Exchanging ideas to expand vocational education worldwide

Woman listening to man (© Clay Smith/Santa Fe College)
Nouran Abd El Hamid Ibrahim, left, of Mansoura University, and Ibrahim Abdel-Mageed Saleh, of Cairo University, attend a 2017 seminar of the U.S. State Department’s Community College Administrator Program at Florida State University in Tallahassee. (© Clay Smith/Sante Fe College)

When he returned to Egypt after visiting community colleges in the United States, Jean Thomas implemented several new ideas on the campus where he works.

Thomas wanted to expand student services at Beni Suef Technological University, make the curriculum more flexible and consult with local employers about their workforce needs.

Man leaning on railing in front of water (Courtesy of Jean Thomas)
Jean Thomas of Beni Suef Technological University in Egypt (Courtesy of Jean Thomas)

“By updating our curriculum with help from experts, we can determine what knowledge our graduates should have and what skills they should acquire,” Thomas, the university’s vice president for academic affairs, told ShareAmerica. “This will help our students to obtain desirable jobs.”

He also plans to offer courses in agriculture, health care and tourism.

Exchanging ideas with U.S. colleges

Thomas obtained ideas from the U.S. State Department’s Community College Administrator Program that allows college administrators to visit U.S. colleges and meet with administrators.

Man pointing and talking as others listen (© Clay Smith/Santa Fe College)
Bill Reese, fifth from left, of Santa Fe College in Florida, guides college administrators from Indonesia during their 2015 visit. (© Clay Smith/Santa Fe College)

The program highlights how U.S. community colleges contribute to economic growth by preparing students for the workforce. During the six-week exchange program, college administrators share ideas about how to best serve student needs.

More than 150 administrators participated in 15 exchanges since the program started in 2014. Participating nations include Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, St. Lucia, South Africa, Suriname and Ukraine.

Participants from Mexico are scheduled for fall 2023. South African educators will visit the U.S. during the upcoming academic year as a follow-up to a 2019 program.

Jeffrey Milligan, the program director at Florida State University, cited three unique aspects about U.S. community colleges:

  • Students chart their own course of study.
  • Community colleges enjoy local autonomy.
  • Colleges form partnerships with area employers.

“They are impressed with the mobility American students have,” Milligan said about program participants. “You can start in community college and go as far as your ambitions and talent take you. Then you can transfer to a university or go to work. That floors them.”

Milligan emphasized that U.S. administrators share ideas about what makes vocational education successful without offering direct advice.

Connecting with employers

Vilma Fuentes, the program co-manager at Santa Fe College, emphasized that U.S. community colleges tailor their curriculum to meet the regional job market. Colleges in Miami and Orlando, Florida, focus on tourism, while a college in Gainesville, Florida, offers training for construction and the medical field.

Fuentes noted that international participants were impressed with the emphasis on inclusive education, building access for people who use a wheelchair or providing sign language interpreters for a single student.

“You can start in community college and go as far as your ambitions and talent take you.”

~Jeffrey Milligan, Florida State University

Michelle Charles, permanent secretary in the education department for St. Lucia, visited community colleges in Florida in 2021. She called the program timely as plans are underway to convert Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in St. Lucia into a university.

“It provided us with the opportunity to structure our (vocational) offerings using a 21st century outlook to better align our programs and courses with the local and global market,” she said.

Providing a model in Ukraine

Two cohorts of Ukrainian college administrators participated in 2016 and 2018.

Lyubov Shumska, director at Poltava Applied Oil and Gas College at National University in Ukraine, said observing Florida’s community colleges served as a model to connect students with potential employers.

Man sitting at desk (Courtesy of Oleg Kuklin)
Oleg Kuklin of Cherkassy State Business College in Ukraine (Courtesy of Oleg Kuklin)

Hanna Shchutska, a director at Kyiv Professional College of Applied Sciences, participated in 2016. Upon her return to Ukraine, she made it a priority to expand opportunities for people with disabilities.

Oleg Kuklin, director at Cherkassy State Business College in Ukraine, said when students near graduation, they work in a business as an intern before becoming an employee.

“Now we are focusing as much as possible on the convergence of our college programs with the needs of local businesses,” he said.