Community Colleges in the USA

Community colleges are an explicitly American invention from the early 20th century. They were originally founded with the aim of counteracting the shortage of skilled workers in the USA. A larger number of local educational institutions should encourage more young people to continue their education after high school.

Many Americans were denied access to a four-year college for financial reasons and lack of academic qualifications. In addition, the population’s demand for shorter vocational training courses – as an alternative to the four-year bachelor’s degree course – increased.

Today, more than 40% of students choose to study at a community college in the USA. There are over 1100 facilities in the USA. They are mainly operated by the cities and districts.

Goals and mission of Community Colleges

The declared goal of the Community Colleges in the USA is to enable individuals to receive education close to their place of residence. They represent an Open Door Admissions Policy that assures all students of fair and equal treatment. The idea behind this is that education should be made possible irrespective of income, academic experience and origin.

For this reason, applicants for a study place at a community college in the USA only have to meet a minimum of requirements. Often a school-leaving certificate and sufficient English language skills are sufficient. In addition, tuition fees at community colleges are comparatively low, giving a larger group of people access to academic education.

Typical Community College: the Transfer Idea

Community Colleges in the United States see it as their task to prepare high school graduates for their third year at college or university through general education courses. Admittedly, General Education is generally an integral part of undergraduate studies in the USA. However, Community Colleges place particular emphasis on this.

The transferability of academic achievements and the high permeability are characteristic for community colleges. This is why there are transfer agreements between them and numerous four-year colleges and universities that regulate the uncomplicated transition to the third year of a Bachelor’s degree course. In this context, there is often talk of a 2+2 process.

The Californian community colleges, for example, have transfer agreements with the universities of the University of California System and the California State University System. This creates the basic conditions for students with an Associate Degree to change to a UC or CSU system university under certain conditions.

Study Programmes offered by Community Colleges in the USA

Community Colleges in the USA usually offer two-year courses of study leading to an Associate Degree. There are two different types of programs:

  • Terminal Degree Programs: Vocational and further education programs
  • Transfer Degree Programs: Academically oriented programs that enable transfer to a regular university.

Community colleges in the USA are similar to vocational schools in Germany because of their more practical orientation towards the workplace. The curricula of the vocational training and continuing education programmes are generally tailored to the needs of the regional economy. Basically, community colleges focus on teaching. Research traditionally plays a minor role.

Community Colleges USA: Opportunity for German applicants

More and more young people from Germany are realizing the opportunities offered by studying at a community college in the USA. This is a particularly attractive option for applicants without an A-levels diploma: you can gain access to the American higher education system by studying at a community college and ultimately advance to the postgraduate programs. They also save money: studying at a community college in the USA is much cheaper than studying at a four-year college or university.

A degree from a community college significantly increases the chances of being admitted to a bachelor’s degree at a university. Many community colleges even guarantee their graduates a place at one of several universities. These often include renowned universities.

Due to their bridging function, the Transfer Degree Programs are of particular interest to interested parties from Germany. The Associate Degree is not recognised as a state degree in Germany. Therefore, students benefit the most when they continue their studies at a university or four-year college up to the bachelor’s level.