As the economy continues to challenge higher education, colleges and universities have shifted priorities to accommodate reductions by cutting programs that not long ago were considered core activities. Too often, international education is a target of budget reductions, seen as an unaffordable luxury in the midst of the current financial crisis. Yet at a time when America’s international leadership is being challenged, the emphasis on global competence has never been more vital.
An “international institution” can take many forms, from one with a major emphasis on study abroad to those seeking comprehensive internationalization, in which the consciousness of the international pervades all aspects of the institution. Regardless, internationalization almost always requires financial support. Sustaining internationalization efforts while reducing costs and finding new revenues is one of the important challenges of our day, but an answer to this challenge can be found through partnerships.
There are at least three forms of partnering that reduce costs associated with international education, and in some cases, actually increase revenues to support international program activity: partnerships within the institution, those with foreign institutions, and those between American community colleges and universities.
At Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), we have created internal partnerships among academic departments, campuses, the college’s international education program, and our Office of International Student Services. These partnerships were founded on the explicit understanding that success at recruiting and retaining international students produces revenues that directly support international programming and internationalization activities across the college. Today, that effort has grown to include more than 2,000 international students on F-1 visas, and they, in turn, help support a vibrant and growing international education program.
The sine qua non of an international institution is its international partnerships. They offer opportunities for actual cross-border learning; take the measure of our own programs, courses, and teaching-learning strategies; and prompt us to think about different approaches. Once partnerships with foreign institutions are established and nurtured, opportunities for less expensive and more scalable international learning experiences emerge. For example, through distance learning, existing partnerships can be leveraged for learning across borders through collaborative learning projects or in competitions. Based on our experience, international partners are learning to be “international” just as we are. Such collaboration not only offers the opportunity for educational exchange but also strengthens opportunities for private foundation funding and government contracts to support greater internationalization of the college.
Mentioning partnerships in the context of internationalization should not omit U.S.-based collaborations—particularly those between community colleges and universities. Although universities have formed consortia to maximize international initiatives for years, partnerships between community colleges and universities for the same purpose are rare. Community colleges that are physical neighbors of universities are naturals for such collaboration. One exciting option is for community colleges and universities to team in their international student recruiting by promoting their “2+2” transfer arrangements that make American higher education more affordable for international students. Such alliances enable community colleges to adapt international students to the U.S. academic environment and better prepare them for transfer to universities. The two institutions can reduce expenses by combining recruitment efforts, creating an improved interface between them for the benefit of students, and generating new financial resources in the process.
Although these are tough economic times, American higher education cannot back away from the need to enhance and support international education. Partnerships within and between institutions reinforce the notion that international education can remain vibrant even in the face of financial stress.
Robert G. Templin, Jr., is president of Northern Virginia Community College.