International Alliances Boost Community, Economic Development

By Dennis Pierce

How one college looks beyond the community to build new relationships and revenue.

Houston Community College (HCC) has stretched the definition of “community” to include the global community, with strategic alliances it has formed around the world, resulting in fully accredited degree programs in Vietnam; training and workforce development in Brazil; and consulting services in the Middle East.

These international relations not only have boosted community and economic development in those areas of the world but also have brought in additional revenue for the college and helped pay for HCC students to get experience abroad.

Gigi Do oversees HCC’s Office of International Initiatives, which was formed in 1998. At the time, Do was the director of international student services for the college, and it was her idea to create a separate office to explore global partnerships.

HCC was serving a large number of students from around the world. “I realized that for every international student who wanted an education, there were thousands who couldn’t achieve that, because they couldn’t get a visa,” she says.

Setting up in Vietnam

Do became director of the Office of International Initiatives in 2003. Soon after, she was approached by a businessman who wanted to bring the community college concept to Vietnam. They formed a plan to create an affiliate campus in Saigon that would teach computer science.

The affiliate college uses English-speaking faculty who are credentialed by HCC, and it is accredited by the same regional accrediting agency as HCC. “We wanted the quality of the degree programs to be the same,” Do explains.

Saigon Institute of Technology taught its first classes in 2003 and graduated its first cohort of 73 students in 2005. “We thought most of those students would have a seamless transition to a U.S. university,” Do says. “We were floored that all 73 had immediate offers for high-paying jobs in Saigon.”

Since then, more than 1,500 students have received fully accredited degrees from Saigon Tech, and the college has added a business program as well.

Brazil, the Middle East, and beyond

In Brazil, HCC worked with a U.S. consortium to deliver technology training and consultation to Brazilian colleges, and in 2012, a group of HCC students, along with students from four other American community colleges, were invited to teach English to Brazilian students.

In both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, HCC has provided consulting services to help local officials develop high-quality community college programs, but without HCC’s branding or affiliation.

Do’s office is a “revenue-generating office” for the college, she says. It has brought in more than $1.7 million in additional revenue, some of which has been used to support international learning programs that send HCC students overseas. For its international work, HCC won the 2011 Bellwether Award for Workforce Development.

Going global at your college

Do’s advice to other college leaders interested in creating a similar program is to maintain a laser-like focus. “I won’t sugarcoat it: It’s very challenging work,” she says. “In order to sustain these relationships, the administration has to support the work 100 percent. If the focus of the college shifts, this will falter.”

But for campus leaders who are willing to put in the work, the rewards can be great. “What is local now is becoming global,” she says, observing how the definition of “community” is rapidly changing. “And giving faculty international experience makes them better instructors when they return.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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