KARACHI: The California-based Coastline Community College will open its doors to Pakistani students from January, allowing them to take American-accredited college courses through distance learning.
“The college is offering a unique and first-time higher education opportunity to young people in Pakistan whereby they can start their US-accredited associate degree course from home and finish it in the United States with the Coastline’s offered programme,” Anila Ali, the college representative in Pakistan, told The Express Tribune at the formal launch of the programme held on Wednesday at the Marriott hotel. Sindh education minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro and USAID’s regional director Leon S Waskin were among the keynote speakers.
First of its kind
In arguably the first-of-its-kind initiative in Pakistan, the enrolled students will have this option to transfer to a four-year degree programme in any American university once they complete their 2-year associate degree, she added. “Our students will have this edge that the California state universities in Berkeley, Los Angeles and Irvine give qualified California community college students priority in admissions over other applicants.”
While talking about the college’s goal, Ali added that the Coastline wanted to make a US-college degree accessible and affordable in Pakistan. However, an associate degree that flaunts a price tag of $20,000 can hardly be termed ‘accessible’ or even ‘affordable’ for the households from across the economic strata even though the college is offering it way cheaper than the traditional colleges in the US.
“Affordability is definitely an issue if we assess the current socio-economic conditions in Pakistan,” said Ali, as she qualified her earlier statement. “Keeping this in view, our targeted segments in the society are definitely not only the 5% elite, but we also want to target the upper-middle class. This makes 15% of the population our targeted segment.”
Waskin, USAID’s regional director for Sindh and Balochistan, termed the launch of the Coastline Community College in Pakistan a ‘milestone event’. “It is a terrific idea that can respond very well to some of the Pakistan’s most crucial needs in the education sector.”
As a researcher for a committee on education of the state legislature of Michigan, Waskin spoke about how he researched on the economic impact of community colleges in the state. “I concluded that the impact was great and recommended the state increase support for the community colleges,” he said. “This is a bit of a homecoming for me.”
Waskin added that there are 1,167 community colleges in the United States that collectively have enrolled over 12.4 million students. “These colleges are unique as they are more affordable and offer a distinct learning environment with more individualised attention,” he said. “They offer a pathway to a four-year degree as the students who wish to pursue a Bachelor’s degree can easily transfer from a community college to a university.”
Sindh education department’s additional chief secretary, Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, who was invited to the launch, however, shared his apprehension regarding Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) accreditation. “The college’s online degree will face recognition issues and the programme itself might suffer a setback if the accreditation was not sought through the HEC,” he said.
Education minister Khuhro agreed. “The Sindh province has 260 odd colleges as compared to roughly 50,000 schools. The community needs to come forward as we need multiple initiatives like this to bridge the gap,” said Khuhro.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2014.