Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Future of Undergraduate Education

A new report, The Future of Undergraduate Education, raises concerns about the condition of higher education in the U.S. While the focus is only U.S. institutions, there are likely implications for higher education around the world.

Particular issues addressed in the report include; improving graduation rates, the need to garner public funding, and improving quality. Particularly related to quality and graduation rates, the report advocates improving the quality and relevance of teaching for the "17 million diverse students in many types of programs" that should be helping them learn and develop the "skills and dispositions that will help them succeed in the 21st century U.S." The recommendations are directed primarily at the curriculum and teaching although there is recognition that learning takes place in extra and cocurricular settings.

In addition, the report "asserts that the long-standing debate over the value of a liberal arts education versus a more 'applied' program is a 'false choice.'" In the ideal learning environment, in and out of class experiences would be valued and classroom content would include strong liberal arts and discipline-based mastery of knowledge. The result - students would see that the "ability to work and learn with others, and to disagree and debate respectfully, as a skill essential for a high quality of life and a future of economic success and effective democratic citizenship."

A professor at Knox College, Laura L. Behling, advocates a "whole college - whole student" view that encourages students to relate learning across disciplines as well as across experiences. Based on Martha Nussbaum's "Education for Citizenship in an Era of Global Connection," Behling probed students about their: 1) capacity for living a critically examined life; 2) understanding of other human beings, and; 3) critical imagination. She found that asking students to explore these capacities demonstrated "that there is more to students than just who they are in my class and that all of their courses are presenting them with opportunities for success and challenge." And I would add, that all of their EXPERIENCES could be explored for even greater impact.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Liberal Arts in the global era

Liberal arts institutions in the U.S. have experienced considerable criticism over the years for their lack of practical outcomes - particularly related to workplace preparation. Global trends indicate that 36% of the non-U.S. liberal arts programs can now be found in Asia with the explicit purpose of preparing students for rapid global change that requires graduates to have skills and character traits of "creativity, innovation, adaptability, collaboration, and communication." These attributes are perceived to be essential to individual success and they are the bread and butter of liberal education. in the U.S.

The challenge of liberal education in the U.S. has been that it has most often been confined to elite and smaller institutions. Criticism has also been asserted by current U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, who believes there should be more focus on job training and internships as a way to expand educational access; these kinds of programs would most likely be offered through 2-year institutions or through certificate training programs. With the U.S. apparently on the verge of backing off the importance of a broad (liberal) education, and with the growing advocacy for liberal arts in China, China may soon be an international leader as it experiments with liberal arts innovations that are scalable to larger numbers of students.

As we advocated in Enhancing Student Learning and Development in Cross-Border Higher Education (Roberts & Komives, eds., 2016), utilizing educational practices may not be directly applicable, or even appropriately adapted, from one cultural context to another. Liberal arts approaches in the U.S. were most prominent in colonial colleges, which were based on British elite institutions. The intent of these institutions was to educate elite, white men for professions such as ministry and law and to prepare them as public servants in government. The liberal arts approach is still very much a part of elite institutions in the U.S. and those who attend these institutions are offered select networks and educational opportunities that other U.S. citizens do not have. The later education policy changes exemplified in the Land Grant movement of the late 19th century or the G.I. Bill of the 1950s were the first concerted efforts to increase access to higher learning; broadening access did not take place at elite institutions but in public institutions that were much more focused on preparing students for workplaces that would drive national prosperity.

The point here is to question the transferability of the liberal arts model to other cultures and to encourage careful consideration about the assumptions of the model and how it could/should be adapted by institutions outside of a Western context. Liberal arts approaches cultivated talent and intellect among the elite for both work and public service. Is this what it now represents and is this purpose understood by those embracing it as exemplary educational practice? If China knew that liberal arts originated out of a commitment to education elite citizens for democratic participation, would they still want to adopt its philosophy? If they know, then what about liberal arts practices might be different especially if the attempt is to expand the number of graduates with this type of education?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Sexual education for international students

A topic that I've not seen raised very often is how to educate students about sexual mores and expectations in the environment where they study. A recent essay by Sharla Reid and Jill Dunlap encourages educators to consider what should be modified in the approach with international students in order to be effective.

