The Biden Presidency Brings a renewal of hope

Those of us who voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris feel this way. From communications with colleagues abroad, many feel the same way. I’m not going to write a political column [although the title itself is a give-away, right?]; however, I could not let the inauguration go by without comment.

The profession of international educator, the one I know best, has suffered on many levels during the past four years; and needless to say, the pandemic has left all educators facing a crisis of proportions unknown in our lifetime.

Classroom life is virtual and so is learning. There has been no mobility for students and scholars. There have been no international conferences or meetings. Dreams of families to send their children to study abroad have been crushed. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in higher education have been lost either temporarily or permanently. Job insecurity at colleges and universities is widespread. And in particular, friends and colleagues of mine in leadership roles at campus international education offices or with organizations supporting education abroad programs – all have seen budgets collapse, jobs lost and aspirations of young professionals in the field greatly diminished.

We also are carrying with us the burden of a vastly different view of the United States by our colleagues abroad. No one could have imagined that the moral stature of the country would be so tarnished and hollowed out by the policies of the past administration. But here we are – a day before the dawn of a new era…or should I say, a return to the norms and practices we’ve cherished in the past (and perhaps took for granted- at least following the debacle of Watergate).

We do have a long road ahead of us before the field of international education returns to anything like it was. I think campuses will be re-assessing their commitments to internationalization for years to come. Professionals may be forced to move on to explore other careers. But, as I’ve written elsewhere, perhaps the new “normal” that emerges will see new innovation in developing opportunities for internationalization-at-home…meaning in the immediate campus community, nearby neighborhoods, elsewhere in the state or region –as opposed to solely focusing on regaining lost ground only in mobile international learning experiences.

If there is a silver lining for the field of international education, it could be that a far greater number of students have opportunities to develop intercultural and cross-cultural skills, and an array of other skill sets valued by employers in all fields, through off-campus experiential learning-at-home. A democratization of access to “internationalization.”

The response of historically black colleges & universities to the pandemic

This is an excerpt from the Dec. 8 issue -online – of the NAFSA: Associationof International Educators International Educator magazine [for those readers who are not members of NAFSA]. It’s an important statement about an often un-reported cluster of essential higher education institutions in the U.S.

This essay was written by Dr. Harvey Charles and Dr. Dimeji Togunde.

“The most critical questions for HBCUs posed by this pandemic are not whether they will be impacted by the economic fallout, or whether there will be enrollment declines, but how they will transform themselves.

To respond strategically to the challenges resulting from globalization, we must look to comprehensive internationalization. Global learning, a derivative of engagement with internationalization, is a high-impact practice that can lead to positive outcomes in terms of student satisfaction, persistence, retention, and time to degree completion. 

Additionally, the scope of these issues requires global collaboration to find solutions. This work happens in the curriculum—in the learning experiences that are afforded to students on their way to earning degrees in their respective areas of study. It also happens intentionally, as institutions help students embrace the richness that comes from fluency in crossing borders, negotiating cultural differences, and encountering multiple perspectives. 

How HBCUs Can Emphasize Internationalization

This intentionality is on display at several HBCUs, and these examples are worth noting. Spelman College has a mission-driven focus on internationalization, graduation requirements that include foreign language and international studies coursework, a philanthropic investment of more than $17 million supporting this work, and the internationalization of the curriculum in most majors. Prairie View A&M University requires all undergraduates to complete at least one global studies course prior to graduation and has identified internationalization as a strategic goal. Howard University has a foreign language graduation requirement for undergraduates as it continues to articulate a comprehensive vision for internationalization.  

While many HBCUs cite a lack of resources as a reason for the absence of meaningful engagement with internationalization, several aspects of this work do not put a strain on institutional budgets: 

  • Articulating a commitment to internationalization in the institution’s strategic priorities, mission, and vision costs nothing. 
  • Supporting faculty policies and practices that lead to more courses being taught from a global perspective, and more research focused on global issues, requires innovation, not a bigger budget. 
  • Identifying existing commitments to internationalization, even if random and scattered around the campus, and deploying them in a more strategic approach is a more efficient and cost-effective way to support faculty engagement in this work. 
  • Ensuring that these curricula initiatives are linked to measurable global learning outcomes, and rigorously assessing student performance relative to these outcomes, will not necessarily cost more, but will make the most compelling case to institutional leadership and grant-awarding agencies about the transformational power of internationalization. 
HBCUs’ Role in Preparing Students for a Globalized World

The grim forecasts for higher education post-pandemic suggest that relevance is assured only to those HBCUs that are willing to embrace a radically re-envisioned curriculum. This is a curriculum that prepares students to be globally competent, facilitates learning experiences in diverse teams, and socializes students to apply the knowledge they are acquiring to solve real problems in local and global communities.” 

