Community College Education…
he telephone calls, letters and e-mail requests pour in from the four corners of the Earth — from countries where government coffers are flush with oil money, as well as from those that can barely afford to feed their populace. These days, the foreign dignitaries and education ministry bureaucrats that contact American community college representatives like Audree Chase all want to know one thing: the best way to go about setting up a network of two-year
colleges like the ones in the United States.
“I get a ton of requests,” says Chase, the coordinator of international services for the American Association of Community
Colleges. “We meet on the average with 150 international visitors each year, from literally every country you can think of.”
Indeed, dozens of countries — from the tiny Caribbean islands of Trinidad and
Tobago, to Tunisia in North Africa, to Taiwan in the Far East — have attempted to duplicate America’s two-year college system or hope to do so in the near future.
Higher education representatives from those countries, betting the new colleges can spur economic development in their homelands and educate a significantly bigger segment of their population than traditional four-year universities, are deluging U.S. community college officials with requests for
advice, exchanges and site visits.
“Exporting community colleges overseas is becoming a major endeavor,” says Dr. Robert C. Ernst, president of Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, Wis., and chairman of the American Council on International and Intercultural Education, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges.
“Many countries have wonderful universities,” Ernst says. “But they don’t have an intermediate step between high school and the four-year degree, and that’s where community and technical colleges can come into play. We’re seeing an enlightened interest.”
Dr. David R. Pierce, the former president of the American Association of Community Colleges, believes that’s because “the American economy at this moment is the marvel of the world. A lot of countries look at the United States and say, ‘What is unique? What does this country have that others don’t?’ One thing is a strong community college system.”
America’s 1,250 community, junior and technical colleges conduct nearly half of all work-force training in the United States, from people seeking to switch fields in mid-career to customized classes tailored for specific industries, according to a report last year by the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Labor and Education.
Indeed, in a front-page report several years ago The Wall Street Journal dubbed America’s two-year colleges the country’s “secret weapon” in re-training the national work force to boost economic development. Consequently, foreign interest in duplicating the U.S. experience runs high.
Chase says many foreign delegations that visit the national association “are interested in the short-term training that our institutions conduct. They want to know all about how we can provide those services.
“I think a lot of countries are realizing that, for various social and economic reasons, their people are vastly under-educated for the new economic demands today,” she adds. “Community colleges are geared to address those kinds of needs.”
Dr. Rebecca Brown, the director of international education programs for Maricopa
Community Colleges in Phoenix, says that “many countries with developing economies, such as Mexico, are finding they have a surplus of people educated at the higher levels — doctors, engineers, lawyers and the other professions — and not enough people at the mid-level.
“They have a gap. What they need are more technician-level workers with two or three years of college,” she says. “But they don’t have those kinds of higher education institutions, and so a lot of positions go unfilled.”
Dr. Tony Zeiss, the president of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., and a leading expert on work-force training issues, says that nearly 80 percent of jobs today are for workers trained to be technician-level employees or below.
“That’s the niche that community colleges serve,” says Brown of Maricopa, the nation’s second-largest community college district with nearly 100,000 full-time students at 10 colleges scattered throughout suburban Phoenix.
Maricopa officials have hosted numerous foreign delegations in recent years, including groups from the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Palestine, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.
But Brown says that students in some countries have shunned community colleges at first because “the big thing is to get your professional license. Parents want their children to become an engineer or doctor — not a technician.
“Sometimes these schools can be viewed as second-class,” she says. “People have to come around to the political and economic realities. Not everyone can be a doctor. Then they realize the benefits of being a medical technician — the salary and the job security.”
Jacqueline E. Woods, the community college liaison for the U.S. Department of Education, also is deluged with questions. “Not a week goes by that I am not contacted by officials from some country asking for information about our community colleges,” she says.
Woods, who went to South Africa last year to help establish a network of two-year colleges, says she has been contacted by education officials from Brazil, China, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique, Russia and Taiwan.
“We are getting more and more visits from other countries, both industrialized and developing countries, because they see that they have large numbers of adults who don’t have a college education and they need a large number of skilled workers,” she says.
John Halder, president of Community Colleges for International Development, says that “most developing countries have a higher education system that was set up by their colonial power — and nearly always that’s a university model. They need more.
