Community Colleges Innovate

May 30, 2013

By Michael Feighner

Community colleges often face more challenges than four-year colleges and universities when trying to expand international offerings. Funding may be difficult to obtain, and business leaders and trustees are likely to make the institutions focus on meeting the immediate community needs, namely developing a professional workforce.

In response to the resistance that many faculty and staff have encountered when proposing international initiatives, community colleges and technical colleges often have to develop new ways to offer exchange programs that provide value both to students and the community.

On Thursday, designated “Community College Day” at NAFSA's annual conference in St. Louis, attendees with an interest in or who work at two-year institutions were treated to several events in which best practices and innovative ideas in internationalization were shared.

Speaking at the Community College Luncheon, Dr. Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor for economic development and workforce solutions at St. Louis Community College (SLCC), and his colleague Chris Stephens, professor of communications, shared information about a unique study abroad program to Italy that has accomplished the goal of developing globally competent workers who will have a positive impact on the St. Louis economy. Nunn described how faculty and staff first spent countless hours meeting with more than 1,200 companies to determine their employment needs and the markets in which they operated. What they found was that even in a recession economy, with a surplus of job-seeking degree holders, employers still had trouble finding talented workers that possessed even basic professional skills.

By polling employers and developing specific competencies that workers should possess, SLCC was able to create an exchange program in Italy that provided students with experience that businesses were seeking. Stephens noted that experiential learning was the most effective way to impart the desired knowledge and skills, adding that language and cultural barriers made the students uncomfortable and forced them to learn faster than they would have in a familiar setting. SLCC also developed methods to assess the students’ attainment of the global competencies, and they used the data to prove to the local community that the program was a success.

Following the luncheon, a session titled “Garnering Business and Industry Support for Internationalization at the Community College” addressed similar issues of workforce development and international exchange. One of the presenters, Marie Martin, director of global education services at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, discussed a partnership with her institution and the transportation company Schneider National.

The program involved recruiting South African commercial truck drivers to Fox Valley to learn entrepreneurship while operating vehicles for Schneider, a company that was having trouble finding skilled and experienced drivers. The South Africans benefitted from the advanced training and education, and Schneider was able to meet demands without having to spend large amounts of money to train drivers from the beginning. Martin said that Schneider’s involvement in the partnership also helped the company by ensuring that trained truck drivers would return to South Africa and help improve the transportation system in a country where Schneider itself does not have a presence but its customers do.

While international exchange programs may not always appear to focus on the local economy, these schools were able to show just how beneficial such programs can be.

How does your community college work with local leaders to illustrate the value of international education?


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