Monday, October 27, 2014

Personal reflection on student potential

One of the major tenets of the Student Personnel Point of View (1937) was that student personnel workers (now known as student affairs educators) should help students develop to their full potential. I deeply believe that anyone who seeks to be part of student affairs work must espouse this fundamental purpose along with a commitment to holistic learning and fostering learning through a variety of in and out-of-class means. There are those who currently advocate that the different approaches emerging around the world require keeping the door open to those who believe that providing student services is enough. Student service is important and this role cannot be denied but neglecting the essential importance of "student affairs or development" as a central part of students' education is a short-sighted attempt to draw people into the field, a strategy that will ultimately water down its importance in the international arena.

As I near the end of my work in Qatar, it is becoming very clear that student affairs as a contributor to student learning and development is still not understood. The efforts of those who have helped build the HBKU Student Affairs area has been monumental and this has been pursued with deep conviction. Yet, due to the lack of awareness of the importance of holistic learning and a competitive organization climate in which managing people, facilities, and budgets is a driving motivation, advocates for student learning and development are losing ground.

I don't believe Qatar is unique from other international settings. My guess is that many of those committed to student learning and development are struggling to achieve credibility and support. This is why it is important for all those involved in international higher education to reflect deeply on the purpose of their work, clearly delineate its importance, and work together across institutions and countries to secure a place for student development work in their institutions. Student development is not a luxury! It is a real outcome of learning environments where students are taken seriously and where the long history of research and theorizing about student engagement is incorporated into practice. To do any less risks that students around the world will experience tertiary education in sub-standard and empty ways.

I had two meetings with students yesterday that drew me to draft this blog post. One was an alum of Georgetown's program in Qatar and the other was a Miami University alum who now works for Northwestern in Qatar. The first grew up in Bangladesh until the age of 14, moved to join his father in Qatar at that age, and learned English well enough in 4 years (primarily by watching soap operas in English) to gain admission to Georgetown; he graduated with distinction and received the President's Award from Qatar Foundation. The second student from Miami was born in Viet Nam and was sponsored by a Christian church in the U.S. so that she and her family could have a better life after the disruption of the war. Both of these young people are bright, energetic and hopeful - they were also disrupted in their youth, yet achieved despite being forced to learn new languages, cultures, and ways of being. They are 3rd culture kids who in many ways are the promise of the future.

The two students above benefited from institutions that took student development seriously. They had varying levels of involvement and engagement but the fact was that their learning was holistic, it occurred in many places, and it was focused on their striving to fulfill their potential. I sincerely believe that had real student affairs practice not been part of their experience, they would have fallen short of the potential that was so easy to see when I met with them yesterday. Those of us who value student learning and development need look no further than the proof of student success or failure. We owe it to our students to continue to seek the best in full student affairs practice and we should never compromise what is in our students' best interest.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Funding for higher education drops in Europe

Reporting for the Times Higher Education, Jack Grove provides country-by-country comparisons documenting that funding for higher education dropped across Europe. While austerity is a reality in low-growth economic times, is cutting off the pipeline for talent development the best response? A full report from OECD provides even greater detail on trends in funding and participation in higher education worldwide.

US communities seek to retain international graduates

The shortage of good STEM graduates is causing some communities to work toward retaining international students after their studies. The U.S. has benefited for many years from importing talent from around the world, the result of high quality higher education. When factoring the costs and benefits of funding higher education in the U.S., is this benefit recognized?