SEATTLE – Houston Community College will develop the first American-style community college in Qatar, officials announced here Monday at this week's meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges.
From among eight American two-year institutions vying for the opportunity, the Qatar government's Supreme Education Council selected Houston Community College to create a “custom curriculum” and found a “fully operational” community college in Doha by this fall. Houston Community College and Qatar officials refused to disclose the financial value of the five-year contract or to provide a copy of it to Inside Higher Ed; however, The Houston Chronicle reports that the contract is worth $45 million. Officials from Houston and Qatar contend that it constitutes “the largest international service partnership with an American community college to date.”
The contract will generously benefit Houston Community College. Mary Spangler, chancellor of the college, said her institution will retain about 10 percent of the contract's worth – or $4.5 million – after spending to develop the institution in Qatar. She said that the college would find globally conscious ways to make use of this new source of revenue.
“What we really want to do is provide some opportunities that we can't otherwise provide because taxpayers would say, 'Wait a minute. What are you spending money that way for?' ” Spangler said. “What might that be? We would like to provide opportunities for our students to study abroad because we believe it's important that our students get the experience of going to other countries to see what it's like in other parts of the world. We have in the contract the opportunity for them to study in Qatar as a part of our work there.”
Monday's announcement is yet another example of the internationalization of community colleges, a particular focus of this week's meeting of educators.
“There is no greater commentary on the dramatic importance of community colleges in our country and across the globe than [Houston Community College's] partnership with our friends in Qatar,” wrote George Boggs, outgoing president of the American Association of Community Colleges, in a prepared statement.
Houston Community College will provide faculty and staff to the new Community College of Qatar while it is in development. Spangler said that nearly all of the professors will be American, as there are few, if any, Qatari academics with community college experience. As the institution grows, she added, this has the potential to change; however, courses will primarily be taught in English. Officials from Houston and Qatar will also cooperate to create the new institution's “operating procedures, student policies, hiring practices" and “a curriculum designed specifically for Qatari students.”
Ibrahim Saleh Alnaimi, who works for the country's Supreme Education Council and is chair of the Community College of Qatar's steering committee, explained that students attending the new institution will have dual enrollment in Houston Community College. Through this relationship, the new Qatari institution plans to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Houston Community College's accreditor. Alnaimi added that this will ensure that the new college's graduates can successfully transfer to most major institutions around the world.
Qatar has a large number of high school graduates who have been unable to obtain admission into the country's four-year institutions, Alnaimi said, because of high admission standards. He said the new institution will primarily focus on transferring students to four-year colleges within Qatar – including the American colleges there – eventually training Qataris for jobs in fields ranging from oil and gas technology to finance and banking. This focus on traditional-age students differentiates the new institution from its American counterpart.
“This is not an American community college in Qatar,” Spangler said. “It's going to be a Qatari model of the American community college. Whereas the American community college model does take older people or people who have lost their jobs or people who are training for new jobs and all of that, the Qatari community college will primarily be serving high school graduates and traditional-age students. Maybe that will change with time as this institution grows.”
Faculty representatives from Houston Community College did not respond to requests for comment about their institution's new contract with the Qatar government.
Richard Moore, executive director of the Texas Community College Teachers Association, said he has not heard any criticism of the plan from Houston faculty. Quite the opposite, he said that Houston Community College was an ideal partner for Qatar to select, given its high concentration of international students and faculty as well as the similarly cosmopolitan nature of the city. For instance, 7.2 percent of the college's nearly 70,000 students are from outside the United States.
Moore praised the internationalization effort, noting that many foreign countries are just now learning the value of two-year institutions.
"There would be no middle class in America if it weren't for community colleges," Moore said. "A lot of resource-rich and skill-poor countries, like Qatar, are learning the value of bringing the skill level of their citizens up to meet this demand. If they want to have a middle class there, they need community colleges."
The Community College of Qatar is slated to open its doors this fall to about 300 students and 35 faculty members. Officials hope that in the next three years the institution will grow to serve nearly 1,000 students.