Looking Abroad and to Faith Groups

Community college in New York is betting on partnerships with other countries and local faith organizations to increase its sagging enrollment.

January 3, 2020
 
Hudson Valley Community College
Faith leaders meet at an interfaith summit held by HVCC.

Like many two-year colleges, Hudson Valley Community College in upstate New York is struggling with declining enrollment.

Unlike many colleges, it's reaching out beyond the usual strategies to find ways to survive and thrive.

Under the leadership of Roger Ramsammy, who became president in 2018, the college known locally as "Harvard on the Hudson" is forming partnerships with other countries, investing in its more popular programs and working with faith leaders to recruit students.

Hudson Valley has gone from an enrollment of almost 13,000 students in 2013 to roughly 11,000 in 2018 as low unemployment spurred more people to work than go to college, and amid population declines in the Northeast. Ramsammy is hoping to fill that gap with students who are enrolled in the college's programs abroad.

What's different is Hudson Valley's approach, he said.

"All major schools just do recruiting," Ramsammy said. "For us, we are becoming part of the infrastructure of the education systems in these countries."

To do this, Ramsammy hosted United Nations ambassadors from the Caribbean and Latin America in November, opening up a dialogue with countries' leaders. So far, HVCC is working with representatives from Costa Rica, Ghana, Hungary, the Philippines and Trinidad to create partnerships.

One of the models being built in several of the countries would have the college's faculty members teaching students using video technology, but in real time. Another model sends faculty to the countries to "train trainers" for soon-to-be burgeoning industries, like electric automobile manufacturing. Students also will have the option to attend HVCC in person, and they could eventually transfer to the State University of New York at Albany for a four-year degree because of its transfer agreement with the college. Advocates expect the programs will help fill skills gaps that aren't addressed by other institutions.

"HVCC has many associate degrees and certifications via the workforce program that are well suited to the types of education and training required for the projected economic growth in Costa Rica," said Peter Stember, a consultant for the college on its Costa Rican partnerships. "The HVCC program provides students with options that are currently not offered outside the traditional four-year university in Costa Rica."

While Ramsammy's model for "transnational education" may be unique in the United States, other countries have used it for some time, according to Richard Garrett, chief research officer at Eduventures, a higher education research and consulting company.

"There’s great potential for a variety of U.S. institutions to think about these kinds of arrangements," Garrett said, adding that the current political climate and increased competition from other countries makes it somewhat necessary. "It wouldn’t surprise me if more U.S. institutions are saying, 'We need more tools in our tool kit.'"

It's not a quick fix, though, Garrett said. He called it a "risky bet" because other countries are already in that space, and some of the countries that HVCC is partnering with are relatively small.

But, if the college enters the space to build its brand and expand its reach for the long term, the effort might be worthwhile, he said.

"Pursue it, but pursue it for broad reasons that include revenue but aren't dominated by revenue," he said.

For now, Ramsammy said the college is focused on recouping costs and doesn't expect to profit from the ventures for five years.

"It’s all about the global community. As a community college, we reach out to the community, but what is my community nowadays?" said George Raneri, interim department chair for the automotive, manufacturing and electrical engineering technologies department at HVCC. "As we’ve been approached by these other countries, it’s an exciting time to be able to step up and say, 'We can help you with that.'"

Reaching Out to Faith Groups

Closer to home, Ramsammy said one of the college's largest initiatives is its faith-based recruiting efforts.

The college's leaders went to various faith organizations for their weekly congregations and spoke for 10 minutes about the college and what it could do for those who need support. HVCC held a summit with about 200 faith groups on its campus, from various religions and denominations, and gave them information to bring back to their communities.

The summit also gave the college input on what needs communities have. One of the largest takeaways was the need for more English-as-a-second-language programs, for those who are immigrants or refugees. In response, the college held a second summit for organizations that serve communities that need more ESL programs.

The approach has "let us connect with leaders in the community who share our commitment to community service," said Dennis Kennedy, a spokesman for the college.

HVCC is updating its data-tracking system, Ramsammy said, so they can see who is enrolling because of the college's work with faith-based organizations.

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