02/14/2013 03:03 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

India: The New Frontier for Community Colleges

I am excited to post this blog having recently returned home from India!

I traveled there at the invitation of the Indian Ministry of Resource Development to speak about America's community colleges. Educators and policymakers from around the globe spoke at a conference entitled "Mainstreaming Skills in Education -- Creating Relevant Human Resource."

The ministry and other policymakers in India recognize that the community college model can indeed prove highly relevant to addressing workforce needs -- and also highly relevant to transforming the lives of 600 million youth in India through expanded access to higher education.

Access to affordable, quality higher education is a fundamental premise of the community college. In India, that means residents of every segment of the society and income level can find new opportunities through education -- not only at elite universities, but also at open admission community colleges.

Such access is critical.

Government and business leaders are realizing that community colleges are essential to their workforce and economic development plans. In addition to a strong university system, India needs a community college system that teaches a variety of skills and educates students from every walk of life -- a system that provides knowledge and skills training.

While the India of today is thriving with entrepreneurial spirit, technological advances and jobs of the new economy require that India invest in vastly more education and skills training to support its burgeoning infrastructure -- from more health care workers to skilled auto technicians with training in the computer diagnostics required to service modern cars. Such training has not existed before on such a large, institutional scale, and that is exactly why community colleges can be of incredible value to the people and employers of India.

There are challenges. This new model of higher education only works if there is community engagement, business investment, and credential stacking. There also must be a commitment to equal access to higher education for all, as well as equal success. India will grapple with challenges we have faced in the U.S. The country's goal should be that everyone - no matter their family income or background -- has that chance at the "Indian Dream," an opportunity for a successful life as defined by the people of India.

Given the sheer volume of people in India who would benefit from education and training, India is likely to move quickly as policymakers shape their version of the community college. They may well accomplish in five or ten years what it took their U.S. counterparts decades to accomplish.

The work has already begun. Following a global study of community colleges and vocational systems, India's Ministry of Human Resource development aims to pilot 200 community colleges beginning in the fall of 2013.

I am excited to encourage India's community college supporters, and proud that our College has been engaged in this conversation through our own India initiative, which would allow our institution to serve as a model.

As we like to say here at Montgomery College, there are "endless possibilities" at the community college. Let us hope India has the opportunity to provide those possibilities to a whole new population of students.

If a rising tide lifts all boats, then rising education opportunities can lift all people -- and that makes for a healthier world for all of us.