CHENNAI: Vannakam. Good morning and warm greetings to you all. It is my honor and privilege to be here today for the inauguration of the “International Conference on Curriculum Development for the Indian Community Colleges.” I congratulate Montgomery College and the ICRDCE for their collaboration in sharing curriculum and syllabus models for community colleges in the United States and India. Thank you Dr. Pollard and Dr. Alphonse for your leadership in bringing your teams together from the United States and India. Thank you to Loyola College for hosting us today. The U.S. Consulate General Chennai is proud to support this initiative with a grant through our Public Affairs Section and to join you today as the months of planning come to fruition.
I’d like to start my remarks looking at the role of education in the United States-India strategic partnership. In September 2015, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi committed to strengthening our exchanges of students, scholars, and technical knowledge. They committed to – and I quote – “enable Indian administrators and officials with responsibilities for higher education and skills development to gain expertise in community college and vocational training administration.”
It’s hard to state any more clearly why this conference today is so important. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi gave us pretty clear instructions.
Let me give you three examples of how we are supporting the President’s and the Prime Minister’s vision. First, to support the Higher Education Dialogue, we organized a six-week “Community College Administrators Program” with two Florida community colleges last year. About 20 Indian administrators, including six from South India, traveled to the United States to learn about U.S. academic and vocational programs as well as administrative practices.
Second, five Indian representatives – including two from South India – from various sectors including education, government, NGOs and private industry, will meet later this month with U.S. counterparts through an International Visitor Leadership Program entitled “Improving Vocational Education and Skills Development.” During this program, they will learn about vocational education links in healthcare, hospitality, agriculture, and construction-related industries.
And as a third example, since 2010, about 300 economically disadvantaged students across India have attended the Community College Initiative Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of States’ Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The selected students are placed at a community college for a year of academic study of their chosen field for a non-degree program.
Let me now speak for a moment on the importance of community colleges in building deeper and broader educational ties between India and the United States, not least of which is a lower cost education, a shorter two-year course, and job-oriented skills training.
Community colleges in the United States have a long and cherished history spanning more than a century since the first community college, Joliet Junior College in Illinois, was founded in 1901. Their number has steadily grown and there are now almost 1,200 community colleges in the U.S. educating more than half of the United States’ undergraduates. Let me repeat that. Over 50% of undergraduates in American institutions have attended community college.
Why are they so popular? Well, community colleges in the United States have unique characteristics and advantages, such as close community ties, partnerships with local industry, specialized technical coursework, and the opportunity to transfer credits toward a Bachelor’s degree. Many of those colleges work closely with local employer partners to design course materials that lead to industry-recognized certificates and degrees. Community colleges are leading the way in preparing students for the fastest growing fields in the United States, such as healthcare, applied engineering, and green technologies.
More interaction between our students and scholars is the key to our shared future. Partnerships and joint projects between Indian and U.S. educational institutions such as those here today will provide advances in science, business, health, agriculture, and other sectors while strengthening civil society in both countries.
We welcome more than 132,000 Indian students studying in the United States, and encourage more American students to study in India. I can’t close without giving a plug for the single best, and only official, source of information for your study in the USA. EducationUSA provides accurate, comprehensive information to students about opportunities in the United States and assists U.S. institutions with understanding the Indian higher education system. Here in Chennai, the EducationUSA office is located right in the U.S. Consulate and is open for walk-ins. You can always reach them for more information and advice on community colleges on their website or Facebook pages.
Thank you again for this opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering, and I wish all of you the very best as you inaugurate the International Conference on Curriculum Development for the Indian Community Colleges.