Department touts technical colleges

During a typical week, Sanford Chandler meets with leaders from Russia, Saudi Arabia or India to promote Georgia’s expertise in higher education.

Chandler isn’t talking up the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech or any of the other colleges in the University System of Georgia. Instead he’s championing the state’s technical colleges.

Since October, Chandler has led the new International Center for Technical Education. The department is raising awareness about the Technical College System of Georgia so that the system could provide curriculum, faculty training and other consulting services to countries seeking to develop and improve their own technical workforce. In his role as assistant commissioner for global initiatives, Chandler will also help the system’s 25 colleges enhance and expand student and faculty exchange programs.

“We are hoping people will understand that we are a player on the international market,” Chandler said. “Many emerging countries lack people with mid-level technical skills. We can provide that training and help them build a middle class in their countries.”

The system already works with Kenya to develop nursing programs, sharing the curriculum and training practices developed by Georgia colleges. Chandler was recently in Riyadh meeting with leaders from Egypt’s Alexandria University who are working in Saudi Arabia and need technicians and trainers in the area of ammonia refrigeration. Lanier Technical College teaches this program and leaders are looking at how the school can set up training units for the Persian Gulf region.

These partnerships and exchanges can provide Georgia’s technical colleges with additional money to plug financial holes created by cuts in state funding, Chandler said. International students pay four times as much in tuition as Georgia residents. Chattahoochee Technical College enrolled 199 international students last year and their tuition gave the school an additional $780,000, said Chandler, who was the college president at the time.

The goal is to encourage more international students to enroll and to sell the system’s curriculum and expertise to foreign countries and colleges looking to start their own programs, Chandler said. Both would provide the system with additional money that could be used to purchase new equipment and updates, he said.

Technical colleges aren’t like the trade schools that existed a generation ago. Georgia’s system offers more than 600 certificate and degree programs in business, health care, computer information systems and other high demand careers.

The department is still developing a business plan, but Commissioner Ron Jackson said the ultimate goal is for the system to be a “global leader in technical education.”

Jackson said a global focus strengthens the system’s mission to create a competitive workforce in Georgia. The international center will provide job opportunities for students, graduates and faculty and work with other state agencies that provide job training and business recruitment projects.

American colleges already have close relationships with institutions in China, India and South Korea. Chandler said the system is also looking at developing industries and economies in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Chandler speaks a bit of Arabic, Chinese and Spanish and wants to learn Korean as he continues to build connections with educators and government leaders overseas.

“There are so many opportunities,” Chandler said. “We are asking ourselves what part of this big animal can we approach?”