Brainstorm: Why Study Abroad? [The Chronicle of Higher Education]

By Stan Katz, The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Chronicle recently reported on a new American Council on Education report (“Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2008 Edition”) on the status of the internationalization of American campuses. The report concludes that some progress has been made — the percentage of schools offering education abroad has grown from 65 percent in 2001 to 91 percent in 2006, more funding is available for faculty to lead study programs abroad and for hosting international faculty.

But the report also cites declines in general education requirements to take international courses and notes that most campuses do not have a full-time person to coordinate internationalization, and that a large number of campuses had no students studying abroad. The ACE report is important, and one hopes that data of this sort will be kept systematically so that we can continue to monitor the situation.

But of course the important question is what constitutes “the situation.” We have been proclaiming the importance of internationalization (or, more recently, globalization) for a generation now, but these terms mean very different things to different people, institutions and classes of institutions.

Some of the emphasis has been on curriculum — do we have courses relating to foreign cultures? About globalization? Should we require international studies for degree completion? Some of the emphasis has been on human resources — do we have faculty who come from (and/or were trained) abroad? Do we have faculty who are genuinely knowledgeable about other parts of the world?

Much attention has been paid to study abroad — shouldn’t we require our students to spend at least one term outside this country? Don’t we need more foreign students on American campuses? And so forth. These are all important questions, and they move us beyond promotion of the junior year abroad, which for too long was the primary response of U.S. higher education to calls for internationalization. (Click here to read the full story. Subscription only.)