“The universities are churning out students with bachelor’s degrees and master’s and doctorates, when what is really needed are more technicians,” he says. “Most countries need schools that offer shorter courses, six months to a year, and technical certifications.”
Halder’s group, a consortium of nearly 100 two-year colleges in the United States and Canada that was founded in 1976, provides technical expertise and assistance to foreign countries on how to establish community colleges.
“Other countries are looking at the United States and trying to see what are the components that help to make our economy so vibrant,” Halder says. “The role of community colleges is recognized as being significant in that success.”
Still other countries, particularly several in Africa, hope to copy certain aspects of U.S. community colleges — such as work-force development and adult education programs — and integrate them into their existing four-year universities.
The international education council’s Ernst says, “There are several successes in establishing first-time-ever community colleges in other countries.” But no U.S. or international organizations track how many countries now have two-year colleges.
The American Association of Community College’s Chase says that she longs to secure a grant that would allow her to conduct a survey or study of foreign countries that have community colleges or their equivalent.
Pierce believes that although “there is a lot of interest in community colleges, the American model doesn’t always translate into a cookie-cutter solution. A lot of countries go with a variation — they put their own local twist on their community colleges.”
Still, interviews with dozens of American and international education officials and a review of scores of newspapers worldwide indicate that the two-year college movement has gained a significant foothold in several foreign countries.
Jamie Merisotis, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, says that “the South Africans are quite interested in the U.S. community college model and have spent a good deal of time studying it.”
Up until the early 19th century, South Africa had no colleges at all. The ruling elite sent their children to Europe to get a college education. Today, the country has 21 universities, 15 technical or “technikon” institutions and dozens of teachers’ colleges.
Jairam Reddy, the former chancellor of the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa, recently spent six months as a Fulbright Fellow at Michigan State University to study the U.S. community college system. In that time, he visited colleges from California to New York.
“South Africa has a variant of the community college called a technical college,” Reddy says. “But they are not part of the higher education system as they are in the United States — a distinction which is unfortunate in my view. They are similar to U.S. community colleges in many
respects, but they are grossly
Turning the technical colleges into something more akin to community colleges that will help South Africa educate tens of thousands who were denied a higher education under apartheid “will require a mindset change,” he says. “The emphasis here is still very much on universities.”
Roy du Pr, executive director of the country’s Committee of Technikon Principals, told Africa News Service in a recent interview that, “The speed with which technology is changing and the need for constant retraining within the work force will ensure that … we will be the backbone” of the country’s higher education system.
“At this stage, South Africa’s fundamental educational need is for job-oriented technical skills,” he says. “Of course the universities are important. But we must be careful that we don’t produce too many managers and not enough technically proficient workers.”
Woods, the national community college liaison, has visited South Africa four times in the past several years to discuss the value of two-year colleges. South Africa currently has fewer than a dozen private-run community colleges but they do not offer degrees.
“Like many countries, South Africa is looking at a lot of education models, including those from the United States, Germany and Sweden,” she says. “What they will do is partner with us and take pieces from American community colleges that fit in with their mission.”
Earlier this summer, Woods says, the largest-ever contingent of U.S. community college leaders visited South Africa to discuss two-year colleges. That group included representatives from about 20 American community colleges.
Among the delegates: Halder, the international consortium leader; former U.S. Rep. Wilhelmina Delco of Texas; Dr. Grace Johns, the president of the College of Eastern Utah; and Dr. Zelema Harris, president of Parkland Colleg in Illinois.
The Eastern Iowa Community College District in Davenport, Iowa, also has affiliations in South Africa. College officials have been working for several years with the Port Elizabeth campus of Vista University to enhance the university’s business department in international trade.
The university, which has seven campuses and serves a student population that is 90 percent Black, is the largest in South Africa and has for several years been trying to expand its educational offerings in a country once effectively cut off from the rest of the world.
“Essentially, we have tried to help by demonstrating how community colleges partner with local businesses to promote economic development,” says Ed Stoessel, Eastern Iowa’s executive director for resource development, international and government relations.