Long-term impacts of covid on youth employability

One of the hardest things to do during this pandemic is think ahead. Like others, I’m trying to get through the fog taking things one day at a time. This NPR story, https://www.npr.org/2020/12/17/925831720/losing-a-generation-fall-college-enrollment-plummets-for-first-year-students?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20201217&utm_term=5037322&utm_campaign=breaking-news&utm_id=11366473&orgid=305 was a stark reminder that for young high school grads, all of their future plans – as far as graduating and attending college – disappeared, just vanished in the snap of two fingers, once the impact of the pandemic was clear. And those taking the biggest hit, were youths from low-income and minority communities (not to mention Native American communities who may or may not be included in surveys).

“For students who graduated from high school in the class of 2020, the number of graduates enrolling in college is down by 21.7% compared with last year, based on preliminary data. For graduates at high-poverty high schools there was a 32.6% decline in attending college, compared with a 16.4% decline for graduates of low-poverty schools (Source: Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse).”

Shapiro goes on to say: “…”That’s a lot of individuals whose lives are on hold, whose career and educational aspirations are suspended,” says Shapiro. “You can almost think of this as an entire generation that will enter adulthood with lower education, lower skills, less employability, ultimately lower productivity.”

The impacts of Covid upon individuals, their family and community are outlined in this NPR story; as are the implications of the sudden re-direction of expectations by those whose dreams of entering a four or two-year college or university were crushed.

“There is a much larger implication here for the country,” says Angel Pérez, who oversees the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “The fact is if we lose an entire generation of young people in the pipeline to college, that will have an impact on our tax base. It will have an impact on an educated citizenry.”

There’s much to digest in the data, but, this excellent piece of reporting focuses down on individual stories. For example:

“For Catalina Cifuentes, who works to promote college access in Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, the number of students who decided not to go to college worries her. “It really does feel like we’re losing a generation,” she says.

The students in her county are mostly from low-income families, and many would be the first in their family to go to college. “They don’t know what they don’t know,” she says. “They don’t know that research shows the longer you’re out of school, the less likely you are to return.”

For those youths opting -or forced – to stay out of college, what will they do if they cannot find work? Will they decide in a year or two to re-enroll? Will the declines in enrollment and revenues force community colleges and state universities to raise tuition in coming years to re-cap the shortfall in revenues?

So many unforeseen consequences; so few answers…

Keynote Address during international education week

I was pleased to be invited to deliver one of the main speeches during this week celebrating the work of international educators nationwide at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. My topic was: Bringing the World to Campus: Impacts of Internationalization at Home.

Because the pandemic has paused all mobile study abroad programs and any type of experiential learning abroad, campuses have pivoted to virtual programs. One of the silver linings this year has been a creative effort to widen participation of students in domestic intercultural learning or what is more popularly labeled – in Europe – as internationalization-at-home. One of my main points was that campuses now had an opportunity to “democratize” participation in what otherwise was a co-curricular experience open predominantly to a narrow selective group of students.

Here’s a link to my 20 minute address to Millersville faculty and staff:

1 million students with bachelor’s degrees return to community colleges to learn skilled trades

I was startled to see the number [actually, the reported number is 940,000 which is close enough] in this very timely story in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/more-people-with-bachelors-degrees-go-back-to-school-to-learn-skilled-trades/2020/11/20/06404180-2aa9-11eb-9b14-ad872157ebc9_story.html

We all understand the tremendous debt burden that far too many American students carry with them well into their 30s after graduating college. Paying for college during the pandemic, when millions of middle class and even more low-income families are out of work, makes its own case for the value of learning “hard” trade skills.

“The trend [of grads enrolling at community colleges] is also exposing how many high school graduates almost reflexively go to college without entirely knowing why, pushed by parents and counselors, only to be disappointed with the way things turn out – and then having to start over.”

