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Three graduates throw their caps.

What is Community College?

March 13, 2012

The United States offers many types of postsecondary education. One type of note, once unique to the United States but becoming known and established in other countries, is the community college. Community colleges, sometimes called junior colleges, are two-year schools that provide affordable postsecondary education as a pathway to a four-year degree.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 1,167 community colleges in the United States enroll more than 12.4 million students and serve almost half of all undergraduate students in the United States. Many of these community colleges are Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified,and all have nationally-recognized accreditation. These community colleges offer a wide variety of options to postsecondary students:

  • Open access to postsecondary education
  • Preparation for transfer to four-year college or university
  • Workforce development and skills training 
  • A range of noncredit programs, such as English as a second language, skills retraining, community enrichment programs and cultural activities 

Community colleges offer a distinct learning environment, and are recognized for smaller class sizes, more individualized attention and a supportive atmosphere. Community colleges also offer the following: 

  • A Pathway to a Four-Year Degree – Because community colleges are accredited, students can easily transfer between a community college and a four-year college or university.
  • Affordability – Attending a community college can offer savings of thousands of dollars. The average cost of attending public community college is $2,713 per year. By comparison, the average cost of attending a public four-year college or university is $7,605 per year.
  • Relevance – New businesses, such as emerging green technologies, will require workers trained in new ways. Technology is central to supporting much of this change. Many community colleges provide technical or vocational training for international students.
  • Partnership with Industry – To ensure students have adequate preparation for jobs that require higher education or workforce training, community college officials are working with employers to develop flexible, affordable and relevant training programs that meet business and regional economic needs. The partnership between businesses and community colleges can maximize workforce development strategies, job training programs, and ultimately, job placement. International students can take advantage of these opportunities through optional practical training, a one-year authorization to work.

With the opportunity for more individualized attention and services, getting a two-year postsecondary degree and advancing to university is a more reachable goal. Interested in learning more about community colleges in the United States and finding a community college in a particular area? Use the American Association of Community College’s Community College Finder.


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