Internationalization in Action 2016 April

As part of the efforts of the American Council on Education's (ACE) Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (CIGE) to provide guidance to institutions engaged in internationalization, Internationalization in Action features institutional strategies and good practices gathered from participants in CIGE programs and other experts in the field. Topics rotate regularly, and each installment includes examples, sample documents, and advice from a variety of institutions. We welcome your contributions!

Internationalizing the Co-curriculum: A Three-Part Series Internationalization and Student Affairs

By Heather H. Ward, Senior Program Specialist at ACE

Co-curriculum, together with curriculum and learning outcomes, forms one of the six dimensions of CIGE’s Model for Comprehensive Internationalization. A co-curriculum can encompass a wide range of programs and services separate from, but complementary to, the curriculum. Student development, learning, and interaction occur both inside and outside the classroom. Internationalizing the co-curriculum, therefore, is critical to a comprehensive approach.

Comprehensive internationalization” as defined by CIGE is a strategic, coordinated process that seeks to align and integrate international policies, programs, and initiatives, and positions colleges and universities as more globally oriented and internationally connected.

“It is the obligation of colleges and universities to prepare people for a globalized world, including developing the ability to compete economically, to operate effectively in other cultures and settings, to use knowledge to improve their own lives and their communities, and to better comprehend the realities of the contemporary world so that they can better meet their responsibilities as citizens.” (American Council on Education 2011)

Internationalization is gaining momentum at more than 64 percent of U.S. colleges and universities, and a majority have articulated international or global student learning outcomes, according to ACE’s Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2012 Edition. While education abroad is a deeply transformative experience that can increase students’ global awareness, IIE’s 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange indicates that less than 10 percent of U.S. undergraduates who complete a four-year degree will have that experience, and for associate, master’s, and doctoral degree students the participation rate is much lower. Therefore, the responsibility “to prepare people for a globalized world,” cited in ACE’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Global Engagement report, Strength through Global Leadership and Engagement: U.S. Higher Education in the 21st Century, is increasingly borne by educators on campus.

Ideally, a co-curriculum should align with institution-wide learning outcomes, mission, and strategic goals. Strategies for co-curricular internationalization depend on factors unique to each college or university, such as its institution type (community college, liberal arts, research), the composition and size of the student population, the availability of resources, history, location, and others.

Introducing new, globally oriented co-curricular programs—or reorienting existing ones to meet strategic goals—can be daunting and complex. The co-curriculum, relative to other aspects of comprehensive internationalization, presents distinct challenges: 

  • Co-curricular programs often influence, and are influenced by, institutional culture, which is deeply engrained and can be slow to transform.

  • The co-curriculum encompasses a wide range of services and programs, making it difficult to identify where and how to direct internationalization efforts.

  • Student participation in co-curricular activities is almost always voluntary, and levels of engagement vary.

  • Without attendance records, academic credit, or grades, it can be difficult to assess student learning as a result of participation in co-curricular programs.

Despite these challenges, focusing internationalization efforts on the co-curriculum is essential for the kind of deep, transformational learning that international education promises. While students may sit for 12–18 hours per week in the classroom, the remainder of their time (particularly for residential students) is spent on campus interacting with peers, accessing services, and attending student events. The experiential nature of the co-curriculum—where students encounter cultural “others,” navigate shared space, learn to manage conflict, calibrate their moral compasses, and test their leadership skills—can offer some of the richest opportunities for students to encounter cultural differences that test their beliefs and assumptions.

This installment of Internationalization in Action is the third of a three-part series exploring internationalization of the co-curriculum:

  1. Integrating International Students
  2. Global and Intercultural Education in the Co-curriculum
  3. Internationalization and Student Affairs 

"An internationalized curriculum and co-curriculum ensure that all students, including those who do not have the opportunity to study abroad, are exposed to international perspectives and can build global competence.” (American Council on Education 2012)


Internationalization and Student Affairs

The contributions of student affairs professionals are essential for moving the internationalization of higher education from vision to reality. If an institution aims to enroll greater numbers of international students, for example, the responsibility for their orientation, housing, counseling, health care, and sense of belonging rests largely with student affairs and student services staff. While the mission and scope of the student affairs division varies at each institution, it typically includes the following range of programs and services:

Orientation Recreation
Housing and residence life Disability services
Student government Career services
Student events, clubs, and activities Greek life
Community engagement Student conduct

Health and counseling

 The organizational structure for student affairs and services is unique to each institution. Below are links to several organizational charts for student affairs, or student life, divisions:  

As internationalization accelerates on U.S. campuses, administrators rely on student affairs and student services personnel to do more—not only to serve more international students, but to help all students develop global and intercultural competencies. (Co-curricular strategies for integrating international students on campus are discussed in the first installment of this series.) To varying degrees, student affairs divisions can help institutions advance their goals for internationalization in the following ways:

  • Contributing to strategic plans for internationalization (e.g., as a member of the internationalization leadership team)
  • Providing services for an increasing number of international students—as well as greater numbers of immigrant, multicultural, and multilingual students
  • Supporting study abroad returnees with re-entry, and finding ways for them to share their international experience for the benefit of others on campus
  • Facilitating interaction among students of different cultural backgrounds
  • Collaborating directly with faculty members to create experiential learning opportunities
  • Staffing education abroad programs or branch campuses
  • Modeling global and intercultural competence for students

This is a tall order for staff who are also responsible for the array of traditional student programming and services listed above, and who may or may not have international training or experience to draw from. To help student affairs personnel meet the shifting demands associated with campus internationalization, professional standards, job descriptions, and student affairs preparation programs are changing. Many student affairs graduate programs now include an international or intercultural requirement; some institutions have designed special training or international travel programs to help student affairs staff strengthen global and intercultural competencies; and student affairs professional associations support internationally focused professional development and networking. 

