A Tale of Two Community Colleges:  Finding Inspiration for QCU

Study Visit from Nov. 22- December 10, 2021

President, Quezon City University

Traveling to two community colleges that are ends apart in the United States of America was not an easy feat, more so in the time of Covid-19.  But to a new local university president like me who assumed office sans students and faculty on our three campuses, the meetings with my counter-part Presidents in San Jose Community College and Nassau Community College was a much-needed morale booster.  The tour of their campuses did not only inspire but allowed me to talk about our home, Quezon City, and Quezon City University’s three campuses in different districts of the city.   An add-on to the trip was a peak at the palm tree-lined campus of Stanford University.  The campus tours sealed our resolve to see through QCU’s campus development plan because we saw it fit for the Philippines’ most competitive city and its Q Citizens to be educated in such conducive sites.  That we share common experiences and challenges is reassuring. That we are on the right path is an understatement.  That we can bask in what we have achieved so far is for real. 

San José City College, California

Good timing. San José City College, the first community college in Santa Clara County, established in 1921 just celebrated its centennial.  It is located in vibrant downtown San José in the heart of Silicon Valley, San José – and is part of Evergreen Community College District (SJECCD)  along with Evergreen Valley College, established in 1975; the Community College Center for Economic Mobility (formerly the Workforce Institute) established in 1988; and the San José – Evergreen Community College Extension at Milpitas, established in 2016. With the centenary activities just concluded, there were enough materials – historical and recent accomplishments made available. 

Good decision. To connect and visit this institution was not a random act but a rather calculated move since it is located in Silicon Valley and QCU’s flagship programs are in Information Technology, Electronics and Industrial Engineering, and Entrepreneurship.

The President carried a very Filipino-sounding name – Rowena M. Tomaneng, Ed.D, was in fact, a first-generation immigrant who was born in Quezon City, Philippines.  She was selected from a nationwide search and has been an educator in the California Community College system for nearly 25 years.  Prior to SJCC, she was President of Berkeley City College (BCC), a position she held since 2016. 

Dr. Tomaneng was a most gracious and hospitable host who personally led me to her office and broke the ice by briefly speaking in Filipino to provide me a background of her roots.  Then she led me to a conference room where lunch was served and we were joined by two Vice Presidents – Dr. Elizabeth Pratt for Academic Affairs and Dr. Lena Tran for Strategic Partnerships and Workforce Innovation.  How lucky can one get?

I was in the midst of women power who were generously sharing their experiences on the transition to fully online delivery mode of education when the pandemic struck, their fragile relationship with the faculty union,  the hesitancy of faculty members to return on campus, and students of courses that have gone back to face-to-face classes.

I was also given the opportunity to talk about Quezon City and QCU, the transformational leadership of Mayor Joy Belmonte, our Institutional Recognition from the Commission on Higher Education, our programs, faculty, and students.  This was followed by discussions on future partnerships between our institutions.  Explored was the possibility of faculty exchanges, collaborative research engagements, joint program offerings particularly for SJCC students of Filipino descent, the potential to tap on the US Fulbright and CHED grants, and the opportunity for QCU to create the trail for internationalization of local universities and colleges of the Philippines.

Another highlight of the visit was the campus tour.  All of us, four ladies, rode a golf cart driven by President Tomaneng to go around the campus with regular stops at each building that housed its various program.

Nassau Community College, New York

Good view. On a clear day, you can see Manhattan in New York City from the 11th floor of Nassau Community College’s Administration Building.  The high rise is located in the middle of a former military base that was converted to be the largest single-campus community college in the state of New York at 225 acres.  Deans of Colleges held office in what used to be military housing units.  Established in the 1960s, NCC has produced over 140,000 graduates.  There are almost 8000 full-time students while over 6,000 are part-time students. Prior to the pandemic, courses were available during the daytime, evenings, weekends, and the delivery mode is both face-to-face and online.  Then too, student to faculty ratio was 20:1.  At the time of the visit, only around 30% of its students attend classes on campus while the rest attend online classes.  