Eastern Iowa, in conjunction with Highline Community College in Des Moines, Iowa, also recently started on a project in Namibia to create a center for
entrepreneurial development at the Polytechnic of Namibia in Windhoek.
Namibia, which gained its independence from South Africa in 1988 and formerly was named South-West Africa, “wants to home-grow a lot of businesses to produce goods and services that it now relies on South Africa, its largest trading partner, for,” Stoessel says.
“It’s been a great experience for our faculty and staff to travel to Africa,” he says. “And it’s been an eye-opener in terms of the image of Africa that most of us grew up with as opposed to the Africa today that is really trying to move forward in a lot of ways.
“There are areas of Africa that are very dynamic, very progressive, where they are hooked into the Internet and they know as much about high-tech as anyone, but they just don’t have the resources that we have,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Houston Community College, the second-largest two-year institution in the U.S., began working earlier this year with government officials, a United Nations agency, international corporations and local representatives in three of Nigeria’s 36 states to design work-force training programs.
The West African country, a former British colony, is the continent’s most heavily populated. Although rich in petroleum and natural gas and the world’s seventh-largest oil producer, Nigeria ranks among the world’s 20 poorest nations in per capita income.
“We hope our efforts, in time, will lead to the organization and founding of three community colleges — one in each of those three states,” says Juan Perez, Houston’s executive director of international initiatives. “If our pilot project succeeds, it could serve as a model for other developing countries and help them build their economies while addressing many social issues as well.
“Nigeria is an emerging democracy,” Perez says. “Its new leaders are young … and well educated. They recognize the potential impact a community college-type educational system could have in providing training and job skills for people in rural and urban areas.”
Houston officials will help Nigeria link its educational institutions with employers and the employee pool. “We found that all the elements are there,” Perez says, but Nigeria “just never considered putting them together .”
When Mexican education officials sought help from their U.S. counterparts on how to improve their higher education system in the early 1990s, they ignored the education world’s heavy hitters: Harvard, Stanford and Columbia universities.
They turned instead to what many would consider U.S. postsecondary education’s second string — community colleges — to help them develop an alternate tier of colleges with a radical new style that they believe could jump-start their economic development efforts.
Mexico built 38 new technical colleges, modeled in part after U.S. community colleges, that offer students degrees in fields such as information technology, environmental technology and manufacturing technology after just three years of study.
The colleges, which offer 21 occupational programs, now enroll 30,000 students. And Mexican officials plan to open five more technical colleges in September, says Hugo Moreno, the education ministry director who oversees the colleges.
“We looked at many experiences around the world, from colleges in the United States to those in Canada and Germany and Japan and France,” Moreno says. “We ended up with components from all of them.”
India may be the furthest along of any of the countries trying to reform their higher education systems by launching new two-year college systems.
Community Colleges for International Development started sending American faculty and administrators to India to help open that country’s first community college more than 10 years ago.
Halder says that since it opened three years ago, Madras Community College in Madras, India, has trained more than 2,000 students in everything from air conditioning repair to small-business development.
“A lot of university graduates in India can’t find work,” he says. “But there is a crying need for trained technicians in their equivalent of the Silicon Valley. That’s what community colleges do — train people in technical skills to go directly into the work force.
“The community college concept was brand new to India,” Halder adds. “But since Madras Community College opened, the idea has really taken off. About 40 more community colleges have sprung up in India since then.”
The college recently founded the Madras Centre for Research and Development of Community Education. The research center was founded to promote the concept of broadening the community college concept to all of India.
At a recent inauguration ceremony for the research center, the Rev. Arul Das James, the archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, praised two-year colleges as a strong alternative to traditional higher education and said the movement was gaining momentum.
“When you get into caste systems like in India,” says Ernst with the American Council on International and Intercultural Education, “the community college is a route into academia that students couldn’t otherwise afford. And if they do well, they can use that to transfer to a four-year university. That will start to happen more and more in some of these developing countries.”
Community Colleges for International Development officials have been working with their counterparts in the tiny island nation of Aruba for the past several years to help convert its four technical colleges into a single, multi-campus community college.
“It’s not something that’s proposed or being studied,” Halder says. “It’s actually happening right now.”