ACE and Student Affairs

In 1937, ACE published The Student Personnel Point of View, which gave definition to the “emerging work of student personnel (the name given to the field at its inception) and student affairs (the contemporary and broad category encompassing student services, development, learning, and engagement). ”The Student Personnel Point of View called upon higher education to embrace a holistic approach to higher education, emphasizing the emotional, physical, social, and moral aspects of human development. A revised version issued in 1949, following World War II, by the Committee on Student Personnel Work states the need for a fuller realization of democracy and “education directly and explicitly for international understanding and cooperation.” 
–  “The Student Personnel Point of View as a Catalyst for Dialogue: 75 Years and Beyond,” by Dennis C. Roberts, in the Journal of College Student Development, January/February 2012 (vol. 53, no. 1) .

This installment of Internationalization in Action examines three aspects of student affairs and internationalization:

I. Student Affairs on the Front Lines of Internationalization

Student affairs personnel are critical to advancing their institutions’ goals for internationalization, as noted above, in a variety of ways:

Strategic Planning for Internationalization

While student affairs professionals are critical to implementation of internationalization goals, institutions do not always turn to student affairs leaders when planning for internationalization. By the same token, student affairs leaders may not perceive the value of spending their time and energy planning for internationalization. Nevertheless, involving the senior student affairs leader from the start can help to avoid costly missteps during implementation.

For example, if one goal of the internationalization plan is to build strategic partnerships with foreign universities, and if those partnerships include student or scholar exchange, the senior student affairs leader can advise a planning committee on the availability of short-term housing (while also alerting the housing office to set aside space for the international visitors).

When student affairs leaders are included in planning for internationalization, they are more likely to “buy in” to campus internationalization and are better prepared to align their divisions’ work with broader institutional goals. According to Brad O’Hara, vice-president, academic, and provost at Langara College (Canada), who oversees student affairs at his institution, “If there is a true commitment to internationalizing the campus, that person needs to be at the table.”

Examples of internationalization plans, internationalization committee charges, and committee membership from a variety of colleges and universities are available online at ACE’s Internationalization Toolkit.

"[T]he creation of an internationalization plan that will have significant buy-in requires engaging a large swath of the campus community in the development process. This ex­tends beyond the core team, and requires engagement with several key players, such as faculty who may wish to incorporate global learning into their courses, deans who may want to see increased global engagement by faculty within their respective colleges, and student affairs administrators who may support international students. . . . The ul­timate goal is to use a collaborative process that will promote a shared understanding of, and agreement with, the final internationalization plan." (Davis 2014)

IIA Profile: Kristin Clark, President, West Hills College Lemoore (CA)

 In the last year of Kristin Clark’s tenure as vice president student affairs (VPSA) at Orange Coast College (CA), where she served for more than 16 years before taking on the presidency at West Hills College Lemoore, President Dennis Harkins asked Clark to oversee Orange Coast’s involvement in the ACE Internationalization Laboratory, an 18-month process to develop a strategic plan for internationalization. Most of the 105 institutions that went through the Interna tionalization Laboratory previously tasked a provost or presidential advisor to guide the process and chair of the internationalization committee. Choosing a student affairs leader, it turns out, was a good move for Orange Coast. In addition to longstanding relationships with faculty and staff throughout the college, Clark brought a passion for internationalization and a deep understanding of student development.

Student affairs professionals, Clark says, work to “expand students’ thought processes,” and take a holistic approach to educating students, including the so-called soft skills that will make them successful.” Clark notes that the idea of student engagement originated in student development scholarship, and that student affairs professionals have much to offer their institutions’ leadership. However, to influence the course of internationalization, they must be strong advocates, rely on sound evidence, and be highly collaborative. As she took the reins at West Hills– Lemoore, Clark said one of her early challenges will be to build up student services for a growing international student population.


Serving Increasing Numbers of International Students

International students enrolled in the United States totaled 854,639 during 2014–15, up 10 percent from the previous year—the largest increase since 1978–79. (Institute of International Education 2015). Providing programs and services to more international students, and sup­porting their integration on campus, is becoming central to the work of all student affairs professionals, not just those in the international office

Like their domestic peers, international students access the full range of programs and services offered by the student affairs division, but they may do so in different ways. For example, international students—particularly undergraduates and exchange students—are likely to need on-campus housing, but some may be uncomfortable with co-ed residence halls or 24-hour visitation policies. They may use residence hall kitchens more frequently than domestic students, to prepare favorite foods from home. Or, depending on students’ religious observance, some may prefer to see a health services practitioner of the same gender.

Just how to go about adapting programs and services to meet the needs of international students—who may come from a variety of different cultural backgrounds—is a significant challenge. A 2014 study by David L. Di Maria, associate provost for international programs at Montana State University, reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, found that half of the student affairs professionals surveyed at five Ohio institutions felt “unprepared” to work with the growing number of international students. Ninety percent said they wanted more training, and some 64 percent “said their offices were not doing anything specifically to accommodate the foreign student population” (Karin Fischer, “Helping Foreign Students Thrive on U.S. Campuses,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 2, 2014).

“International student” is a misnomer. We lump them into one category, but “them” comprises Brazilian, Canadian, Chinese, and other very different groups of students. As the number of international students increases, we see increasing diversity in terms of their needs as individuals and how they learn. That requires us to adapt. –Jason Lane, senior associate vice chancellor and vice provost for academic affairs, State University of New York (SUNY), phone interview, August 2014

The challenges international students face can be both logistical and cultural. Special orientation programs for international students often address common ones, such as how and when to communicate with a professor, which campus rules and local laws are important to observe, where to shop for certain foods, or how to set up a bank account.

When it comes to understanding one’s own and others’ cultural identities, particularly within the new and diverse U.S. cultural context, there is deep expertise within the field of student affairs, grounded in theories of student development and multicultural education. Tapping that expertise can be validating to experienced staff members, while helping the division to better serve international students and achieve broader institutional goals for internationalization.

 IIA Profile: Byron McCrae, Dean of Students, Hampshire College (MA)

Byron McCrae, who currently serves as dean of students at Hampshire College, has been a champion for internationalization in the student affairs roles he’s occupied at three different institutions. McCrae’s interest in international education began when he served as advisor to LGBT students at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he found that international students who identified as LGBT often had significant needs for understanding their sexual or gender identity.

