US: International Educators Discuss the Competition for Students and Ways of Improving Programs

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu May 31 15:44:06 UTC 2007


Thursday, May 31, 2007

International Educators Discuss the Competition for Students and Ways of
Improving Programs

By BETH MCMURTRIE <beth.mcmurtrie at>


Attracting foreign students, making study abroad more meaningful, and
internationalizing the campus are some of the big themes being discussed
here at the 59th annual meeting of Nafsa: Association of International
Educators, which runs through the end of the week. The conference, which has
drawn more than 7,000 people from 90 countries, attracts both high-level
administrators and the frontline staff members who run study-abroad offices
and recruit foreign students. Many sessions at the conference focus on
tracking and recruiting foreign students. Hobsons, a student-recruitment and
enrollment-management company, released some results of a survey of 28,000
foreign students that looked at how they choose where to apply for
undergraduate or graduate programs. Among the findings: Friends are the No.
1 source of advice for students from India and China, while Japanese
students rely more on recommendations from teachers. Indian and Chinese
students want to study abroad primarily because of the quality of the
academic programs elsewhere, and believe that they will be better prepared
for careers when they return. Chinese students rely mainly on scholarships
and family members for financial support, while Indian students primarily
depend on scholarships and bank loans.

A session with representatives from State Department-sponsored overseas
advising centers, which promote American higher education abroad, encouraged
colleges to make their Web sites more user-friendly for foreign students and
described the many difficulties those students face in completing admissions
applications. A representative of one such center, Rohayma Rateb, from the
Amideast office in Egypt, said seemingly routine requests can stump Egyptian
students. Grade-point averages, sealed transcripts, and letters of
recommendation are all foreign concepts in Egypt, she said. As for
extracurricular activities, something regularly inquired about on
applications: "It's deemed a waste of time, and they are told to concentrate
on their studies," she said.

In another session, representatives from Europe, Australia, and the United
States reviewed recent trends in global student mobility. Among their
conclusions: Asian countries are stepping up their efforts to recruit
foreign students, European nations are working harder to draw in students
from outside the European Union, and Australia is working closely with Asian
neighbors to make it easier to recognize one another's degrees. All of this
adds up to growing competition for American colleges. Rajika Bhandari,
director of research for the Institute of International Education, noted
that China now provides 10,000 scholarships a year for foreign students to
study at its universities, compared with 12,000 scholarships it gives to
Chinese students to study abroad.

*Internationalizing the Campus *

At a special symposium, speakers described a host of things it takes to make
a campus more internationally focused, including committed leadership,
money, buy-in from the faculty, and a tangible reward system for faculty
members who get involved. Big dreams don't hurt, either. John K. Hudzik,
vice president for global engagement and strategic projects at Michigan
State University, noted that when his institution announced that it wanted
to send 40 percent of its undergraduates abroad, "the audaciousness of that
goal was like a lightning rod" that galvanized the campus. Eileen
Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College, talked about the distinct
challenges for small, liberal-arts institutions, such as heavy teaching
loads for faculty members and a tendency to want to stick with tradition.
Such limitations can discourage innovation, especially if you're looking to
shake up the curriculum, she said. But small colleges are also more nimble
than large research universities, and she encouraged campus leaders to use
that advantage.

The speakers also advised sending skeptical faculty members to visit
study-abroad sites. "It's the biggest way to change minds and get people on
board," said C. Eugene Allen, a former associate vice president for
international programs at the University of Minnesota. Several college
administrators at the session said they wanted to connect study abroad more
closely with students' majors and with service learning -- a common theme at
the conference over all. Katherine S. Bellows, executive director of the
Office of International Programs at Georgetown University, said students
there try to pack so much into their four years, they have little time left
to go abroad. Many, for example, get involved in community service and don't
want to drop it, even briefly. "They're afraid they're going to miss
something," she said.

So she and her colleagues are working on creating more study-abroad programs
with both a service and academic component. Georgetown's program in
Santiago, Chile, for example, in which students work with poor families but
also take classes, ties directly into subjects such as sociology, she said.
Linda Materna, who is chairwoman of foreign languages and literature at
Rider University and co-leader of a new internationalization effort there,
touched on another hot topic: how to give students an international
experience without leaving home. She noted that many of the New Jersey
institution's students are first-generation college-goers or have to work,
which limits their ability go overseas. While study abroad should remain the
primary goal, Rider is looking into short-term domestic travel to places
with large immigrant communities. Such trips also tap into a growing demand
among students for service projects, Ms. Materna said. She noted that
students who were otherwise uninterested in study abroad have gravitated
toward service programs run in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, where
they work with orphanages.

*Looking for Quality Controls*

The Forum on Education Abroad, a consortium of study-abroad providers, has
created what it calls a quality-improvement program -- a sort of voluntary
accreditation for study-abroad programs. At a session to discuss the results
of its first efforts to put the program into practice, presenters urged
providers to sign up. Michael Steinberg, director of academic programs of
the Institute for the International Education of Students, who helped
develop the standards, noted that demand for study abroad is booming, yet
many study-abroad offices are so understaffed they barely have time to
advise students, let alone check out the many providers out there. The
quality-improvement program, he said, is a method to ensure that providers
offer solid programs.

He also said it's only a matter of time before accreditors and others are
going to want to put quality controls on the growing industry. "Before
others start to police us, we have to police ourselves," he said. The
quality-improvement program involves a self-study, followed by peer review,
and is based on the forum's own standards of good practice. Details on the
program can be found on the forum's Web

*Less Support for Development Projects*

Stephen F. Moseley, president of the Academy for Educational Development,
painted a bleak picture in a session on university participation in
international development. Mr. Moseley noted that it has become increasingly
difficult for universities to find government money to support long-term
development projects, particularly ones with a research component. Support
from organizations such as the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for
International Development has either dried up or shifted to short-term
projects that focus on tangible results. "The funding and support for
universities to be engines of development have substantially declined," he

Most aid money, he added, is now spent on countries that are considered of
importance to national security. While a number of those projects focus on
human development, other countries are being ignored entirely, Mr. Moseley
said. He also noted a precipitous drop in the number of USAID-backed
scholarships for foreign students to attend college in the United States.
That figure fell from 25,000 in the late 1980s to 1,200 today. Now, what
little scholarship money there is goes toward short-term programs rather
than degree programs, he said.

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