By QING ZHANG
Capital News Service
LANSING — A low admission threshold and low costs at community colleges can benefit international students who lack English language proficiency or find tuition at four-year institutions too expensive, experts say.
There were 2,780 international students enrolled in Michigan’s 28 community colleges in fall 2013. That’s roughly 1.3 percent of the student population at these colleges, according to the president of the Michigan Community College Association, Michael Hansen.
Diana Schack, an international student advisor at Oakland Community College, said, “We require a really low score” in language proficiency for prospective international students. They only need to get 3 on IELTS (the maximum score is 9) or 25 on the Internet-based TOEFL (the maximum score is 120).
IELTS is the International English Language Testing System, and TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. Both are widely used by universities worldwide.
In contrast, the language requirements for admission to some public universities are much higher. University of Michigan, for example, requires between a 6.5 to 7.0 in IELTS, and a range of 88 to 100 for the TOEFL.
As for tuition, Lindsey Dickinson, the international recruiter and advisor at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, said international students pay an out-of-state or international rate of $235 per credit hour. “It’s still low compared with $500-1,000 per credit hour in four-year schools.”
She said $19,500 is enough to cover expenses for a year, including everything from housing and tuition to health insurance, “so that’s a significant saving for international students, for sure.”
By comparison, local students pay $91 per credit hour at Northwestern Michigan College.
Similarly, Schack said Oakland Community College charges international students almost three times the tuition rate of in-district students: $216 versus $82 per credit hour.
“The international students should generate revenue” for their school, she said.
Despite the benefits from recruiting international students, Schack said enrollment of international students at Oakland Community College has declined since 2008, as have support services for them.
“A big factor, we think, was the economic recession in Michigan,” she said, “Our tax support comes from property owners in the county. That is dependent on home values. Since 2008, home values dropped tremendously, and the amount of tax coming in has been a lot less.
“So it is going to take Oakland Community College a longer time to recover from the recession than universities because they are funded differently,” Schack added.
International specialists from Oakland and Lansing community colleges and Northwestern Michigan said their marketing and recruiting budgets are tight.
That’s why the Michigan Community College Association set up a Center for Global Initiatives two years ago, according to Hansen. The center helps community colleges carry out more cross-cultural exchange programs and attract more international students.
“Many of the 28 individual community colleges are too small or, for whatever reason, don’t have the capacity or the infrastructure to develop a global program by themselves. So the center helps them do that,” Hansen said.
He also recommended that community colleges recruit international students who are rejected by competitive four-year institutions.
At Michigan State University, 1,184 of 9,012 international applicants were admitted for fall 2014, according to senior associate director of admissions Mike Cook.
Hansen said, “We have suggested to MSU and other universities that this would be an opportunity, but I don’t know if they have a huge interest in referring those students to a community college because clearly they would take less credits and less coursework at a (four-year) university. I think on the students’ behalf, it certainly would make some sense.
“They can start at a community college and spend a semester or a year to make their language proficiency better and improve some of their general skills, and then they can transfer,” he said.
Community colleges have some advantages which many public and private universities don’t, like geographical convenience, small classes and individualized instruction, he said.
In addition, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, said Dickinson of Northwestern Michigan College.
Ensuring that students are prepared for success in a global society and economy is her school’s number-one strategic direction, Dickinson said. “So we view having international students here as a direct correlation to that strategic direction, making sure our students are exposed to other cultures.”
Dickinson said the college has about 45 students from 18 counties, and its goal is to increase that number to 5 percent of the student body, which would be 250 students.
“Just like other universities and colleges, we would like to see more international students here because it really helps our students to learn about the world,” she said.
Additional resources for CNS editors:
Michigan Community College Association’s Center for Global Initiatives, www.mcca.org/content.cfm?m=141&id=141&startRow=1&mm=0
By QING ZHANG