Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

Internationalization in Action: Internationalizing the Curriculum, Part 2 - Academic Program Components

December 30, 1899


By Robin Matross Helms, Senior Research Specialist at ACE, and Malika Tukibayeva, Graduate Research Associate at ACE

While an internationalized curriculum will look different on different campuses based on institution type and mission, student population, availability of resources, and other factors, there are 4 "levels" of the curriculum that require attention in order to create a comprehensively internationalized student learning experience: individual courses, academic program components (majors, minors, and certificates), degree programs, and disciplines as a whole. 

The previous installment of Internationalization in Action focused on internationalization of individual courses as the "building blocks" of an internationalized curriculum. This installment tackles the second level of curriculum internationalization: integration of these courses into larger academic program components.


Though there are a variety of elements involved and the extent can vary, internationalization of individual courses is relatively straightforward – at least in terms of a common understanding of the basic "unit" involved (a course is a course, regardless of institution).  At the program level, however, the situation is more complicated.  Different institutions "slice and dice" their programs into different "units" – majors, minors, tracks, certificates, etc. The following descriptions attempt to capture these variations, and account for the range of possibilities for internationalization at the program level in different institutional contexts.

Read on to learn more!

Curriculum Internationalization, Level 2: Academic Program Components

What do we mean by an internationalized major?
What are some models for internationally-focused minors and certificates?
How can institutions increase internationalization at the academic program level?


What do we mean by an internationalized major?

Just as internationalization of individual courses involves an array of components and can take many different forms, an "internationalized" major can mean a number of different things. A given institution may offer some or all of these variations:

Majors and Required/Elective Internationally-Focused Courses
From the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Undergraduate Program Catalog 

​Major ​Internationally-Focused Course (s)
Apparel Design

​Fashion, Design, and the Global Industry

Child Psychology

​Introduction to the World of Social Work: A Global Perspective

Mortuary Science

​Death and Dying Across Culture and Religions

Youth Studies​

​International Youthwork

Agriculture and Food Business Management​

​​Global Trade and Policy

Understanding the International Environment of Firms: International Business

International Finance

Housing Studies

​Housing in a Global Perspective

Introduction to the World of Social Work: A Global Perspective

Environment, Global Food Production, and the Citizen

Science and Policy of Global Environmental Change

Geography of Environmental Systems and Global Change



Integrating Study Abroad

Though only a minority of students study abroad, for those who do, integration of the experience and learning that takes place abroad into their overall program of study and the curriculum on the home campus is critical. Study abroad should not be an "add on" experience, but a key step in achieving program and institution-level student learning outcomes.

The University of Minnesota's "Minnesota Model" for study abroad curriculum integration "is based on partnering with academic units to effectively meet institutional goals to internationalize the curriculum. This model spreads ownership for international education throughout the institution." Resources and case studies available on the program website provide guidance for other institutions.

To help students plan their study abroad experiences and ensure a coherent academic program, a number of institutions have created major-specific study abroad guides. Examples include:


What are some models for internationally-focused minors and certificates?

Internationally-focused minors take a variety of forms that largely parallel the internationalized majors described above. These include:

What about STEM?

ACE's Mapping Internationalization on US Campuses study found that 64% of responding institutions offer international/global tracks, concentrations, or certificate options for undergraduate students. The top 3 areas in which institutions are likely to offer such programs are business/management, humanities, and social/sciences/behavioral sciences/economics.

Only 5% of institutions, however, offer concentrations or related programs in STEM fields. Examples of such programs include:

The next 2 installments of Internationalization in Action will focus on curriculum internationalization at the degree and discipline levels.  Stay tuned for more information! 