Halder says that Aruban government officials recently appointed a principal for the new community colleges, and “we provided six weeks of intensive training for him on how community colleges are organized and structured in the United States.”
Among the obstacles still to be overcome are how to fold the financing, administration, purchasing and structural organization of what were four independent colleges into a single, multicampus community college, he says.
The international college consortium also recently sent a team of U.S. experts to the dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad hopes to convert seven technical colleges into a single community college; Tobago has no college at all on the island and hopes to start a community or technical school, Halder says.
Several countries are finding it is not easy to quickly replicate a system of colleges that has taken the United States more than a century to build up. Some overseas education officials who hope to start community colleges have run into some barriers along the way.
Hong Kong, for instance, opened its first community college, housed at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Professional and Continuing Education, this summer.
But the birth of the new college has been marred by controversies over costs and transfer credits.
University officials in the former British colony have balked about accepting future graduates of the community college who want to continue their studies at a four-year institution. None so far have agreed to recognize the new associate’s degrees.
“The universities in Hong Kong have no previous experience of admitting students with associate’s degrees,” University of Hong Kong Vice Chancellor Cheng Yiu-chung said in a recent interview with the Hong Kong Standard newspaper. “It is understandable that they are responding slowly.”
The college’s steep price tag — it will charge nearly $5,000 a year for tuition — also has touched off controversy. In contrast, the average annual tuition at two-year institutions in the United States is $1,518, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
“Why should students go to the local community college if it’s so expensive and not well connected with mainstream universities here?” said Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Association for Continuing Education, in an interview earlier this spring with the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s largest English-language daily newspaper. “Some may rather go abroad as it is a viable path overseas, where community colleges have higher status.”
With nearly 1.2 billion residents, China is the world’s most populous nation. But government officials say that the country’s 1,022 colleges and universities enroll a mere 3.41 million students, government officials say. In comparison, the United States has nearly quadruple the number of institutions, which enroll about 14.2 million students, U.S. Department of Education records show.
The Chinese have started several two-year institutions but “most are experimental,” says John Frankenstein, director of the Community Colleges in China Project, a New York City-based nonprofit that has received funding from the Ford Foundation to aid China’s efforts to establish a system of two-year colleges.
So far, most of China’s community colleges either are linked to or housed within traditional four-year universities — as
opposed to being freestanding institutions the way most two-year colleges are in the United States, Frankenstein says.
The Community Colleges in China Project currently is working with seven colleges and universities in China to establish new two-year institutions, including colleges in Shanghai and Beijing, the capital.
“We’ve provided these institutions with small grants that will help them bring teachers, administrators and other mid-level people to the United States and place them as interns in American community colleges so they can really see what a U.S. college is like,” Frankenstein says.
“We want to expose them to the community college model and hope they find something they can use,” Frankenstein says. “We are not as presumptuous as to assume that Chinese officials will come here and adopt everything
“But this is something the Chinese government is quite interested in because you are talking millions of people who could benefit,” he adds. “The leadership in China today has declared technical education a high priority.”
Frankenstein says that Sichuan, China, where the foundation got its start 15 years ago, has turned a former agricultural college into a freestanding, two-year community college. And in Beijing, officials have founded Chauyang Community College.
“My sense is community colleges are an evolving thing in China,” Frankenstein says. “A lot of the things we associate with community colleges here in the United States, like transfers to four-year schools, aren’t immediately in the cards. There are some experiments, but universities in many of these countries are very elitist. The University of Hong Kong, for instance, imagines itself to be the Oxford of Asia.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training currently has a
project underway to set up six community colleges that should be up and running in that Southeast Asian country by 2003, according to a recent article in The Saigon Times Daily newspaper.
The Vietnamese have received help from the Netherlands and the Polytechnic University of Amsterdam for the five-year project. Vietnamese officials estimate it will cost $4.5 million to open the six colleges, each of which will offer only one field of study at first.
Community colleges in three Vietnamese provinces will offer courses in food technology, while the other three will start programs in mechanical engineering technology, according to the Vietnam News Agency.
The news agency says that community colleges will be set up on a trial basis in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Dong Thap, Ha Tay, Haiphong, Quang Ngai and Tien Giang provinces. The colleges will begin enrolling students on a limited basis this year.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com