International Educator - November/December 2014 - 52

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FORUM
By Carol Stax Brown

The U.S. Community College and the
Law of the Retarding Lead
THE LAW OF THE RETARDING LEAD is used by political scientists, economists, and

anthropologists to describe the phenomenon by which the best-adapted and most successful
societies have the greatest difficulty in changing and retaining their lead in a period of transition. Conversely, societies formerly deemed less successful are more likely to adapt and forge
ahead. Are U.S. community colleges about to suffer from that phenomenon?

If the United
States could
have a
fresh start
establishing
its community
colleges in the
global context,
what would
it do? What
should we be
learning from
those who are
learning
from us?

52  

Community college leaders and practitioners from
around the world are united by their dedication to provide
quality and relevant postsecondary education that enables
students to contribute to their economy as well as to their
own well-being. More and more, the community college
model is being looked upon as an answer in countries that
face monumental challenges politically, economically, and
socially. For these countries, implementing such a model
often demands more than just financial support; it also
requires a fundamental shift in philosophy by education
and political leaders.

What Global Partnerships Offer
For over half a century, countries that are in transition
with emerging economies have established linkages for
technical assistance with organizations and institutions
in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United
Kingdom, and Europe. Such initiatives are often funded
under foreign aid from the developed countries, but are
sometimes shared with or driven by the ministries of the
developing countries as well, intended to address massive youth unemployment and economic development
skills gaps. These linkages, when properly constructed
and managed, can provide tremendous global learning
opportunities for faculty and students on both sides of
the partnership.
A number of U.S. community colleges-although a
very small percentage overall-are engaging in these opportunities through various partnerships, grants, and
contracts. Some choose to do so as part of their strategic
plan for internationalization, others to establish a new
revenue stream, and others still to expand established incountry connections for a variety of reasons.

INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR N O V + D E C .14

As international educators know, people often learn
more about themselves when traveling than they learn
about other cultures. Similarly, one would assume that
while the United States is participating in the development of community college models internationally, it
would also seize the opportunity to critically evaluate
commonly accepted norms, practices, and policies that
might be limiting the effectiveness and global relevance
of its own community colleges. However, based on my
observations, U.S. community colleges and the sponsoring agencies largely miss out on an incredible and fleeting
opportunity to reinvent themselves.
If the United States could have a fresh start establishing
its community colleges in the global context, what would
it do? What should we be learning from those who are
learning from us?

Changing the Perception of
Technical and Vocational Education
The Institute of Technical Education in Singapore (ITE
Singapore) had its first international education conference on technical and vocational education and training,
"TVET Forward-Towards Inclusive Growth & Opportunities" in November 2012. Established in 1995, ITE has
worked to address Singapore's nation-building initiatives
and the need for a highly skilled workforce in technical
areas that were not being served by its universities. As in
other countries, the stigma of technical and vocational
education and training has deterred students from entering these fields, and TVET institutions in general. To
combat this, a tremendous amount of government funds
have been invested into making ITE's campuses the "envy
of the world." With superb market-driven facilities and job



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