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Education Crisscrosses the Globe

As the study-abroad marketplace becomes more competitive, U.S. institutions are finding ways to attract the cream of the international student crop while operating satellite campuses overseas.

By Katherine L. George

Foreign Attraction

According to the 2006 annual report published by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 2005-06 was the seventh consecutive academic year that U.S. colleges and universities hosted more than a half-million international students. India, China, Korea, Japan, and Canada led the list of contributing countries. More than 100 U.S. campuses each host more than 1,000 international students annually.

Since 2004, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) has been surveying its nearly 500 member universities in the United States and Canada. Three times a year it asks institutions for data on international graduate applications, admissions, and enrollment processes. Results of the 2006 survey show that international applications for fall 2006 were up 12 percent over applications for fall 2005. However, this growth followed a two-year cumulative decline in applications of 32 percent since fall 2003.

CGS President Debra Stewart says the United States still attracts more international students than any other country to its graduate and undergraduate programs: 27 percent of all international students. But market share has been eroding since 1998. Competition from other English-speaking countries is a top reason cited for a reduction in the number and quality of applicants to U.S. institutions. For example, in April 2006, England’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, announced in The Guardian that he was setting a goal of attracting 100,000 more international students to Britain in the next five years. Australia has plans aimed at tripling international student enrollment by 2013.

Another harbinger of change: Twenty-nine European countries met in 1999 at the University of Bologna, Italy, to create the Bologna Process. Its purpose is to harmonize academic-degree and quality-assurance standards throughout Europe. As this harmonization occurs, students will be allowed increased transferability of credits across borders, benefiting those in Europe who might otherwise apply to U.S. institutions. “With degree programs much more transparent, Europe will attract more Asians, too,” says Stewart.

Yet another critical development is the effort by China and India—two countries sending the greatest number of students abroad to study—to build up their higher education systems. While the supply of students seeking to study abroad can support a great number of institutions, other dynamics are at play. “Top institutions will always have to turn down candidates, but what they’re concerned about is not the quantity of international applicants but the quality,” says Victor Johnson, associate director of education for public policy at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. “The best and the brightest in the world can study anywhere.”

Houston: We Have No Problem

At the same time, the University of Houston (UH) reports consistent numbers of international students—more than 2,300 each year since 2000. Today, the main campus alone has 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students, 2,700 of them foreign, meaning that international students comprise 8 percent of the student population. Anita Gaines, director of international student and scholar services, says fall 2005 enrollment included 447 students from India and 381 from China. Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Republic of Korea were also represented by more than 100 students apiece.

“We attract graduate students and upperclassmen because of the very warm international environment in Houston,” explains Jerald Strickland, UH’s assistant vice chancellor for international studies and programs. “Communities within the Greater Houston area focus on all the Asian cultures as well as [those of] the Middle East.” Local industry based on engineering—particularly petroleum engineering—helps attract students to the natural sciences and mathematics. Strickland is convinced that the diverse cultural environment of the university itself is also inviting.

One goal for the Council of Graduate Schools is to keep talented foreign students in the United States for the long haul, says Stewart. “The long-term implications are pretty serious. One-third of the Nobel Prizes have been won by Americans who originally were students from overseas. Foreign graduate students play a crucial role in university-based science and engineering research.”

Stewart cites three overall advantages the United States enjoys in attracting talent from around the world. “First is that English is the language of science, engineering, and, increasingly, all advanced studies. Second, we have a traditional culture of democracy that fosters the sort of open society that is vital to effective research and learning. If you don’t have it, it’s hard to create. We have to be careful to protect that from threats,” explains Stewart. “Lastly, we have a large number of great graduate schools and research universities, and we know how to do graduate education better than anybody. Our model is so successful that it’s being copied everywhere.”

Community Colleges: A Global Stepping-Stone

More than 1,100 community colleges serve more than 11.6 million students in the United States. According to Judith Irwin, director of international programs and services, American Association of Community Colleges, while the typical study-abroad program in community colleges occurs between the first and second years, a semester-length program is usually more beneficial. Yet, students face their own set of challenges. “Many are older, with families and jobs,” says Irwin. The average age of community college students nationwide is 29. Even so, there is tremendous interest from students in opportunities to study abroad, says Irwin. “It opens doors.”

One dynamic international program is Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) in Honolulu, a seven-campus system that is part of the University of Hawaii. To earn an associate’s degree, a student must have at least six “languages and cultures” credits and another six “global and multicultural foundation” credits.

Although the existence of two-year colleges is becoming more widely known abroad, it can be difficult for community colleges to compete for international students despite their best marketing efforts. Ken Kiyohara, a native of Osaka, Japan, attended high school in Ohio as an exchange student, graduated from the University of Iowa with his master’s degree in teaching Japanese as a second language, and eventually earned his MBA at Pepperdine University in California. “I didn’t speak much English back then,” says Kiyohara. “It was more like sink or swim.” Recalling the size of Big 10 Iowa, he notes, “If I’d known about them back in the early 1980s, I might have gone to a community college first.” Today Kiyohara is international program coordinator at University of Hawaii’s Honda International Center, which is located on the KCC campus and which provides services and activities that support all aspects of international education for all University of Hawaii community colleges.

