International Education Points for Consideration Infographic

International Education – Pathways for Student Success

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Higher education leaders need time to really think deeply and strategically through challenges on international education as a result of COVID-19. The biggest challenge is, naturally, financial capacity, which is causing global offices around the United States to frantically determine how they can pivot. Regardless of what your institution can do for international education causes now, we need to come out stronger on the other side. Read on for potential pathways for student success and considerations to emerge from the pandemic era ready to support much-needed global student mobility.

Noticeable Impacts on International Education

International Education began to feel the impacts of COVID-19 in January when the number of cases in Wuhan, China exploded. Suddenly, semester programs in China were being canceled while programs planned for the summer lacked the appropriate number of students enrolled to receive the green light in February. Chinese students in the US worried for their families in the first nation to lock down. Before US campuses could determine if, or how quickly, they would need to move online, global campuses were closing and students were making their way back to the United States.

International education will continue to face challenges in both the short and long-term for several reasons. These include the evident direct impacts of potential disease transfer, as well as the more long-term social and economic impacts. Risk assessment will change drastically. Not just for international and higher education – for the entire travel industry. Delta Airlines has extended their COVID-related cautions until September 30th, including eliminating the use of their middle seats. What if one long-term effect of this pandemic is that planes continue to eliminate the middle seat, causing the price of a plane ticket to increase? Travel may get more expensive with extra precautionary practices.

Still, it is unlikely that the desire to study in another country will decrease with the incoming generation of students. As many have noted, it is more evident now than ever that international exchange in all its forms is vital to maintaining peace and prosperity, as well as encouraging progress, on this planet. International education is not going away forever, and it doesn’t have to go away now.

As has been the case in higher education at large, there were big challenges that international education faced prior to COVID-19. Three stand out as the most crucial:

  1. Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in which students in the US have access to these international opportunities
  2. Environmental impacts of international exchange
  3. Financial resources – something all of education struggles within the U.S.

In the next sections, I outline three points for consideration related to International Education programs.

International Education Points for Consideration Infographic

#1 Offer a Virtual Exchange – But Don’t Attempt Replacement

One of the most widely discussed options of keeping study abroad alive during shelter-in-place are virtual exchange programs. This option exists in the form of virtual international internships and short-term, faculty-led experiences. For incoming international students, online programming is an easier option. A student who anticipates attending a college for four years – or even only two – can more easily justify spending one or two of those semesters completing coursework online. There are a number of measures for student engagement that need to be considered, however. And the fact of the matter is that true exchange – student mobility, the physical movement and in-person social interaction – will never be replaced.

In NAFSA’s June edition of the International Educator, Virtual Exchange 101 outlined the number of issues for educators to consider when attempting to implement new virtual components for international exchange. The bottom line: It’s really complicated, and can’t be done overnight – but it is possible and movement in the right direction.

The article advises that we “consider other options” and “plan beyond the pandemic.” Both are crucial. Our goals in building programs to facilitate virtual intercultural exchange cannot focus on emulating an entire couple of weeks or full semester abroad. As the article recommends, we need to look back at the learning outcomes, and our plans for internationalization on our campuses. In what ways can we begin to introduce intercultural exchange to our students? How can we encourage them to be more knowledgeable, open-minded, and excited to pursue opportunities outside of their bubbles once they get the chance?

Can we draw the connection between intercultural experiences at home and abroad? These experiences aren’t one and the same, but the whole purpose of going abroad is to be able to draw comparisons, ask questions, and further learn from being in a different country. It’s just as important as merely interacting with someone who is from the same country or state as you, but who is still in some respect different from you.

Boats In The Ocean - symbolizing international studiesConsider this upcoming semester or year as a trouble-shooting period. Get students involved and be prepared to collect data on their feedback. Long-term, the goal here should be to develop virtual experiences that can be further used as:

  1. Ways of further internationalizing your campus and/or the campus curriculum;
  2. A means of increasing access to intercultural and international exchange opportunities;
  3. Recruitment strategies for study abroad opportunities that will return in the future.

The NAFSA article emphasizes building upon pre-existing partnerships with other universities. Connecting with your exchange partners with virtual lectures or meet-and-greets between students is one route. But consider pre-existing resources on our campuses. For example, if your college has virtual reality (VR) equipment and your students return to campus, you can generate virtual reality experiences of other cities and countries (credit for this idea goes to faculty member and colleague, Shalini Gopalkrishnan.) 

But what if students do not return on to campus, you don’t have VR equipment, or it’s too much work? Consider simpler tools you have at your disposal. Study Abroad at South Alabama University has continued a summer initiative via their Instagram account to educate students about a different country each day for 80 days, which they are calling “Around the World in 80 Days.” To take this to the next level, an institution could rally its international students to participate by supplying pictures of, or even hosting a virtual presentation on, their home country.

