How Can Community Colleges Attract More International Students

3 min read

G. John Cole

We are at a critical moment for community colleges in the US. Recruitment is on the rise (foreign enrolments in community colleges are up 8% in a decade), but bold ideas are needed to capitalize on a market in which four-year colleges have soared ahead with a 40% upturn. For the community college sector of higher education, 2018 is the moment to adjust expectations and gear up for a serious new look at this exciting and developing market.

Becoming a viable option in the students’ minds

Community colleges don’t exist in many countries. Students and employers looking to the States to plug their training gaps tend to look past the country’s nimble and employment-oriented 2-year institutions to the 4-year colleges they've heard about on TV and in movies.

Marketing teams thus have a two-fold strategy to prepare. On the one hand, they need to raise awareness by putting the concept of the community college in front of the appropriate students. And then they must back this up by providing those students with the appropriate information and communication channels for their reputation and relationships to flourish.

We all know that today's students define their world by what they experience online. It's a worldwide phenomenon on which community colleges should already be capitalizing. Recruitment specialists can optimize a college’s social media operation by identifying the appropriate student audience and tailoring the tone and tactics of the campaign; for example, students with a firmer financial background or stronger language skills may be more likely to be thinking about a four-year college. Partnering with an experienced marketing and recruitment specialists puts a community college on equal footing with other institutions, enabling the benefits of this kind of education to stand out.

An easy-to-navigate website is a must. International students will be curious as to precisely what the community college experience entails, and what is in it for them. Further, they'll be unable to make a casual visit to an American campus, which makes the existence of a virtual campus experience more valuable than ever. An online tour like this can project an institution into the homes of students and the decision-makers around them.

Finally, make sure that your marketing strategy makes use of targeted techniques that focus on the demographics that work for your institution.  Colleges with existing international exchange programs may already have well-established channels in specific regions, but for those wishing to expand beyond their network or charting new opportunities, a marketing plan that employs smart assessment of promising student markets is a must. 

Which benefits should community colleges emphasize?

College recruitment officers should be asking themselves what international students care about when looking for a college – and building on the strengths that are unique to the community college experience.

As previously hinted, international tuition fees are lower than those of four-year colleges, yet higher than those for domestic students – this is part of what makes community colleges and international recruits such a perfect match.

The shorter education period is also appealing to overseas students. It is less of a commitment to the unknown and provides the opportunity to acclimatize and improve English language skills so as to later step on to a four-year course if they like the surroundings.

Additional perks, such as offering a health insurance plan, can further put a student’s mind at ease – setting the providing college apart from the competition. It’s also an ethical way to introduce students into the local community and economy and builds on the ethos of the community college concept – places of useful learning for local – and now global – communities.


Keeping a community college's overseas intake safe, healthy, and happy is a winning formula because today's international students are the ambassadors for tomorrow's intake. It should be a priority among the conversations community college presidents, senior administrators and higher education professionals have in the coming months.

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