A third of students in college change their majors “at least once” and “more than half take longer than four years to graduate,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Amy Lloyd, VP at Jobs for the Future, is quoted: “That makes four-year universities and colleges a really expensive career exploration program.” It’s hard to argue with this in the context of this story.

The data on how much more is earned in a lifetime by those with bachelor’s degrees is not disputed, but this story helps dispel the long-held bias within the higher education community – and perhaps by middle class parents who want to see their children achieve more than they were able to – towards the technical training widely available at the nation’s community colleges.

The economic strain which is now strangling many small colleges and those with weak endowments, will, I’m sure, force many institutions to make hard choices in the next few years. Hundreds of thousands have been laid off in the higher ed industry -many adjuncts and also full-time faculty in the humanities and social sciences – and we will have to see which academic departments survive after the pandemic ends.

Meanwhile, I’m certain that, in the short-run [which could be 3-5 years], high school seniors may have to adjust their sights on the type of “higher” education their family can afford. The sorting out of the complex inter-relationship of the pandemic, economic slowdown, unemployment, and career decision-making of high school and college-bound students is going to take a long time to unravel.

Case Study: Flattening Learning in a virtual service-learning course

This essay appeared on the site of the new World Council on Intercultural Learning and Global Competence, https://iccglobal.org/ : How Can We Foster a Mobile Mindset While Sheltering in Place? It discusses what happened as a course at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, predicated on a mobile cross-cultural learning model, was suddenly transformed due to the Covid outbreak.

It’s a question on the mind of every student, faculty member and family around the U.S. – and no doubt, anywhere on the planet.

The faculty authors came to these conclusions:

“The process of reframing and reflecting on these three courses during the pandemic allowed us to draw pedagogical implications for ICC development using digital spaces. Among them:

  • ICC development is possible in novel and innovative ways through online means
  • The pandemic flipped the scripts on mobility and privilege
  • Dis-location with technology can bring location and mobility to the ICC forefront 
  • Instructors need to create space for unplanned/emergent intercultural encounters 
  • Educators should foster a mobile mindset as it relates to our teaching, even when mobility is not logistically possible 

From this brief essay and others like it written since last summer, the success of online learning – whether intended for a domestic or an international environment- has everything to do with the talent, imagination and technical skill of faculty. I’ve read of those who think that going forward, new criteria for hiring faculty may, of necessity, include evidence of IT skills.

Revisiting Ethical Perspectives on Study Abroad in a COVID-19 World by Scott G. Blair, PhD

Consultant in International Higher Education

Copyright © Scott G. Blair, 2020

In light of the globalized origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and now the struggle to gain wider awareness, particularly in the United States, of the depth and breadth of systemic racism across society, the D.I.E.+ process model of analysis might just help students better contextualize and situate their unexpected confinement and loss of experiential learning opportunities in 2020, for which a virtual internship or study abroad is, I submit, a poor substitute.

Describe: Students today are pretty well-versed in the process of describing the perfect rising storm of our current unjust and unsustainable world. Climate disruption, collapsing biodiversity, resource depletion, rising inequality, uncontrolled human migration, increasing demographic pressure, and overall declining human happiness—these are problems students have learned to describe with disconcerting ease and precision. They see and know what’s going on. What is perhaps new to them is just how urgent and interconnected these wicked problems have become. The full crisis is unfolding before their very eyes—decades ahead of time—and it’s almost, well, indescribable! Students are right to be anxious and alarmed.

Interpret: Asking and understanding why things are the way they are is something students find more difficult. A study of history, philosophy, ethics, literature—and study abroad—is really crucial but too few universities impose sufficient curricular requirements in such areas. Plus, let’s remember that, often, there is no good reason for things to be the way they are. So, if you know your history—how human attitudes, values and social structures came to be as they are—it’s a lot easier to detect the injustice and privilege embedded in a given system. But without historical awareness, what we see around us we mistakenly take as natural and normal. Yet, by experiencing cultural difference in historical contexts—across both space and time—students grow in interpretive power. And in doing so, they become more skeptical, more questioning, more ethically grounded, and, importantly, more demanding. And we need this turn of mind now more than ever.

