Internationalization Becomes University Focus
The impact of globalization is being felt in every sector of society, and higher education is no exception. Rising to the challenge of preparing students for a shrinking world is one of the topmost priorities of higher education leaders worldwide. To address this, Kent State University President Dr. Lester A. Lefton and Provost Dr. Robert G. Frank have created a vision to expand the international experience of all students and faculty, produce graduates who are well-informed about cross-cultural and transnational issues, and extend university operations to strategic regions of the world.
President Lefton observes that, “Kent State students are not competing against students from Cleveland State, Youngstown State or the University of Akron. They are competing against students from India, China, Japan, England and so on.” For this reason, Provost Frank declares that “any university that is successful and effective internationally will definitely be successful and effective nationally and locally.”
“This administration recognizes that a credible university education today must provide students with global understanding, international knowledge and cross-cultural awareness,” says Dr. Steve O. Michael, the vice provost for diversity and academic initiatives, including international affairs, and the person who is responsible for translating the university’s international vision into an action plan.
Kent State’s internationalization plan includes six main goals. First, the university wants to increase the number of international students and scholars on the Kent Campus; last year’s international student enrollment was 936.
“We are far behind but that doesn’t mean we should remain behind. Most research universities of our size have about 8 percent international students,” says Michael. The university, through the Office of International Affairs, each of the colleges and potential third-party recruiters, plans to increase international student enrollment from 3 percent during the 2006-2007 academic year to between 5 to 8 percent of the total student body in the next few years.
In addition, the plan calls for increasing the number of Kent State students who participate in study abroad programs; approximately 400 Kent State students participated in study abroad programs in the previous year, representing only 1.2 percent of the student population. The university hopes to raise that number to 3 percent within the next two years.
“As a university, we have not emphasized studying abroad strongly in the past,” says Michael. He also points out that many Kent State students come from a 50-mile radius in Northeast Ohio and that a large group of students come from lower- to middle-class income families. “Many students don’t think about traveling abroad due to the cost involved and because of a limited mindset, so the idea of studying abroad requires a huge cultural shift for many of our students. Yet, their undergraduate or graduate time is the best time of their lives to explore the world, broaden their global perspectives and embrace the world.” Therefore, Michael and his team are hoping to turn things around by marketing study abroad programs to students, supporting students through scholarships and eventually offering a study abroad program for nearly every degree program.
Part of offering more study abroad programs includes expanding Kent State operations to strategic regions of the world. In the past, the university established academic centers in Florence, Italy and Geneva, Switzerland, in addition to multiple relationships in Russia, Japan and Turkey and other countries. During 2008, the university plans to launch a large initiative to China, and in the following year, to India. Michael explains that “our China vision grew out of President Lefton’s and Provost Frank’s personal experiences in China and the roles of their former institutions in that country. We are late in starting a strategic and comprehensive plan to China — but we can. And we will double our efforts to catch up.” China and India are among the largest and fastest growing economies in the world, and both have an excess of qualified students needing higher education.
The university also recognizes that not all students are able to study abroad; thus, Kent State’s internationalization plan aims to infuse international content into the curricula.
“Students today are looking for opportunities beyond their immediate locale,” says Michael. “Very few students raised in Brimfield desire to stay in Brimfield after graduation from Kent State. Our role as a university is to broaden their perspectives and make them marketable globally. Those who choose to stay in Brimfield would bring the world’s perspectives to the affairs of the city.”
In order to meet the needs of those students, faculty and staff members also must be globally minded and internationally engaged, says Michael. He gave an example of how he internationalized student experience in his higher education finance class. Students were divided into groups. Each group was given the task of examining a different country’s higher education system, sources of funding, distribution of appropriations, funding formulae and financial effects on institutional rankings. Afterwards, the groups presented to the entire class, so everyone learned about socioeconomic forces that are shaping the various countries’ higher education.
The final two goals of the internationalization plan include increasing the revenue-generating capacity of Kent State’s international affairs and expanding the international infrastructure to support the growing international initiatives. International education is a necessary but expensive undertaking. “But it can be done profitably by an entrepreneurial minded institution,” says Michael. To help defray the huge cost associated with international activities, particularly as the U.S. dollar continues to depreciate against major currencies, the university’s goal is to ensure that each overseas center is a net revenue producer. In addition, the university plans to add additional personnel and resources in order to expand its international initiatives both in the United States and abroad.
“Kent State’s excellence in action demands that we focus attention on how to make our graduates attractive, effective and gainfully employable in a shrinking world and ever-increasingly diverse society,” says Michael. “You never know in what part of the world a Kent State education will take you.”
By Melissa Edler