Leveraging an international system

Dr. Roger Ramsammy, president of Hudson Valley Community College, speaking at 2022 WFCP World Congress held last month in Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain. (All photos: HVCC)

Technical education and training are not exclusive to the U.S. In fact, there are many successful workforce development models, such as apprenticeships in Germany and Switzerland, that a growing number of U.S. companies and higher education institutions would like to adopt or expand on.

Since 2002, the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics (WFCP), an international network of national and regional associations of colleges as well as individual colleges, has provided a forum to exchange best practices and promote professional and technical education and training across the world. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) was a founding member of the organization, and for years was represented on its board of directors. This year, the president of one of its member colleges, Roger Ramsammy of Hudson Valley Community College in New York, was elected to serve on the WFCP board. He is the only member of the WFCP board representing a U.S. college.

A few weeks ago, Ramsammy participated in WFCP’s biannual World Congress in San Sebastian, Spain, which was cancelled in 2021 due to the pandemic. Below, Ramsammy answers a few questions about the importance of WFCP to community colleges and what he hopes to accomplish as a board member.

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Under your leadership, Hudson Valley Community College has embraced working with a range of education institutions across the world. Among the college’s most recent endeavors is a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Public Education in Costa Rica to help reduce gaps between the urban and rural educational offerings in Costa Rica. Why are such international partnerships important to Hudson Valley?

We are living in a global and interconnected world, and there is a clear need for cross-border collaborations as one key to addressing global challenges. Higher education institutions can, and should, play a significant role, by sharing faculty expertise and developing innovative career training models.

In addition to driving enrollment and increasing revenue, these partnerships enable the college to have a significant global impact – developing human capital to facilitate capacity building, and thus mitigating gaps in the global workforce.

Plus, American colleges must keep pace with technological advances in other countries, and we must be prepared to improve technology in our own classrooms and labs so that we remain competitive in all industries, from agriculture to transportation to healthcare and beyond. Forging partnerships with companies, schools and organizations abroad allows us to gain insight on that front and adapt quickly.

Now, you mentioned the connections we’ve made with the Ministry of Public Education in Costa Rica. Many of these involve Hudson Valley capitalizing on our existing strengths or best practices and delivering them to an audience of students or educators in that country.

For example, there are more than one thousand teachers in Costa Rica’s K-12 system who need English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction. Specifically, there is a significant gap between the ESL instruction that offered in urban and rural school districts. So, this fall, the college will deliver ESL instruction to 90 of these teachers remotely to address this challenge.

Ramsammy with college academic leaders at a virtual MOU signing ceremony with Costa Rica’s education minister.

Additionally, we recently welcomed 10 automotive technology faculty members from a technical college in Costa Rica to our campus in Troy, New York for a five-day intensive Electric Vehicle Train-the-Trainer program. Those faculty will take new knowledge and skills back to their own students in Costa Rica.

Plus, we’ve instituted what we call the Global Classroom Initiative to connect hundreds of international high school students to college-level online courses at Hudson Valley to advance their education at a low cost.

We have to think outside the box, and consider that global partnerships are not only for four-year colleges and universities. Hudson Valley is doing just that, and WFCP is at the forefront of making new connections happen, and helping us to uncover new ideas and build relationships without geographical boundaries. That is why I got involved and am encouraging others to do the same. For more information on WFCP, contact us at WFCP@hvcc.edu

How can similar partnerships benefit other community colleges across the country?

Most, if not all, U.S. community colleges are experiencing enrollment declines, and unless you are in a region where businesses are expanding and population is increasing, enrollment growth remains the number one reason for colleges across the U.S. to seek alternate avenues for growth and sustainability.

One of the exciting things about becoming a member of the WFCP is discovering that many technical and polytechnic institutions around the world are not sitting still or following an outdated model for higher education. Many are forging ahead by using forums like WFCP to share and collaborate in the development of new ideas and initiatives that can put their institutions in a more secure space. They are working together to create new opportunities that will bolster enrollment and also create necessary solutions to real problems in our society. I feel that we need to be proactive, not reactive, as leaders of higher education institutions.

Much like with AACC on a national level, I feel that through global organizations like WFCP, U.S. community colleges can gain new insight, foster connections internationally and build meaningful partnerships that lead to actionable opportunities. On a broader level, seeking and establishing partnerships with secondary schools and other technical institutions around the world, if done correctly and with intentionality, can enhance enrollment revenue and establish a global “boots on the ground” workforce training presence for U.S. community colleges.

On occasion, local sentiment challenges whether community colleges should be involved on a global scale and instead focus on local and regional issues. How do you respond to that?

It’s certainly true that community colleges should make their local and regional areas their primary focus, and Hudson Valley does do that. But there is room for us to meet the needs of our local and regional community while continuing to forge new international partnerships; it is not necessary to neglect one to serve the other.

Aside from the need to form cross-border collaborations in order to solve global challenges, if the current “landscape” looked differently, there would be no reason to look anywhere else for students. However, I go back to the idea that, with the remote learning technology that we have at our disposal, in concert with our knowledgeable faculty and staff, we are well positioned to also seek out global audiences for the education and training that we provide.

