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Exploring the world through community college

By Lauren Ford, Biden Fellow for Higher Education

The Institute for International Education recently hosted its annual gala to promote study abroad and expand access to education. Dr. Jill Biden attended and delivered remarks about her experience as a community college professor and the role that colleges play in expanding educational opportunities both domestically and abroad.

“To immerse ourselves in other cultures, to experience other lifestyles, to see firsthand the mysteries this incredible world has to offer—those are lessons that not only teach us, but change who we are,” she said.

These words resonated deeply for me as my first experience out of the country was through a study abroad program. In 2011, I took a course to learn about the higher education system in China. The course culminated with a 10-day trip to Beijing, where we were able to visit universities and meet with students and administrators to learn more about their experiences in higher education.

During the 10-day trip, we also were able to visit historical sites such as Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China, engage with locals in the various markets, and really learn more about Chinese culture. While the immersion was short, it was an experience that I will never forget. Now in my current role as a recruiter at a community college, I have encouraged many of my own students to explore the world through study abroad and am always thrilled to hear their stories and see their growth upon their return.

Photo:Lauren Ford

When I first began working at a community college three years ago, I had no idea that community colleges offered opportunities for students to study abroad. I was thrilled to find out that thousands of community college students participate in study abroad programs each year. Students can participate in full semester programs or short-term programs that last just a few weeks. The short-term programs can offer students an opportunity to study abroad at a fraction of the cost of long-term trips.

The Institute for International Education, through support from the U.S. Department of State, implements scholarship programs such as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, to help students offset the costs of studying abroad.

I also had no idea that international students attended community college as well. I was surprised to learn that 10 percent of international college students studying in the United States attend a community college. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense! Community colleges offer so many options for students including the opportunity to:

  • Develop strong English speaking and listening skills,
  • Learn about American culture and customs, and
  • Earn the credits needed to transfer to a four-year university.

All of this can be offered at a significantly more affordable tuition rate than a traditional four-year university. Community colleges offer both domestic and international students the opportunity to engage in quality higher education while expanding diverse student populations and offering students a window into the world through education.

This post is part of our “The Heart of the Issue” series, blogs authored by the Biden Fellows. Each Fellow has a close connection to one or more of the Biden Foundation’s policy pillars, and their updates will bring you straight to the heart of the issues that drive our work forward. Read the previous issue here.