By Lorenzo L. Esters, Senior Program Director, USA Funds
I was recently invited by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to join a delegation of U.S. educators to attend the 2015 China Annual Conference on International Education in Beijing and Shanghai, China. The trip represented the 15th year that AASCU has taken senior leaders — presidents, provosts, international officers, deans, department heads, and faculty — to China to participate in a series of activities designed to create and sustain educational partnerships in China.
This trip represented an extraordinary opportunity to deepen my understanding of the importance of international education partnerships and the impact of study abroad with China. I interacted with world educational leaders in discussions on topics of mutual interest. I participated in an exposition that attracted more than 35,000 Chinese students who are interested in study abroad.
During our time in Beijing, we scheduled time for a series of discussions with Chinese higher education association partners, to understand Chinese higher education at a macro level. I also presented during a session on the subject “How Higher Education Institutions Work With Funding Agencies to Facilitate Degree Completion and Workforce Readiness: USA Funds: An American Model.”
As a member of Generation X, a generation that has been dubbed “techno savvy” and “globally aware,” I was most surprised by the increasing number of U.S. students of the millennial generation who are now seeking to participate in study abroad experiences. In fact, research indicates that participation in study abroad experiences benefits both the students who participate and the international competitiveness of the U.S. companies for which study abroad students end up working.
Nationally, the number of U.S. students studying abroad for credit during the 2013-2014 academic year grew 5.2 percent, from 289,408 students to 304,467 students. Despite the increase, these study abroad students represent less than 1.5 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States and about 10 percent of U.S. graduates.
Meanwhile, a recent survey found that almost 40 percent of U.S. companies surveyed missed international business opportunities because of a lack of internationally competent personnel. Seventy-five percent of the companies indicated that a global perspective was important for professional staff at both the management and entry level.
As I reflected on my experience in China, I asked several of the higher education professionals who accompanied me, “How does international education and/or U.S. student experiences with study abroad prepare students for success in a diverse global economy?”
Here is what they told me:
Globalization of a campus through international students is mutually beneficial to all parties involved. For international students, it opens up opportunities to improve their communities through higher education. WSU Tri-Cities is the most ethnically diverse campus of WSU, but some of our students may have never been outside of the Tri-Cities region. Interacting with international students provides global awareness to local students and the opportunity to learn from each other. Equally important, our community is one of the smartest communities in the nation and is absolutely behind the globalization of the campus since they know it will also improve the quality and richness of life in the Tri-Cities region.
-Chris Meiers, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Services, Washington State University Tri-Cities
Increasingly, U.S. corporations, including local companies in our region, are expanding globally for resources and markets. However, few U.S. universities incorporate sufficient global aspects in their curriculum. Even fewer require study abroad experiences, causing students to be ill-prepared to understand global environments, markets, consumers, and politics and to work effectively with colleagues from various cultural backgrounds. It’s one of the greatest disconnects in college learning that requires urgent attention and institutional commitment.
-En Mao, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Nicholls State University
Direct intercultural or global experiences enhance students’ ability to succeed and thrive in a diverse workforce by fostering an aptitude of seeing self and others as world citizens at a macro level rather than merely citizens of a local community or country. This world citizen mindset underlies an awareness of the similarities in all human beings regardless of cultural background as well as an appreciation for the differences shaped by cultural differences. Ultimately, this leads to communication from the heart where there is only “us” not “us and them” as we work together both in our own country and beyond.
–Betty Strehlow, Ph.D., Vice President of Academic Affairs & Student Services, Ridgewater College
International education and study abroad can yield huge rewards for U.S. students and the U.S. companies for which they will work. All institutions of higher education should celebrate their successes in the area of international education, but they should also establish clear and measureable learning outcomes for those students who participate. It would be especially beneficial to include U.S. employers in the conversation about what they seek from employees in terms of international and global awareness. With this level of intentionality, international education can become an important strategy to support Completion with a Purpose℠, enhancing student success in college and career and contributing to our nation’s economic vitality.