COMMUNITY COLLEGE EDUCATION in THE USA
The following is an e-mail conversation between Ali Işıl and Oksana Knyaz on community colleges option for international students as well as Turkish ones. Oksana Knyaz is the International Business Manager at Green River Community College.
AI: It is one of our cultural customs that we always ask the person we spoke to ‘where do you come from?’ Who is Oksana Knyaz and what is her background?
OK: Well, originally I come from Western part of Ukraine, beautiful city of Lviv. My family immigrated to US in 1992. I finished High School in US, and then attended Green Rıver Community College (GRCC) for 2 years for my Associate degree. I was offered a job at the Cashiering office at GRCC after receiving my Associate in Computer application degree, in 1996. İ continued taking classes, and later, after receiving my Accounting degree, was promoted to Accounting department at GRCC, where I worked for 5 more years. When position of a Business Manager opened at International Programs department, I applied, since I’ve always enjoyed being around students, and was missing that piece in Accounting department. I have worked at International Programs since 2007, and I absolutely love my job! I get to help my department with Business side of the house, as well as I spend time with the students. It’s awesome! While working, I also attended local University in the area, Central Washington University, and in 2013 received Bachelor degrees in Accounting and Business Administration. I started recruiting for GRCC in 2012. I have traveled for recruitment to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Turkey. I enjoy telling people about GRCC and what a great school it is, since I’ve been here most of my lifetime! My family consists of a husband and 2 kids: son and a daughter. Currently, my son is attending GRCC for his Associate transfer degree. My daughter is attending a local middle school. I enjoy spending time with my family, that’s my biggest hobby! We have done a lot of traveling, visiting other states in the country, as well as enjoying scenery of our beautiful Washington state.
- AI: Oksana, I know that you and staff at Green River Community College have been actively involved in international education as practitioners and professionals, and that GRCC has many programs to offer. Could you tell us about those programs for Turkish students wishing to study at CCs in the USA?
OK: Absolutely. The programs offered at GRCC that would be most suitable for international students coming from Turkey would be the following:
1.) AA Transfer Degree (Associate of Arts Degree): This degree allows students two complete their first two years of a four-year Bachelor’s Degree at GRCC and then transferring to a good university in the US to complete their Bachelor’s Degree. With our experienced and thorough advisors, we have great success in students being admitted to top 10 US institutions such as; UCLA, Purdue U, U of Washington, U of Michigan, Johns Hopkins U, Stanford U, and Indiana State U, just to name a few of the best universities our graduates were admitted to. 90% of the students, who decide to study at GRCC, come to us because they are aware of success in preparing students to transfer to such well-respected universities.
2.) High School Completion: This program allows students to complete their High School at GRCC while at the same time earning an AA Transfer Degree in order to go to continue for their Bachelor’s Degree at a university such as one I mentioned earlier.
3.) Intensive English as a Second Language: Our IESL program is highly respected in Washington State and our respective region of the Northwest for being one of the most challenging and rewarding English programs in the region. It is respected because it prepares our students well enough to compete with domestic students at a level that earns them high grades to where they can be admitted to top universities.
4.) Certificates and Professional/Technical Degrees: This degree option prepares students to succeed in a very specific technical field to be ‘work ready’ after one or two years of study. With this degree, students are eligible to apply for OPT (Optional Practical Training) whereby they are allowed to legally work in the US for a maximum of one year in their selected field upon successful completion of their academic program.
- AI: One of the biggest barriers preventing our students from studying in university abroad is a lack of financial resources. It is obvious that tuition fees are cheaper at CC’s. What are the other benefits of Community College education in USA for Turkish students? Could you also make a comparison between 4yrs colleges and Community Colleges?
OK: Sure. Community Colleges are the best hidden secret in the US education system, not only for international students, but for domestic students, as well. I saved my family a lot of money, when studying at GRCC to complete my degree. I understand the benefits of a community college or how it prepared me and now prepares my son to transfer to University. Students not only pay ½ the tuition of four year institutions, but they also have the benefit of being in smaller classes (never more than 35 at the most) and being taught directly by the professor, rather than a ‘Teaching Assistant’, which is so popular in four year institutions. The average cost of community college tuition in Washington State for international students is approximately $9,900 per year, as compared to $22,900 at the University of Washington (the largest public university in Washington State). The other benefit is that student’s receive more assistance and guidance at a community college than at a public four-year institution. If a student first decides to study at GRCC, they can be guaranteed the opportunity to receive high grades to be able to transfer to a top university in the US. With proper guidance from professional advisors and good study discipline, a student at GRCC can go anywhere if they put their mind to it. There’s no excuse not to; many, many of our students do it every year!
- AI: The main factor behind the CC decision of our students is transfer opportunities to 4 year colleges. What are the obstacles of transfer issues? Upon their graduation can students easily transfer to the 4 yrs colleges or there is a planning that starts with the first day of the school? What is your college transfer application procedure for international students?