To address these needs, McCrae organized special workshops and off-campus trips for international students in the San Francisco area—such as a history tour visiting important sites for the queer movement. “It was emancipatory for them,” he says. Domestic students who participated in the workshops learned about what it meant to be queer in the international students’ home countries. McCrae also organized advising workshops with staff in the international student and scholar office to educate them about different cultural legacies of LGBT rights and awareness.

McCrae went on to serve as vice president and dean of student life at Washington and Jefferson College (PA), and eceived a Fulbright award in 2011 to learn about higher education in India.


Supporting Increasing Numbers of Study Abroad Returnees

As stated in the introduction to this report, only 10 percent or less of U.S. undergraduate students participate in education abroad during their course of study. Nevertheless, participation increases each year and has, in fact, tripled over the past two decades (Institute of International Education 2015). For student affairs professionals, that means more students are returning to campus with global experiences and new perspectives to share with their peers—and also with the social and psychological challenges of re-entry.

The Forum on Education Abroad’s Standards of Good Practice state that “Students are adequately prepared for the challenges of the education abroad context, with pre-departure training and onsite orientation that equips them to achieve academic success and broader program goals . . . and where appropriate, re-entry measures that prepare them for their return.” Support for study abroad re-entry can take the form of a handbook, focus group, special meal, or student conference, and may be organized by education abroad offices on campus, study abroad (third-party) providers, or independent organizations.

Student affairs staff can help students address the challenges of study abroad re-entry, which may surface at any time (not only during a scheduled meeting in the study abroad office). “Student development occurs while they are away,” says Byron McCrae, dean of students at Hamp­shire College (see IIA Profile, above). In his previous position at Washington and Jefferson College, McCrae oversaw the Magellan Project, which gave support and funding to students for research, internships, or study abroad. When students come back to campus, he says, “they need someone to listen, to help them process changes in attitudes and perspectives.” That may include disappointment in the friends they left behind who didn’t experience similar shifts (e.g., “I think my friends are racist,” or “other students don’t understand the privilege they have”), and, in some cases, a resulting sense of isolation.

Students who return from study abroad are often looking for ways to share their new perspectives and continue engaging with international cultures. Some campuses constructively engage them as international student peers, in pre-departure programming for students preparing to study abroad, or as guest speakers in the classroom or community.

Facilitating Interaction Among Students of Different Cultural Backgrounds

Diversity is often cited as a primary reason for recruiting international students, and on many campuses, students are becoming more diverse in many other respects as well, such as age, race, religion, income level, and more. Evidence suggests that students learn better in a diverse environment, so the rationale is just. Yet, time and again campus administrators hear complaints that the “students from X country always sit together in the cafeteria,” or the “students from Y country only speak to each other in their language.” Understandably, students representing cultural and racial minorities will often self-segregate, finding comfort and strength in a group of like peers.

Enrolling different cultural groups is only a first step in helping students benefit from learning with and from each other. The next is to create opportunities for students of different back­grounds to interact in meaningful ways, while maintaining their cultural identity and social support system. That interaction typically requires facilitation by staff or faculty—at least initially, until they form their own cross-cultural relationships. Examples of programs that promote such interaction include language partners, international student buddy or peer advisor programs, facilitated dialogues on current events, or community service experiences that pair international and domestic students. Students returned from study abroad may be especially interested in engaging with international students in these ways.

Student affairs personnel have a critical role to play as intercultural facilitators. How they conceive and execute co-curricular programs can promote meaningful interactions, and skilled staff can help to mediate the exchange. It is not necessary for facilitators of these experiences to be experts in international or intercultural issues, only that they are capable of structuring an inclusive, respectful, and equitable space in which students can share their perspectives and listen to others.

Programs that facilitate interaction between students of different cultural backgrounds are discussed in more depth in the first installment in this Internationalization in Action series on co-curriculum, Integrating International Students.

 Internationalization and Student Affairs at a Community College

Engaging students can be challenging for community colleges, where students are likely to enroll part time, live off campus, work, or have family obligations. Yet student engagement is critical for retention and degree completion. At Davidson County Community College (DCCC) in rural North Carolina, the academic affairs and student life divi­sions have come together to internationalize the campus and, as a result, strengthened student engagement

In 2010, Suzanne LaVenture, a full-time faculty member in Davidson County’s Spanish department, became director of international education with the goal of “preparing students to live and work in the world we have today”—but without a budget for student activities. LaVenture introduced the Passport to International Education, which now offers 30 globally themed student events per semester. LaVenture says the program relies on existing campus resources: inter­national students, study abroad returners, visiting Fulbright scholars, and faculty. If the student life division sponsors an international speaker or performance, those events, too, are included in the passport program. Faculty may award extra credit or require students to attend passport events, and students who attend at least eight fulfill one component of DCCC’s Scholars of Global Distinction program.

According to LaVenture, community colleges are “more likely to be cross-cultural,” and collaboration between academic and student affairs can be easier, since “there are fewer silos.” While other community colleges in North Carolina may be larger, urban, or have more resources, LaVenture says many have been impressed by Davidson County’s progress to­ward internationalization, which she attributes to the passion, resourcefulness, and strong collaboration of faculty and student life staff. The passport program has taken that collaboration to a new level, helping both academic and student affairs to strengthen student engagement and, ultimately, advancing the institution’s goals for student success.  


Collaborating with Faculty Members to Create Global and Intercultural Learning Opportunities

Student affairs professionals are responsible for a wide range of student programs and services, but above all they are educators. The co-curriculum is an important vehicle for delivering global and intercultural learning, in alignment with the curriculum. Examples include international service opportunities, living-learning communities with a global focus, or leadership seminars that compare leadership approaches in different cultures. Institution-wide global learning outcomes establish shared goals for student learning that the curriculum and co-curriculum can mutually reinforce, and which student affairs staff and faculty members can collaborate to achieve jointly.

