Truckee Meadows Community College ups efforts to attract international students

Governor's Trade Mission Educational Delegates in Gdansk, Poland.

Governor's Trade Mission Educational Delegates in Gdansk, Poland.

RENO, Nev. — Here in the United States, transferring to a university from a community college is often — as long as coursework is completed — a seamless process.

Overseas, however, transferring to a university isn’t even an option in many countries.

“In many societies, there isn’t a way to transfer to universities,” Truckee Meadows Community College President Dr. Karin Hilgersom said TMCC’s International Student Services team has learned over the years. “So you are either from a privileged family and have all of the background you need to get entrance to a university … or you don’t, and never access college.”

This is one of the many reasons TMCC is continuously working hard to grow its global outreach. Quite simply, the community college planted in north Reno seeks to offer higher education to students who don’t have the same opportunities in their home countries.

“At TMCC, we’ve had international programs for many, many years,” said Natalie Brown, director of international student services. “It’s in recent years that we’ve revitalized the program, putting a lot more effort into recruitment and expanding our positioning.”

In doing so, Brown said TMCC has partnered with the office of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval — joining the Governor’s Trade Mission Educational Delegates in both Peru and Poland — as well as and worked with entities such as EducationUSA, a U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers.

Since its revamped efforts, TMCC has seen its international enrollment steadily rise.

Back in the fall of 2015, there were nine new international students who enrolled at TMCC. Two years later, fall of 2017, the community college admitted 18 new international students — doubling its admittance in just two years.

“In recruitment cycles, they usually say it takes three to five years to see any difference,” Brown said. “With our small but mighty program, we’re already seeing strong numbers.

“The price point is really an attractive factor, as well as the small class sizes,” Brown continued. “Universities have seen a little bit of a dip in international students. Community colleges have seen a little increase — and we can see that on our end.”


Estella Gutierrez, vice president of student services and diversity, said TMCC’s outreach to Costa Rica especially paid off this past year.

Through a handful of corporations — Fundación CRUSA (Foundation of Costa Rica and USA Cooperation), EducationUSA, the US Embassy in Costa Rica, United airlines, and CINDE (Costa Rica’s Investment Promotion Agency) — two scholarshipped students from public high schools have chosen to come to TMCC.

“We are in a very unique area here in Northern Nevada,” said Gutierrez, pointing to Tesla’s operation in Reno as an example. “That really helps when promoting the college and our area.”

In all, TMCC has a cohort of 49 international students total. The majority of them come from Japan, South Korea and China, with a growing number coming from Latin America, Brown said.

By 2020, administrators are aiming to not just double that figure, but quadruple it.

“We’d like to get to 200 (international) students by 2020, that’s our goal,” Dr. Hilgersom said. “I really believe if we’re talking about excellence in higher education, it’s not just about a student body that’s diverse domestically, but also diverse internationally. We need to expose our American students to people of other cultures so they can build an understanding and shared knowledge. A community college’s excellence is in part measured by how robust its international programs are.”

And to further support their international students, TMCC this past fall opened a Diversity and International Services Center, which serves as a meeting and student life space for international students.

Added Hilgersom: “One other piece of international studies is making sure we’re developing our students outside of the classroom with extracurricular activities and setting up field trips, so they can get to know the surrounding areas to complement their studies at TMCC.


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