Perspective: Cultivating Community College Creativity Within Financial Constraints

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by Dr. Sherry Dean

A growing number of community colleges have made global education a key component of their college mission. Community colleges are preparing students to function and compete in a global context. They are recruiting international students, leading international exchanges and partnerships, and exporting the two-year college model overseas.

However, global education is often among the first initiatives to be questioned or cut in difficult financial times. As a result, creativity must be cultivated within the constraint of leaner operating budgets in order not to lose ground. Many community college leaders are doing just that. Three success stories from North Carolina and Texas pave the way:

North Carolina: The North Carolina Global Learner Consortium was created in 2001 to facilitate global education resource sharing among the 58 institutions in the state’s community college system and to create external partnerships. One outcome of the consortium is Durham Technical College’s new Center for Global Learning, which serves a burgeoning international student population (656 students from 95 countries) and responds to local workforce training needs. The CGL is the first of its kind in the NCCC System. It centralizes all global education initiatives and international student services, including ESL courses, world languages, translation programs and study abroad for faculty and students. In its most recent collaboration with Duke University, DTC faculty participated in an intensive, short-term professional development seminar in the Dominican Republic.

Texas: The Houston Community College System serves more than 6,600 international students, the largest international student population of any community college in the nation. HCC’s Office of International Initiatives coordinates a robust menu of international student services, global curriculum and exchange programs while fostering international partnerships.

HCC also aggressively markets the community college model overseas, with no cost to local taxpayers. Most recently, HCC won an exclusive $45 million, five-year contract with the Community College of Qatar as part of a Qatari government education initiative. HCC developed a specialized curriculum, provided faculty and staff and instituted a fully operational community college from the ground up. More than 300 Qatari students enrolled in fall 2010.

Richland College of the Dallas County Community College District sponsors global education initiatives through its Global Education Development Advisory Council. Richland has more than 1,000 international students, and more than 3,300 students are enrolled in the American English and Culture Institute. The AECI offers multiple levels of English proficiency courses and an Introduction of the United States culture module.

Richland promotes an environment of cultural diversity that is especially welcoming to the international/non-native student. Richland employees complete an 18-hour diversity training course in intercultural competence and attend an annual refresher course taught by college staff. Richland also has received a second Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant to India for summer 2011, partnering with the Dallas World Affairs Council and the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District.

A number of other community colleges also are leading the field of global education innovations, including Miami Dade College, the Lone Star Community College System, Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, Tennessee’s Pellissippi State Community College and New York’s Genesee Community College.

The lesson learned from these community colleges is that two-year schools can sustain global education programs despite growing budgetary pressures. Cultivating creativity within constraint is essential to global education innovation.

- Dr. Sherry Dean is a Senior Global Education Specialist with the Center for the Global Advancement of Community Colleges.

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