Co-curricular programming and global and intercultural learning outcomes are discussed in more depth in the second installment in this series, Global and Intercultural Education in the Co-curriculum.

 Aligning Curriculum and Co-curriculum at LaGuardia Community College (NY)

The Division of Student Affairs at LaGuardia Community College of The City University of New York has developed a series of co-curricular workshops to complement the college’s First Year Seminars taught by faculty in a range of disciplines. As part of the First Year Seminar initiative, Campus Life staff members collaborated with political science faculty to create Global Conversations, a series aimed at engaging students in dialogue about current global events. Global Conversations cover a range of issues, such as U.S. foreign policy, human rights, race relations, and armed conflict. The initiative is a result of the Co-Curriculum Reconsidered Task Force, a collaboration between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to advance the institution’s three core competencies: inquiry and problem solving, integrative learning, and global learning. Eighty-eight percent of students who participated in one Global Conversation said that it “helped them realize the importance of global learning.” According to one of the program organizers, “It doesn’t feel like we’re working with someone from another department or area; we all had a common goal.” LaGuardia Community College is a member of the ACE Internationalization Laboratory’s 13th cohort. (Excerpted from interview with program staff.)


Staffing Education Abroad Programs or Branch Campuses

Much of the growth in education abroad can be attributed to faculty-led, short-term programs. Several of the Forum on Education Abroad’s Standards of Good Practice call for institutions to sufficiently provide for students’ health, welfare, and personal development—areas in which student affairs professionals have considerable experience. The standards also recommend that institutions carefully consider the study abroad participant/staff ratio, meaning in most cases that more than one faculty member should accompany a group. Sending two or more faculty members, however, can be costly and reduce on-campus course offerings.

Some institutions have met the standard by staffing faculty-led programs with student affairs professionals, whose work with students can complement the faculty member’s content expertise. This faculty-student affairs partnership abroad can enhance student learning and serve as a model for on-campus collaboration. Plus, co-leading a study abroad program is an exciting professional development opportunity for staff to gain direct experience of another culture and strengthen their ability to facilitate intercultural learning for students on campus.

According to the State University of New York’s Cross-Border Education Research Team, U.S. institutions currently operate some 81 branch campuses overseas. In addition to providing an American curriculum, many branch campuses organize student programs and services following the U.S. model. Experienced student affairs professionals from the home campus are often hired to replicate or adapt programs and services in the host culture. Their expertise can be particularly valuable because many challenges that arise on branch campuses relate to student affairs and student services.

Challenges of adapting U.S. student development models abroad are addressed in the third section of this report, “Student Affairs in the World.”

Modeling Global and Intercultural Competence for Students

Many student affairs professionals have direct and frequent contact with students—as resident directors, counselors, and work-study supervisors, for example. For traditional-age students in particular, college study is a time for exploring their value systems and forging their identities. Students often look to professional staff as role models. A globally aware and culturally diverse staff who engage constructively with colleagues different from themselves, who exhibit curi­osity about the world, and who seek out new global experiences can send a powerful signal to students that these qualities are valued in the campus community. Institutions can strengthen the cultural competency of staff through hiring, training, and professional development.

"Indeed, parochial outlooks on the part of student affairs professionals may translate into parochial experiences for domestic students. It is important to note that simply having knowledge of diversity issues does not equate with having international compe­tence and understanding." (Mazon 2010)

Professional development for student affairs personnel is discussed below in Section II of this report.


II. Internationalization of the Student Affairs Profession

As professional standards and practices have evolved, student affairs has become central to the educational mission of colleges and universities in the United States. Uniform standards, associations, academic programs, and professional development opportunities ensure that student affairs staff are held to a high measure of competency. More recently, the field has articulated the need for global and intercultural competencies. “We have to work hard at building cultural awareness and competencies among all our services, like counseling and disability services,” says Langara College’s Brad O’Hara. “We can’t forget that student affairs personnel are critical to student success, and we have to prepare them to work effectively.”

Professional Standards and Competencies

The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) was created in 1979 to establish professional standards for U.S. higher education. In 2015, CAS published the ninth edition of CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education, which contains guidelines for many functional areas of internationalization: education abroad programs and services, international student programs and services, and multicultural student programs and services.

The CAS standard for Education Abroad Programs and Services (EAPS), for example, states: “EAPS professional staff members must be knowledgeable and competent in the following areas: cultural competence; experiential education; legal affairs and risk management; in­tercultural communication; culture shock, reverse culture shock, and cultural adjustment; student advising and counseling

CAS further emphasizes the importance of these skills in the CAS General Standards, which apply to all areas of higher education for student learning and development. The standards articulate a professional domain for “humanitarianism and civic engagement,” which provides for “understanding and appreciation of cultural and human differences, social responsibili­ty, global perspective, and sense of civic responsibility” (Wells 2015).

Student affairs associations also establish standards of professional practice. The board of directors of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and American College Personnel Association governing board came together in July 2010 to approve the Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners, to assist in designing professional development opportunities with more focused outcomes and curriculum. One of three “threads” woven into the full set of these standards is “Globalism: the recognition of the interconnected nature of nations and regions of the world while understanding and re­specting the uniqueness of each cultural context” (NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and ACPA—College Student Educators International 2010).

Some institutions define their own standards of professional practice related to internationalization, such as the Cultural Knowledge & Effectiveness Rubric developed by the Oregon State University Student Affairs Assessment Council.


Professional Associations

In addition to standards-setting, U.S. student affairs associations advance internationalization of the field through programs, publications, and professional development. Several offer international tours or exchange programs:

  • NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education NASPA’s global advisory board helps leadership and staff to set the association’s global agenda and organizes the International Symposium each year, attended by more than 100 representatives of international and U.S. institutions, in conjunction with the NASPA annual conference. As international membership has grown, NASPA has added world regions to its U.S. domestic regional membership structure. NASPA and the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (see Part III below) organize a Global Summit on Student Affairs and Services every two years, hosted in 2014 by the European University College Association in Rome. In addition, each year NASPA partners with four Mexican universities to organize the Mexico Global Forum on Student Affairs in Monterrey.

