July 14, 2024

Community colleges go international for enrollment

Author: Ashley A. Smith
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Hudson Valley Community College in New York is looking beyond U.S. borders to stanch declining enrollment by offering academic programs to students in Central America and the Caribbean.

But unlike most community colleges that recruit international students to attend campuses in the United States, Hudson Valley, which is part of the State University of New York system, plans to bring its courses and faculty to countries where those potential students live.

“With community colleges, everybody does what everybody else is doing. I want to make sure Hudson Valley is not among the competition but that we’re out there and we’re different,” HVCC president Roger Ramsammy said. “In order to maintain this college, you have to go far out and make yourself indispensable. We will be an international college.”

Ramsammy’s ambitions for the college are the by-product of recent economic trends in higher education nationally. Community colleges, in particular, are hurting from enrollment declines and lost tuition revenue. They are also getting substantially less state funding than in past decades.

HVCC has nearly 11,000 students enrolled at its campus in Troy, a city in upstate New York. The current enrollment is about 3,000 less than it was in 2010.

The college’s administrators have been planning for the past year to start offering some programs and courses to students in Trinidad this summer and to students in Costa Rica starting next fall. Many of the courses in Costa Rica would be taught in person by HVCC faculty members who would live there for certain periods of time, Ramsammy said. Other courses would be live-streamed or offered online from New York.

HVCC is working with public and private colleges, and with business leaders in Costa Rica, to create partnerships that will enable the college to proceed with the plan, Ramsammy said.

As part of the plan, Costa Rican students would have the opportunity to transfer to and take courses at the University at Albany, Hudson Valley’s nearest four-year partner.

Although the specific academic programs HVCC will offer in Costa Rica and Trinidad aren’t finalized, Ramsammy said the programs will likely be in the vocational trades, health sciences and English.

Ramsammy, who became the college’s president in 2018, is familiar with finding international opportunities for the college. He previously served as president of one of Miami Dade College’s seven campuses. And as a Trinidadian immigrant and a first-generation student who attended college in the U.S., he said he wouldn’t be where he is today without receiving an American education.

Community colleges are rare outside the United State, but because students of every background and education level can attend two-year institutions, colleges such as HVCC can bring unique expertise to countries that want to increase the skills of their work force, Ramsammy said.

He said Miami Dade, like all community colleges with open admissions policies, accepts students with various level of academic preparedness.

“We work [with] a population that can be high school students who are excellent down to the very bottom of students who don’t understand how to read and write,” he said.

Costa Rican government officials were drawn to HVCC because the college educates every type of student.

“Costa Rica has a paradox,” said Pedro Munoz Fonseca, a congressman there. “We have a very state-of-the-art industry with manufacturing, technology, pharmaceuticals, computers, and yet we still have a very large unskilled labor force … and that’s not good for the country.”

Some community colleges have programs similar to the one HVCC is developing. Broward College in Florida, for example, has education centers in Bolivia, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru, Spain, Sri Lanka and Vietnam; and three affiliate centers in Kuwait, Singapore and Turkey. Affiliate centers differ from education centers because they are not yet accredited.

“The whole idea is for students who want to get an American education, they can stay at home, study in our program, get an American community college degree and then go to American universities,” said David Moore, executive director of international education at Broward College.

The Broward program also offers face-to-face courses and some online classes in programs such as hospitality in Vietnam and supply chain management in China. About 1,500 students are enrolled at Broward College through an international center or affiliate.

“There is a lot of interest in community colleges doing this,” Moore said. “International education has many aspects — study abroad, international student recruitment. I say, I’ll try the third way, which is we go to you and set up programs in your country. We feel like we’ve been successful getting over 8,000 students transferred to mostly American colleges.”

Dennis Kennedy, executive director of communications and marketing at HVCC, said these overseas partnerships are mutually beneficial for both sides involved. The colleges help the countries build up the skills and English proficiency of their work force, and the countries help the U.S. colleges grow their student bodies.

“What we’ve been figuring out is how do we as this relatively midsize college in Troy and Albany, N.Y., help build this work force and help bolster enrollment here at the institution,” he said.

Like many community colleges that had increased enrollment during the Great Recession when unemployment rates were steep, HVCC hit an enrollment high of about 14,000 students in 2010. Enrollment has declined by 26 percent since then.

Many community colleges across the country are experiencing enrollment declines. Although some colleges could make up for those declines by enrolling more international students, it can be too costly for students of modest means to attend colleges that aren’t near the southern U.S. border and relatively close to several Latin American countries, Ramsammy said.

Another reason HVCC is pursuing these international partnerships is to help it maintain the number of full-time and adjunct faculty members employed on campus, Ramsammy said. The college has about 230 full-time and 300 adjunct faculty members, according to college data.​ The adjunct faculty roll declined from more than 350 in 2016 because of the decreased enrollment, but Ramsammy said the international partnerships will open new opportunities for adjuncts.

HVCC is still figuring out the financial costs of creating these international programs. Administrators are expecting a higher return on investment by using existing space from the Central American and Caribbean institutions that will partner in the initiative, and from tuition revenue. International students currently taking courses at HVCC pay $194 per credit hour for online courses or $484 per credit for on-campus courses. Less than 0.1 percent of international students attend classes on the HVCC campus.

The Costa Rican government covers all tuition expenses for students attending public institutions, Munoz Fonseca said. HVCC administrators are working with the colleges on pricing and revenue.

Ramsammy said he and other HVCC administrators will travel to Hungary in December to talk with the government officials there that are also interested in the community college’s courses.

“We are very excited to be able to find partnerships not only between public Costa Rican sector and Hudson Valley but private Costa Rican sector and Hudson Valley,” Munoz Fonseca said.

Community Colleges
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Hudson Valley Community College
Image Caption: 
Hudson Valley Community College president Roger Ramsammy and the first lady of Costa Rica, Claudia Dobles
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