OK: The main obstacles to transferring to top universities are; getting very good grades (above 3.5), funding (these school can be expensive), acceptance rate of international students (each university only accepts a certain percentage of international applicants). We guide students to combat these three major obstacles by laying out a comprehensive two-year study plan before they open their first book, encouraging them to look for scholarship opportunities prior to their completion of their degree at GRCC, and offering them any statistics we have either researched or within our resources regarding acceptance percentages (chance of acceptance), which they wouldn’t have access to at all community colleges. Many community colleges have ‘Transfer Centers’ where all of their students go for assistance, we specialize in this area out of our own IP (International Programs) funding and our advisors ‘personally’ advise our own international students without having to share our time with thousands of other students. Our transfer procedure is quite simple. We interview the students, gain an understanding of where they want to transfer to, advise them of their best options, tell them the GPA (average grade point average) they will need, TOEFL Score, application deadlines and we then monitor their progress by asking them to check in with us whenever they feel necessary to get guidance regarding their registration of classes, etc.
- AI: It is not easy to get a student visa. Visa officers are concerning about the schools type on I-20 forms. Is there a correlation between visa acceptance / rejection rates and school types whether it is a two year or 4 years institutions?
OK: This is an age-old question. The community college vs. the university. Standards and quality issues. My personal belief after having visited embassies and consulates and interviewing Visa-Issuing Officers, is that the tide has turned somewhat. I think there did indeed exist a bias towards community college education on the part of embassies and consulates, but I’ve seen that superstition change over the years. It seems that Visa Issuing Officers are more convinced now than ever before of the benefits of community colleges for international students and the quality of education they provide. They’ve certainly always been aware of this in the US. It seems it’s finally making an impression overseas, as well. There have been great efforts made by community college organizations and national consortiums in the US towards policy and being recognized as invaluable educational alternatives to the traditional four-year institution. It has become clear to me that there is a direct correlation in visa issuance with regard to enrolling in community colleges as ‘pathway’ to a four year university. However, it seems that respective consulates more readily issue visas to students wishing to utilize this pathway if they have an idea of the quality of the community college and if they recognize them as having a strong track record of success in sending students to good universities.
- AI: Some of our readers may ask about the financial aid options considering they are assertive on their records. Are they any scholarship opportunities?
OK: Green River Community College does offer scholarships for international students, new and already enrolled students. Student need to complete an application on-line, and submit to us. As community colleges are recognized for having already greatly reduced tuition, it wouldn’t be in the benefit of the prospective student to have a scholarship offering from a community college as they have to demonstrate to the US Consulate they have the funding to be able to live and study in the US for one academic year. If a student doesn’t seem as though they can afford community college tuition for one year (via a scholarship), their chances of receiving a visa would be very slim. We offer scholarships up to $500 per quarter (which helps pay for books and/or other expenses). Students with high GPA’s are also eligible to apply for even larger scholarships that are provided through our college Foundation (private fund-raising organization for GRCC student scholarships).
- AI: We know that any students who start the tertiary level education in the USA must sit for a Math and English exam before starting their school. What is the nature of this examination? Is it a placement test or admissions test?
OK: Yes, this exam is called the COMPASS Exam. This exam must be written by all students who wish to enroll at GRCC, whether they be international or domestic. It is strictly a Placement Test that helps advisors determine the ability of the student in the areas of Math and English so that they can properly suggest courses for the student to register in that are within their ability level. It is not a test to be regarded as a Pass or Fail Exam. The goal is to direct students to academic success. This is one of the tools our advisors use to help gauge the true ability of the student. We want to be sure we place them in courses they are capable of succeeding in. They must have good grades to go to a good university. To be misplaced in a course is detrimental in attaining a high GPA and ultimately gaining acceptance to a good university.
- AI: Do you have any other suggestions for Turkish students who are pursuing community colleges in USA?
OK: Yes. When going in for an interview with the US Consulate for your student, BE PREPARED! Visa Issuing Officers are reportedly happy to issue visas to students they feel confident will use them and return to Turkey to exercise what they’ve learned for the betterment of their future. False conclusions can be drawn from students who are ill-prepared. Have a clear plan for your academic career in the US. Over 80% of students who applied for Visas to the US from Turkey last year received them. It’s a high percentage, compared to MANY countries. It’s always a shame when a student is denied due to lack of preparation for the interview. Have a clear study plan. My last thoughts; be open-minded to learning and to a new culture. Know that people in the US are happy to learn about you and will not know about your country, if you don’t open up and tell them about it. The US is welcoming to all who wish to come and better themselves – ALWAYS. I know this better than anyone, as I’m from people who come from somewhere else and have made the US their home. Always aim high, stay true to yourself and others, and be brave enough to follow your dreams. You’ll be amazed where they can take you.
- AI: Thanks, Oksana, for sharing your experiences and your thoughts on this subject. I hope that it will serve as a useful resource for both prospective students and counselors / educators who are interested in learning more about the CC education.
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