  • American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Through ACPA’s Global Initiatives, the association partners with student affairs and services organizations outside the United States. The ACPA Commission for Global Dimensions of Student Development aims to help “student development professionals recognize and understand cultural differences, collaborate across cultures, and negotiate internal environments.” Since 2010, ACPA has organized an International Colloquium as part of its annual conference to explore student affairs and services practices globally, involving some 250 participants. In 2016, ACPA held its annual convention outside the United States for the first time in Montreal, Canada.

  • Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) The U.S.-based ACUHO-I serves as a network for campus housing professionals worldwide and maintains partnerships with five international affiliate organizations.
  • Association of College Unions International (ACUI), also based in the United States, brings together college and university union and student activities professionals from hundreds of institutions in seven countries.

National, regional, and global student affairs associations are discussed in more detail in part three of this report, “Student Affairs in the World.”

    International professional development opportunities for student affairs professionals

  • NASPA International Exchange Program is a reciprocal exchange for U.S. delegations to visit institutions abroad, and NASPA sister associations coordinate the visit of international delegations to U.S. institutions. Delegations typically consist of three to five senior-level administrators and are one week in duration. Outbound locations have included Mexico, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany.

  • ACPA Global Dimensions of Student Development offers a “Dial-a-Dialogue” webinar series throughout the year and other educational programs.

  • ACUI International Study Tour, organized in partnership with ACUHO-I, NASPA, and other associations, helps U.S. student affairs professionals develop an understanding of higher education practices in other world regions. Previous destinations include England, Ireland, Scotland, and Australia.

  • ACUHO-I International Study Tour is an opportunity for non-U.S. members to visit U.S. campuses to learn about housing and residence life.

Student Affairs Professional Preparation Programs

As noted earlier in this report, professional preparation programs are responding to changing expectations for student affairs personnel by integrating international and cultural competencies into their requirements for degrees in education, leadership, or counseling. Some have added dedicated courses or concentrations to the academic degree, as well as international internship and exchange opportunities.

    Student affairs preparation programs with global/intercultural requirements (or concentrations)

  • Lesley University (MA): Master of arts degree program in international higher education and intercultural relations. Core courses focus on global perspectives and intercultural relations theory and research.
  • Miami University (OH): Seven-hour concentration in diversity, equity, and culture within the Student Affairs in Higher Education MA Program. The concentration (one of four options) explores social justice and multicultural education and examines global perspectives on student affairs practice.
  • Michigan State University: The Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education program offers several international experiential programs for graduate students in higher education.
  • Ohio State University: The Ohio State University-Wuhan University Internship Program in Higher Education is a three-credit, residential program open to graduate students in educational and policy leadership masters program to introduce students to higher education and student affairs practices in China.
  • Salem State University (MA): Three-credit elective course in the MEd in higher education in student affairs degree program: issues and trends in international student affairs.
  • University of San Diego (CA): Three-credit hour requirement in master’s and doctoral programs in the Department of Leadership Studies. Students can satisfy the requirement through an elective course abroad, Student Affairs and Higher Education Leadership in Qatar. : Three-credit hour requirement in master’s and doctoral programs in the Department of Leadership Studies. Students can satisfy the requirement through an elective course abroad, Student Affairs and Higher Education Leadership in Qatar.
  • Western Kentucky University: Fifteen-hour online graduate certificate program in international student services. Students can pursue the certificate by itself or along with the MAE in student affairs.
IIA Profile: Malaika Marable Serrano, Associate Director for Global Communities,                     University of Maryland 

Malaika Marable Serrano decided she wanted to work in student affairs as an undergraduate while studying abroad for a semester in Australia. “You do a lot of introspection while you’re abroad,” she says. “As one of two black American students at Australian National University, it could be very isolating. None of my friends had gone abroad. I felt like I was alone.” She returned to the United States determined to create a more inclusive college experience for underrepre sented students—including international students, those who identify as LGBT, students with disabilities, and students of color—starting with becoming a peer mentor to international students in her senior year.

Serrano attributes her love of international travel and cultures to her family, who encouraged her to study abroad (her name means “angel” in Swahili, which her father learned during a study abroad experience in Kenya in 1970). While earning her MA in college student personnel at the University of Maryland, Serrano studied in Brazil and completed re search on international student adjustment and underrepresentation in study abroad. She then taught business English in Caracas, Venezuela, where she met her spouse.

After working in international education at a university and for a national association, Serrano became associate director of Global Communities at her alma mater, the University of Maryland, where she administers a selective living-learning community for 150 first- and second-year students from the United States and around the world who have a special interest in global affairs. “What I do now is internationalization in miniature,” she says, of her work structuring interdisciplinary curricular and co-curricular global learning experiences on campus.

Since returning to Maryland, Serrano has developed a new passion for international service learning. She served as a staff advisor for alternative breaks and has twice led a service-learning course examining race, poverty, gender, and culture in the Dominican Republic. Although she now works in academic affairs, her student affairs training has played a key role in her professional development. For example, during this year’s course, a student was hospitalized for two days, but the rest of the group was able to continue their service projects. Serrano says, “Student affairs folks know how to manage in crisis. We act, we know what to do, and we have the skill set to do it.”


In-service Professional Development

As enrollment in U.S. higher education becomes increasingly diverse, some institutions have created professional development opportunities to strengthen inter-cultural skills and global awareness among student affairs and services staff. As noted above, a handful of institutions have arranged study tours for staff, or they assign student affairs personnel to lead short-term study or internship experiences abroad. Other institutions have created on-campus learning communities, training programs, or world language classes. Occasionally, individual offices will invite international students to attend a staff meeting to share their suggestions for how to better serve international students. Volunteering to assist with international student and scholar services—homestays, airport pick-ups, holiday celebrations—is another opportunity for campus practitioners to gain direct experience of other cultures.

