Community colleges saw a 7.2% uptick in international students last fall, the first time those enrollments increased since the 2016-17 academic year, according to an annual report from the Institute of International Education.
More than 52,600 international students attended associate-degree colleges in the 2022-23 academic year. In 2016-17, it reached more than 96,400. International enrollment then began to gradually slump — -2%, -8.3% and again -8.3%, before it tanked during the Covid pandemic by -24% and -12.5%, according to the “Open Doors” report, which is sponsored by the U.S. State Department.
Overall, there was a 12% increase among all U.S. higher education institutions, with more than 1 million international students. The increase was largely driven by graduate programs, but all sectors saw increases. There also was a 28% growth, to 43,766, among the number of international students in non-degree programs, according to the report.
The top five community colleges are well-known for their high number of international students: Lone Star College System (2,917), Houston Community College System (2,807), Santa Monica College (1,782), Dallas College (1,544) and Valencia College (1,448).
China, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea and Brazil are the leading places of origin for international students attending community colleges. China has held the top spot since 2012-13, when it replaced South Korea as the top producer for public two-year colleges, according to the data.
Sending students abroad
Pellissippi State Community College, which has a history of being a top producer among associate-degree colleges that send students abroad, was recognized as the top two-year college for its 116 students abroad in 2021-22; in 2023, it sent 150 students. Overall, more than 380 Tennessee community college students went abroad to study in 2023, assisted by a state consortium for international studies that serves community colleges. The U.S. State Department has even awarded a $35,000 grant for the consortium to train and mentor other community college systems in creating their own study-abroad opportunities.
Other programs that financially help community college students study abroad also this month highlighted those colleges and their students. Three community colleges — Portland Community College (Oregon), MiraCosta College (California) and Mesa Community College (Arizona) — were recognized this month by the U.S. State Department among the high number of recipients of the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship for the 2021-22 academic year. The program, which has a category for associate-degree colleges, allows students with limited financial resources to study or intern overseas by providing up to $5,000 in scholarships.
The program has helped students like Sophia McGovern, a recent MiraCosta gradaute who heard about the program through her professors. She was selected to study in Florence, Italy, in summer 2022. Today, she is studying environmental systems at the University of California, San Diego and advocates for study abroad opportunities.
Community colleges participating in the Gilman program laud its opportunities. Lone State College in Texas recently recognized four of its students who studied this summer through the program in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland. Eduardo Avila-Cazares, who visited Spain and Portugal, said the experience made him aware of the vast study abroad, research and internship opportunities available to students.
“It is another worldly experience being in a new environment amongst new people in a new climate and culture,” he said in a release from the college.