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Community College Education Abroad Foundation and Future Concerns

Monday, July 18, 2016  
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Community colleges have been involved in the field of Education Abroad since the early 1970s.  Over the decades, they have been challenged with issues related to faculty, and administrative support, health, safety and risk management issues, lack of funding, lack of full-time personnel, and of course, student attitude.  These issues remain important today along with new challenges stemming from the declining economy.  As such, community colleges are again at a crossroad in which they need to examine their role and function in preparing the next generation of students to live and work in a global community.

Community college education abroad provides instruction by accredited faculty to students in locations around the world.  These programs range from single-subject one or two-week courses for minimal academic credit to summer and full semester programs with a full academic load. Education abroad is distinct from study tours in that the accredited courses often include a four-year university accredited academic curriculum that frequently matches transfer requirements and provides WSCH based funding (ADA).  Instruction is in all academic, agricultural, occupational, technical and vocational fields. Similar to regularly scheduled classes, education abroad provides the college with state funding based on an established ratio of faculty to student contact hours.  Thus, class hours must match the state-mandated measurement of teacher-to-student contact hours per unit per semester.  Few, if any, community college offer year-long academic programs abroad.  The vast majority of community college education abroad programs are faculty led.  Direct-enrollment programs to an international university or program designed by a 3rd party provider are less common, and in some cases, the credits accrued are not accepted by the community college.  Travel and living arrangements are typically arranged by the college, a 3rd party provider, or both.

According to IIE Open Doors, U.S. community college study abroad has increased by 126%, from 1991 - 2004 (Koh, 2004).  The growth continues and in 2008, IIE Open Doors cites 6,200 community college students nationally studied abroad, of which 3,500 came from California community colleges.  Despite this, the ACE report (Green & Siaya, 2005) “Measuring Internationalization at Community Colleges” indicates that 61% of community colleges have a “low” level of internationalization.  In 2010, only 33% of the California Community Colleges districts mention international education in their mission and college policy documents (CCIE, 2010).  The lack of support for international education across community colleges does not bode well for students and is in direct opposition to the growing support seen at the national level.  This is especially problematic at a time when community colleges are being cited as the answer to the workforce needs of the country.

Community College Study Abroad: What Is The Value? 

The value of community college education abroad is echoed in multiple documents, public policy, and reform initiates as a key means to help students gain international literacy skills as a basic requirement to working in today’s economy.

National Reactions  

The skills that community colleges need to embrace are those that have an international foundation. As President Obama noted in his speech (White House 2009a) to Congress on February 24, 2009, “our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for.” In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Labi (2009) states that “Community-college leaders want to ensure that their institutions produce students who can collaborate with co-workers from other countries and cultures, who have an understanding of global economics, and who, perhaps, even speak a foreign language.” This reinforces the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) 2006 Joint Statement that affirms that “we live in a time of continuous economic and social change driven by increasing globalization.” In response to this affirmation community colleges leaders should take the steps necessary to secure a financial, educational and social environment that encourages and prepares faculty, students, and the community to be globally engaged.

Benefit of Community College Study Abroad

Numerous studies confirm the benefits gained from studying abroad for all students, and especially for under-represented students.  Benefits include definite changes in perception and attitude towards global relationships, increased empathy towards politics and social service, significant learning curve growth in interpersonal skills, academic performance, and reduction of cultural stereotypes.  There is no better environment than a different culture to learn how to think about the world in unique ways.  For 1st and 2nd generation students, there is an added benefit of re-learning their own cultures and histories. For all students, education abroad becomes a life altering experience. The common acceptance of education abroad as an unconditionally positive aspect of higher education is rooting itself in such venues as the College Board, the U.S. News and World Report annual listing of post-secondary institutions, and the Freshman Survey which all now list education abroad as one of the important college activities. Increasingly, education abroad is a recognized investment in the future ability of the student to interact in a multicultural world and assists them as they transfer to a four-year institution or as they proceed into the workplace environment.  Most importantly, however, is that what benefits four-year college students in terms of education abroad also benefits community college students.