    International in-service professional development programs

  • Boston College: Boston Intercultural Skills Conference, organized by the Office of International Programs for faculty and staff of any institution interested in developing their intercultural skills and knowledge of education abroad.
  • Duke University (NC): Duke’s International House provides an Intercultural Skills Development Program for faculty, staff, and administrators.
  • Eastern Michigan University: Ecuador Higher Education Study Tour is a 10-day excursion organized annually by a faculty member in the department of leadership and counseling for faculty and administrators.
  • Florida State University: Beyond Borders is a short-term, student exchange program coordinated by the univer­sity’s Division of Student Affairs. Professional staff members are selected for team leader roles each year based on their experience advising and leading students, involvement with student groups, and interest in the host culture.
  • Michigan State University: During spring break 2013, Michigan State University’s director of residence education and housing arranged for staff to visit China, to better understand challenges of cultural adjustment that the university’s rapidly growing Chinese student population faced. The program was discussed in a September 2013 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education.
 IIA Profile: R. Sentwali Bakari, Dean of Students, Drake University (IA)

“When student affairs professionals are flexible and can do a range of things, it makes us more valuable to the institu tion. We see other ways that we can contribute to the campus,” says Drake University’s dean of students, R. Sentwali Bakari. As the chief student affairs officer, Bakari leads by example, and has expanded his own range of professional competencies by learning and working internationally.

After studying for a time in Denmark, Bakari was invited to return and issued a work permit to coach basketball.  Years later, after working on U.S. campuses for most of his career,  Bakari re-ignited his interest in world cultures and travel by co-leading short term study abroad courses in Egypt with a Drake faculty member. “I love getting off the plane and go ing through customs,” he says. “It’s a learning experience, and you even learn something by negotiating a taxi ride.” In 2013, he received a Fulbright award to learn about higher education in the UK, and then served as dean of students for the fall 2015 Semester at Sea voyage.

During his time in the UK, Bakari established ties with one university that resulted in a bi-lateral professional ex­change program for Drake student affairs personnel. Bakari says when student affairs staff get excited about their own global experiences, it translates into greater student interest and global curiosity. “They get fired up! Our students are very thoughtful about social justice, inclusion, and other domestic issues, but this gets them thinking about where the global piece fits in.”

Bakari credits Drake’s senior leadership for supporting his international activities—which ultimately advance one of the university’s central goals of creating and sustaining an inclusive, global, and multicultural campus commu­nity—and collaboration with other units across campus. Currently he is working with the vice provost for international programs to develop a co-curricular leadership certificate to recognize students’ global and intercultural activities. “Because our main interest is the co-curricular learning of our students,” Bakari says, “those of us in student affairs cannot be one-dimensional.”


New Professional Roles

Not only are professional expectations of student affairs personnel changing as U.S. campuses are becoming more internationalized, in some cases new staffing arrangements and profes­sional roles for international student life are emerging, primarily in order to support growing numbers of international students. At San José State University (CA), for example, representatives of various student affairs and student services office formed a “campus action team for international student success,” made up of three separate committees examining how the university could better serve international students before arrival, upon arrival, and throughout their adjustment to campus (this program is discussed further in the first installment of this Internationalization in Action series, Integrating International Students.

Other institutions have created international student life or programming teams within existing offices or introduced entirely new positions. The function of an international student life professional is distinct from that of international student and scholar advisors, who tend to focus on immigration compliance. International student life staff typically provide for the orientation, co-curricular, and social programming for international students. Separating these functions tends to be more common at large institutions with relatively high international enrollment.

IIA Profile: Leigh Poole, Director of the International Center, Winthrop University (SC)

Before Leigh Poole’s appointment at Winthrop University in 2013, she served for 13 years as associate director for international student life at the University of Georgia, where she focused on non-immigration aspects of the international student experience. Poole’s position was housed in student affairs, but the immigration advising staff reported to academic affairs.

The unusual freedom to focus on international students’ experience, rather than visa regulations, allowed Poole to build a robust, week-long orientation program for new international students. “Putting our best foot forward,” she says, “had a significant impact on how our international students viewed the university, Athens, and the United States.”

In her current role at Winthrop, Poole oversees international student and scholar services, education abroad, overseas partnerships, and international programs for the entire campus. Poole earned her PhD from the University of Georgia in student personnel services and has studied higher education as a Fulbright scholar in Germany, South Korea, and France. In 2014, she participated in ACE’s Institute for Leading Internationalization.


Like many professions today, student affairs is becoming increasingly globalized. Institutions worldwide are connected through student exchange, branch campuses, joint degree programs, and professional associations. Students, too, are more connected, and compete for admission with students from around the word—and later, for jobs. The “soft skills” they develop through co-curricular education, such as working in multicultural teams, can give new graduates a competitive advantage in the global job market. The advantage of developing those “soft skills” has, in some parts of the world, resulted in greater appreciation for the American higher education system and its approach to student affairs.

Yet student affairs remains a relatively new or emerging function of higher education in many countries, and few universities outside the United States offer professional preparation programs. The U.S. model tends to dominate—despite concern among some senior practitioners about the “Americanization of student affairs.” Indeed, many senior U.S. student affairs leaders have been invited to consult foreign governments about the development of student affairs in their countries, or to advise branch campuses on setting up a student affairs unit.

Lacking well-defined standards of student affairs practice in their countries, many non-U.S. institutions have sought to apply the CAS standards, though they are “written for U.S. professionals by U.S. educators,” says Marybeth Drechsler Sharp, executive director of CAS. How international practitioners can adapt the standards to best meet the needs of their unique student populations is a challenge the field is grappling with, according to Drechsler Sharp.

This section of Internationalization in Action raises several questions related to the development of the student affairs profession worldwide: How are U.S. models of student affairs be­ing applied in new cultural contexts? Are there national and regional approaches that differ from the U.S. model? Can we expect a universal model of student affairs to emerge?

To address these questions, CIGE invited four senior professionals who have contributed to the development of student affairs at institutions outside the United States:


Revisiting U.S. Student Development Theory

Much of student affairs practice in the United States and globally is based on theories of student development created by and for North Americans. It may be tempting to apply the theories to student populations abroad, but the cultural assumptions on which they are based—including family dynamics, religious teachings, or economic systems—may render the theories ineffective.

