What are community colleges? Should I consider them when shortlisting universities for my son to apply to his higher education in the US? Thomas, via email Community colleges are state-funded public institutions that offer a two-year associate degree. Also known as junior colleges, they were created for local communities and continue to put local needs first. Aware that students live in a multicultural society, managers of these colleges work to internationalise the learning experience. To this end, they constantly update existing curricula to provide special programmes, activities and classes for the growing international student population. There are about 1,200 community colleges in the US and 11 per cent of international students choose this pathway to higher education. Community colleges offer students an alternative route for the first two years of their bachelor's degree. The entry requirements are not very stringent and the cost is significantly lower than private or state colleges. On completion of the two-year programme at a community college, students can either enter the workforce or transfer their credits towards a four-year bachelor's degree at a private or state college. Small class sizes and personal attention result in a strong foundation that makes the transition to a four-year college easier. Students at community colleges can choose from hundreds of academic and vocational programmes. Most have formal articulation programmes with private and state (four year) colleges in their vicinity but that does not prevent students from applying to colleges in other states. A student could have studied in a community college in California and would be eligible to apply for transfer to a highly competitive private college in say, Boston. Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for instance, gets a large number of transfer students from California community colleges. For students who need personalised attention and whose high school grades may not be very good, community colleges offer a great alternative to enrolling in some C-grade college. Two years down the road, the system not only allows but helps the student transfer to a more competitive college. Through this process not only will the student graduate from a better college but his parents will save a lot of money as the fees in community colleges can be as low as $5,000 (Dh18,365) per year as against $25,000 to $40,000 in private colleges. At the end of four years the student has a bachelor's degree from a recognised institution and has saved his parents a lot of money.