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One community college participates in several recruiting trips a year all over the world. Another has forged a strong partnership with Brazil, while a third has robust exchanges with England and China.
You might think these are large, urban colleges in diverse communities. But all three are in rural areas. In fact, that’s one reason why they are focusing on international exchange programs: to expand opportunities for students who haven’t had much experience with the outside world.
Michael Chipps, president of Northeast Community College in Nebraska, believes international exchange programs improve the credibility of a college, give students a broader perspective and help them be more competitive in a global market.
At Northeast, international exchange programs are part of the college’s strategic plan, and Chipps has included global education opportunities as one of Northeast’s top eight priorities.
A chance meeting on an elevator
Chipps, a member of the American Association of Community Colleges’ board of directors, became interested in promoting international exchanges at an AACC convention several years ago when he heard someone speaking with an English accent in an elevator. It turned out to be Roger Bennett, principal of North Lindsey College in Scunthorpe, England. At the time, Chipps was president of Mid-Plains Community College in Nebraska, and the two forged an exchange program focusing on the trades. Chipps later started a similar exchange with Middlesex University in London.
When Chipps accepted a position as president of Northeast in February, he brought the partnerships along with him.
Many of the students at Northeast had never been outside Nebraska before, so traveling abroad “was magnificently huge for them,” Chipps said. They were required to take a course on intercultural communications before the trip, keep a daily journal and write a report when they returned.
Students from both countries “learned it’s a different world out there,” Chipps said. The American students who were studying automotive technology “were surprised that their English counterparts were using water-based paints, which are more environmentally friendly than the lacquer-based paint used here," he said. "When the English students came here, they were surprised at how big the cars were.”
(For AACC members only) Free AACC webinar on Nov. 16: "Internationalizing Your College’s Strategic Plan"
Chipps is also continuing the relationship established by former Northeast President Bill Path with a college in China. Two faculty members from Beijing Vocational College of Agriculture who came to Northeast recently were amazed at the pivot irrigation systems used by Nebraska farmers. “They had never seen that before,” Chipps said. When two Northeast professors travel to China this fall, they are likely to gain new insights, too.
Chipps is always looking for more opportunities to expand his college’s global reach. He recently met with the U.S. undersecretary of state in Washington, D.C., about the possibility of leading an effort to help launch community colleges in North Africa. He also discussed new student exchange initiatives with officials from the British embassy and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Chipps is a board member of World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics, and at the group’s most recent world congress, he found “the common themes were all about applied research and innovative practices. Finances is a huge issue for all countries, as well as a serious shortage of trained workers. We all struggle with similar issues.”Recruiting for diversity“We are somewhat remote, so we hope to broaden the possibilities and the interactions for all of our students,” said Paul Prestwich, president of Northwest College in Wyoming, where “having an international focus has been a priority of ours for many years.”
About 5 percent of Northwest’s 2,000 students are from other countries. This fall, the college will host about 60 international students from 40 countries, ranging from Vietnam to Russia, Nigeria to Yemen.
Each year, Northwest administrators attend several recruiting fairs abroad. Prestwich joined several of those trips, including one to Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China last February. That experience helped him understand the challenges of recruiting international students—“often they don’t understand how community colleges work”—and what motivates students when they are looking at different colleges.
“For many of them, the opportunity to immerse themselves in English is a big draw, and having that opportunity side by side with American students is appealing for them,” Prestwich said.
Amanda Enriquez, the college's interim international academic program assistant added: “Because we’re a small, rural community, we can give our international students more personal attention."
Since those students pay the out-of-state tuition rate and pay for their room and board, it’s not an expensive endeavor for the college. In fact, such recruiting is part of the college's enrollment strategy because “we‘re located in such a rural area, we can’t just look at our surrounding community to recruit students,” Prestwich said.
While the international students live in the college’s residence halls, many of them are matched with a “friendship family,” who has them over for dinner and takes them shopping. The college also organizes skiing, hiking or other weekend outings for them.
For some of the foreign students, “rural Wyoming is not what they expected. They’re surprised that there’s no mall or Starbucks,” Enriquez said. “Others have done their research and specifically chose the college because they’re interested in ranching.” Forging ties with BrazilIn rural Michigan, Jackson Community College (JCC) has expanded its international focus because students need exposure to the global economy to help them succeed, said Provost Rebekah Woods.
JCC is one of three colleges, along with Houston Community College (HCC) in Texas and Red Rocks Community College in Colorado, that sent students to Salvador, Brazil, this summer as part of the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Skills, arranged by U.S.-Brazil Connect. The U.S. students—five from each college—helped Brazilian students learn English. To prepare, they took online courses on Brazil and interacted with the Brazilian students through social media, said Todd Butler, dean of arts and sciences.
“It was huge for me,” said JCC student Lauren Prebenden, 22, of her trip to Brazil this summer. She was a little uneasy when she first signed up, but noted the experience was crucial to help her decide on a career.
"It definitely solidified in my mind that I want to teach English abroad,” she said.
Before the trip, “everyone put an emphasis on cultural differences and warned us we might not connect well with these kids. It was definitely overwhelming,” she said, but she needn’t have worried. They bonded over music, and “we made lifelong connections with them.” She plans to study Portuguese at JCC and return to Brazil next summer when the program will be expanded to seven sites.
(For AACC members only) Host a Chinese delegation on your campus through AACC’s VELT program.
JCC, HCC and U.S.-Brazil Connect also signed a cooperative agreement in May with the Brazilian National Council for Federal Professional, Scientific and Technological Institutions to promote workforce skills through Brazil’s Science Without Borders program. That initiative calls for the colleges to host 7,000 Brazilian students over four years. The Brazilians will spend a year in the U.S. improving their English language skills and working toward credentials in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
For other rural community college officials considering getting involved with international exchanges, Woods advises to “select faculty and students who will be flexible and open-minded and able to roll with the unknowns that come up with new adventures.”
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