Building Community Colleges Abroad
By Robert Schroeder
The short economic history of the Republic of Georgia reads like a yo-yo: economic collapse following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, massive credit from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in 1995, a rapid rise to real gross domestic product growth rate of 12 percent in 2006, but unemployment figures tipping 25 percent in cities and 13 percent in the country overall.
The country's macroeconomic hurdles have been significant: transitioning from a state-planned economy to a free market system; retraining an entire country's workforce, a burdensome and complex tax system encouraging evasion leading to inflation, and the 2008 Russian invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, territories that have declared their independence from Georgia but remain unrecognized by the international community.
Within the 20 years of independence, a structural problem has surfaced requiring neither military or fiscal answers but an educational one. In a country with a significant number of masters and doctoral-level graduates, Georgia lacks a class of skilled, middle management employees needed to lead industrial production and growth.
In September, five delegates from Georgia visited National Louis University's Community College Leadership program to engage with faculty and study the community college model in Illinois, with the goal of developing a robust community college and technical school presence in Georgia. The trip was sponsored by the Open World Leadership Center at the Library of Congress and the Council of International Programs. Tamar Kakutia, director of a vocational college, Misha Kordzahkhia, executive director of the Georgian Employers Association, Mathe Takidze, director of the vocational college ICARUS, Gia Tarieladze, deputy head of the Department of Strategic Development and Management of the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, and Konstantine Chokoraia, coordinator of the accreditation division for the Department of Accreditation and Authorization for the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, met with NLU's Rebecca Lake, Ed.D., and Dennis Haynes, Ph.D., and representatives from the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) to discuss the most pressing issues facing community college development in Georgia.
"In the 60s and 70s, community colleges grew like wildfire [in the US]," said Lake, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. "What we saw is that the things they are explaining are the things we went through in the 70s."
While Georgian leaders have identified the need for skilled mid-management labor, they are left with the challenge of striking the right balance between recruiting students for these positions and generating enough jobs to place graduates in. In the U.S., community colleges serve to channel students directly into the workforce, and maintaining the balance between enrollment and successful job placement remains a challenge even in the U.S.
In their meetings with faculty and the ICCB, the Georgians queried their hosts on streamlining operations, handling accreditation, bringing faculty and administration together, and early identification of issues and problems. Lake says the collaboration was a step towards the leaders generating policy mandates back home.
The meeting was the third consecutive annual summit at National Louis, and Lake envisions these meetings continuing in the long term.
"Other countries are deciding you can't have all Ph.D.'s or Master's, and you can't have all people who go only through grade school or maybe some years of high school," Lake said. "You truly need this mid-management, mid-skill level so that your country can grow, and that is a need they have to address and do so very quickly because we are in a global marketplace."