Community College Education

By Wright, Scott W. | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 17, 2000 | Go to article overview

Community College Education


Wright, Scott W., Black Issues in Higher Education


Not Just an American Thing Anymore

WASHINGTON

The 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 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. …

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