Thursday, June 14, 2012

Selling American (postsecondary) Education Abroad

By Stephanie Allen, Project Assistant.

For a decade now, students in Qatar have been flocking to Education City on the outskirts of Doha to attend branches of elite American colleges. Students complete the same coursework required of students at the main campus to obtain their degree (that includes courses in Texas history at Texas A&M). Yes, instruction is in English. And, yes, classes are coed, just like at the flagship schools in the states.

The US has traditionally been a huge exporter of college graduates, with the best and brightest students from all over the world flocking to American colleges and universities intent on getting an American education and taking it back home. New programs like those in Education City offer something a bit different: an American degree and an American education without ever setting foot on American soil.

At Education City engineering degrees are offered by Texas A&M, journalism degrees by Northwestern, medical degrees by Cornell, computer and business degrees by Carnegie Mellon, art and design degrees by Virginia Commonwealth University, and foreign service degrees by Georgetown.

And, Education City isn’t the only example either. NYU opened a branch in Abu Dhabi in 2010 (a full-fledged four-year liberal arts research university) and Michigan State briefly ran a branch in Dubai. Despite cultural differences governments in the Persian Gulf are committed to making American liberal arts educations more widely available. They’re footing the bill for establishing these branches, building state-of-the-art research facilities, funding faculty salaries, and they’re donating large sums of money to the flagship institutions to boot (Cornell’s medical school is reportedly receiving $750 million over 11 years and NYU reportedly received a $50 million donation up front).

Now, there’s a new kid on the block in Doha: Community College of Qatar. Modeled after and staffed by Houston Community College, the Community College of Qatar is the country’s first community college. HCC set up the program, got it up and running and will provide faculty and staff under a 5-year, $45 million contract. All expenses are paid by the Qatari government and on top of that HCC will reportedly get a 10% fee for its services.

There are some who say that these programs are just cash cows for American colleges and universities. Like Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, who was quoted in the New York Times as saying “A lot of these educators are trying to present themselves as benevolent and altruistic, when in reality, their programs are aimed at making money.” Mary Spangler, chancellor of Houston Community College, came out and said as much to the Times: “Instead of giving away our expertise, we’re making money from it.”

It’s always been one of our most valuable exports, why shouldn’t we make money on it? These are non-profit institutions we’re talking about. That money they’re making selling their expertise abroad will theoretically be spent keeping tuition down, funding more faculty, more research, more scholarships, more state-of-the-art facilities here at home. And with colleges and universities facing tough economic times too, an influx of cash could go a long way towards ensuring that American colleges and universities remain among the most highly regarded in the world.

If only we could be as proud of our primary and secondary schools… alas, that’s a topic for another blog post (see Mac’s post on Tuesday for sad news of metro Atlanta’s primary and secondary school systems).

…But, if you’re interested, Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting shared his opinion on how we might remake our flailing primary and secondary school systems over in the image of our world renowned postsecondary institutions last week in the Times’ blog The Stone.