Nevertheless, this can’t be a scattershot approach, which is why Hudson Valley Community College has focused much of our efforts in the Caribbean and in Latin America region. If we can build solid relationships there and our programs take off, we hope they will continue to pay dividends in the future and allow us to expand our efforts into other areas.

We have to begin by learning about each other’s challenges in order to find the appropriate solutions. That’s the kind of thinking that led us to welcoming the International Center of the Capital Region (ICCR) headquarters to the college’s campus last year. ICCR connects our region to the world through citizen diplomacy and hosts numerous international delegation visits to the college. This is another starting point for us when beginning the conversation on coalition building.

Through your work so far with WFCP, how do you envision the community college sector’s role in the organization and its members?

The U.S. community college sector is so incredibly broad and diverse that we could lend a significant amount of insight and expertise to global workforce training. That’s our specialty here in the U.S., and the skills certainly transfer to other countries. At the same time, I know we could also learn from those colleges and polytechnics in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America who are engaged in outstanding work in technical and vocational education.

That’s one of the reasons that I personally wanted to get involved with WFCP – because I had heard about some of the innovative work they were doing globally, sharing best practices for technical education. Ultimately, I aim to build a bridge between WFCP and many important educational organizations, consortia partners and community colleges in the U.S.

Automotive technology faculty members from Costa Rica visited HVCC in May for a five-day intensive electric vehicle train-the-trainer program.

I believe that Hudson Valley, and community colleges and polytechnics throughout the nation, are centers of educational opportunity and quite possibly our greatest asset in strengthening the workforce. They are essential to build human talent, respond to industry demands, foster innovation and economic growth, and contribute to social wellbeing in our communities.

We pride ourselves on having the knowledge base, but in some aspects, the world is streaming ahead of us. U.S. community colleges and polytechnics should consider learning from the leaders involved in WFCP and make every effort to attend the next WFCP World Congress in Montreal, to see what the rest of the world is doing.

There has been a lot happening in the U.S. over the past few years politically, socially and economically. Has the world’s view of U.S. community colleges changed as a result? Could you give us a few examples of positive progress as well as a few challenges and perhaps ways to address them?

The community college sector is the largest and most diverse sector of U.S. higher education, and I have seen increasing interest in U.S. community colleges from international business and government leaders.

I also think there is growing awareness that community colleges are diversifying their student populations with international students, as well as providing a considerably less expensive way for all students to complete their first two years of college.

We recently designed a program with a medical school in Aruba that will provide an opportunity for students to enter a specific biology track on our campus for two years and matriculate into a three-year medical school program. So soon, students from across the U.S. and the world will be able to enroll in this program and enter the path to medical school, without spending the traditional four years in college.

Another positive example is how community colleges continue to be recognized as a valuable partner when it comes to regional economic development. Here in New York’s Capital Region, two international companies – Marmen and Welcon – are building one of the world’s largest wind turbine fabrication facilities at the Port of Albany. They expect to hire hundreds of welders and fabricators to begin operations. Because of our ties developed from working with these foreign groups, we were able to have a seat at the table early on, and this allowed Hudson Valley to ramp up plans to establish a degree program that can meet those needs.

What have you learned from WFCP-member colleges and universities that could potentially benefit U.S. community colleges? How can other two-year colleges participate either formally or informally with the organization?

One of the things I’ve learned in my brief time with WFCP is that vocational and technical colleges around the world deal with similar challenges – whether it is funding streams, enrollment growth, access to technology or having to pivot our programs due to a global pandemic.

We all can work together to find best practices and help each other solve these issues. We are fortunate in the U.S. to have a robust community college system, and we need to continue to fight for funding and access at the state and national levels, but I think we have the confidence of many who understand how vital we are to our regions.

In fact, more than 1,000 community colleges in the U.S. – urban, suburban, rural and tribal – provide 12 million Americans with the opportunity to get an affordable education and the necessary skillset to join the workforce and contribute in a greater way to our society. That’s WFCP’s mission too, to help strengthen the global workforce. So, I plan to work with American community colleges, and baccalaureate-degree-granting institutions as well, to increase participation in WFCP sub-committees, workshops, affinity groups and professional development activities and awards programs.

For the past four decades of my career, I have embraced a global perspective in leadership positions at some of the largest and most prominent community colleges in the United States, including Miami Dade College, Northern Virginia Community College and Palm Beach State College. Since my appointment as president of Hudson Valley Community College in 2018, I have worked tirelessly to forge international partnerships and expand the institution’s reach and impact around the world.

I believe I have a keen understanding of how community colleges can be of service to both local and global communities and of the pivotal role they play in expanding access to education and building our workforce. That is why I insisted that Hudson Valley become the first community college to join WFCP, and why I now seek to share my experience and knowledge – as well as my connections with national associations and international partners – through its board.

I am more than willing to speak with fellow community and technical college presidents about what I’ve learned through my involvement with WFCP and how it may benefit their institutions as well. For more information, please feel free to reach out via email at WFCP@hvcc.edu.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.