Thursday, February 22, 2018

Liberal education in China and beyond

During a lecture tour to promote his book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University, entertained questions after a lecture to students at Peking University. The questions they raised included;

  • Does liberal education really help students learn to think for themselves or just turn them into liberals?
  • Is liberal education only about creating a pathway to elitism?
  • Does liberal education create a bubble perspective that is ultimately disconnected from the reality of life?
President Roth's responses wove the educational perspectives of John Dewey and Jane Addams together into a pragmatic education philosophy. Emphasizing Addams' "emphasis upon humane responsiveness and social engagement" and Dewey's "practical idealism," he advocated that quality liberal learning must relate to society and strive to inform students in ways for them to be contributors to the well-being of society. These philosophical perspectives provide the foundation for the experience-based and engaged learning advocated by student affairs educators as well.

Reflecting back on the lecture, President Roth opined, "I left the lecture hall heartened that students in Beijing, like many across the United States, hope that that higher education will be pragmatic without being conformist, and that the college years will inspire them to think for themselves in ways that will be significant to others."

Friday, February 9, 2018

NASPA's internationalization awards

The International Education Knowledge Community of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) solicits nominations for programs that advance internationalization. The 2018 awards recognize student affairs educators' efforts to support both international and domestic students through in and out of class experiences.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Is Qatar's Education City real and sustainable?

Neha Vora of Lafayette College conducted a 12-month ethnographic study of Education City and offers comment about her forthcoming book in Academic Minute. It will be very interesting to see what her eventual published study says. This initial report, while brief, captures the essence of two important questions; 1) is Education City a legitimate effort to provide full-scale U.S. style education, and 2) is it sustainable?

Having worked for Qatar Foundation and helped in the early stages (2007-14) of establishing cross-branch student development and support services at Education City, I can attest to the authenticity of the initiative. Qatar Foundation has repeatedly demonstrated, and has invested deeply, in making sure that the academic programs there are legitimate and comparable to the U.S. counterparts. Whether students experience the full breadth of learning of a high quality U.S. institution both in and outside of class is subject to the organization model and the willingness for institutions to collaborate. Again referencing my own experience, we certainly tried to create the wholistic experience during the time I was in Qatar. It was not always easy due to the decentralized organization model established by Qatar Foundation but some real cross-branch student experiences were ultimately supported.

Professor Vora raises concern that some local Qatari citizens see the project as expensive and potentially contributing to the erosion of traditional Arab/Islamic values. Of course Education City is challenging local previously held beliefs, as do most great higher education institutions wherever they are found. Indeed, conservatives in the U.S. are at this moment criticizing U.S. higher education for the same thing.

I'm not sure where Professor Vora is headed but I hope she asks the question of how a significant educational venture that challenges students and other stakeholders threads the needle of opportunity, challenging enough to make a difference but not so challenging that it ultimately marginalizes the effort or makes the project unsustainable over the long haul.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Netherlands and internationalization

The Netherlands has experienced international student enrollment increases and some institutions were considering the possibility of opening branch campuses. These and other steps toward greater internationalization first raised debate among media, educators, and politicians about perceived commodification of higher education. In one example so much concern was raised that the university declined to proceed with a plan to open a branch in China; the rationale and the dynamics of the controversy were further explained in a follow-up article. The bottom line is that institutions need to think carefully about the purposes of internationalization and then move forward in conversations with the quality of learning for all as a central focus and building consensus along the way among various stakeholders.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Chile - Access & quality in higher education

I was recently invited to Santiago, Chile, to address the Latin American Summit on Education. I was the fourth in a series of first-day keynote speakers/panels and I focused on the “Challenges and Opportunities of Enhancing Student Learning and Development in Chile.” The content was substantially based on the most recent book co-edited by Susan Komives and me (2016) with related title.

