Last year, there were nearly 13,000 Vietnamese students enrolled at hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities, making Vietnam the 9th leading "place of origin." Over 60% chose to attend a community college (CC) as a gateway to a four-year school and the ultimate goal of a bachelor's degree. Incredibly, Vietnam ranks 2nd among all international students at CCs.
CCs offer many advantages, including:
1. Lower Cost: Community college tuition and fees average $6,500 per year. This is significantly lower than at 4-year colleges and universities. Students can lower the overall cost of a bachelor’s degree by taking the first two years of course credits at a community college.
2. Transfer Opportunities: Most community colleges have agreements with 4-year colleges and universities that allow students to apply their community college credits towards a bachelor's degree. Bui Le Hong Loan, a student from Hanoi who is currently studying at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, had this to say about her college: "I have learned that Northwest College, though it is a small college, is one of the biggest cradles to nurture you and help you achieve your dream. I am very confident that I can transfer to many bigger well-known universities when I graduate."
3. Flexible English Proficiency Requirements: Because community colleges provide their own assessment and offer Intensive English Programs (IEPs) to students who require additional English proficiency, standardized test (TOEFL, IELTS) scores are not always required for admission. In most cases, required scores are much lower than at a four-year school.
4. Focus on Teaching: Although community college faculty do conduct research and publish articles and books, their main focus is on teaching, which is part of the core mission of a CC. This means that CC students enjoy a great deal of personal attention from their professors.
5. Small Class Size: The average community college class size is between 15 and 20 students. This allows professors to devote more time to individual students and for students to interact with each other. Small classes are especially beneficial for international students who may need to adjust to the pace of U.S. academic life and practice their English-language skills.
6. Practical Training: International students with F-1 status are eligible to do one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in their field of study immediately following completion of an associate's degree, and a second year of OPT immediately following completion of a bachelor’s degree two years later. This is a great way to obtain valuable practical experience before returning to Vietnam.
7. Modern Technology: Because of their strong ties with business and industry, most community colleges are equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, classrooms, and facilities. This includes modern training facilities related to degree programs such as hotel management and nursing.
8. Program Variety: CCs offer programs in all major fields of study that will allow students to transfer easily to 4-year colleges and universities. Programs especially popular among international students currently include business, engineering, computer science, computer graphics, Internet technology, multimedia, hotel management, restaurant management, psychology, accounting, early childhood education, and environmental conservation.
9. Local Culture: CCs have strong ties to their surrounding communities, they offer international students both a rich academic environment and a unique opportunity to experience many aspects of life in the United States—both on and off campus. It's possible to begin your StudyUSA experience at a community college Iowa in the American Midwest and transfer to a four-year school on the East or West Coast (e.g., New York or California).
10. Student Support Services: CCs are committed to attracting a diverse student population and ensuring that all students succeed. They offer a variety of support services, including tutoring, advising, career planning, study skills and counseling—many of which are designed specifically for international students.
While most students view CCs as a stepping stone to a four-year school, they also offer a wide array of vocational programs that enable graduates to enter the world of work immediately upon graduation. In Vietnam, as in other countries, vocational education and training is a high priority. I see this as the next frontier for young people here and believe that interest in a two-year associate's degree will grow.
Dr. Mark Allen Ashwill