Community colleges in the USA are nothing new. Founded in 1901, Joliet Junior College in Illinois is the oldest existing public two-year college, and the community colleges system has continued to grow since then. In the 1960's community colleges became a national network and today there are over 1,100 community colleges in the USA, some of which have multiple campuses in order to make education accessible to as many students as possible, including international students.
What are community colleges? They are post-secondary institutions providing post-secondary education and career skill updating, and they are considerably less expensive than American universities. Offering mostly associate's degrees, but also specialized bachelor's degrees and shorter diplomas and certificates, community colleges and technical institutes typically provide a more job-related curriculum than universities. Programs might include employment-related programs such as apprenticeship, but also range from health care and business to technology and the creative arts. The college itself may be public or private, large or small, rural or urban. It may be a general education school offering a variety of programs in different fields, be part of a school's network of campuses, or it may be a single field-, industry- or culture-specific college (e.g. agricultural college, institute of design, college of business, or Tribal college). There are also community colleges which are tied to specific faith affiliations.
Community colleges represent almost half of the undergraduate students in the United States. Many international students apply directly from high school to either get a credential that will lead to a career or to fulfill university pre-requisites. In addition, university graduates might attend college upon completion of their degree in order to acquire the specific practical skills needed for employment. As a result, the average age of full-time community college and technical institute students tends to be higher than at university: about 29 years old.
Community colleges serve the needs of a diverse group of learners, and therefore students have quite a bit of flexibility with their programs and schedules. For instance, while 41% of community college students are enrolled full-time, 59% are taking part-time studies. Admission requirements for community colleges can range from "open admission" (requiring only a high school diploma or GED, or simply that you be over the age of 18) to more specific academic requirements. Community colleges can also be stepping-stones into universities: a community college will often have what's called an "articulation" agreement with neighbouring universities. Articulation means a university agrees to recognize the community college's courses as credit towards a university degree. Therefore, if you want to transfer from a community college to a university, you may be able to carry-over the credits you've already earned from the college. For many international students, this is an affordable way to approach a university education. In fact, half of all students who earn a baccalaureate degree have attended community college at some point during their studies.
Community colleges are dynamic institutions that adapt to meet the economic and social needs of the communities they serve. Part of their uniqueness lies in their combination of high quality and comprehensive academics with employer-centered programs and industry connections. Compared to universities, community colleges and institutes have smaller classes, more options for off-campus course delivery, a greater ratio of laboratory space to classroom space, a more interactive teaching style, more co-op and practicum opportunities and more inclusive admissions requirements.
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