Community colleges go global
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 15, 2006

Some recruiting foreign students

Anne Ryman

Community colleges are known for providing low-cost education to local students.

But an increasing number of them are broadening their mission, recruiting international students as a way to boost enrollment, bring in money and expose American students to different cultures.

The new vision goes beyond simply accepting international students. Many colleges now have international departments that promote the college to students overseas. They also bring international guest speakers to campus, revamp courses to reflect international views and offer study-abroad courses for U.S. students. It's part of a broader goal, college officials say, to make sure students experience other cultures and languages. And it's happening from Miami, Fla., and Houston to Santa Monica, Calif., and Phoenix.

"Education doesn't stop at the county line," said Jose C. Velasco, director of international programs for Maricopa Community Colleges, the state's largest community college system.

The expansion is not without critics, who question whether community colleges are duplicating services available at universities and forgetting their main purpose, which is to serve the local community. In the past five years, international student enrollment at community colleges has risen nearly 20 percent, to about 84,000 students.

Universities still have the lion's share of the market, hosting 85 percent of international students coming to the United States.

In Arizona, at least 1,300 of the state's 10,000 international students attend community colleges, according to the Institute of International Education and Maricopa Community Colleges.

The largest host is Maricopa Community Colleges, a 10-college system with 560 full-time international students and two dozen study-abroad courses.
Most students come from Japan, South Korea and Mexico, which is consistent with national trends.

College officials say international programs are worth the money, even though it can cost thousands of dollars to recruit students overseas and set up special programs to help them learn English. To help offset costs, international students pay higher tuition. Maricopa Community Colleges charges four times the tuition, or $265 a credit hour. That still is cheaper than attending an American university.

But not every college puts international programs in place. The American Association of Community Colleges estimates at least one-quarter of community colleges have full-fledged international programs.