Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Value of International Education

The Value of International Education

I  stumbled across the following video of Leonard Bernstein introducing a seven-year-old Yo Yo Ma in a performance for President Kennedy in 1962. It is a wonderful emblem of the success of education, the international community, and our nation's cultural prosperity.

In that spirit, I share my recent op-ed from University Business:

The Decline in International Enrollment is Hurting Domestic Students

U.S. higher education was dealt a serious blow this fall. The expansion of international education that has been a critical financial stimulus for American colleges and universities has experienced an alarming setback. International education in the forms of U.S. students studying abroad and U.S. institutions enrolling students from other countries has been an area of important growth on campuses across the country for the past decade.

Study abroad has been consistently confirmed as one of the most transformative educational experiences available to a college student. At Susquehanna University, we are so committed to this developmental advantage that we require all our students to have a study-away experience that engages them in a culture different from their own through our GO (Global Opportunities) Program. To a person, our students declare that this is one of the most empowering and meaningful components of their undergraduate education.

Students who come to the U.S. from other countries are benefiting from the same type of transformative learning experience while they are on our campuses. They are also providing invaluable benefits to domestic students as they enrich our ability to provide sustained intercultural dialogs and important enhancements of campus diversity.

In a recent comparison of surveys of three cohorts of college graduates comparing U.S. students who had high levels of interaction with international students and those who did not, the students who had high levels of interaction had significantly higher levels of skill development across all cohorts. Unsurprisingly, these included higher achievement in reading or speaking a foreign language and improved ability to interact with people of different races, nationalities, or religions. The study also revealed that those students were more successful in acquiring new skills and knowledge independently, gaining in-depth knowledge of a field, creative problem solving, synthesis of information, quantitative abilities, understanding the role of science and technology in society, and computer use.[1]

We see significant positive changes in our students following their GO Program experiences, but we also observe our students teaching each other about the values of difference. I recently spoke to a student who told me that before he enrolled at Susquehanna he would have been sympathetic to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville because he had not had meaningful interactions with people of other races, but through his experiences in a diverse academic community his views had reversed. International diversity on a college campus provides the same developmental advantage. These have been shown to provide a competitive advantage to our domestic graduates as they engage in an increasingly complex global economy.[2]

An equally important byproduct in educating foreign nationals is the opportunity to expose them to the best of our culture. They learn the fundamental beauty of a free and democratic society and the ways in which our republic was born out of the founding fathers’ own education in the liberal arts. Our international alumni become our most compelling statesmen as they carry the world of ideas and ways of thinking they encounter at our institutions back to their home countries, and over time, those around them become ancillary beneficiaries of their experience.

Recently, the Institute for International Education (IIE) released their annual Open Doors Report. This year the number of new international students enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities dropped by 7%. This has been fueled by a variety of issues including increased competition from other nations like Canada and Australia. There are also growing perceptions abroad that international students are less welcome on our campuses and in our communities. These perceptions have been fueled by rhetoric coming out of the White House, which has been underscored through actions like the recent travel bans.

International students accounted for $39 billion in net revenue last year. Those funds help U.S. college and universities to provide educational services to all our students, and that revenue has a multifold economic impact in our communities. Those benefits alone should encourage our governmental leaders to become champions in recruiting talented international students to our campuses. The greater benefit however is the educational gifts these students provide to our domestic students and our faculty and staff colleagues. As we participate in an ever more internationally interdependent economy and society, we must provide our students the opportunity to learn from each other how to become effective and informed global citizens. We owe this to all our students.

[1] Jiali Luo and David Jamieson Drake: “Examining the Educational Benefits of Interacting with International Students,” Journal of International Students, vol. 3/2, 2013.
[2] Catherine Montgomery: “A Decade of Internationalisation: Has it Influenced Students’ Views of Cross-Cultural Group Work at University?” in Journal of Studies in International Education, vol.13


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