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Chinese journalist Bingshan “Shan” Chen (center), Central Carolina Community College President Bud Marchant and translator Ling Huang discuss the role of American community colleges.
Photo: Katherine McDonald/CCCC
Chinese journalist Bingshan “Shan” Chen had never seen anything like an American community college until he visited Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) in North Carolina. The sharp contrast he saw between education in China and in the U.S. was surprising and impressive.
After meeting with CCCC President Bud Marchant, Chen said he understood how important the community college is to the American economy.
“It can act quickly to meet people’s present requirements for workforce training. It is a very important way for local people to train for jobs and make their lives better,” he said.
Chen, who writes for the Xinhua Daily, one of the largest newspapers in China, has spent several months in Sanford, N.C., learning more about Americans, American culture and especially American community colleges.
Chen came from Nanjing, China, in December to spend most of 2012 with his wife, Ling Huang, and their son, Fan. Huang has served as the instructor for the college’s Confucius Classroom at its Lee County Campus since fall 2011. Chen and Fan will return to China in August, while Huang will continue to teach at CCCC through May 2013.
“When I came, I had no idea what a community college was,” Huang said. “In China, we have schools for the elderly to fill their time, and I thought maybe a community college was like that. When I came, I was amazed. Central Carolina Community College really helps people’s lives very directly—that’s why people I meet here are thankful for it. But, I still get confused because there are so many different programs.”
A deeper understanding
Huang told her husband about CCCC, and he was eager to learn more about the college and the principles on which American community colleges are built. To do that, he interviewed Marchant, with Huang acting as his interpreter.
Chen learned about the college’s flexibility and responsiveness to student, community and industry needs, and its role in local economic development. He noted that China has no community colleges and therefore lacks the educational flexibility and responsiveness that they provide Americans.
“In China, the door (to educational opportunity) is not open,” he said. “After middle school, at about 15 years old, students take the national entrance examination. Those who do well progress to higher academic education. The others, about half, are routed to vocational schools. You will be trained for a job, but if you lose your job in that field, it is very hard to get started again.”
Marchant said that about half of the students who graduate from high school in the college’s service area enroll at CCCC, either immediately after high school or later. Most take programs that prepare them for good jobs in the workforce. About one-third choose to complete the first two years of a university education at CCCC, then transfer as juniors, something that can’t be done in the Chinese educational system.
“Community colleges have a philosophy that says that at any point in your life you can go back to school and get more education,” Marchant said. “That’s the whole reason they were founded. Anybody can come and we will try with dedicated teachers and other resources to help them do something better with their lives. We provide academic, vocational and enrichment education. People can keep returning to the community college to upgrade their job skills, learn a new career, enjoy enrichment programs or prepare to transfer.”
That was surprising to both Chen and Huang.
“That’s wonderful,” Huang said. “They can always have dreams in their lives.”
A community connection
Workforce training and education equal economic development for a community and jobs for people, Marchant said. If an industry needs a new workforce training program from the college, it can be implemented quickly.
By contrast, Chen said that to start a new educational program at an educational institution in China, one has to get permission from several levels of government, sometimes even having to go to the national level. Also, the vocational schools tend to have a gap between what the students are learning and what employers need.
“There is no gap here,” Marchant said. “As a community college, we can change as fast as industries can. I don’t have to follow a script or the past. Universities can’t because they’re more traditional: they do research. We don’t do research. We take it and train people.”
What Chen learned will become part of an article on American education for his newspaper.
“The community college plays an amazing role in people’s and communities’ lives," Chen said. “That’s what has impressed us the most. We want the Chinese people to learn from this system.”
MacDonald is a writer for Central Carolina Community College.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges