Kanako Minotto finally feels like she is in America. At Arizona State University, the Japanese student attended classes with so many others from her homeland that she didn’t always need to speak English.
Now, two weeks into her classes at Scottsdale Community College, she’s surrounded by non- Japanese -speaking students.
"I have to speak English. I think I will learn English faster," she said.
Japanese students such as Minotto make up the largest group of international students at many community colleges, including SCC, where 14 of the 97 international students last spring were from Japan.
They also make up the largest group of foreign undergraduate students in the United States, government figures show.
It’s a growing trend that the Maricopa Community College District hopes to take advantage of as it begins to actively recruit Asian students.
At the same time, Asian students more frequently are recognizing the value of attending an American community college for two years before heading off to larger four-year universities, said Mieko Muto, a commercial specialist from the American embassy in Tokyo who visited SCC last week.
International student enrollment has plummeted since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and the U.S. State Department has embarked on a public relations campaign to reverse that trend.
One of their strategies is to promote community colleges, which the U.S. Department of Commerce has listed as an area ripe for growth in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
Japanese students are more likely than many other foreign students to have their visas approved, so Japan is a good place to focus recruiting efforts, said Bonnie Gass of SCC’s International Education Department.
"We definitely try to strategize, knowing where most of our students are coming from, and the Asia Pacific region is one of those areas," she said.
Gass uses the Web, print advertisements and college fairs to spread the word about SCC in Japan, but the best recruiting tool is wordof-mouth, she said.
Many students who end up at SCC heard about the school through friends or family members, she said.
The major attraction is cost. Foreign students must pay nonresident fees while they attend college.
At ASU’s Tempe campus, an international student would pay just over $7,000 in tuition and fees for 12 credits in the fall semester.
At SCC, that same student this fall would pay less than half that — $3,096 — for 12 credits.
"Japanese middle-class, middle-income families can afford education in the U.S.," Muto said, explaining that attending a U.S. community college is often cheaper than studying in Japan for some students.
The English skills they gain are invaluable in the Japanese work force, said Emi Kawasaki, international student adviser at Mesa Community College.
But factors other than cost also attract Japanese students to community colleges, educators say.
The students often score among the lowest of all Asian students on Englishproficiency exams. Many of them see value in enrolling in a two-year college first, then transferring to a four-year program after they have acquired better English skills.
Specialty programs are another attraction for Asian students, such as the aviation courses at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, officials said.
Therese Tendrick, director of SCC’s International Education Department, said its golf management program is popular as well.
"We know our Asian students love to golf," she said. "Half our school’s golf team is international students."
Community colleges still face challenges in the international market, though. In some countries, community colleges are viewed as being inferior, said Jennifer Vinca, SCC international student adviser.
"The word ‘college’ doesn’t translate well," she explained, saying that in many European languages it means junior high or high school. "They don’t get that it’s the first half of the bachelor’s degree, and don’t realize what the great deal is. They could save so much money," she said.