In 2015, Jody Donovan, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Colorado State University, piloted a new graduate course on student development theory at Beijing Normal University. Her students for the one-week, intensive program came from China, Germany, Malawi, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Donovan’s students found the Western theories—such as Sanford’s Challenge and Support Theory and Person-Environment Theory—to be far from universal. As she would do in her classroom in Colorado, Donovan invited the students to critique and revise the theories to reflect their own cultural values. An example was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, based on the idea that physiological and safety needs must be addressed before one can achieve esteem or self-actualization. Donovan’s students took issue with the order in which the Maslow model ranks human needs: Some argued that safety is not a prerequisite for self-actualization, others that love and belonging are conditions for gaining esteem. Re-shuffling the importance of physical, social, and psychological needs according to their own values helped the students think about how student affairs and services in their cultures might be organized.

Donovan says the experience has helped her to see the cultural assumptions that lie at the root of widely accepted student development theories, and she hopes more research in the field will yield greater understanding of how to structure student affairs and services to meet the needs of students in a variety of cultural contexts. One area on which students in her course all agreed is that cultural identity is central to any approach to student development.


Adapting a U.S. Approach to Student Affairs Abroad

ACE’s Senior Research Associate Lucia Brajkovic interviewed Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke University, about his experience consulting institutions abroad, including in Brajkovic’s native Croatia.

LB: What is your background and how you become involved in international work?

LM: My international exposure was extraordinarily limited—I didn’t have a passport until I was 45. It is fair to say that I was someone who was insulated from the global landscape. In the last 20 years, I became much more interested in understanding international dimensions. Six or seven years ago I was invited to spend a week doing work in student services with the University of Salamanca (Spain), and I visited the University of Monterrey (Mexico). Slowly my interest began to grow, and that led to a Fulbright award in Croatia in 2009. As a result, I was better prepared for the opening of the Duke campus in China. I have been in Kunshan (China) several times, and over the last two years, have been designing a distinctive model of student life for the campus, since it is a Chinese licensed university, but with American standards. So I have been fortunate to learn more about the Chinese model of student services, and have become involved with International Association of Student Affairs and Services.

LB: Please share your insights on student affairs development in other countries. What can U.S. practitioners learn from your experiences abroad?

LM: There are two parts to my response: One reason I really enjoyed my experience in Croatia is that it put what we do in the United States into context. We are offering extremely robust services. Recent articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education question whether providing extra comfort to students prevents them from developing resiliency and self-management. In the United States, a lot of students have never failed. From being exposed to countries that offer different services, or (in some cases) no services, I learned what may deter development. On the other hand, I learned that some services truly are essential. In Croatia, I helped set up counseling, disability, and career services. There is more work to be done to identify which services are really essential and lead to better graduation rates, then to align skills, interests, and workforce development.

LB: What are some cultural challenges you encountered working in student affairs in different countries?

LM: There are some obvious cultural differences, such as language. But there are also subtle things that are important to consider. For example, in some cultures, young people are not encouraged to look their elders in the eye out of respect, while in the United States looking someone in the eye is considered a fundamental leadership attribute. To truly be effective, we have to be sensitive to even more subtle nuances of appropriate communication strategies. For example, we work very hard in the United States to keep parents away, but that “rugged individualism” approach would be considered abhorrent in parts of the world where parents are very much a part of students’ lives. I cannot overemphasize sensitivity and localized appreciation of cultural distinctions. However, we should make sure that basic services like health, housing, and dining are available to everyone. I think everything has to be done in alignment with cultural and environmental conditions that are distinctive to each location.

Balancing Two Cultures to Forge “A Distinctive Model”

Duke Kunshan University (referenced above by Larry Moneta), is a joint venture of Duke University and Wuhan University, governed and administered independently from its parent institutions. After 35 years of working in student affairs in the United States, and several visits to Chinese institutions as a consultant, Howard Wang (who is Chinese American) was hired to create a student affairs program from scratch at Duke Kunshan. With a foot in each world, Wang says his work “often involves striking a precarious balance between two sets of cultural and political views on quite a number of student issues.”

On one hand, Wang draws on his U.S. campus experience as a model for organizing student affairs and services at the Chinese campus. While relying on the U.S. approach in other cultural contexts has its limitations (as noted above by Jody Donovan), Duke Kunshan aims to deliver an American-style education within China. Moreover, Wang says, “there is no Chinese equivalent of ‘student affairs’ in Chinese higher education. ‘Student work’ is used to mean literally all ‘work’ related to students.” Those who do “student work” in China, says Wang, “may be senior graduate students or full-time staff members. This is not seen in China as a ‘career,’ and generally there are some limited opportunities for advancement in such work.” Because the profession in China is relatively undeveloped, Wang relies on U.S. models of student development and services, which tend to value self-reliance, individual rights, and free expression.

On the other hand, and at times conflicting with the U.S. approach, are Chinese cultural expectations and political norms. Chinese universities, according to Wang, typically follow principles of in loco parentis, which may include curfews and bed-checks. Student programming is expected to be academic or ideological in content (rather than for the purpose of community-building or social integration, as in the United States), and students are not allowed to create their own organizations. For these and other reasons, Wang concludes that U.S. student affairs “practices cannot be ‘imported’ wholesale to China.”

IIA Profile: Hollie M. Chessman, Research Associate, ACE

After earning an MEd in college student personnel from Kent State University (OH), Hollie Chessman worked in housing and residence life at three different U.S. institutions. In 2012, when she was serving as associate director of distributed campus projects at George Mason University (VA), the associate vice president for university life asked Chessman to help create student affairs and services at Mason’s new campus in Songdo, Korea—which it shares with Ghent Univer­sity (Belgium), SUNY Korea, and the University of Utah. Chessman did not have prior international experience, but she knew how to set up a residence hall.

