A global pandemic that has caused overseas enrollments to plummet is as good a time as any — even better, some would argue — to rethink American higher education’s relationship with international students. So a just-released report from the American Council on Education, proposing a “new compact
” between colleges and international students, is timely.
I want to come clean about a skepticism of reports — in my time as a journalist, I’ve covered many launches only to see the volumes collect dust. But the ACE report identifies many of the key challenges to international-student success and provides an actionable blueprint for change. Here are a couple of aspects that jumped out at me:
It says bluntly that colleges can’t front-end their investment in international students, putting their resources into recruitment.
For international students to succeed, they need support, inside the classroom and out, throughout their time on campus. And colleges must do more for their international alumni
, providing career assistance and engaging them through global networks. The life-cycle approach should apply to both undergraduates and grad students, the report says. I hear about the imbalance from international students A LOT.
It emphasizes not thinking about international students in isolation, but including them in broader campus action on equity and inclusion. This strikes me as important in many ways, diminishing what has sometimes become an unfortunate rivalry between diversity and internationalization efforts and tapping into complementary expertise. What’s more, excluding international students from the most consequential conversation on campuses today could further marginalize them.
It shifts the focus from what international students bring to American colleges — talent, tuition dollars, cultural diversity — to what colleges must do to effectively serve them. In the current climate, there has been a need to spell out the ways in which international students are assets to American education and society. And certainly many of you reading this newsletter are already zeroed in on international students’ needs. But higher ed more broadly should ask, in the words of one of the report’s co-authors, Chris R. Glass:
“What promises are our institutions making in regards to the safety, the program quality, the affordability, our reputations, and the employment opportunities?”
And are they keeping those promises to international students?
On Friday, I moderated a panel at the ACE/AIEA Internationalization Collaborative on international-student success. A few takeaways:
Jesse Lutabingwa, associate vice chancellor of international education and development at Appalachian State University, said colleges should start with “why — why do we want to engage international students on campus?” As his college’s senior international officer, Lutabingwa said he saw himself as international students’ eyes and ears, able to identify the challenges they face and identity the right campus resources to help solve their problems.
Thuy Thi Nguyen, president of Foothill College, spoke of the “power of stories.”
Sometimes actions tell stories, Nguyen said, such as when Foothill filed suit
to block a change to student-visa policy. Other times stories are personal. Nguyen, who fled Vietnam with her family, relates to international students by talking about how she considered adopting an Anglicized name after her own name was mispronounced as a teenager.
Colleges can help foster a sense of belonging among international students, said Junchi Zhang, a graduate student at Lehigh University. That can take many forms, said Zhang, who helped Lehigh set up a virtual network for Chinese students studying remotely during the pandemic.
No matter their title, people across campus have a role to play in aiding international students, said Meera Komarraju, provost of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. “International students’ success is everyone’s job,” she said. “It’s vital to our university’s survival.
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