Friday, June 2, 2023

International educators meet in 2023

The 2023 meeting of NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisors) drew a big crowd in Washington, D.C. - 8,500 in all! The meeting attendance potentially marked coming back from the devastation of the pandemic. Reports of those who attended varied from hopeful to cautious.

Concerns included the reduction of funding for international programs, recruitment in particular, and continuing geopolitical tensions that influence students' willingness to travel or live in a host country. Issues such as these are addressed by individual campuses, with great variation in strategy and success, and leaders of NAFSA want the U.S. to agree to a national strategy around which all institutions can then rally.

The international attendees have been dominated by representatives from China in recent years. 2023 saw a continued decline in Chinese delegates being replaced by multiple countries; those leading the shift include India, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Study abroad as exploitation

Study abroad opportunity is touted as one of the most powerful and coveted of educational experiences, yet who is able to participate, how it is marketed, and the content of learning when in a distant location can turn the experience into one of perpetuating ignorance and exploitation. While Liz Bucar's commentary on the popular study abroad experience she offered (Camino del Santiago in Spain) doesn't raise questions unfamiliar to discerning internationalists, it provides a very real example of how faculty can naively participate in cultural appropriation and perpetuate cultural myth. Bucar addressed how she would redesign the experience with the insights she has gained saying, "I plan to redesign my Camino program in a way that puts acknowledging exploitation at the center of the experience..." and "would be clear about its social justice objectives, insist on taking diversity seriously as a source of values and be willing to make students uncomfortable."

Having designed and taught in an undergraduate study abroad program, hosted graduate study abroad while working in Qatar (including Harvard University's School of Law), and created a joint "inquiry learning" initiative that involved participants from Qatar and three U.S. institutions, I offer a hearty "AMEN" to Bucar's essay. Eighteen years and many attempts later, the journey to truly transformative and respectful study abroad has included resistance, sad failures, and spectacular success.

Bucar's final comment is that she finally adopted a commitment to something that includes "much more ambitious goals than cultural competence." This last statement is particularly interesting since cultural competence is often referenced as one of the core outcomes of good study abroad. AMEN again! Cultural competence is important but study abroad that does not exploit has to accept the fact that a group of visitors are showing up in a foreign location, often ostentatiously displaying their privilege, and viewing their experience through the lens of superiority. Humility and curiosity have to be the starting place for any study abroad experience. Core to infusing humility is learning how student and faculty life experiences are part of systems and narratives that perpetuate myth and judgment.

Another angle on exploitation is who gets to participate. Students who study abroad are disproportionately female, white, and privileged. If the experience is one of the best higher education has to offer, then why would institutions and programs not strive to make it equally available to all? When it comes to faculty opportunity, the Fulbright program has been around since the 1940s and funded by taxpayers, yet it has an elite reputation and has excluded faculty at community colleges throughout the decades. The elite brand of Fulbright is both a perceptual and real barrier to access, not unlike the "European tour" of the children of 19th century "Gilded Age" children. That privilege is a control of how students think about study abroad is a type of exploitation in itself.

Friday, May 12, 2023

2023-24 enrollment predictions

Unless higher education can somehow convince the public to insist on more state allocations to help stem the rise in tuition, enrollment uncertainty will continue into next year and probably beyond. The only colleges and universities doing well during the current slide in enrollment are elite private universities and high-profile publics. There is some recovery from the pandemic dip but Doug Shapiro of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center indicates that enrollment numbers have stabilized at a level 1.2 million lower than in 2019.

My summary of enrollment trends in 2022-23 provides the roadmap that brings higher education to this point. The path is strewn with issues of declining confidence in higher education, pushback on tuition expenses, emergence of alternative credentialing, diversification of prospective students, and economic recovery that includes abundant employment opportunity. What is clear amid these complications is that core strong institutions, based on finances and reputation, are increasingly attractive and they are not shying away from taking their enrollment first and leaving the rest of higher education to scramble for the scraps.

This blog post will include other relevant issues as the 2023-24 picture continues to emerge. Steve Mintz' "what if" list offers questions to ponder as campuses strive to reinvent themselves to be competitive now and in the future. My view is that higher education in the U.S.A. will thrive only if it addresses the following trends:

  • Higher education institutions begin to consider the unique niches, shared welfare, and purpose of all higher education as an ecosystem.
  • Diverse motivations of prospective students, especially first-generation students from diverse backgrounds, are not only recognized but affirmed.
  • The pushback of those who criticize higher education is acknowledged and addressed in constructive ways.
  • Governmental support returns as an outcome of affirming higher education as both a private benefit and a public good!
The number of Hispanic students entering and completing higher education shows positive signs in recent Census Bureau data. This bodes well for areas in the U.S. where the Hispanic population is growing. The degree to which a particular institution reflected the demographics of its immediate geographic area used to be a positive indicator of serving the surrounding private and public sector. However, lop-sided population trends will result in variations to this benefit in different areas of the country.

The question of how international students are reflected in future enrollment is in flux for a variety of reasons. A strategy used during declining domestic enrollment has been to fill the gap with international students through aggressive recruitment initiatives. One such model, the INTO Pathway partnership was popular as institutions sought to tap the international student market but is now faltering in numerous institutions. Policies in other countries can help or hinder the efforts to maintain or grow international student enrollment. Britain's ban of trailing dependents is an example that could hurt British institutions and help the U.S.A.

Because of the discriminatory impact of standardized testing, SAT and ACT scores are either being abandoned or their impact reduced in many college/university admission processes. The move to "wholistic" decision making about prospective students is helpful but some educators caution that extracurricular lists are also biased in favor of those who are privileged by time and access.

Join me in this unfolding question and planning for the preservation, and possible enhancement, of higher education's role in a progressive culture.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Leadership = an argument with tradition?

The Inside Higher Education essay by Matt Reed, Leadership and Social Defense, triggered a number of memories about attempts to lead during my higher education career. Reflecting on the dilemma of "stuck" organizations that seem to not be able to adapt to challenging circumstances, Reed drew from Gianpiero Petriglieri's Harvard Business Review article which described the struggle a change agent faces as "an argument with tradition." Having attempted to bring about change in numerous situations, the idea that a leader is literally challenging tradition and breaking up the family is particularly compelling. The point is that the root of familiar (the way we've always done it) is family and in order for leadership to be successful, one has to convince the family that you're one of them.

One of the clearest examples of the family bond in a complex organization that I faced was when I moved to Miami University. I was quickly introduced to the term "The Miami Way," which had no specifics but allowed those who used the term to define for themselves what they presumed the custom of the institution to be. The strategy for anyone who conceived of new possibilities was to convince others that you were family and that you cared as much (or more) about the institution than they did.

Miami University isn't the only place where leadership required an argument with tradition and a struggle to be part of the family. Most of the organizations I've served had this dynamic to greater or lesser degrees. The only places where an argument with tradition is not part of the leadership dilemma is in new organizations but it is fascinating how quickly even new organizations bond and create their own family and traditions as a way of resisting subsequent change.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

"Floating University" in 1926

For those who advocate study abroad experiences as an important enrichment for colleges students, the 1926 NYU "Floating University" is an early precursor of the opportunities and challenges such experiences offer. The study tour was organized by James Lough for 500 students, and the book about the experience introduces age-old questions related to student conduct, the fusion of experience and learning, and legitimacy of academic credit.

Author Tamson Pietsch reflected in her interview about the book, "...historian and educationalist William Hoffa has pointed out, the relationship of 'study abroad' to academic credits remains a problematic one for U.S. universities. No matter how organized or regulated it is, international education is founded on the recognition that personal experiences matter. In traveling abroad, students learn something about the world that they wouldn't learn if they stayed home. This recognition of the importance of experience fundamentally challenges the university's claim to be the primary authorizer of knowledge about the world - as it well should."

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Australia - international rebounds

Good economic times in Australia resulted in a decline in domestic students. However, the international enrollment has rebounded. Australian institutions benefit from offering instruction in English and proximity to the robust Asian youth market. This positioning has placed Australia as a potential competitor to the U.S.A. and U.K. Thus far, it is unclear if Australia is beating U.S.A. institutions in recruitment or if there simply is a growing number of Asian students seeking to study in Australia, the U.S.A., and elsewhere.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Culturally relevant leadership and practice

As higher education welcomes the increasing diversity of its students, adopting culturally relevant practice is gaining critical importance. In many ways, the details of diversity are only now being recognized, having been present in U.S.A. higher education for many years but not fully embraced.

While culturally relevant practice is important for student affairs educators and faculty in general, I am particularly interested in it for how the concept can focus on improving student leadership learning. Developing Culturally Relevant Leadership Learning provides the core of the idea and for an easy introduction, the podcast Student Affairs Now, Culturally Relevant Leadership, is very helpful. Interviews with three current students on Leadership Experiences of Student Body Presidents reinforce through personal reflection how important cultural responsiveness is as a support for students from diverse backgrounds.

Creating cultural responsiveness includes revising the history that perpetuates colonialist ideas that are so much a part of our institutions. Colonialist ideas are deeply imbedded in education, popular media, and political narratives, resulting in significant tensions when educators call attention to them. The dynamics of challenging engrained thinking raises predictable defense mechanisms that must be addressed carefully.

Identifying issues of power and control of the narrative is critical, particularly when students from diverse backgrounds start to succeed - as the Student Body President podcast calls out, succeeding attracts attention and can result in scrutinizing the role diverse students play. The culturally relevant leadership learning model provides an important lens to use in evaluating what is presented as leadership training, education, and development on our campuses. Whether the marginalized groups is based on sex, sexual orientation, race, class, ability, or national identify, the lens of cultural relevancy can illuminate what is working and not working.

The essay, "Five Lessons Learned from Student Panels," is a simple way for faculty and staff to improve their knowledge of students' experiences and, thereby, move into greater cultural responsiveness. The authors in this piece demonstrate that on any individual campus, perhaps the most important step is simply to start "talking with and learning" from students.

Another form of cultural responsiveness could include learning lessons from institutions that are more effective in serving minoritized students. A new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research outlines what predominantly white institutions ((PWIs) can learn from historical Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to increase success in graduation and overall life benefit.