Having spent seven years working outside the U.S.A. in higher education, I was all too familiar with the pitfalls of westerners swooping in to offer advice to higher education leadership in a different cultural or national context. This drew me to ask for the opportunity to visit some of the existing higher education institutions and talk with their student affairs staff so that my comments to the Summit would be at least modestly grounded in the local context. My hosts, William Young and Daniela Calderon, were extraordinary in their hospitality and devised an itinerary that introduced me not only to higher education in Chile but to the culture itself. William and Daniela served as primary informants who were complemented by a current law student at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Andres Heresi (pictured); Andres served as my culture and tour guide. The combination of experiences over a week in Santiago offered an incredible introduction to the opportunities ahead for Chile.

I surmised from reading before traveling to Chile that the greatest challenges to higher education are; 1) expanding access to increase opportunity for more and a broader diversity of students and 2) enhancing the quality of the experience for all. Every individual and group I met reinforced the importance of these two central priorities. Visiting five campuses demonstrated the diversity of ways universities are addressing these challenges. The degree to which student affairs research/theory is being adopted or adapted to Chile’s needs varied a great deal. What was clear, each institution strives to address the unique needs of their students within the context of the mission/purpose of their institution. The examples provided amazing evidence of grounded quality enhancement for specific local and cultural needs.

Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, the host for my visit and first university I visited, was founded in 1842 as a public national university. Public in this case means publicly supported rather than publicly defined and managed. There are a limited number of “traditional” universities that have this distinction in Chile and they are generally of higher quality than those that are private sector providers. Catholic University (the popularized name for the university) has multiple campuses that range from old and established to sleek and contemporary. The campus of San Joaquin is where William and Daniela are carving out a student affairs focus, which includes student engagement, sports, counseling, service learning, and more. A couple of the most impressive initiatives involved assessment (using adaptations of NSSE and the Multi-Institution Study of Leadership), professional development for staff and faculty, and an incredible innovation center (see picture). Assessment is new and will establish the baseline for the future as well as test whether instruments from the U.S.A. are directly applicable or need to be modified for use in Chile. The innovation center is an entrepreneurial hub where students come together with faculty to devise plans for products and services and then bring them to market.

Universidad Adolfo Ibanez was my next stop. Nestled at the foot of the Andes mountains east of Santiago, the campus commands a stunning view of the city. The Adolfo Ibanez course schedule is designed so that there is a no-class break once per week to allow for all students to engage in social and cultural activities. Personal and academic counseling are fused in their model, blurring the lines between intellectual and social questions and offering a focus on holistic development. One of the most interesting innovations they have begun is the implementation of a liberal arts curriculum. The design of the curriculum and the texts used in courses is based on Columbia College of Columbia University’s approach. While the interplay of liberals arts with the experience-based learning available outside of class has yet to be fulfilled, there are promising opportunities to bridge academic and student affairs offices through this initiative.

Universidad de los Andes was the third institution I visited. Student affairs as an area emerged from within this young institution, beginning with cultural activities and sports. The idea was to start small and then grow in directions that students advocated. De los Andes now offers considerable resources and attention on internationalization and on leadership development. While I was there I observed groups of international students visiting for short periods of study to allow them to see Chile and to take short courses to complement their home institutions’ curriculum. This campus was the most modern of the campuses I visited and is an institution growing in reputation, especially for its academic program in business.

Universidad de Chile is the largest higher education institution in Chile, was founded in 1842, and has great prominence as a historic provider of educational opportunity for elite and privileged students. This history of prestige is now being buttressed by expanding opportunity. “Equity in access, progression, and graduation” is a broad value commitment that seeks to be truly inclusive and Universidad de Chile proclaims that inclusion is an inalienable attribute of excellence and quality. The proof of their effort is that enrollment of vulnerable groups has increased from 16% to 30% of the total student population over the last 6 years. A variety of initiatives have been launched to make sure that the growing diversity of students will also be successful in completing their degrees. A database available to all faculty members allows faculty to see the demographics of their classrooms and to understand more deeply the challenges and opportunities their students bring to the classroom.

