Beyond the Horizon
Community Colleges and Global Education
America today is largely a country of immigrants. Approximately 25 percent of our people identify themselves as being something other than “white,” and nearly 12 percent are foreign born. Yet many of our citizens are insular, unaware of world geography, unable to communicate in languages other than English, and insensitive to cultural differences. Beyond our borders, people in other countries have a distorted view of Americans, shaped by news stories, propaganda, foreign policy decisions, movies, popular music, and even video games. If the emerging global society is to be a healthy one, we need American students to acquire other languages and learn about other cultures and customs — and we need people from other countries to learn American English and to have a more accurate understanding of American culture and values. Our ability to educate and prepare the world’s future leaders in politics, business, and education, along with our determination to set positive examples for the values of democracy, civility, and human rights, can shape the future of the world.
There may have been a time when we could reasonably believe that our country’s isolation protected our economy, our national security and our way of life. Today, we are increasingly connected to the rest of the world. Economic crises as far away as Greece or Spain have an immediate effect on our stock market and thus our retirement accounts. An Ebola outbreak in Africa spreads fear globally and dominates the news in the U.S. OPEC decisions affect the price we pay at the pump for gasoline. Cyber attacks that cause disruption or compromise information we assumed was secure can be launched from any location on earth. Automobile exhausts in the U.S. and coal-burning power plants in China both contribute to air pollution and global climate change. U.S. soldiers are deployed to trouble spots around the world, often working with colleagues from other countries. The clothing we wear, the products we buy, and even the food we eat often originate in other countries. We cannot successfully address the issues of terrorism, global climate change, communicable disease, and human rights on our own. Today’s challenges can be addressed successfully only if we can develop cooperative and trusting relationships across the world. Students need to learn just how interconnected that we are, and that we must work together to protect ourselves and the planet that we share.
America’s community colleges, now educating nearly half of all undergraduate higher education students, have asignificant role to play in preparing students to live in an increasingly global society and economy. Our colleges have a responsibility to make global understanding and communication integral to their mission. If community colleges are to serve their communities well, they must prepare their students for the world in which they live and work. The communities and workplaces in today’s America are much more interdependent with those in other countries than ever before. In many cases, community colleges present the first and perhaps only opportunity for students to become globally competent. Understanding how to work with others who grew up in a different culture is a necessary skill, even for those who never intend to travel abroad or leave their local communities. Our leaders and future leaders (many of whom will come through community colleges) will need to know and respect other cultures, understand international negotiations, and know how to cultivate partnerships across national borders.
However, there are many barriers in the way for community college educators to prepare students adequately for a global economy and society. The most significant obstacles include limited resources, language barriers and lack of mobility of students. Faculty members, in particular, are in positions to shape the values of the college over the long term. Efforts to globalize the curriculum cannot be successful without the support and commitment of the faculty. An enlightened faculty is one of the most effective influences to pass global perspectives on to students. Faculty exchanges and sabbatical leaves can be effective tools to motivate and enlighten faculty, but lack of financial resources is often a limiting factor.
Recruitment of international students can be an effective way to internationalize a campus. Interacting with students from other countries in and out of class provides American students who have not traveled abroad with a window to the world. Discussions in class are richer, interactions on campus become crosscultural, and opportunities to host students in local homes deepen understanding of both differences and commonalities among people. For international students, community colleges are ideal settings to begin higher education. The colleges provide a less intimidating environment than a university, with smaller classes and greater contact with professors. And the colleges are close to their communities, giving international students an opportunity to experience American community life first hand.
Of course, it is necessary for community colleges to be sure that services are in place to support international students. Housing, medical care, insurance, transportation, counseling, advising, socialization, and other support services are essential for the success of both the international students and the international program. Putting these programs in place can be costly and may present a barrier for some colleges to begin to recruit international students. However, once a college has a critical mass of international students, the student fees can more than offset the costs.
Although study abroad can provide a transformative experience for students, it is very difficult to implement an effective program in community colleges. Adding to the general barriers already addressed, obstacles include limited language ability, inadequate individual student finances, and lack of mobility because of job or family responsibilities. In fact, community college students represent only a small fraction of the number of American students who study abroad. For the students who face mobility barriers, community colleges have designed shorter-term study-abroad opportunities, such as three- to six-week travel programs for foreign language immersion or for studying the culture or biology of another country. Perhaps these short-term programs may create enough awareness for the students to venture again to another land, but, by themselves, they do not usually provide enduring benefits.
New technologies provide community colleges with ways to overcome the traditional barriers to global education and language learning. The 21st Century ushered in an era with the highest level of global interconnectedness in human history. Technology now allows us to view live images of events taking place virtually anywhere in the world—24 hours a day, seven days a week. We can communicate with people in remote parts of the world, listen to the music that we like with a keystroke, or read documents without physically holding them. Text, voice, and images can be transferred with a click on a cellular phone or a computer. Students can sign up for online classes that are taught by faculty members at colleges and universities that are nowhere near where the students live. They can connect with other students to learn new languages and to build a network that will support them in their learning and in their careers.
A significant benefit to instant global communications is that students can improve their language skills through student-to-student conversations regardless of where they live. The introduction of Peer-to-Peer (P2P) video conferencing using devices students are familiar with can increase personal interaction. And it can be accomplished from anywhere — opening the world to students who do not have the time or resources to travel.
Peer-to-Peer video conferencing also creates the opportunity for students to build an international network of friends and contacts. A contact network can help students to develop business leads, find new job opportunities, and increase their knowledge of other countries and cultures. A global contact network built from having personal conversations with other students around the world will provide lasting benefits throughout the student’s career. Being bilingual is more than being able to read and write in a second language. Communication through speaking is a very important element. Community colleges can play a significant role in assisting their students to make connections with other learners from around the globe through the use of Peer-to-Peer video conferencing. Platforms such as the TalkList (http://www.thetalklist.com) can be utilized by colleges to introduce students to the advantages of using today’s technological tools to study new languages and to learn about cultural differences while building a global support network.
Proper use of technology can make the world accessible using devices that are well known to students. Colleges can use the technology as an added tutorial for language learners or in any class that includes a global perspective. Students who take advantage of online access tools like TheTalkList can use their devices to reach the peers nearly anywhere in the world. They can build contact networks with other students internationally, learn about other cultures, and improve spoken language skills. From the comfort of their homes or college campuses, they can begin the journey that will make them the global leaders of tomorrow.
Educators who recognize the importance of global education should embed the need to educate students to become globally competent and literate citizens into the college mission, vision, and values statements. Implementation of this important component of a community college education can include curriculum redesign, faculty development, study abroad, international student recruitment, and the use of new Peer-to-Peer video conferencing tools. If the college leaders do not make global education a priority, it will not become one.
George R. Boggs is president and CEO emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges and superintendent/president emeritus of Palomar College in California. He is a past chair of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics. He is a senior professor in Community College Leadership for the Roueche Graduate Center of National American University, and a member of NAU’s National Community College Advisory Board; and, he is an adjunct professor of Community College Leadership for San Diego State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Goodwin is the chief marketing officer of TheTalkList. He has led international and domestic teams of high tech companies in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. He has an MBA from Emory University and a physics degree from Eckerd College. He can be reached at email@example.com This article is the continuation of a series authored by principals involved in National American University’s Roueche Graduate Center, and other national experts identified by the Center. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis serve as editors of the monthly column, a partnership between NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center and Community College Week. For additional information send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or, call 512-813-2300.