuttle commander Eileen Collins, Star Wars movie series producer/ director George Lucas, film actors Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood, fashion designer Calvin Klein, human genome scientist Craig Venter and US surgeon general Richard Carmona.