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Community colleges have a major role in global prosperity

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Officials from 16 countries and the European Union take part in a summit on international education.

​The U.S. government wants to increase international education initiatives, and community colleges have a significant role to play in those efforts, U.S. government leaders told foreign education officials at the 2012 Summit on the Occasion of the G8 in Washington, D.C.

Thursday's summit, hosted by the Institute of International Education, brought together high-level education delegates from 16 nations and the European Union to explore ways to increase international exchanges and other cooperative ventures with the overarching goal of improving economic prosperity.

“The community college system is of great interest” in U.S. efforts to promote international education, U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter told the delegates.

Adam Ereli, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, added that a growing number of countries are looking at the U.S. community college model as a way to meet their needs for skilled workers.
 
Global competencies
 
Kanter said the Education Department’s (ED) goals include a greater emphasis in the U.S. education system on world languages, interdisciplinary studies and global competencies. In higher education, she said, “we’re shifting our thinking from a focus on the acquisition of deep subject matter to broad global competencies.” 
 
ED is also focusing on “education diplomacy” in strategically important countries, Kanter said. That includes programs like the 100,000 Strong initiative aimed at getting more U.S. students to study in China and the government of Brazil’s Science Without Borders program, which has the goal of sending 100,000 Brazilian undergraduates abroad.
 
The number of international students in the U.S. is at a record high, Kanter noted: More than 723,277 foreign students were in U.S. schools in 2010-11, a 4.7 percent increase from the previous year. The top five countries of origin are China, India, South Korea, Canada and Taiwan. The most popular fields of studies for foreign students in the U.S. are the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and business administration.
 
There were 270,604 U.S. students studying abroad in 2010-11, a 3.9 percent increase over the previous year. Their top five destinations are the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and China, and their top fields of study are social sciences, business, humanities, arts and physical/life science.
 
Kanter said that she would like to see that number among U.S. students increase more, particularly among African-American and Latino students, who are underrepresented among students who study abroad.
 
Human capital
 
“Education is a fundamental pillar of U.S. foreign policy,” said Ereli, noting that the U.S. government committed more than $600 million last year to international education.
 
The way the U.S. views international education needs to evolve as the world economy becomes more globalized and interconnected, he said, and international education exchange efforts have to recognize that “human capital is the key to progress,” as measured in health, longevity, employment, trade balance and other factors.
 
The previous generation had defined paths; young people knew they would be going into the government, the military or a particular trade, Ereli said. 

“That is not the case anymore,” he said, explaining that young people today have broader aspirations, and if they are not met, it could result in a disaffected population, leading to political instability.
 
Ereli called for new models of higher education, adapted for a "new reality,” that are "more global and more focused on promoting economic growth and inclusion.”
 
“There’s a huge amount of interest overseas for the U.S. community college model” among nations worried about job growth, Ereli said, noting that two-year institutions “provide an alternative to the traditional four-year education model that was part of our generation.”
 
According to Ereli, foreign countries say they need a more skill-focused education system, and the community college model is “in very high demand” among industrializing countries that don’t have enough capacity in their universities but need skilled people to fill newly created technical jobs.
 
He noted Indonesia and India​ are already engaged in efforts to explore community college systems, and exchange programs aimed at examing similar models will begin soon in Qatar and other nations in the Middle East.
 
Ereli cited two key “lessons learned” in efforts to promote international education:
• This challenge cannot be met alone. It requires the involvement of higher education groups, non-government organizations and other partners.
• English language skills are critical. If other countries want to send more students to the U.S., they must make English instruction a priority.
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