Are the benefits of US community colleges known by too few international students?
January 11, 2023


In the academic year 2020–2021, the number of international students enrolling at US community colleges decreased to 60,170, marking the steepest reduction among institutional types during a period marked by stringent pandemic restrictions. Welcoming International Students at US Community Colleges is an IIE/AIFS publication that presents information from the Open Doors 2021 Report on International Educational Exchange.

International enrolment losses at US higher education institutions in 2020/21. Source: IIE

As a percentage of all foreign students enrolled in US colleges and universities in 2020–21, community colleges had 7% of the total. The pandemic's impact on recruitment efforts and students' capacity to travel, as well as its acceleration of the 24% fall from the previous academic year, are all factors that have contributed to an overall decline in international enrollment in community institutions.

International enrolments in US community colleges, 2000/01–2020/21. Source: IIE

A missed opportunity?

Lack of knowledge that community colleges can educate students to move successfully to degrees at four-year schools is one of the primary issues covered in the IIE/AIFS research that is likely hindering community colleges' capacity to attract international students.

The associate degree is the highest degree level offered in community colleges, which are two-year institutions. Students can also frequently earn diplomas and certifications at community colleges. It's significant to note that many community colleges act as a springboard for students seeking higher-level degrees. The report provides additional details:

“The “2+2” model, whereby students first earn an associate degree at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution to earn their bachelor’s degree, is unique to the US higher education system. International students and their families may not even be aware that this is a potential option for beginning their studies that can still result in a bachelor’s degree from their desired institution.”

Additionally, community colleges frequently provide the best atmosphere for international students to adjust to American education and culture by providing:

  • Affordability through low-cost tuition and fees;
  • Open access enrolment – “allowing international students to gain support for English language development and academic preparation to pursue degree study.”

The report emphasizes that US community colleges have a chance to better communicate their competitive advantages, particularly at a time when so many students, both domestic and foreign, are experiencing affordability issues as a result of broad economic downturns and inflation.

Retention is the key

Budgets for international recruitment at community colleges are sometimes far lower than those at four-year and graduate institutions. Due of this, the research contends that community colleges' current student body is their most persuasive recruiting tool. Many community colleges have a stellar reputation for their commitment to serve the "whole person" enrolled with them, supporting students not only academically but also through mental health and community services, language learning, and small class sizes. A viable strategy for community colleges is to capitalize on the positive experiences of current and former international students, for example, through a student ambassador program. These students can also inform prospective international students who may not be aware of the partnerships and "2+2" agreements with four-year universities.

To demonstrate how effective student outcomes and testimonials may be, the report provides numerous "student success story" instances.

Positive news on the horizon

According to IE's Spring 2022 Snapshot, 68% of community colleges reported an increase in the number of applications from international students for the 2022–2023 academic year. The top countries that send students to US community colleges are listed in the chart below.

Main senders of international students to community colleges in 2020/21. Source: IIE

Source: ICEF

News for you
Canada to introduce new rules around off-campus work hours for international students

May 06, 2024

Canada to stabilize growth and decrease number of new international student permits issued to approximately 360,000 for 2024

May 06, 2024

The competitiveness of Canada is threatened by ongoing visa delays

January 11, 2023

According to recent data, the number of international applicants and first-time enrollees for US graduate programs has increased

January 11, 2023

For international students, Canada has lifted the restriction on off-campus job hours.

January 11, 2023

Are the benefits of US community colleges known by too few international students?

January 11, 2023

Recent information on Australia's student visa program is presented in a report from the Department of Home Affairs.

July 25, 2022

According to a poll, students are drawn to Canada most by its reputation for quality and safety.

July 25, 2022

The majority of US institutions report an increase in the number of applications from foreign students for 2022–2023

July 25, 2022

Canada: Quebec has closed the immigration route for graduates of non-subsidized private colleges.

June 10, 2022

Immigrating to Canada: What You Need to Know

June 09, 2022

Visa processing delays are a challenge for this year's major study abroad locations.

May 26, 2022

Identifying skills gaps in the labor market in popular study locations

May 19, 2022

In early 2022, IELTS will debut a new online test

May 12, 2022

Canada: Immigration stream reopens, work permits extended for some students

May 05, 2022

The government of Saskatchewan has launched a first-of-its-kind education training program

March 17, 2022

Important information about your approved temporary resident visa or super visa and Canada’s travel restrictions due to COVID-19

March 17, 2022

Forecast projects major growth in international enrolments through 2030

March 15, 2022

Canada announces new immigration targets that shatter all previous records, with international grads being a top emphasis.

March 14, 2022

More international STEM students will be awarded three-year OPTs in the United States

February 10, 2022

Travel updates for international students

January 25, 2022

Omicron variant already impacting international student mobility

December 07, 2021

Australia to welcome all fully vaccinated students from 1 December

November 24, 2021

Government of Canada announces adjustments to Canada’s border measures

November 22, 2021

In 2021, Canadian immigration reports a rise in applications for study permits

November 22, 2021

Australian conference highlights new thinking about international education

November 19, 2021

Australia: An overview of international student return plans

November 19, 2021

US: International enrolments fell sharply in 2020 but are now rebounding

November 19, 2021

Beginning in November, fully vaccinated travelers will be allowed entry into the United States

November 18, 2021