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Eugene Weekly : News : 5.24.07

LCC Goes Global

President Mary Spilde plans internationally

BY PHILLIP D. GETTY

Mary Spilde's six–year tenure as president of LCC has been and continues to be plagued with budget problems and lay-offs. Legislative spending priorities for community colleges have been shuffled like poker chips in the hands of a nervous gambler already $7 million in the hole.

Mary Spilde

But this is not the story of mismanaged budget deficits and economically challenged legislators, backed by a local community that refused to buck up $9 per year for every $150,000 worth of property as requested in last November's failed LCC funding levy.

Spilde and other administrators have been compelled to improvise and adapt in a rigged game, forced to find supplemental funds in unconventional locations.

Spilde is a professional with an extensive resume: bachelor's degrees in business and social service and a degree in law from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland; a master's degree in adult education and a Ph.D in post-secondary education from OSU; president of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 2002-2004; and more than two decades working, developing and improving higher education in Oregon.

In recent months, Spilde has found unique opportunities to generate alternative forms of revenue while extending a helping hand to those who are truly suffering in countries rife with poverty and questionable human rights policies. In doing so, Spilde is helping to mend the damaged international reputation of the U.S.

Before 9/11, LCC had between 400 and 500 international students. Today, that number has dropped to about 130 to 140. "The drop was a national phenomenon, for two reasons; one, people couldn't get visas, particularly if they were male and from the Middle East. Secondly, the U.S. wasn't perceived as safe for them," Spilde said.

International students pay $239 per credit hour, compared to an Oregon resident who pays $69.50, according to the LCC 2006-2007 catalog. Resident students who take an average of 12.5 credits per term, compounded with books and standard fees, will pay about $4,080 per year. With an additional international fee of $150, the average international student will pay $10,585 per year.

So the absence of about 315 international students could equate to a loss of more than $3.3 million per year.

After many colleges lost this kind of revenue from international students, the federal government and the Lincoln Commission — a congressional organization that specializes in study-abroad programs for college students — began to understand, again, the importance of exchanges.

"International education is part of our plan for revenue … but it's not just a financial thing," Spilde says. "There is recognition that peace … or good relationships come from knowing one another. Personal relationships are the underpinnings of international relationships."

The LCC board has decided to make internationalization a priority again, which is allowing Spilde and other members to think creatively about international studies and financial relationships.

In December, Spilde's efforts took her as far as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Egypt, where the working and lower classes need career and vocational training. The European Union recently gave the government of Egypt 250 million euros to pay for such programs. LCC has been approved as a possible provider of training to aid in that effort.

"The whole point of doing work there is to get people that are at the lower levels of employment educated and trained so they can move into the higher-level jobs," Spilde said.

LCC staff would be teaching the teachers in those areas and more. Egypt, for example, while maintaining modern facilities to train dentists, has no system to train dental assistants; LCC does, and it's a very good one.

Farther east, there are even more prospects for LCC to explore.

As a member of a March delegation sponsored by the AACC, Spilde visited India, one of the U.S.'s most populous democratic partners. The group traveled to Delhi, Chennai and the bustling, high-tech port of Bangalore to explore fruitful opportunities, cultural exchange possibilities and the mutual need for internationalization.

Spilde identified some potential positives for Lane and other community colleges. First, the AACC is working on a memorandum of understanding with a private university in India to facilitate faculty exchanges similar to the programs being planned in the Middle East. Their hope is that in addition to new revenue sources, these programs might lead to short, 30-day cultural swaps for LCC and other community college students.

In Chennai, there is the beginning of a system similar to a community college, but centered primarily on job training and getting the marginalized rural poor working. "There is a need for organization and assessment of programs already in place," Spilde said.

Spilde and staff have the expertise to facilitate these assessments. Spilde, LCC staff and the AACC are working in conjunction with delegates from the Indian organization equivalent to the AACC and others like Xavier Alphonse in order to fund the staff needed to make these critical assessments.

Alphonse is a Jesuit priest who has been instrumental in the growth of community colleges in India. In 1999, Alphonse created the Madras Centre for Research and Development of Community Education. MCRDCE has already helped to create 111 new colleges.

Spilde met with Alphonse in Tampa, Fla., at the AACC's annual convention of community colleges in April They have developed components of a grant proposal.

"We are now working on grant-funding sources … We are not sure what the budget will be," Spilde said.

Spilde and the AACC also finalized a memorandum of understanding with SRM University in India to facilitate, among other things, faculty exchanges.

"Things are moving — slowly — but moving," Spilde stressed.

Our conversation explored possibilities:

 

Regarding potential exchange programs, grant-writing proposals, and the work in India, Egypt, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has there been any opposition?

There hasn't been a lot of verbal opposition that I've heard. I'm not saying that it's not out there. One thing I've been trying to make most clear is that we are not spending public money on this — I won't spend public money.

Given our budget problems and the fact that we have to make cuts, it just doesn't seem the right thing to do. Once we make a revenue stream, then we will fund our efforts.

There was a concern raised about the fact that in the Emirates they bring in Filipinos to do lots of the important work that other people don't do. And it may be more than that, and I recognize that, but I don't know if that's anything different from what we do, by the way.

 

Is there something that you find most important to communicate? What do you think people should know?

When I go to these countries and reflect on my experience, I think of the things I know, but it is good to have it confirmed. People are people everywhere, and when we interact on a human level, we remember that people are kind and generous; they love their kids, they are trying to do the best that they can, and what is even more amazing, it's against all odds in some countries. There are a lot of people still living in lean-tos with tarps, cooking on open fires.

Riding the bus, we passed this little colony of shacks, and there was this woman squatting down over this fire. She had this bright turquoise sari, bare feet, cooking. It was in the region where they take cow dung and they make it into patties … they sell it for fuel; that's the work they do.

You come away thinking that we have so much and we take it so much for granted, having a toilet to flush, hot water to wash our hands, turning on the faucet just to brush our teeth — those things we don't think about as prerequisites for a comfortable living.

But when you see how other people are living in this world that has so much wealth, you know we are blessed. And I think we all need to be reminded about how much we have, and how much [other] people don't. Then you begin to think, what can I do? For me, clearly it's education, so I can help, but I must make sure that there is some mutual benefit for this institution.

 

Is there anything else?

Again, getting the marginalized educated and working. It's the one place we can help. And I'm willing to defend it, in the sense that we are living in a global world that's at war. This is exactly the time we should be reaching out to those countries to show them that Americans actually care.

Just as we have caricatures of them, they have caricatures of us. And they see us through our government and through the policies of our government. Then they talk to me as an individual and know that I don't support the war and I don't necessarily support every policy that our government does, but I'm still proud to live here. They begin to see another view of what we are as Americans. So I think that is a healthy thing, and I think it is important to everybody to have that global perspective.