Remember the three goals mentioned above for virtual experiences, and understand that the task does not need to be elaborate. You don’t need to attempt to replace the in-person experience. Being creative with the tools we have at our disposal to further educate our students adds value to our offices. And it furthers the goals of internationalization on our campuses in sustainable ways and makes all our programming more accessible.

#2 Train Staff in Different Areas of Higher Education

One of the key problems study abroad programs and, more generally, higher education has faced is funding. If your institution is strapped and considering furloughs or lay-offs, see if you might be able to propose a different offer to your global staff.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Karen Fischer referenced how third party program providers have found ways for their staff to help U.S. institutions with international students now stuck in their home countries for the foreseeable future. The article additionally mentioned that Arizona State University moved study abroad advisors to start advising students who are taking part in the institution’s online “global program” (study from wherever you are).

But not everyone has the capacity of ASU. So, how can an institution use its global staff to assist the institution with more urgent needs in the moment?

Options for International Studies Collaborations

First, consider your revenue streams. Most commonly for institutions, revenue stems primarily from two resources: student tuition and alumni donations. Therefore, there are three areas in which you can consider temporarily placing your global staff:

  1. Arc de Triumph symbolizing international studiesAdmissions: Depending on your institution, your admissions staff might require more individuals who are effective at using marketing and sales related skills to bring in students. Or these staff might be more focused on the best ways to determine what your institution’s student body will look like. It is possible your institution requires both. Regardless, you may have study abroad and/or international student advisors who have the transferable skills needed to contribute to your Admissions team. The larger the Admissions team, the closer you will come to reaching your enrollment goals.
  2. Alumni Engagement and Development: Consider the employees in your global offices who have been at your institution for a while. They can now apply their history and knowledge of alumni who were international students or who studied abroad to brainstorm ways of reaching out to these alumni for support in a time when wallets are thin. Staff who are newer to the institution  also can useful for connecting with more recent alumni. The Alumni Engagement Office might not be soliciting donations at this time, but working to bring the community closer. Any alum can be tapped for potential partnerships with companies and organizations, or for connecting with current students.
  3. Career Services: If your alumni are not employed, they will not be able to give back. Bolstering your career services team is a smart move at this time when employment prospects are grim. That’s obvious. Why bring in your global staff? Your staff are trained as advisors, but they already dabble in career advising. Study abroad offices around the US help students draw the connection between study abroad experiences and the skills students learn while abroad. International student advisors have to consider an student’s job prospects in the U.S. and their home countries as the student considers their choice of major or seeks internship opportunities. These advisors get the idea – the best part of this method is, once student mobility is back in full action, these advisors will return to the global office with more career-related knowledge to improve and build on the work they have accomplished so far.

#3 Use the Moment to Make the Case for Continued International Education

Everything good in this world seems to require an upfront investment of our time, energy, and money. But truthfully, that is likely why it is so good in the first place. Similarly, international education can be costly, but it is so necessary.

Take the present as an example: We are living in a moment when the protests and cries of those oppressed by racism in the United States seem louder than ever. The negative side effects of a pandemic – job loss, being restricted to our homes and communities – have given people the time to take to the streets and/or listen to those who are protesting. When we need to change so much about the way we work and live, we can question the time and energy we spend on international education.

Gray and Brown Pagoda symbolizing International StudiesBut this work is important. As Andrew Gordon, CEO of Diversity Abroad, stated in a June 1st Diversity Abroad press release, “…systemic racism is not limited to the United States, it is a global reality. It influences how our countries as a whole and the communities of color within our countries are viewed by international students and their families. It also impacts how students, staff, and faculty of color are treated in different parts of the world as they engage in study, intern and research abroad or other global programs.”

Today, the protests in the United States are joined globally by protesters in other countries where black people also feel oppression, and where others stand in allyship. Furthermore, our economies are linked worldwide. Governments continue to interact in ways that take from other countries and their people. And  there are organizations that try to counteract those efforts. As a result, our educational institutions must engage globally as well.

Our educational institutions must engage in our globally interconnected world. And they must do so conscientiously. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are primarily focused on the home campus. But part of that effort is inherently linked to internationalization. Higher ed institutions teach our history and  communication. And our history extends beyond the U.S. borders, so our communication needs to transcend those limitations, as well.

Further Reading

I have many other sources I read to consider this article. Here is a short list of several that were not directly referenced above but still influential for further reading.

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Kelly Davis

Kelly Davis serves as Assistant Director of Internships, Career Services and Study Abroad at Menlo College.