Since finances may present an obstacle for students who would otherwise choose to study abroad, the University of Hawaii initiated a scholarship program to assist its community college students. The program enables 10 scholarships awarded each semester to support students from any field of study to participate in a one-year program. For the first semester, recipients stay at KCC for an intensive, content-based second-language program. During the second semester, students study in China, Japan, or Korea. The scholarships are all-inclusive, covering tuition, room and board, airfare, and local transportation in the country of study.

Of a total student population of more than 7,000, the University of Hawaii system typically hosts about 550 international students, about 60 percent of them from Japan. (Approximately one-fourth of Hawaii’s residents are ethnic Japanese.) Kiyohara is also seeing an increase in Korean students. To him, that indicates another valuable role for the community college system: providing bridge programs in English for international students who may choose to remain in the United States to pursue a four-year degree.

Sending Students Everywhere

Many higher education groups and institutions are enthusiastic about the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Act of 2006 introduced by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). The goals of the act are to significantly increase the number of U.S. students studying abroad and to make those study-abroad opportunities more diverse in terms of participants, fields of study, and destinations, especially in the developing world. However, institutions aren’t waiting for Congress to deliver the goods. According to the Institute of International Education report, the number of U.S. students studying abroad in 2004-05 increased almost 8 percent over the previous year, resulting in a total of more than 200,000. And just as India and China account for the highest numbers of international students in the United States, they increasingly are becoming host countries for U.S. students wishing to study abroad.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities has had off-campus study programs in place for 30 years and is doing its part to get more students to cross international borders. Abroad, CCCU’s Oxford summer honors program involved more than 40 students in 2006. According to Ken Bussema, CCCU vice president for student programs, the organization is also looking beyond Europe to China, Russia, Costa Rica and other Latin American countries, Uganda, Australia, and the Middle East.

CCCU seeks opportunities to launch study-abroad programs in parts of the world where it might be difficult for its member institutions to manage a program. The organization currently has 45 member and affiliate colleges in North America and 34 affiliate colleges on other continents. CCCU also tries to find ways for students to board with families for maximum exposure to the culture.

While financial aid is always a challenge for private schools, some schools allow students to apply their full financial aid to study abroad, says Bussema. Although CCCU encourages full-semester study opportunities, Bussema does recognize a trend toward short-term programs in January or during summers, since that allows institutions to keep more of their tuition dollars at home and enables them to serve more students in less time for a lower price.

Financing Study Abroad

Education in the Middle East

Despite recent political turmoil in the region, much is happening in the Middle East on the higher education landscape. Private institutions, some funded by host governments, are teaching in English with international faculty—bringing American-style education to their citizens while also attracting international students. The United Arab Emirates, for example, is establishing American-style liberal arts colleges, including the American University in Dubai and the American University of Sharjah, and is becoming home to one of the world’s top business schools—Insead—which has campuses in France and Singapore. All classes will be taught in English. The American University of Afghanistan is being built on the ruins of the American International School of Kabul.

Outside the capital city of Dubai in Qatar lies Education City, an initiative of the royal family through the Qatar Foundation. Qatar owns the land, and although Qatar students are in the minority, Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al-Misned, Qatar’s first lady, holds that Education City is a crucial step toward educating the entire nation. To link these universities with industry, Qatar established the Qatar Science and Technology Park at Education City in 2004.

Exporting Degrees

At the same time, some high-profile U.S. colleges are making it possible for students to pursue their academic studies through branches of their schools abroad. Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar (SFS-Q) opened its doors in August 2005 as the first overseas campus to offer a Georgetown undergraduate degree. On that campus is the Center for International and Regional Studies, which in its first year sponsored lectures; a conference on Arab women; a symposium on U.S.-Middle East relations; and an international, model United Nations conference for high school students.

Making connections. According to James Reardon-Anderson, the dean of SFS-Q, all initial faculty have come from Georgetown’s Washington, D.C., campus. For the 2006-07 academic year, the school will have 14 teaching faculty and two teaching assistants. “Our Qatar campus gives faculty the opportunity to continue making connections and to expand their research in this part of the world, perhaps particularly in the area of inter-religious dialogue,” he explains.

Enrolling diversity. Admission to the four-year, liberal-arts-based program, which leads to a bachelor’s of science in foreign service, is handled in Qatar. The class of 2009 has 25 students from 10 countries, and nearly half are Qatari. The others hail from Bangladesh, Bosnia, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, and the United States. The incoming class of 2010 will have about 35 students and will bring even more diversity into the program.

Exploring options. At this early stage, the Qatar campus has not launched any summer or semester-long exchange programs, but Reardon-Anderson says he hopes to develop options in this area during the next few years. In the meantime, SFS-Q participates in an annual admissions tour with the other four universities in Education City. The SFS-Q class of 2009 traveled briefly to the Washington campus last year, while a small group of Georgetown’s Washington students traveled to Qatar to assist in running the model United Nations conference. Says Reardon-Anderson, “Keeping our student populations connected is very important to us.”

