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Houston Community College Helps Expand Educational Options in Qatar


The Texas Tribune
Houston Community College Helps Expand Educational Options in Qatar
Published: May 26, 2012

DOHA, Qatar -- Ahmed Mohamed al-Hassan hit an educational glass ceiling. He needed a higher-education degree to move up the ladder at Aspire Logistics, the company that manages Doha's massive sports complex. Although he had graduated from high school a decade before, his grade-point average was too low to enroll at Qatar University.

"There were no options," said Mr. Hassan, 31. "If I wanted to study, I would have to leave my job."

That changed in September 2010, however, when Qatar partnered with Houston Community College and opened the Community College of Qatar, the country's first such college. Now, Mr. Hassan is the first in his family to go to college, mostly taking night classes as he continues to work full time.

On May 15, less than two years after C.C.Q. opened, 11 students became the country's inaugural community college graduates. The partnership had a rocky beginning, but leaders of both colleges hope the graduation ceremony is the first of many.

The idea to start a community college had been discussed in Qatar since the mid-2000s, said Ibrahim Saleh al-Naimi, acting president of C.C.Q. There has been an increased focus on higher-education standards, and some Qataris found it difficult to get into universities. "Many students had practically no chance to be admitted to Qatar University or, for that matter, Education City," said Mr. Naimi, referring to a Doha campus that has branches of elite foreign universities.

But the country had no experience with community colleges. "They had hats, but no cattle, as we say in Texas," said Mary Spangler, chancellor of H.C.C., one of the largest community colleges in the United States. After a request for proposals yielded eight options, H.C.C. was chosen as the partner for creating the institution.

H.C.C. was chosen in part because it has been one of the most active community colleges internationally, aiding the accreditation efforts of institutions in Vietnam, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. But no arrangement is as complicated as the one with C.C.Q., through which H.C.C. provides the faculty and staff members to teach their curriculum in Doha.

Unlike Texas A&M University's Doha campus, which is overseen by a private foundation and is expected to replicate the College Station campus, C.C.Q. is overseen by a Qatar government ministry, the Supreme Education Council. Consequently, policies are more prone to abrupt changes.

The institutions signed a five-year, $45 million contract in May 2010. Ms. Spangler said the endeavor does not cost the H.C.C. administration any money -- under the contract, any expenses are expected to be reimbursed by the education council. Additionally, H.C.C. will receive a 10 percent fee for its services -- a projected $4.5 million over five years.

"Instead of giving away our expertise, we're making money from it," Ms. Spangler said. To date, H.C.C. officials said, they have received $923,414.

When the college opened in 2010, it offered associate's degrees in arts, science and applied science. There were 304 students, all Qataris. The number of students has more than doubled, but the school has yet to take advantage of the country's substantial expatriate market.

Art Tyler, the H.C.C. deputy chancellor, said opening a college in such a tight time frame would have been impossible in the United States. "I defy anybody to try to do that not only in their own backyard, but do it at arm's reach," he said.

Although the college was up and running quickly, it promptly encountered unforeseen difficulties.

The Supreme Education Council selects the president and the dean of the college, and its first dean clashed with the H.C.C. administration. Ms. Spangler said there was "a tug of war over every single shred of information" and ultimately those differences caused C.C.Q. to go off track on its efforts to become -- as H.C.C. already is -- accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, whose seal of approval is often considered a critical quality control for transferring credits.

forwarded by Matthew Valerius, UMN HHH MPP 2012

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