Updated on Wednesday 27 February 2013
Even though more US colleges and universities are making financial aid and scholarships available to international students, most international students at US colleges and universities still must rely on their own sources of funds to pay for their education - like family funds, loans and savings. And the cost of education in the US continues to rise, both in tuition and other costs.
One solution that more and more students have found to make a US higher education more affordable is to attend a community college for two years. Community colleges usually offer 2-year programs that provide an "associates" degree, at much lower tuition than a traditional four-year school. Armed with an associates degree from a community college, students can move on to a full college or university and complete their undergraduate degree in only 2 years. Instead of paying four years of tuition at the higher rate for colleges and universities, students pay 2 years of community college tuition and 2 years of university or college tuition.
For example, the University of Florida estimates annual tuition and living expenses for an international undergraduate student at $30,205 for the 2006/2007 school year. Assuming that you could live on the estimated amount, and assuming no increase in costs over the four years (both questionable assumptions!), it would cost an international student $120,820 for a four-year undergraduate degree at the University of Florida.
If that student spent the first two years at Manatee Community College in Bradenton Florida (at $20,100 tuition and living expenses per year), and then 2 years at the University of Florida, the student still graduates with a University of Florida degree, but only spends a total of $100,610, saving over $20,000. There are many examples where the savings are even greater, but you get the idea.
US students have known this for years, and have been taking advantage of this system of community colleges. For US students, community colleges often also have the advantage of being close to home, so students can live at home and even continue to work, while paying the reduced tuition, making education even more affordable.
If there is a downside, its probably that completing your degree may be a little harder. I've never seen any statistics on it, but you must study hard, do well at community college, apply and be accepted to a new school after 2 years, then re-adjust and study hard to complete your degree there. This adds additional re-adjustment periods and transitions that the student who stays at one school for four years does not have to face. However, for highly directed and motivated students who will apply themselves and study hard wherever they are, it does offer a way to save a lot of money on your US higher education.
International students have started to figure the community college system out - community colleges are bursting with international students. For instance, Houston Community College has 3,227 international students, Santa Monica College has 2,658 international students, and there are over 40 2-year colleges in the US with 500 or more international students.
As enrollment of international students increase, these schools are also becoming increasingly adapt at and in tune to the needs of international students, making community colleges a realistic and much more affordable way to begin your international education.