The final visit was to Universidad de Valparaiso. This university was previously part of Universidad de Chile but spun off as an independent institution. Valparaiso is the coastal town that was founded when explorers realized that Chile had potentially lucrative coastal access. The faculty member with whom I met in Valparaiso is conducting research using NSSE and plans to use the data to inform policy for the Chilean higher education sector. It was a delight to share my experience in using NSSE at Miami University as well as in Qatar. The proposed solutions for Universidad de Valparaiso include; more diversity of approaches, measurement of outcomes, and not counting on systemic solutions to bring change. These are interesting and big-picture ideas that will be informed by data as the institution moves forward.

An added bonus of visiting Valparaiso was that I was able to visit the home of famed Chilean author and political activist, Pablo Neruda. Neruda was particularly influential during the Allende socialist era and was likely assassinated when Pinochet’s military government took power from Allende. Reflections on Chile’s political and cultural context are at PursuingLeadership by Denny.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Learning to work

While some institutions are ambivalent about too directly relating students' learning to workforce preparation, others see them as fused and characterize the argument between general education and career preparation as a false choice. Many institutions, associations, and employers advocate that workforce preparation is one of higher education's major responsibilities.

When considering student needs, experience in work varies a great deal across cultures and the potential impact of part-time employment while attending university is often an unrecognized benefit.  International students are likely to benefit as much or more than domestic students from taking a campus job. Student employment leads to finding a niche for belonging, introduces students to university resources, builds a positive resume, and ultimately helps those who participate to develop important workplace attitudes and skills for the future. International students interested in working on campus need to be careful about their visa status (F-1 and J-1 allow no more than 20 hours/week) but, when possible, work can add value to the overall collegiate experience.

While the opportunities for part-time work are many, institutions that want student employment to have the maximum positive impact can do a lot to shape the experience. Jobs as research lab assistants, student librarians, resident assistants, office assistants, and event staff can all have benefit if supervisors are required to identify learning outcomes and encouraged to guide international students' reflection on what they are learning from their work. Recognizing that a campus job may be the first time an international student has ever worked is critical; many student jobs assume previous experience; acknowledging that international students may not have had that opportunity is key.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Training higher education leadership

A recent study at the Boston College Center for International Higher Education indicated that "despite the massive need for capacity building, and the growing interest among providers to respond to this need, most programs train very small number of higher education managers and leaders. At the same time, the wide array of actors providing training programs largely fails to coordinate efforts. This presents a landscape of disperse, uncoordinated, territorial, and ultimately insufficient training opportunities and trainer expertise."

As numerous countries around the world strive to open or expand higher education opportunity to larger numbers of students, having the administrative/leadership expertise to do it effectively is key. Student affairs is certainly one of the areas of expertise that is lacking, primarily because it is often an unrecognized and ubiquitous aspect of student learning and development.

I recently spoke to the Latin American Summit on Education in Santiago, Chile. It was highly informative to visit five Chilean campuses as I completed final preparation for my lecture. My remarks, "Opportunities and Challenges of Enhancing Student Learning and Development," were perfectly positioned to complement the three speakers/panels that preceded me. The other speakers spoke of enhancing the student experience as if it only occurred in the classroom. The door was wide open to provide the evidence from U.S.A. higher education that out of class experiences are equally important and necessary if institutions want to have a deep impact on student learning.


Chile has demonstrated an interest and is building capacity in higher education leadership and it is paying attention to student affairs. The questions that lie ahead include; how will research/theory be adapted from the U.S.A. experience and what will be the most effective strategies for building professional capacity for leadership in student affairs? As can be seen in these pictures, facilities to accommodate more students with higher quality opportunity are increasingly available. What happens through the in and out of class educational initiatives will be the proof in the end; it was gratifying to be part of the conversation exploring this question.