Phi Beta Cons

Community Colleges: Don’t Grow Abroad, Grow Better Here

The Wall Street Journal reports recently on a growing trend among community colleges to develop a presence in other countries, as a way to attract more revenue and profit in an era of uncertain government funding here at home. Based on my own international business experience, I wonder if these administrators understand the enormous amount of energy and time necessary to achieve such objectives. Even New York University , with many more resources at its disposal than those typically available at a community college, found the creation of NYU Abu Dhabi to be a challenging endeavor. 

I understand the need for community colleges to look to the future and to do what they can to protect themselves as public funding is becoming increasingly hard to come by. But there might be another option, one that is much more attainable and might bring greater value to more people.

Most community colleges appear to focus primarily on what we might call vocational training, and the Journal article indicates that the proposed international campuses would offer this type of training as well. But we have a four-year college crisis at home right now, with soaring costs and student debt the focus of much political hand wringing. With the Community College Research Center reporting that just 33% of students transfer to a four-year college within six years of enrolling in the community college, and with only 14% of community college students actually receiving a baccalaureate degree,  there may be a better opportunity at hand.

Perhaps these community colleges could make serious efforts to dramatically improve and market high-quality academic programs.They would offer students a legitimate and reputable way to complete the first two years of college in the community college environment. This would certainly make a substantial positive contribution to the student loan debt problem. 

Moreover, the community colleges can partner with local four-year institutions to ensure that the quality of the community college course content and faculty meet the requirements for a full transfer of credits to the four year school. Since all colleges experience substantial attrition among their students during the four years of matriculation, the ability to reliably bring in third year transfer students would take pressure off first year recruiting. Having taught in a liberal arts college myself, I would hazard a guess that colleges might well prefer to have a higher percentage of more mature students enter each year, rather than having to deal exclusively with callow first year students to meet their enrollment targets.

So, while I applaud these community college presidents for thinking outside the box, I would encourage them to apply this creative thinking closer to home. The benefits may be much greater, and at a much lower cost than what it would take to develop an international presence.

Vic Brown had a thirty-year career in the chemical industry with FMC Corporation, where he held senior positions and worked internationally in sales, marketing, manufacturing, information technology and procurement.

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