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.” 

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