Evaluate: Once students appreciate that structures of power and privilege were purposely built into core social systems over time—e.g., health services, nutrition, education, employment, housing, policing, due process, penal incarceration and, yes, access to education abroad—they are better able to identify the minority who benefit most and who naturally view such systems and processes conservatively as something both natural and just. Free trade and market capitalism, for example, have become the basic organizing principles of our global economic order. But in the absence of the necessary corollary of such world capitalism—a global political order of rules and regimes able to control how it all plays out—globalization will increase inequalities and protect the undue and often unearned privileges that finance and capital provide. Students know this system is unfair and unsustainable and they are getting pretty good at evaluating the power, privilege and self-interest that is involved in being part of a status quo. It’s no surprise that they are judging it harshly.

+ Action: Learning to ask what it would take to change the status quo—this is where students have the greatest potential for weathering today’s perfect storm and enacting real and lasting social and political change. The individual and collective actions they are employing for challenging the status quo and global “order” might just work: i.e., engaging in widespread, sustained, and peaceful protest; demanding that politics align with science; supporting international and cooperative strategies for tacking global problems; rejecting nationalism and go-it-alone diplomacy; demanding accountability and transparency in public affairs; recognizing one’s own implication within current unjust and racialized social structures; applying critical thinking skills when using media; and perhaps the most important—voting. Make no mistake: in a democracy, changing the status quo doesn’t take a lot of people making a huge effort; it only takes a lot of people doing a single simple thing—voting. As such, the fate of the planet probably now depends on how many people often classed as minorities—the young, ethnic groups, people of “color”, women, the apolitical—decide to express themselves across the rest of 2020—in the streets, in conversation, in the media, and in the voting booth. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

By the end of 2020, over three-hundred thousand US students will have seen their study abroad programs recently cancelled, moved-online, delayed or significantly altered due the COVID-19 pandemic. The lives and educational plans of over a million international students in the US will have been similarly disrupted, and such disruption is likely to continue into 2021. Put bluntly, a very great number of students will simply miss the opportunity to study abroad during their college years, and this with the corresponding loss of intercultural learning and personal development that comes with it. At best, they might substitute study abroad with curricular, co-curricular and community-based intercultural experiences on campus. But even internationalization-at-home will suffer to the extent that fewer international students will be on campus to help drive it. These are hard times for international, intercultural, and experiential education. And this is likely to last for some time.

Yet, there is some consolation. Students can use the D.I.E.+ process model of analysis to better describe the ecological, culturalized, and globalized origins of the COVID virus that so upset their lives.  The model can help them better interpret how and why the virus infected and killed people in different percentages depending upon social, economic, and ethnic injustices embedded into different societies and cultures. It can empower them to evaluate the permissive causes of its speedy propagation across a globalized world and the failure of political leadership to respond with global and collaborative counter-measures. And with the murder of George Floyd and subsequent light thrown onto wider problems of police brutality across the globe, the model suggests important ways to upset the status quo and start challenging and changing the global order through action.

If positive social, political, and ecological change comes from all of this, and if young students and their allies see themselves as a driving force behind it, both in their own local community and across their living planet, then let’s hope they’ll take these lessons in intercultural learning and personal development as outcomes even more valuable than what they might have acquired through a semester of study abroad. It’s true: study abroad can change your life. But at this crucial moment in history, it might be better that students change the world.

A Vision for Advancing Knowldege and excellence by creating a new model of american higher education

Michael Crow and William Dabars of Arizona State University have written a book outlining a model of a more equitable higher education system in the U.S. : https://issues.org/the-emergence-of-the-fifth-wave-in-american-higher-education.

Their argument is put this way:

“Granting increasingly exclusive status to the privileged few guarantees that the interests and agendas of elite universities will drift farther from the needs of most citizens. To strengthen the public purpose of higher education, it will be necessary to leverage the synergies between access and excellence, thereby empowering the nation’s research-grade universities to advance discovery and innovation that contribute to broadly distributed prosperity and societal well-being.”

They make the point that following the recession of 2008, “… many of the students who would most benefit from this most obvious avenue of upward mobility (i.e. obtaining a college degree)—those typically categorized as socioeconomically disadvantaged or historically underrepresented—cannot gain admission to research-grade universities, even as deindustrialization and
other structural features of the economy contribute to ever
greater economic inequity.”