One committed CCCU member institution is Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania. Mary Ann Hollinger, dean of external programs, says that in the 1994-95 academic year, only 32 students studied abroad for a full semester. Ten years later, that number had jumped more than 600 percent to 198 students as a result of a deliberate focus by the college on overseas study. The total number of students earning academic credit in short-term and semester-long programs in 2004-05 was 469 out of a student body of 2,882.

The college arranges short-term study abroad, but for semester-long programs, it prefers to work with third-party providers such as CCCU and BCA (Brethren Colleges Abroad). “Once you invest in your own semester-long programs, you’re put in the position of needing to populate them,” Hollinger explains. “Then you may be pushing students toward destinations that don’t interest them.” Third-party providers, she notes, also allow Messiah to offer many more locations than the college could support on its own.

Shortly after Hollinger arrived at Messiah nine years ago, the school changed its model for financing study abroad, in large part to eliminate differential pricing of programs and to streamline payment and administrative processes. During their semester abroad, students are charged using a formula that is equivalent to on-campus tuition, room and board, and a full meal plan. “We didn’t want study abroad to be an opportunity only for privileged students. Now the billing process is exactly the same as for an on-campus semester, with all institutional aid being portable, and with airfare rolled in,” says Hollinger.

More recently, the college added an administrative fee of $750-$950 for certain programs, in part to support Messiah’s insistence on an on-site director for all approved programs. This requirement is crucial, explains Hollinger, “as a safety net for students’ health and well-being, and to provide greater depth and reflection for their experiential learning.”

To recruit students, Messiah holds a fair at the beginning of the first freshman semester and gives presentations in most first-year seminars about off-campus learning opportunities. Hollinger maintains that helping students decide about study abroad in their first semester helps them plan their total curriculum better so they can graduate on time. She explains, “Even those whose majors have few electives find that, with careful planning, they can weave study abroad into one of their eight semesters.”

Faculty Can Lead the Way

Two years ago, a generous bequest of $100 million put Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, on the map in a whole new way, according to President Lewis M. Duncan. With half of the bequest unrestricted, the college ratcheted up a program to send its faculty abroad. To move beyond an 18th century Euro-American perspective, the new program allows faculty to focus more broadly on parts of the world important for a 21st-century liberal arts education. During a three-year period, each of the institution’s 200 faculty members is taking a summer trip averaging three weeks, often in groups of 20 to 25, to such destinations as China, Morocco, Galapagos, Ecuador, and emerging Latin American countries. Because these groups are intentionally cross-disciplinary, participants build friendships and collegial ties that are leading to proposals for joint courses. Administrative staff who work with students are also eligible for the trips if nominated by a faculty member.

George Herbst, vice president and treasurer at Rollins, says that when Duncan was hired in 2004, the institution was looking for a president who could take Rollins to the next level of internationalization and global citizenship. While the college previously sent faculty to study abroad, the earlier program had attracted only the approximately 20 percent of the faculty already deeply committed to international programs. For the remaining instructors, the effort of writing a proposal, competing, and then organizing an international trip amounted to a threshold deemed too high. The new program eases the whole process for international study and travel.

That doesn’t mean that Rollins has forgotten about its students. Another $12 million pledge and other monies are being used to develop a living-learning center in Shanghai where the major donor’s company already has a presence. According to Duncan, this affords “an opportunity to open up China without the usual constraints.” Two endowed chairs come with the program—one for a visiting chair as yet to be determined, the other held by the director of the Rollins China Center who holds a joint professorship in the undergraduate arts and sciences program and the graduate school of business.

The program serves the institution’s primary mission. “We’re living up to what we say: educating for global citizenship,” says Duncan. He notes that in time the program may allow Rollins to attract and retain more faculty, and it should help attract more students who realize the institutional commitment that Rollins has made. 

Here and There

Conversation Starter
How far does your institution reach around the globe? What specific challenges has your institution encountered with its international and study-abroad programs? E-mail carole.schweitzer@nacubo.org.

What does the future hold for the education of global citizens and the exchange of students all over the map? Will more U.S. colleges and universities make study in other countries mandatory? According to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education on May 26, 2006, if you entered as a freshman at Goucher College in Baltimore this fall, you can’t graduate without earning at least some academic credit abroad—even if that means studying Italian opera for three weeks in Rome.

At the same time that more U.S. institutions are embracing global education opportunities for domestic students, they appear equally focused on remaining competitive within the worldwide market for delivering education to international students. NAFSA: Association of International Education, recently released a report, “Restoring U.S. Competitiveness for International Students and Scholars.” NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson suggests that a national strategy is needed to ensure that the United States continues to attract the brightest minds and best talent from abroad. For UH’s Strickland, the formula is straightforward. The manner in which an institution receives international students makes all the difference. “Foreign students beget foreign students—if they’re treated well.”

KATHERINE L. GEORGE, president of Catalina Communications, Fredericksburg, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.