International Innovation: Technical Education in Chile

In an effort to increase access to college education, Central University in Chile and LaGuardia Community College in New York have teamed up to launch the Community College of Santiago, Chile's first community college. Modeled after such institutions in the U.S., Santiago offers an affordable technical education that can lead to a career or transfer to Central University.

college classroom

Closing the Education Gap

Community colleges are a hot topic in the U.S. right now. The Obama administration is pushing 2-year institutions as a key part of the effort to increase college completion rates because they offer a low-cost means to prepare for a career or transfer to a university with the first two years of a bachelor's degree already completed.

With the Community College of Santiago, educators in Chile are hoping to increase college access by importing that model.

There are plenty of professional institutes and technical education centers in Chile. But until now, technical education has been looked down upon by employers and universities, making it a poor route to a career or 4-year education. Santiago has overcome that stigma through its association with Chile's Central University, making it the first institution that can truly bring college education to those who can't afford four years at a university.

community college

A Model for Social Mobility

The Community College of Santiago is operated by Central University and supported by LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. The connection between Central and LaGuardia was originally formed by Jorge Perez, a Chilean expat who teaches math at LaGuardia.

Five years ago, Perez's passion for community colleges as an 'engine for social mobility' led him to link up a former student, who was a dean at Central University, with the administration at LaGuardia. The relationship led to Santiago, and an export of the unique educational opportunities afforded by the community college system.

Current students at Santiago can earn a degree in accounting, business management, construction management, network administration and security, programming or telecommunications. For students who want to transfer, all of the coursework is fully recognized by Central University. Students in five of the six programs will also earn a dual degree from LaGuardia. The CUNY institution reviews the programs' curricula to ensure that they meet New York's high academic standards.

The programs have also already outshone other Chilean technical education in the eyes of employers. The links to LaGuardia and Central University have bolstered the reputation and value of the degree. In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Cristopher Valdés Vergarra, a current student at Santiago, said that his boss plans to promote him when he finishes his 2-year degree in construction management.

Given the early success of the institution, Santiago is already planning its next step. The institution will add more degree programs, and it is aiming to triple its enrollment. Administrators are particularly focused on workforce development, hoping to train more skilled workers and boost Chile's economy.

In order to promote this aspect of the college, administrators have created ties with local industry, recruiting donors to create institutional scholarships and members for a business advisory board. They hope to create internships and more post-graduation employment opportunities by tailoring the college curricula to industry needs.

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