To some, the internationalization of higher education might look like a game of Monopoly, with universities buying property, setting up branch campuses, and figuring out how to pass Go. Monopoly is a game with a finite set of variables—money, hotels, and game pieces. Even considering the Chance cards doesn’t begin to encompass the complex set of opportunities and risks that confront universities expanding their international footprints.
As presidents, we often are called upon to adjudicate between pedagogy and budget. Faced with a plethora of international proposals, decisions must be made by discerning the opportunity cost of establishing a greater international presence, while assessing the risk of doing so. In the end, we often ask ourselves: Can we afford not to become more involved in the world, and how can we manage the attendant risk? The correct decision might not be to buy a hotel for Park Place. As we found at Arcadia University, you can begin by establishing a few “houses,” but it’s good pedagogy to stay in other people’s “hotels.”
Setting Sail for the Future
More than six decades ago, an Arcadia professor, his wife, and 17 undergraduates set sail for England to study the economic effects of World War II. The students, from what was then an all-women’s college, acquired used RAF bicycles and began their studies. As the story goes, they ferried across the English Channel and rode through Belgium and France on a budget of just two dollars per student, per day. These young women bicycling across Europe in the summer of 1948 paved the way for generations of students to study abroad. They also charted the course for a small college in Pennsylvania, which made learning about the world a central part of its mission and study abroad a part of its specialization.
For Arcadia University, the opportunity cost of Professor Jack Wallace not leading that first overseas class in 1948 would have been huge. Other faculty entrepreneurs followed in succeeding summers. In 1965, our small college established a new paradigm—study abroad during the regular academic year for non–foreign language majors. A principal location in the United Kingdom was low risk, although risk was not on people’s minds at this time. Arcadia would continue to grow its international presence, establishing university-based programs in more countries and setting up some of its own centers. Students from other colleges found they enjoyed studying abroad through Arcadia, and what had been one of the nation’s oldest study abroad programs became one of the largest. Other schools mitigated their own risks by sending students abroad using our well-developed services.
During the 1970s and ’80s, the study abroad program provided fiscal stability that enabled Arcadia’s rocky transition from a women’s college to a co-ed institution. But as the college struggled, fewer of its own students took advantage of its study abroad programs. In the 1986–87 academic year, there were no Arcadia students among the 1,500 who studied overseas through our programs.
Fulfilling a Mission
By 1989, Arcadia realized that its mission—“preparing students for life in a changing global society”—should apply to all students, not just the privileged, and soon we began taking freshmen, many of whom had never been on an airplane, on “preview” trips to London during spring break. The more we have made study abroad and global opportunities available to students, the more enrollment demand has risen. When demand outpaced our available on-campus beds in 2004, we solved the problem by sending freshmen to study abroad in London for their first semester. This creative response has become one of our most popular programs—the First Year Study Abroad Experience, now offered in London and Scotland. Combined with our First Year Previews—now in London, Ireland, Scotland, and Spain—more than eight out of 10 freshmen now use their passports during their first year of college.
Still, we hadn’t quite accomplished our mission of preparing students to be leaders in a global society. Our general education requirements didn’t really equal the experiential cross-cultural learning we were capable of delivering. In an amazingly short amount of time—just a single academic year—our faculty developed and almost unanimously approved a revolutionary undergraduate curriculum that truly leverages our global strengths in a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary curriculum. By this time, we had in place programs and staff in 12 nations on five continents. The staff presence helps manage the risks of study abroad. Now every student is required to have a Global Connections Experience and Reflection in a culture different from their own. Those unable to study abroad are spending semesters at fellow New American Colleges and Universities or in courses that immerse them in Philadelphia neighborhoods, schools, or prisons. Our study abroad curricula in Arcadia University’s College of Global Studies also continues to revolutionize the international educational experience with such programs as an innovative co-curricular learning certificate that measures students’ involvement outside the traditional classroom in cross-cultural engagement.
Today, we support various approaches to international education, from faculty-led short-term courses to the establishment of campuses overseas. Our aim is to expose all students to global challenges and opportunities at whatever intensity their interests and capacities allow. The overall theme of Arcadia’s approaches to internationalization is immersion in the local culture. In the “hotel” analogy, students study abroad in university-based programs with our partners in other countries and become fully immersed in the local campus culture. In another example, Arcadia partnered with the multi-nation East African community to establish the Nyerere Centre for Peace Research in Tanzania. The Centre, created with graduate research in mind, blossomed into an interdisciplinary center for problem-based study in peace and conflict resolution, public health, education, and women’s studies, as well as a new site for undergraduate study abroad. Even during the recession, we continue to expand our international efforts with new partners in China, France, and Singapore. With such a far-flung and experienced operation, our faculty can devise and implement international experiences with remarkable ease and low risk.
During the past year, many universities may have found themselves in discussions of pedagogy and budgets. This spring, Arcadia has a record number of its own undergraduates spending the semester abroad, all receiving their full level of institutional grants and scholarships while they are away. Our budget planning and our pedagogy are inextricably tied, yet we believe that the opportunity cost of not preparing our students for the challenges of a dynamic world is a loss not just for the student but also for the university. Our history has shown us that continuing to give students new ways to explore learning in the world benefits us all.
Jerry Greiner is president of Arcadia University.