While the goal of the Songdo campus is to provide a western-style education to students from Korea, China, and other East Asian countries, and to prepare them for a study abroad experience in the United States, Chessman soon realized that it would require adapting policies and practices that were common at Mason’s home campus in Virginia to a different set of cultural norms. For example, Korean students (and parents) expect separate sleeping facilities for male and female students, private bathrooms, and locked doors after 11:00 p.m. In contrast, U.S.-based residence program ming focuses on community-building, engaging with diversity, and independence. For Chessman, the biggest challenge was “helping these two cultures meet in the middle, so that students moving from one campus to another would not be completely shocked.”

As she moves forward in her career, Chessman says she will draw on the lessons she learned in Korea, namely that traditional age students in any country experience similar developmental patterns, that providing mental health coun seling and emergency response are never optional, that parents everywhere share similar concerns, and not to assume that common practices at home—like sitting on the grass to eat lunch—translate easily to a new culture.

In 2015, Chessman completed her PhD in education at George Mason and joined ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy as a graduate research associate, where she has conducted research on the demands of U.S. college students today. Among their top demands, Chessman found, is for institutions to hire culturally competent staff and counselors.


Building International Capacity for Student Affairs

Dennis C. Roberts recently returned from seven years in Qatar, where he first served as assistant vice president of education for Qatar Foundation and subsequently associ­ate provost during the early stages of establishing Hamad bin Khalifa University at Education City. Roberts writes about his experiences in Qatar in an essay, “Interna­tionalizing Higher Education and Student Affairs,” published in the May/June 2015 issue of About Campus. CIGE invited Roberts to reflect on his time in Qatar for this installment of Internationalization in Action.

As I reflect on all the opportunities and challenges I encountered while working for Qatar Foundation for the past seven years, none was greater than building capacity to support full student engagement and learning.

I consistently encountered colleagues who were eager to benefit from American-style education, but it was a constant challenge to help them understand the many ways that our system is different. Specific examples include: recognizing the importance of and being willing to address, students’ experience both in and outside of class; embracing the power of active learning (discovery learning, student research, service learning); and encouraging holistic development (intellectual, intrapersonal, interpersonal, physical, spiritual, esthetic, and more). Approaches such as these stand in contrast to many regions of the world where only classroom experience is recognized. I came to believe that if those in international settings wish to benefit from American-style education, then these essential differences had to be asserted and taken seriously. That requires building new capacity—through enlisting expatriate workers with American-style higher education backgrounds and through developing the capacity of local and regional professionals.

Not all North American practices are appropriate or fit in other national settings, and adapting them to complement the uniqueness of each national/cultural context is critical. For example, as an American educational administrator working in the Arabian Gulf, I found that my preference for transparent communication, regular agenda-focused meetings, notes of and follow-up on decisions had to be adjusted depending on the background and culture of those with whom I interacted. Foremost among the U.S. higher education practices that should be critically examined are the organizational structures, growing professionalization, and competition that may result in approaches that do not serve students well.

The international community needs the best practices that higher education can offer, including student affairs and services, whether those practices are from the United States or elsewhere. The practices that international partners may not see as relevant, but research has found essential, are those that are carefully integrated and aligned with a commitment to enhancing student learning and development. At its essence, internationalization will increasingly require higher education practitioners to work in concert and across borders to ensure quality education to future generations of students around the globe.


Toward a Universal Model of Student Affairs?

In many parts of the world, the contributions of student affairs to student development and learning are becoming more widely understood and valued, and higher education institutions are strengthening their capacity to deliver student-centered programs and services in the co-curriculum. In addition to the examples mentioned in Part II, there are new initiatives in Germany to create services especially for graduate students, with the goal of increasing degree completion rates. In Italy, a for-profit company trains college students in the “soft skills” they will need in the global job market. Through several national and regional associations, such as those listed below, and at least one global organization, International Association Student Affairs and Services, best practices and research are being shared among student affairs professionals worldwide.

With expansion of the profession and increased global connectivity, are we beginning to see a set of universal principles and practices in the field of student affairs? When CIGE posed that question to several student affairs leaders consulted for this report, their resounding response was “no.” Rather than a uniform approach, they maintain, student affairs professionals must be culturally aware and flexible, to devise programs and services to best meet the needs of each unique campus population. That idea is reflected in the response we received from Duke’s Larry Moneta:  

I don’t think we will ever have a “one size fits all” model. There are things that all humans have in common, like personal, physical and psycho-social development, and human relationships, but they are all influenced by culture, history, and environmental structure. So I think it would be possible to have universal attributes, but localized approaches. It wouldn’t be a global model; it would have to be a model that operates based on general concepts and principles of human development, articulated in the way that would make sense to anybody. But the applications and approaches would have to be unique to the community.



American Council on Education. 2011. Strength through Global Leadership and Engagement: U.S. Higher Education in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

American Council on Education. 2012. Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2012 Edition. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Davis, Gailda Pitre. 2014. Creating Global Citizens: Challenges and Opportunities for Interna­tionalization at HBCUs. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Institute of International Education. 2015. Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. New York: Institute of International Education.

Lane, Jason (senior associate vice chancellor and vice provost for academic affairs, State University of New York). 2014. Phone interview.

Mazon, Brad K. 2010. “Taking the Global Leap: Student Affairs Professionals and Internationalization.” Research in Comparative and International Education 5 (2): 205–209.

NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and ACPA – College Student Educators International. 2010. Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners. Washington, DC: NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and ACPA – College Student Educators International.

Roberts, Dennis C. 2012. “The Student Personnel Point of View as a Catalyst for Dialogue: 75 Years and Beyond.” Journal of College Student Development 53 (1): 2–18.

Roberts, Dennis C. 2015. “Internationalizing Higher Education and Student Affairs.” About Campus, May/June.

Ward, Heather H. 2014. Integrating International Students. Internationalization in Action series. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Ward, Heather H. 2015. Global and Intercultural Education in the Co-curriculum. International­ization in Action series. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

Wells, Jennifer B., ed. 2015. CAS Professional Standards for Higher Education, 9th edition. Washington, DC: Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.