PREPARING STUDENTS TO work in a global economy is no small feat, but it is a skill employers are requesting. According to "Raising the Bar," a 2009 survey released by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, 67 percent of employers believe colleges should place an emphasis on providing students "the ability to understand the global context of situations and decisions," and 57 percent want students to have a better understanding of cultural diversity.
"Many employers tell us that they are looking for people who are familiar with all parts of the world," confirms Massachusetts Bay Community College President Carole M. Berotte Joseph. "You might be sitting here in Massachusetts but working with people in India and Russia."
Community colleges are tackling the problem head on. Extended travel through study abroad programs can be challenging to the nontraditional students composing the largest part of a community college population. Another solution is to bring foreign students to them. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 800 member institutions are registered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to accept international students.
Producing globally aware students has to be a campuswide effort. "As we hire new faculty, we talk to them about the goal of diversifying and internationalizing the curriculum," says Joseph.
All students can benefit from exposure to different cultures, not just those planning a career with an international firm. "For instance a nursing student will deal with people from all walks of life," says Joseph, citing research that shows students who study abroad have better GPAs than the general student population, the tendency of language acquisition to expand critical thinking, and the motivational effect foreign travel has on the desire to learn.
International students also bring diversity to campus and a different point of view to classroom discussions, says Diana Klinghagen, an international student services advisor at Tulsa Community College (Okla.). "One of the things we have to provide our American students is a global perspective and that really helps."
They might also bring some healthy competition to class. "Faculty really love our international students because they take education seriously," reports Klinghagen. "Last semester, our international students got a 3.5 GPA or above."
TCC students get to trade ideas with their international counterparts in class and during meetings of the International Students Support Coalition, a student club launched five years ago. Klinghagen has noticed that not only international students attend but also American students interested in learning more about the cultures of their immigrant parents or grandparents.
Attending the club meetings has allowed Klinghagen and another international student services advisor to get to know students better. They also organize "transfer trips" to area universities to allow the international students to see the other campus and plan the next phase of their American education. "If you can get out of your office and spend time with them it really helps," Klinghagen suggests.
Additionally, some campus leaders have found that the presence of international students can benefit the surrounding community as well as the campus. "When international students become involved in campus activities, the college and outside community is provided with a greater awareness of the wide diversity of Houston Community- College," shares Diana Pino, vice chancellor of student services there.
On the other side, the foreign students benefit from the smaller classes and campuses found at community colleges, which might be a less overwhelming experience than a large university. Community colleges might also have less strict language requirements for admission with programs in place to help students improve once they arrive. …