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International Programs:  An Economic Development Solution for Community Colleges 

October 13, 2011

West Virginia Northern Community College

These are challenging times for community college leaders. Many states across the country are facing unprecedented budget reductions in higher education systems. As community colleges receive fewer state dollars, these institutions must develop alternate funding sources. Trustees are faced with difficult decisions as cost pressures mount against the backdrop of state accountability measures, competition and serving greater numbers of challenged students. One solution to leading community colleges out of the current fiscal crisis is growing global education programs. 

Many community college trustees recognize that the definition of “community” has expanded to the national and international scale as result of pervasive technology change. Service area activity has impact beyond one’s locale and vice-versa. Community college students must compete and cooperate on a global scale. Thinking globally and acting locally is therefore a win-win for community college constituents. Creative leaders at leading two-year institutions are implementing models based on multinational partnerships and ways of linking global education to college completion and localization. 

In 2008-9, nearly 100,000 international students attended U.S community colleges. This represents a 62.5% increase from 2004-5. The economic impact of international students at these community colleges was more than $2 billion in 2007-8. However, global education is often among the first initiatives to be questioned or cut in difficult financial times when it can be the solution to funding, completion agenda and making global local. Globalization of higher education will continue to increase in the long term. Community colleges participating in internationalization benefit from the global movement of students and faculty, a point long recognized by four-year institutions.

Global education represents a vital component of community college services for the following reasons:

• Relevancy in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace. Students are demanding international experiences and curriculum. Community colleges possess the institutional flexibility to provide global activities.

• Increased operating funds. International students are increasingly choosing U.S. community colleges before transferring to four-year institutions. Community colleges responding with internationally competitive educational programs increase student enrollments and positively impact operating budgets.

• Student workforce competitiveness. Resident community college students who do not have international experiences incur an employability penalty in the global labor pool. Global competency is valued by employers.

• Support of the college mission. Global education (student exchange/study abroad) addresses mission issues of completion, comprehensive international curriculum and community relevance.

It is high time community college leaders who want to stay ahead of the curve look into what futurist John Naisbitt, best-selling author of Megatrends, identified as two simultaneous but opposite trends in modern society where we rapidly embrace both the universal and the tribal, the global and the local in our daily lives.. We now not only “Think Globally, Act Locally,” but also “Think Locally, Act Globally”.

Zepur Solakian

Center for Global Advancement of Community Colleges (CGACC)

Executive Vice President, 

Global Communication & Public Relations


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