Although Reid and Dunlap write in ways that reflect a U.S. context, the issue of sexual education is relevant regardless of the cultural/national context. They advise that the "lack of understanding of what domestic students consider to be social norms and sexual cues - like "no means no" - can lead to confusing or awkward situations. Or worse, those misunderstandings can make international students vulnerable to victimization."

Having worked in an environment (Middle East) where physical contact of any type was forbidden, students of other cultures sometimes struggled mightily to figure out what they could or should do in relation to any show of affection. In this situation, missteps of any kind could lead not only to confusing or awkward situations but to disciplinary or legal action. I am also sadly aware of international students from the Middle East who were sexually assaulted while studying in the U.S.; naiveté was a significant contributor to their vulnerability. In both of these examples, sexual education and candor could have prevented the very negative experiences that arose primarily from a lack of awareness. Beyond awareness, international students need guidance on protective measures to keep them from exploitation and abuse.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Internationalization in India

A call for education zones that highlight India's higher education sector may be a way to retain more young people in India's institutions as well as attract students from other countries. The number of Indian students studying around the world has been increasing as its youth population swells. Predictions were that Indian student numbers would eclipse those of Chinese students, however, if India is successful in improving quality and gaining greater visibility, more students may stay at home.

A follow up article noted that India has a long way to go in order to be attractive to international students. Citing the state of Kerala as an example, international students have come there to escape conflict in their own countries or to take advantage of the low cost of living and fees. Two secondary effects of increasing the number of international students are: "foreign students from different backgrounds interact and influence each other in the host country; foreign students and members of the local community have a mutual impact on one another." These are not break-through outcomes but they do reflect a growing awareness of the value of universities courting students from other countries.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Student flows around the world

The explosion of mobility in student populations has caused many colleges and universities to increasingly look at international students as a source of revenue enhancement. The latest OECD figures show a slowdown that may reflect a longer-term decline, potentially impacting the international enrollment growth that Pew Research found was plugging budget gaps for many institutions.

Some countries are bucking the trend of flat or declining enrollment. Canadian institutions report a 10.7% increase overall with British Columbia adding 15.6% to its international student enrollment. This is in contrast to research indicating that U.S. international student numbers dropped across a sample of institutions by 7%.

More recent data reported on December 11, 2017, in U.S. News and World Report indicated that current enrollment in U.S. institutions is down 3.3%. Some states are up and others down with a trend of international students preferring institutions that are near more diverse urban areas. The five states with the highest international student enrollment are California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois.

U.S. News and World Report identified six generalizations that education leaders should know about international students in the U.S. The advice included that international student enrollment increased every year for the last eleven until the most recent year (2016-17) when it declined. The international numbers grew most among postgraduate students beginning in the 2013-14 year. The flattening or decline in U.S. international enrollment varied in both proportion and attribution with one possible factor in common - that other countries have targeted strategies to increase international student enrollment, something lacking in the U.S. under the Trump administration.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Working for Georgetown in Qatar

A new book, written by a professor at Georgetown University's branch campus in Qatar, sheds light on the challenges and possibilities of the branch campus model. Elizabeth Redden's summary captures some of the key tensions one confronts when working abroad in educational settings different than the context of the home campus. A quote from the book that captures the essence of the struggle of working in such a setting, "People say you shouldn't be there because it's not a democracy, which it isn't, and you have autocratic rulers, which they are, but that's kind of where you want to be, isn't it?" captures my sentiment after working in Qatar myself.

Especially in light of the Saudi Arabia and UAE led blockade of Qatar and the unsettled international relations evident among Arabian Gulf countries, Wasserman's book may be worth a read by educators, politicians, and others.