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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

And I'm Robert Smith. American universities have their hands full educating their own students. So why would one small school in upstate New York spend its time and money helping young people halfway around the world?

In the second part of our series on higher education in China, NPR's Larry Abramson looks at how exporting American know-how can reap benefits back in this country's small towns.

LARRY ABRAMSON: The State University of New York in Morrisville is known for two things: its equine science program and its automotive technology school.

(Soundbite of hissing)

ABRAMSON: Morrisville is training future automotive technicians, like student Dan Akers, who's using compressed air to test for leaks in transmissions. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Dan Akers is the lecturer and instructor for the class, not a student.]

Mr. DAN AKERS (SUNY Morrisville): Today right now, we're doing valve bodies. This past week, we've completely disassembled them right down to the bare nuts and bolts to it. And today we've just assembled the valve bodies, which are pretty much - you could call it the brain of the transmission.

ABRAMSON: SUNY Morrisville is small, 3,400 students, and rural. But when it comes to teaching car-repair skills, Morrisville uses hands-on techniques to train people who would dare to repair today's highly computerized cars.

Mr. TRAVIS LaROQUE(ph) (SUNY Morrisville): So if we look at this one, this is going to go where on the vehicle?

ABRAMSON: Lecturer Travis LaRoque stands before a class of future auto technicians. He's preparing them to use an expensive gadget that senses wheel alignment.

Mr. LaROQUE: All I'm going to do is I can stick my thumb in this screw, put my finger in this screw, and I can screw this up and down. It has a long…

ABRAMSON: Morrisville has a mock showroom, a faux service desk and the labs here look like the bays where your dealer fixes your new car.

Last November, the faculty gave a tour of this facility to officials from Dalian, China, a coastal town with 2 million or so residents. The Chinese visitors were pretty impressed by this lab. As more and more residents of Dalian buy new cars, they're going to need real technicians, according to Ray Cross, Morrisville's president.

Dr. RAY CROSS (President, SUNY Morrisville): In Chinese educational systems, service and technical people are often not a part of a college system, but more of a training process. In fact, it's the guy on the corner who figures it out for himself, and you can't do that with modern vehicles.

ABRAMSON: So Cross and his colleagues are proposing to help Dalian's University of Technology build a facility just like this one. Now you might wonder, why should a small school in a cornfield in upstate New York go through all the trouble of setting up an exchange with a city on the other side of the globe? President Cross says he has no choice.

Dr. CROSS: Because we're in a cornfield and because we have more cows than people in this county, we have to take some aggressive postures in order to be more globally oriented, in order to better prepare our students for the future marketplace.

ABRAMSON: But wait a minute. Isn't China trying to eat our lunch? Why is an American institution trying to help China improve its higher-education system?

Dr. CROSS: My response to that is how can you not help these folks? Because we're going to be selling vehicles there. We want to be a part of that growing economy, as well.

ABRAMSON: In fact, the State University of New York, SUNY, is trying on many fronts to break into the burgeoning world of Chinese education. The SUNY system is also trying out a pilot program with Nanjing University to develop a joint degree program. These efforts take years, nee decades, to develop. Dennis Simon of SUNY's Levin Institute has logged a lot of jet lag putting these agreements in place.

Mr. DENNIS SIMON (Levin Institute, SUNY Morrisville): The Morrisville program will provide a vehicle for student exchange, for faculty exchange, probably for some technology transfer. In other words, it represents the kind of multifaceted relationship that SUNY is looking to have across a city such as Dalian.

ABRAMSON: Simon sees this relationship as a fair exchange. His university also knows that as globalization hits higher education, if SUNY does not sign up to work with the Chinese, some other school will. Larry Abramson, NPR News.

SMITH: You can hear part one of Larry Abramson's report from Dalian, China on npr.org.

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