Global Connections: The international education thread

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As the American workplace and national economy become more globalized, international education has gained increasing prominence as an integral part of the U.S. community college mission.

Because community colleges have historically been accountable to learners, area businesses and local communities, they are increasingly relied upon to help prepare all segments of American society to succeed in the 21st-century global economy. International education and resources at community colleges can enable area businesses to enter and advance in the global marketplace and local citizens obtain a variety of skills that help them compete globally.

As foreign direct investment (FDI) becomes increasingly important to help sustain the U.S. economy, entire communities benefit from their close relationship with community colleges, which through international education programs on campuses and in local communities help towns and regions transform into more welcoming places that can successfully compete to attract and maintain much needed FDI. In 2018, the Bureau of Economic Analysis calculated that foreign subsidiaries and their suppliers contributed more than $4 trillion to the U.S. economy, which amounted to nearly 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Notably, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s World Investment Reports indicate that the global competition for FDI has exponentially increased in recent years.

Myriad benefits

Community colleges themselves also benefit from international education programs that welcome students and faculty from around the world. Such programs increase the prestige and attractiveness of institutions by adding to the diversity and festive atmosphere of campus life, contributing to the intellectual breadth and rigor of curriculums (and co-curriculums), and strengthening institutional budgets.

Although international enrollments have declined in recent years, community colleges continue to enroll the largest percentage of international students coming to the U.S. for undergraduate education. In 2018, more than 94,500 international students on community college campuses contributed more than $2.7 billion to the U.S. economy and created or supported more than 15,000 U.S. jobs.

Community college students benefit from an international education in many ways, whether they intend to go directly into the workforce or transfer to four-year institutions. Studies show that students who have international experiences progress more quickly through developmental education courses and have higher rates of retention, higher GPAs and higher graduation rates.

In addition, as America identifies the emergence of its first minority-majority generation, international education at community colleges can help instill in students the tolerance and appreciation for other peoples and cultures, which can ensure that their everyday academic and work lives are safe and prosperous. Regarding their employability, a recent British Council study concluded that international education also provides students with the soft skills that employers highly value — global awareness, cross-cultural communication, social-emotional skills and more.

A better workforce

In 2018, a study published in the Harvard Business Review found that companies with diverse workforces and cultures of inclusion were more innovative and produced up to 19 percent more revenue. Another study of more than 2,100 U.S. employers found that 93 percent highly valued employees who “are able to work effectively with customers, clients, and businesses from a range of different countries and cultures.” Notably, the British Council study also found that employers highly rely upon the education sector to produce future employees that have those skills.

No matter how you look at it, the importance and necessity of international education at community colleges are growing exponentially. Because community colleges engage such a large cross-section of America, the future prosperity of the U.S. economy and perhaps the very fabric of American society itself may very well depend upon the success of international education programs at community colleges.

About the Author

Wayne Wheeler
is director of international programs and services at the American Association of Community Colleges.