The University of North Carolina's Worldview Project developed the "North Carolina Global Distinction" program, which was first implemented by the College of Davidson and Davies Counties (DCCC). Through the program students meet specified academic requirements to receive the "Scholar of Global Distinction" designation, which is recorded on their transcripts. To earn the designation, students must:

  • Complete at least 15 credit hours of globally intensive courses.
  • Attend or participate in 8 international activities: speakers, films, performances, etc. (2 per semester).
  • Gain global experience through 30 hours of participation in either study abroad or a domestic intercultural experience. 
  • Give a capstone presentation related to their global learning participation.

The "North Carolina Global Distinction" program is currently in its in rollout phase to 5 more community colleges in the state, with the hopes of eventually including all North Carolina community colleges in the program.

Purdue University's PUPIL Program

The Purdue University Passport to Intercultural Learning (PUPIL) is designed to document and display the intercultural learning and critical thinking reflections of students. Students earn digital badges in 6 areas (e.g. "intercultural communication" and "cultural worldview") by completing activities or "challenges" set by faculty. The badge system is intended as a way for students to communicate evidence of learning to future employers and other interested parties.

PUPIL uses the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), and intercultural learning reflection items by Darla K. Deardorff, Executive Director of the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA)

How can institutions increase internationalization at the academic program level?

As illustrated by the examples above, internationalization at the program level takes many forms.  It's complicated, and definitions can be slippery or overlapping (e.g. an international "track" within a major versus a minor). A first step as institutions seek to internationalize academic programs is to take stock of what currently exists, which of the above variations (or others) are available in which fields, and where there are noticeable gaps.

Moving forward, which variations make sense to pursue within individual fields and throughout the institution as a whole will necessarily depend to some extent on existing infrastructure, i.e.  how the institution "slices and dices" its academic programs and defines departments and degrees. Practical issues such as faculty workload and expertise within individual departments may dictate whether it is possible to offer a sub-major or concentration within a particular field.  

Institutional size and mission come into play as well; larger institutions may offer (and have enough students for) very specialized majors that focus on a particular region, for example, whereas smaller liberal arts colleges that strive for broader-based degrees may opt for an international or global studies major that draws on courses from a number of departments. 

However institutions define their programs, internationalization of majors begins with internationalization of individual courses (see the previous installment of Internationalization in Action for more on this topic).  A single faculty member in a department may offer a single internationally-focused course, which can be incorporated into program requirements for the major.  As students gain exposure to international topics in their field, interest may grow and demand for more international courses may follow. Faculty respond in turn by adding more courses, perhaps enough to establish a separate concentration or track.  Such courses also can be offered as electives in separate international/global studies and area-focused majors.

While course and program internationalization are a key part of overall curriculum internationalization, it is still up to individual students to "opt in" to internationalization at this level.  In order to achieve the goal of global competence for ALL students, more layers are needed – internationalization at the degree level, including general education requirements, and at the discipline level. 

Stay tuned for more on curriculum in the next 2 installments of Internationalization in Action!


A Worldwide Learning Environment:
Case Western Reserve College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Internationalization Project

With the help of a $250,000 grant from the McGregor Fund, Case Western Reserve University's College of Arts and Sciences launched "A Worldwide Learning Environment" project which aimed at developing innovative ways to internationalize the undergraduate curriculum with an emphasis on incorporating the use of advanced communication technologies into the course structure.

In total, 19 faculty proposals were supported through the grant, which allowed for the purchase of videoconferencing equipment and faculty visits abroad to establish collaborations with universities and individual scholars. Selected courses represented a broad range of disciplines: modern languages and literatures, physics, biology, cognitive science, religious studies, history, sociology, anthropology, art history, classics, music, psychology, and others.

In many cases international collaborators were part of the classroom experience at Case Western Reserve via long-distance equipment, and were able to supply international perspectives on the topics covered. The grant program provided continuity and sustainability of the internationalization effort, as most of the international collaborations have remained active and the communications equipment is available for other international course collaborations.

Syllabi for the 19 courses supported by the grant are available on the project website.


Other ACE News


 More CIGE



Additional Resources

ACE Email Opt-In

Opt-into receive news and updates from ACE.