Donning hard hats and neon green vests over their business suits and dresses, eight higher education experts from India made their way to the top of what will soon be a state-of-the-art hospital facility located on the growing campus of Montgomery College. With this single example of how strong industry partnerships can benefit community colleges, the local community, and the industries themselves, the first stop on our week-long study tour proved to be a great success.
Through a grant from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, eight dedicated university presidents, rectors, and deans visited the United States for a seven-day, coast-to-coast survey of the extensive and diverse U.S. Community College system. Along the way the group explored strong industry partnerships in areas of automotive, technology, and health as well as diverse campuses, comprehensive services, and state of the art facilities. The tour included Montgomery College (Maryland), Bellevue Community College (Washington), Shoreline Community College (Washington), and Bronx Community College (New York). Each college rolled out the red carpet treatment for us and provided a level of insight and honesty that was profoundly impactful.
The goals of the visit were to explore and understand the different models of community colleges within the U.S. system, how they function within their local communities, and how each builds their curriculum and develops their faculty. The group also had a strong desire to advance their own capacities through the observation of others as well as plant the seeds for future partnerships and collaborations with U.S. colleges. The study tour came at a vital time as the Indian education system is truly at a turning point. The government of India is looking to the community college model to play a significant role in addressing the pressing higher education needs the country faces and will continue to face in the coming decades. With a growing population of youth seeking higher education opportunities, the current university model is not equipped to absorb the sheer number of students. Additionally, long standing class and caste divides have limited the higher education opportunities for many Indian youth. Now, with a goal to diversify higher education and provide opportunities for the millions of students coming of age over the next several years, India is looking to the community college model as a way to expand higher education opportunities while still providing strong academic opportunities, offering comprehensive student support, and incorporating local community needs.
Beyond the vital connections made, the knowledge gained from this dynamic and diverse educational system was unbounded. The U.S. community college system enrolls more than half of all U.S. higher education students, making them a force in shaping the lives and communities that they encompass. Participants of the study tour witnessed first-hand how flexible these colleges can be, adapting to the needs of the local community and embracing their often diverse student and faculty base. As participants explored the many avenues for local partnerships, they were already brainstorming how their own communities could benefit from greater collaboration with local industry. The participants also took away the strong sense of community and the desire to invest in each student, regardless of their academic, social, or cultural background. With this informative and formative experience under their belts, the participants returned to India energized to share their observations and poised to contribute to the future of Indian higher education.