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College Recruiters Cast a Global Net

While more schools look overseas for diversity, community colleges become the new hot spots

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When Madjid Niroumand was flipping through a book on California colleges a few years back, one entry particularly interested him: Orange Coast College.

The native Iranian then living in Norway was interested in film studies, and the Costa Mesa college fit the bill. Now two years later, he is well on his way to a certificate in film and is thinking of transferring to the University of California at Los Angeles.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Niroumand would have been an anomaly at this sun-drenched college on the southern California coast. But today, he is just the kind of applicant many colleges and universities are looking for as foreign students become a more important part of campus life across the United States.

Overseas students account for only 3 percent of the total US student population, but their intellectual and economic impact have made them an eagerly sought commodity. More and more, colleges are scouring every continent but Antarctica for students to add to their cultural diversity and coffers. And emerging as the front-runners in this rush for students from abroad are, perhaps surprisingly, community colleges like Orange Coast.

Although the overall number of foreign students entering US colleges has been stagnant for the past three years, the current data "suggest ... that there is a jump in international student enrollment in two-year community colleges," says Todd Davis, director of research for the Institute for International Education in New York.

At Orange Coast College, for example, the number of foreign students has jumped from 34 to 815 in 13 years.

A symbiotic relationship

The relationship has benefited both parties. Most community colleges get higher tuitions from out-of-state and foreign students, helping their bottom lines. At Orange Coast, a California resident pays $13 per credit while foreign and out-of-state students pay $139 - making up for the state money that subsidizes in-state students' tuition. Yet the price of a community-college education is a relative bargain, says Saeeda Wali Mohammed, director of the college's International Center.

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