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If you want to gauge international interest in U.S. community colleges, look at Michael Allen's schedule.
This summer, Allen, interim associate vice president of international programs and services at the American Association of Community Colleges, traveled to Colombia to discuss community colleges and to Mexico to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with its technical college system. He and AACC President George Boggs also met with the president of Iraq's technical college system, who is interested in the U.S. two-year college model.
In June, Allen was in Mexico City to oversee the signing of an MOU between AACC and the Asociacion Nacional de Universidades Technologicas, AACC's counterpart in Mexico. The agreement noted that developing educational partnerships with each other has become increasingly important to the prosperity and progress of all nations as technological advancements and the global economy bring nations closer together. The two organizations agreed that they and their member colleges would collaborate to further education, life-long learning, student and faculty exchanges, and course and program articulations.
The agreement was important because it was the missing element to a North American agreement among community college organizations in Canada, U.S. and Mexico to work more closely together, Allen said.
"We need to have these three countries at the table," he said, noting that when U.S. colleges think of international partnerships, they often think of countries on other continents rather than bordering nations that share common interests and challenges.
A similar background
During his visit last month to Colombia for a National Ministry of Education K-20 conference, Allen outlined the structure of two-year colleges and the broad array of students they serve. He noted that community colleges are critical in training U.S. citizens, especially first-responders and health care workers, adding that about half of all new nurses are educated at community colleges.
Colombia shares some similarities with the U.S., Allen said. About 23 percent of Colombians age 18-24 continue their education after high school, and the two countries have similar literacy rates, according to a study by the Colombian government. But they differ on offering opportunities to all citizens. Only 3 percent of Colombian college students come from the poorest 20 percent of the population, while 52 percent come from the richest 20 percent.
"Adopting a contextualized model of the U.S. community college could very well allow more affordable and greater access to higher education in Colombia," Allen said.
He added better access to education is critical to workforce development and economic growth.
"All educational systems are struggling with the complexities involved in successfully educating students to be globally competent citizens in today's world economies," he said.
Allen and other community college advocates are not just waiting for education leaders from other countries to approach them. They are also reaching out to countries that hold potential for partnerships, such as Brazil and Indonesia.
Several U.S. community colleges have already established ties with colleges in Brazil, and the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. State Department have recently announced additional grants to for institutions to partner with the country, along with other nations, such as South Africa, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, among others. That indicates that such partnerships are a focus for the federal government, Allen said.
Brazil is also gearing up to host the 2014 World Cup, which means a focus on infrastructure, from construction to technology, hospitality to learning English, Allen said.
"They are going to have to be trained, and they have less than four years to do it," he said.
To achieve that, Brazilian colleges will likely partner with community colleges to adapt the two-year college model, facilitate faculty and student exchanges and even provide instruction through distance learning.
Reaching Muslim countries
Muslin nations are also increasingly interested in the U.S. higher education model. In addition, the Obama administration has sought to use education as a way to build relationships with leaders in these countries .
In July, five U.S. non-governmental organizations-including AACC-joined with higher education leaders in Indonesia to create a Joint U.S.-Indonesia Council for Higher Education Partnership to enhance U.S.-Indonesia educational cooperation.
"We want to make Indonesia attractive to U.S. students and faculty, and offer Indonesians greater contact with U.S. institutions, both in the U.S. and Indonesia," said Fasli Jalal, the council's Indonesian co-chair.
Also in July, the leader of the Iraq's Foundation of Technical Education-which represents two- and four-year technical colleges-met with Boggs and Allen to discuss developments in his country. Iraq is developing a new strategy for technical education and academics and wants to expand service to the broader community, said Mahmood Abdulhusian, president of the foundation.
Five new technical colleges opened in Iraq in the past few years and the system is adding new areas of study, including nanotechnology, culinary arts, and hotel and tourism, he said. The foundation hopes to design the programs with help from community colleges and perhaps develop job shadowing for its professors and deans.
Other Muslim countries have already adopted the U.S. community college model. This week, the Community College of Qatar opened with more than 300 enrolled students - 120 males, 184 females. The college will offer associate degrees in areas such as social sciences, communications and humanities, and students will be able to transfer credits to four-year institutions in Qatar.
Students also have dual enrollment in Houston Community College (HCC) in Texas , which in May signed a five-year agreement with Qatar's Supreme Education Council to develop the college under a national educational reform initiative. The HCC is providing curriculum, faculty and assistance in developing operating procedures and policies.
Similar to U.S. community colleges, most of the students at the Qatar college are working adults who attend the college part time, said Judith Hansen, dean of the college.