Tennessee is set to become the first state in the country to offer free community college for its residents.
On May 9, lawmakers in the state voted to approve the Reconnect Act, which will allow adults to receive free college tuition at community and technical colleges in the state.
“If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs, and there is no smarter investment than increasing access to high-quality education,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.
The law is an expansion of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Program that provides community college scholarships to recent high school graduates. Both programs are part of Haslam’s goal to increase the number of Tennessee residents with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
The push comes as more cities across the country are exploring the idea of free community college for some or all of its residents.
In February, San Francisco became to the first city in the country to free community college tuition to adults and recent high school grads.
So is community college an option for international students?
Listen below to hear advice from a Turkish student who attends community college in the United States.
Community colleges are two-year institutions where students can earn associate degrees in numerous fields of study or certificates in trades. The associate degrees that students earn at community colleges can be transferred toward earning an undergraduate degree at four-year institutions.
Community colleges are a great way for international students to get their foot in the door in the United States. Even if a students English levels are not as high as they may need to be to get accepted into other colleges, community colleges have English programs to help students master the language. English as a Second Language (ESL) programs help build a student’s English levels to a college standard.
These two-year programs offer a unique education experience for their students. There are a few characteristics of community colleges that can’t be found at four-year institutions.
Many community colleges do not require entrance exams. That means international students do not need to take TOEFL or SAT exams for admission. This can be extremely helpful for students who are looking at education in the U.S. to improve their English. Even larger schools such as Houston Community College and Community College of Denver do not require TOEFL of SAT scores.
Houston Community College (HCC) is one of the largest institutions that does not require entrance exams. International students are offered ESL programs as well as more than 100 programs to choose from including nursing to sciences, to business to even fashion associates degrees.
HCC also has the largest body of international students out of all the community colleges in the nation, with nearly 8,000 international students. This community college also offers guaranteed transfer plans to four-year institutions, according to their website.
Class sizes at community colleges are also relatively small. According to the Community College of Philadelphia website, classroom sizes average 22 students, Columbus State Community College has an average of 20 students despite its enrollment of 27,312 students.
“The small size of classes at community colleges can be highly beneficial for international students as they adjust to the pace of U.S. academic life and practice their English-language skills,” according to EducationUSA. Lectures at larger schools can seat hundreds of students. Professors are unable to help everyone individually.
Attending a community college for two years can offer a cheaper alternative to four-year colleges.
“Community college tuition and fees remain the lowest of all sectors in higher education,” according to the American Association of Community Colleges‘ website.
The average cost of out-of-state tuition for community colleges in the nation is $8,220, according to Community College Review, The average cost of tuition in Wyoming drops to just $4,211. While these costs are similar to public schools, they are almost half the cost of the average private institution which averages $15,046.
While the majority of four-year public and private schools offer housing to their students, most community colleges do not. Only 25 percent offer housing for students, according to U.S. News & World Report. Housing costs can fluctuate depending on where you attend school and the local housing costs and market.
Amanda Scott contributed to this report.