The educational horizon shifts south for U.S. border colleges

AUSTIN, Texas — Inspired by – the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), community colleges throughout the Southwest are
developing curricula catering to a growing number of students seeking
careers linked to hemispheric trade.

School officials in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas say
the increasing integration of the North American economies have
provided a new sense of urgency to efforts to expand ties with Mexico.

The rush for cross-border collaboration — exchange programs,
sabbaticals, cultural tours and enhanced foreign language programs has
a distinct, trade-oriented spin.

Dr. David Pierce, president of the American Association of
Community Colleges, says schools believe that the term “community” —
mentioned in most schools’ mission statements — no longer should be
defined in a narrow, geographic context.

“Not only are local communities composed of growing numbers of
immigrants,” he writes in a recent report on burgeoning international
programs, “but also the economies of these communities are increasingly
dependent on effective relationships with other countries.”

San Diego Community College District Chancellor Augie Gallego
recently returned from meetings in Mexico with university officials
interested in expanding exchange programs.

“We cannot simply mouth the words globalization and
internationalization of education,” Gallego says “We need to see it,
touch it, and do whatever we can to promote it.”

San Diego, for example, sends faculty to Guanajuato, Mexico, where
they teach Mexican university instructors about the latest
technological and educational advancements in their respective fields.

While sending its faculty to Mexico helps improve the educational
system there, Gallego says the program goes a long way toward
“demystifying and dispelling myths about the people Mexico.”

Says Dr. Nanette Pascal, director of the International Language
Institute at Richmond College in the Dallas County Community College
District: “When NAFTA came along, our program really began to grow.”

And now, NAFTA may be expanding its reach into South America. The
Clinton administration has indicated in recent weeks that it is
committed to admitting Chile into the NAFTA fold. Some economists
believe Argentina and Venezuela can’t be far behind.

Richmond created a two-semester program for students who want to
study business-Spanish. Designed for intermediate and advanced
Spanish-language majors, it also is used at four-year universities in
Texas and one of Mexico’s most prestigious universities, Technological
Institute of Higher Studies in Monterrey.

Monterrey is northern Mexico’s major industrial and financial
center, and “Monterrey Tech” and Richmond hope to develop a joint
international business management certification program.

“Our university has become very interested in developing more
contacts with (U.S.) schools,” said Elsa Hinojosa, director of the
standardized test development at Monterrey Tech, which has gained
acclaim for the development of a standardized proficiency test for
Spanish majors from the United States who plan to teach in Latin
America.

In Tucson, Arizona, the Pima County Community College District is
developing several cooperative programs with Mexican colleges and
universities, says Lisa Nutt, who heads international projects.

Pima already sends English-as-a Second-Language instructors to
Oaxaca in the summer to teach English to Mexican language instructors
The population of Oaxaca, located on the border with Guatemala, is
largely Mayan an Indian and the state has some of Mexico’s lowest
literacy rates.

Another program allows Pima’s international business students to
spend two semesters abroad — one in Canada and one in Mexico Nutt says
universities in those countries agreed to make similar arrangements for
their students.

Nutt says her job also entails boosting enrollment by Latin
American students. Attending a community college along the border makes
sense, she says because students may feel more comfortable culturally
in Southwestern states, all of which have significant Latino
populations.

Studying international business at a community college also is far
less expensive for Latin American students, who often pay much higher
tuition rates in their home countries.

Pima also has developed close ties with Mexico’s education
department, which promises to serve as a conduit to the country’s 400
or so technical schools.

Cooperating with U.S. schools could bring changes to Mexico, which
does not operate a U.S.-style community college system, says Dr.
Rebecca Brown, director of international education at the Maricopa
County Community College in Phoenix.

Guadalajara officials, for instance, are in the early stages of
discussions with Maricopa administrators about using the United States
second-largest community college district as a model to develop
Mexico’s first community college district.

The growth in cross-border relations, not surprisingly, created a
need for a U.S.-Mexico organization dedicated to community college
issues.

Raul Cardenas, a professor at Maricopa’s Paradise Valley College,
was a founding member of the International Consortium for Educational
and Economic Development in 1992. The group creates partnerships among
U.S., Canadian and Mexican colleges.

The San Antonio-based consortium, officed at the Alamo Community
College District, has six member colleges in Canada and three in
Mexico. Cardenas says NAFTA’s passage was pivotal in the decision to
create the consortium. Twenty-two community college districts in U.S.
border states are now consortium members.

One of the group’s recent success stories involved securing a grant
from the U.S. Department of Education that will be used to fund a
student exchange program in the United States, Mexico and Canada, he
says. The program kicks off this spring.

Education Department officials recently announced they are looking
for up to ten higher education institutions to form international
consortia with colleges and universities in Mexico and Canada.

For more information, contact the Fund for the Improvement of
Post-Secondary Education, U.S. Education Department, 7th and D Sts.,
S.W., Room 3100, ROB-3, Washington, D.C. 20202-5175, or call (202)
708-5750.

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