Philosophical Implications for Open Access

Community colleges and the programs they provide are the sole venue for post-secondary education for a vast number of U.S. students.  As community colleges educate nontraditional students, they demonstrate in a practical way the means by which new generations can receive skills and training that ensure employment and social mobility that can transform communities. Access is further intensified since all community college programs are open to all ages and aptitudes and for the most part, neither GPA, campus standing, nor disability can be used to determine admittance.  In terms of education abroad, such access provides an opportunity for an educational experience for those who could not, for a variety of reasons, attend a university.  The result is participation by the widest margins of society.

Since community colleges represent their local communities and many of those communities are economically challenged, financial costs related to all community college educational experiences must be taken into consideration. In this vein, many community colleges coordinate extensive financial aid, financial counseling, and lower program costs to assist students in studying abroad. Community Colleges are indeed bound by their mission to offer high-quality and low cost academic programs.

Data from 2002-2010 IIE Open Doors Report confirms that community college participants not only come from all income, racial and ethnic groups, but that community colleges send a more diverse range of students abroad than any other post-secondary institution. Since under-represented students attend community colleges in high numbers, it is not surprising that large numbers of students of color and lower income students also participate in international educational programs as well. Through widening academic opportunities, community college study abroad, is in essence, advancing options for a variety of international experiences.

By promoting international educational access, community colleges simultaneously serve to create new opportunities and reduce barriers for those who are unable to capitalize on its benefits. Indeed, it is the open accessibility characteristic of the community college that has helped to transform the field of study abroad from one of elitism that emphasized the junior year abroad experience to one of mass accessibility that embodies a range of time frames for all post-secondary students.

Recommendations for Educational Reform

In that community colleges are the world’s largest system of higher education, the need to engage the interest of students, community, faculty, and administration becomes all the more critical.  There are three major steps in advancing educational reform, which will allow community colleges to best prepare their students for success in a globally dependent society.

1) Philosophical change.  Colleges need to understand and accept the benefits

of education abroad for their students and community.  Support needs to be articulated in college mission statements, strategic plans and in college budget.  An economic plan should be developed that helps to ensure the implementation of study abroad programs.

2) Economic change.  Similar to other small academic programs that are labor intensive, the benefits of education abroad outweigh the cost of implementing programs.  The benefits are not only for students, but also for participating faculty and the community at large.

3) Programmatic change.  Colleges need to develop a centrally located office where students, faculty and community know where to obtain information on education abroad.  A staff and operating expenses needs to be in place to support this office.  Links with college counseling services, student advising and financial aid need to be secured.  College policy needs to identify how to establish programs, define faculty selection, advertise programs, adhere to other legal, health and safety issues that are affiliated with education abroad programs, a defined risk management program to better serve the students and the colleges and secure long-range planning.

Future Concerns

The recent global recession has made a mark on community colleges in the field of international education.  In 2009-2010 and again in 2010-2011, very few colleges are advancing their education abroad programs.  Instead, the vast majority have cut staff and re-shuffled positions to meet budget requirements.  Many have even eliminated education abroad entirely.  In almost all community colleges, there remains a critical lack of institutionalization of education abroad policy and guidelines that serve community colleges.  This is especially problematic since research confirms that the predominant issues preventing community college students from studying abroad is NOT student interest, inability to travel, nor program costs.  Rather, it is the lack of colleges to support education abroad that hinders participation.  The limited or non-existing options by too many of our colleges must be addressed and rectified in order to provide community college students will the full educational programs that they deserve.

In that more U.S. post-secondary students attend community colleges than any other institution, and that community colleges represent the most diverse population nationally, this apparent lack is a cause for action.  If community colleges do not offer education abroad, substantial number of students are then faced with barriers that truncate their participation in these life-altering experiences.  Moreover, the philosophy of open access is placed at risk if a portion of society is purposely denied specific knowledge and experiences that are being given in abundance to others. It is therefore clear that the interest and opportunities for increasing number of students to study abroad will forever change the face of higher education. 

Dr. Rosalind Latiner Raby is a Senior Lecturer at California State University, Northridge in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department of the College of Education.  She also serves as the Director of California Colleges for International Education, a consortium whose membership includes eighty-four California community colleges. 

(Originally posted in 2013)