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Failure to communicate: CLC drops international program

Eighteen international students who were set to attend Central Lakes College, Brainerd will now end up out of state because of a language barrier.

The students, all from Central America and the Caribbean, were to have their stay at CLC funded through a $604,000 grant connected to the Scholarships for Education and Economic Development (S.E.E.D.) program. CLC was preparing for its first year in the program, and would have been the only Minnesota college to participate.

A matter of communication

CLC President Larry Lundblad said they knew things weren't going to work out when Kayra Alhambra of S.E.E.D. visited the CLC campus.

"We found out that the majority of the students do not have any English skills at all, and we're not set up to teach ESL at that level," he said. "We don't have the resource to hire the faculty to do that."

He added that school leaders are disappointed they couldn't continue with the program, even though it wasn't a top priority.

Lundblad said members of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities in general are also faced with tough financial decisions and cutbacks, adding that there were expectations in the grant that they weren't aware of.

"That's probably more our fault in terms of doing our homework," he said. "We just assumed at least a minimum of English skill proficiency."

He also said the school hadn't gotten very far in the process of finding host families.

Paul Silva, director of the S.E.E.D. program at Georgetown University, said CLC backed out early enough for them to change plans.

CLC would have been one of nine colleges nationwide participating in the S.E.E.D. program, and the only one in Minnesota.

Silva said colleges are selected through a competitive Request For Proposal (RFP) process, adding that CLC had a very good proposal and budget to initially receive the S.E.E.D. grant, but over the weeks and months, they realized it wasn't in the budget for this point.

"And we're absolutely fine by that," he said. "I thank the president [Lundblad] for the advance notice."

He also said there was enough time to find another college for the students.

Students directed to Wisconsin

When Georgetown looked for placement for the additional 18 students, North Central Technical College in Wisconsin jumped at the opportunity to grow their international student program, Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Jennifer Johnson said.

Johnson also said the 18 students who were originally going to attend CLC will join 18 other incoming North Central students as well as 19 second-year students.

North Central is now seeking host families for 36 first-year students.

"We don't have host families yet for even half of those, but that's not unusual yet at this time," she said. "It will be a challenge to find twice as many homes, but we're certainly up to it, and our community always steps up to the plate to help out."

Silva is comfortable with the transition.

"It's a veteran college that's been with us for over 20 years," Silva said.

While the S.E.E.D. program began in 2008, Silva said he was referring to its predecessor program, Cooperative Association of States for Scholarships (C.A.S.S.), previously called Central American Scholarship Program (C.A.S.P.), which began in 1987.

"The students aren't going to be abandoned," Lundblad said, adding he was assured the students would have opportunity elsewhere. "These are low-income students. This is probably their one chance in life to get some education."

Upcoming S.E.E.D. students are currently going through pre-departure orientations in their home countries, and will arrive at their destinations in August.

The initial plan

A Feb. 17 press release from CLC announced that CLC was to receive $604,737 to host the 18 students for two years through a Youth Scholarships program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The students were to have host families arranged for their first year, and live in an apartment complex adjacent to the Brainerd campus the second year. Also, they were all to study business management together.

According to the release, the first priority for the incoming students would be assisting with the English language. Most of the participants are from indigenous, rural and minority populations, and arrive with little or no English-speaking ability. Structured ESL instruction is required during their first two semesters.

A March 6 press release said all eighteen students - nine male and nine female, ages 18-23 - had been selected for CLC. There are four from Mexico, three from El Salvador, three from Nicaragua, two from Guatemala, two from Haiti, two from Dominican Republic and two from Honduras.

According to CLC Marketing Director Steve Waller, the grant was obtained under the leadership of Vice President Suresh Tiwari and Director of Student Life Erich Heppner. Heppner traveled to Washington D.C. to select the 18 student names.

The March 6 press release and a March 21 press release called for prospective host families to step up.

However, on May 10, another press release said CLC withdrew the grant.

Looking to the future

Lundblad said CLC might pursue the S.E.E.D. grant again down the road.

To qualify for the S.E.E.D. program, two-year colleges have to meet many expectations. Colleges in small and medium-sized towns are preferred, and they must have good connections to the community.

The vast majority of students themselves are from rural backgrounds.

"Community colleges are very linked to the local community," Silva said. "We want our students to be very supported and very involved."

Silva also said if CLC applied in the future, he would consider them again.

Georgetown University implements the S.E.E.D. scholarship program, which in turn is funded by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), Silva said.

The other international student programs at CLC will continue as usual.

"Those students come with a good background in English, so they can move right into the courses with little difficulty," Lundblad said.