Costa Rica looks to U.S. for higher ed models

(From left) Hudson Valley Community College President Roger Ramsammy, Costa Rica's first lady Claudia Dobles and Havidán Rodríguez, president of the University at Albany. (Photo: Hudson Valley)

With a new presidential administration and a forward-looking plan to revitalize its economy, Costa Rica is turning to U.S. colleges and universities to help make the country an educational and economic showpiece for Central America.

Last month, presidents Roger Ramsammy of Hudson Valley Community College and Havidán Rodríguez of the University at Albany – the two largest public institutions in New York’s Capital region – took a six-day trip to Costa Rica, where they were invited to meet with first lady Claudia Dobles, members of Congress and the minister of education to explore potential partnership opportunities.

The relationship between the country and a two-year community college, something that’s virtually non-existent in Central America, is the first of its kind. Costa Rican leaders have said they welcome the kind of fast-track training that community colleges provide, as well as the seamless access many graduates of Hudson Valley have to continue their education at nearby University at Albany. In addition, the School of Public Health at the University of Costa Rica has a rich 10-year partnership with the public research university.

“Creating greater access to education and workforce training in Costa Rica is an essential part of our proactive approach to meeting the challenges of the future,” said Costa Rica’s first lady Claudia Dobles. “We welcome the opportunity to establish partnerships that allow our students to pursue English as a second language and higher education in STEM or expanding access to skilled technical and vocational training in all regions, including those that are poverty stricken, which we believe is essential to Costa Rica’s success as a regional and potentially global leader.”

In addition to meeting with government and education officials, the presidents talked with Costa Rican business leaders and visited several universities and schools in hopes of laying the groundwork for relationships with the New York colleges.

Re-establishing relationships

Ramsammy met Costa Rican Congressman Pedro Muñoz several years ago while he was serving as president of Miami Dade College’s West Campus. When he assumed the presidency at Hudson Valley, the Trinidad native reached out to see if they could build a relationship between his new institution and schools in what is often seen as Central America’s most stable country.

“Expanding access to higher education in Costa Rica is the next step toward our country’s goal of becoming a leader in education within Central America,” said Costa Rican Congressman Pedro Muñoz Fonseca. “By partnering with American colleges like Hudson Valley Community College and the University at Albany, we open a pipeline for our students to expand their knowledge, enrich their employment opportunities, and ultimately lead the way for social and economic growth in Costa Rica.”

This relationship could benefit the colleges in another way. It’s been well-documented that declining high school graduate populations, especially in the Northeast, will impact colleges over the next decade and community colleges. Building bridges to a pool of international students is one way to combat the declining number of prospective students in upstate New York.

The trip was planned in partnership with the Costa Rica Investment and Promotion Agency and PROCOMER, two economic development organizations that promote education, business and industry collaboration with Costa Rica.

Hudson Valley is working on the next steps toward establishing formal partnerships and planning for a congressional delegation from Costa Rica to visit the Capital region.

About the Author

Eric J. Bryant
is assistant director of communications and marketing at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York.