Local Haitian educators are taking a lead role in forming an international consortium of colleges to help rebuild and reform Haiti’s system of higher education, which was devastated in the earthquake last year.
More than two dozen colleges have expressed interest in joining the new consortium, including Harvard, Boston and Bentley universities. Helping to put together the educational initiative are Carole Berotte Joseph, currently president of Massachusetts Bay Community College, and Alix Cantave, associate director of the Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Both were born in Haiti.
“I think it’s wonderful that people are coming through because there are big needs in Haiti,” said Berotte Joseph, the first Haitian-American president of a U.S. college. “Some people didn’t know there was a university system in Haiti. They think there’s nothing but poverty.”
The earthquake destroyed the campuses of most of 32 colleges surveyed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and the rest were damaged. As many as 200 professors and 6,000 students were killed, based on one estimate. The schools have since reopened, holding classes in temporary quarters, tents and even outdoors as they await funding to rebuild.
Haiti’s 159 colleges, which had enrolled about 40,000 students, were already struggling academically before the quake. The country lacks a system for accrediting colleges to assure quality, and only a few are internationally recognized. Most use teaching methods based on an outdated French model.
The Consortium for Rebuilding and Improving Higher Education in Haiti will focus on modernizing academics and restructuring how the institutions are governed.
“It’s a good time for us to rethink everything and pull from the best of all the various systems” of higher education, Berotte Joseph said.
A cross-section of the county’s colleges have applied to become members of the consortium, which will coordinate their efforts. Besides the three private universities locally, Wheelock, Lesley and Regis colleges are interested in helping. So too are Notre Dame, Syracuse and New York universities, big private schools.
Among public institutions wanting to get involved are the City University of New York, University of Michigan and University of California-Santa Barbara.
“We have some really good institutions,” Cantave said. “It’s a very healthy mix of institutions that’s interested.”
Colleges from Canada and Spain have moved to join, with other international applicants possible from Chile and the Caribbean.
Through the consortium, Haitian colleges and member institutions will be paired.
“Some institutions are known for certain things,” Berotte Joseph said. “I think they will pair with an institution in Haiti that needs that kind of development.”
Cantave said Bentley, for instance, wants to work with the business school at the State University of Haiti. The business-oriented university in Waltham is willing to help on business education, curriculum and faculty development, graduate student and faculty projects and effective administrative practices.
Harvard is preparing to extend 11 scholarships to Haitians as short-term executive fellows at the Kennedy School of Government and Institutes for Higher Education in the Graduate School of Education.
California State University-Sacramento has offered its expertise on using educational technology for distance learning and online coursework. CUNY wants to work with regional Haitian universities outside Port-au-Prince, which did not sustain as much physical damage from the quake but need to build their educational capacity.
“We expect institutions will have to raise funds to do what they do” by applying for grants, Cantave said.
Support for a coordinating staff to facilitate communication, Berotte Joseph said, could come from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund or private foundations.
Planning for the consortium began taking shape not long after the January 2010 quake and solidified at a meeting with educators in Haiti last fall. Leaders of consortium members plan to convene in Boston later this month. During the summer, a workshop on academic governance and administration is scheduled in Haiti, Cantave said.
Even with the unmet basic needs in post-quake Haiti, where so many people still live in tents without an adequate water supply or proper sanitation, Berotte Joseph said it was important to the country’s future to upgrade its colleges.
“This is part of the rebuilding process. As we rebuild, we want to build something that is better than what we had,” said Berotte Joseph, who this summer moves to Bronx Community College as its next president.