International Education Week celebrates students who attend college outside their home countries and in the process help build a more democratic, secure and prosperous world. This week, ShareAmerica looks at opportunities available to international students in the U.S. 

When Steven Rivadeneira, 19, announced he was going to a two-year community college in Miami instead of a university, his parents were skeptical. Their son had piled up A’s in physics after falling in love with the subject during secondary school. Why shouldn’t he should go to an elite, four-year engineering school?

But Rivadeneira’s overall grades just weren’t good enough. Miami Dade College, a two-year community college, while not on his parents’ list, offered a scholarship and a spot in its honors program. Rivandeneira saw opportunity in the offer and assured his parents he could transfer from there to a top university later.

“I saw this as a great chance at applying to my dream school, which was Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT],” Rivadeneira said.

Indeed, the Peruvian American started classes at MIT two years later as a junior, with scholarships covering nearly all the $59,000 per year in tuition, room and board. The aspiring aeronautical engineer, born in Lima, Peru, had moved to the U.S. at age 6. His family members in Peru, who had never heard of community colleges, now “are ecstatic,” he said.

Miami Dade is among the biggest and best of 1,100 community colleges, a uniquely American invention. Miami Dade enrolls 50,000 Hispanic-American students. Houston Community College in Texas and Santa Monica College in California are top destinations for international students, with large representations from Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia.

Teacher at blackboard in front of classroom (AP IMages)
Joseph Crouse teaches a trigonometry and advanced algebra class at Carroll Community College in Westminster, Maryland. (AP Images)

Overall, 8 million students — 45 percent of U.S. undergraduates — including 88,000 international students, attend these two-year colleges, which do not require entrance exams or high grades for entry and which award graduates an associate degree. They offer a mix of academic and job-training classes as well as intensive English and remedial courses for students unprepared for college-level work. Community colleges share a similar culture to their four-year counterparts.

And they charge less than four-year public colleges: $3,130 on average for tuition and fees per academic year versus $8,660. (Out-of-state and international students pay two to three times higher tuition.)

That is a bargain, especially if students succeed in transferring to a university that counts community college credits just like its own.

Eva Loredo, a trustee of Houston Community College, said two-year colleges offer a welcome students may not find at a four-year campus: “We have tutoring, we have support groups and smaller classes, we offer English as a second language.”

Keep up with information about U.S. study at EducationUSA and learn more with other ShareAmerica stories on study in the USA.

This is adapted from an article by freelance writer Christopher Connell.