Good profile.  The roster of NCC faculty is enviable, there being doctorate degree holders at twice the national rate for community colleges in the US.  The President is also supported by five Vice Presidents for particular concerns, namely: academic affairs, student services, finance, institutional advancement, and facilities management.  While I was personally received by President Jermaine Williams and discussed possible future partnerships between NCC and QCU, we had the chance to meet, albeit online, several Vice Presidents that included Dr. Maria Conzali of Student Services, Dr. Mark Laush of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Adrian V. Kerrigan of Institutional Advancement.

Each of them discussed their role in the administration of NCC.  I likewise shared QCU’s structure, program offerings, and how Mayor Joy Belmonte as Chair of the Board of Regents supported the University’s learning continuity plan and provision of computer laptops and internet connections to students and faculty members.  President Jermaine Williams also disclosed that they also loaned computer laptops to their students.  He also mentioned that students and faculty members were also infrastructurally challenged when they moved their classes to full online particularly the fact that multiple family members were using the internet at their home and this somehow caused connectivity issues.

Preparation as Purpose

The idea for the visit to these community colleges in the United States had two objectives.  The first was to prepare for a CHED grant on University Internationalization that we submitted.  Since our proposal indicated that QCU will provide training for officials of local colleges and universities to engage with counterpart international institutions to achieve internationalization, it was deemed necessary to explore the process for ourselves. 

Thus, the conduct of benchmarking with these community colleges allowed me to gain not only the experience but the insight as well on how we can best craft the training program for LUCs in the event that our grant application is given affirmative action.  The second was to pursue possible opportunities for our faculty members and students in terms of exchange programs and research collaborations. We also intend to explore other areas of engagement between our institutions, and of course, bring Quezon City and QCU into the consciousness of international academic institutions.

It is important to note that my visit to San Jose Community College on December 1, and Nassau Community College on December 10, 2021, were very eventful and pleasant. Policies, processes, and practices were shared, plans and goals were discussed, facilities were visited. We were able to draw up commonalities that reassured our leadership of QCU that our institution is on the right track and not falling so far behind.  I was also especially interested in the level of involvement and support of their respective states in the operations of their colleges. That while these institutions were technically state-operated, the governance set-up was quite different since their respective city mayors nor Presidents did not sit on the Board.  Their Presidents report accomplishments and operational challenges but had no vote in the policymaking.  Thus, strictly speaking, their Presidents were chief operating officers (COO).  Also, students had to pay tuition and other fees but comparatively lower than private colleges and universities.  Scholarships were also made available to their students.  It can be noted that these institutions are supported by state funds, fees paid by students, and endowments from business organizations and alumni.

The opportunity for sharing the curriculum in various programs was also discussed.  While QCU only has five-course offerings, these were all Bachelors’s degree programs.  Both community colleges offered Diploma and Certificate courses with a wide range of offerings.  SJCC offered courses that range from information technology, business to cosmetology.  NCC’s courses were from cradle to grave with courses for nursing assistants to mortuary operations.  These institutions certainly and purposefully produced graduates that can find jobs within their locality.  For SJCC, we entertained partnership in the area of entrepreneurship and information technology since QCU can benefit from improving its programs in the “Silicon Valley” direction. From NCC, our interest was in the process of transfer credits given to technical courses towards degree programs.

In terms of academic and research collaborations, my goal is to create meaningful partnerships so we can send our faculty and students for training and exchange programs.  Hence, meeting with my counterparts in SJCC and NCC paved the way to put across each other’s willingness to send and receive faculty members and students via exchange programs.  Particular attention to tap on Fulbright grants fueled each other’s interest to collaborate.  The possibility of research partnerships was seriously explored as well. 

Needless to say, campus visits also give one a fresh perspective in terms of equipment and facilities, building layouts and design, environmental considerations, etc. Their sprawling campuses and their upkeep are also very admirable and could provide insights and inputs to the blueprint of our campus development plan for years to come.  A bonus to this trip was an ocular visit to Stanford University Campus grounds that strengthened our vision for our campuses to be conducive, comforting, cultivating haven of learning for Q Citizens. 

This benchmarking activity far exceeded our expectations and the experience brought depth and breadth to continue our growth trajectory at QCU.  This trip reinforced the need to persist in our practice to work closely with our colleagues in the city administration, faculty, and community to move QCU forward and realize new and innovative ways to serve our students and Quezon City.

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