Their new book, The Fifth Wave, takes on what we all know is true about American higher education. That it is fundamentally structured to provide a first-class education to an elite few in our society. Efforts by top-tier institutions to enroll low-income and minority students are not making any headway at democratizing access to degrees which will change the socio-economic status for anywhere near a majority of these students.

Crow and Dabars put it this way: “Educating students who graduate in the top 5% or 10% of their high school classes is business as usual at most leading colleges and universities. The Fifth Wave aims to educate to internationally competitive levels of achievement the top quarter or third of all 18- to 24-year olds, and through universal learning frameworks to provide opportunities for lifelong learning to more than half the population of the United States.”

Their vision really comes, I think, at a good moment as we are all struggling to see beyond the horizon of this pandemic and come to terms with what the future will looks like.

Students Have got to vote!!!

Reported today in the Times Higher Education:

US students overwhelmingly backing Biden and determined to vote

Sign supporting the Democratic Party on a shabby rack beside the road

Source: iStock

US college students overwhelming favour Joe Biden in this year’s presidential election and are determined to cast their votes, a nationwide poll has found.

The online survey of 4,000 students enrolled in four-year degree programmes, commissioned by the Knight Foundation, also found that about half plan to vote by mail and nearly as many fear an unfair election.

With a close contest possible in this year’s presidential race, the ability of Democrats to expand the traditionally low rates of student voting is among their keys to defeating Donald Trump.

A larger survey earlier this year by the Knight Foundation affirmed that challenge, at least among younger voters more generally. It showed that US citizens aged 18 to 24 were less interested in the 2020 election than even chronic non-voters.

The new survey, focusing only on college students, was conducted in early August just as reports began emerging of the US Postal Service cutting operations in line with Mr Trump’s warnings that he would fare poorly among voters using mail.

A New Game Requires Moving the Goalposts for International Education

I’d like to call attention to this excellent analysis by Matthew Clausen, Business Development Advisor to the Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC): https://www.tiec.org/news/rethinking-internationalization-metrics-during-covid19 . I’ve re-worked its title, but, the idea he posits is that Covid has clearly altered the way that international educators view the endgame on our campuses. Clausen has brought together useful metrics and juxtaposed several points of view. For example:

Clausen asks: “Should we take this moment to reconsider what we truly mean by internationalization of higher education? What is the point of internationalization and should we have been limiting ourselves to those narrow metrics all along?” No. And the pandemic has pulled back the curtain on Oz.

Robin Lerner, president and CEO of TIEC, asks: “What are the core takeaways we want for our students from an international experience? Maybe that’s an understanding of how to problem-solve for issues that don’t respect national borders, cultural competency that will serve them later on in the workplace, or the confidence and flexibility that come from students testing themselves outside of their comfort zones. As we design virtual programs, it’s those outcomes of international experience that we need to use as not just our measures of success but our road map.” An excellent statement of what the future of internationalization-at-home might look like.

Cheryl Matherly, Vice Provost for International Affairs at Lehigh University asks: “What does international education look like when it is not defined by mobility?” It is forcing a reconsideration about what is the purpose and what is the aim of what we do in the field. If your sole measure is body count, you are putting a priority on the travel experience.” The new “look” should be one of more equity; one featuring far more diversity of minorities and low-income students sharing in the benefits of intercultural and cross-cultural exploration at home as well as abroad.

Ukiah Busch, director of public private partnerships at Partners of the Americas points out the obvious: “The advantage of virtual exchange is equity, but I don’t think it is as impactful in terms of a personal learning and formative experience, as there is no way to do cultural immersion in a virtual exchange.” I agree, but the advantage of greater equity is not a minor gain for the field which has struggled to democratize access to education abroad for decades!

Lastly, Matherly asks: “If the new programs and pathways that are developed or deepened are always viewed as a poor second to travel, then we will have done a disservice. She puts the charge on the higher education community…It is incumbent on us to make the case. What is ultimately the value of the experience?

My take is that any other case to be made puts forth a false choice to students. It’s not either learn abroad or learn less at home — we can’t overlook how few students have ever participated in international education outside the US [less than 10%]. Higher education must now face up to the fact that very little has been offered to the mass of students not going abroad. Covid presents an opportunity to widely expand similar -but not the same- learning outcomes for ALL students. With the curtain pulled back by this virus, the challenge is clear.

%d bloggers like this: