The Institute of International Education (IIE) released its annual Open Doors report this month, confirming that education is more global and mobile than ever. More students, both domestic and international, are studying away from their home universities, and this year’s record high will likely be replaced by next year’s even higher enrollment numbers. However, while the numbers, taken alone, are fantastic news, the rates of growth highlight some possible goals for improvement in the future.
Against a 7% increase in enrollment of international students in US schools, there was only a 3% rise in the number of American students going abroad. Overall, only 9% of American college students will study abroad. Students from East and South Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America are making it a priority to round out their education in business, engineering, and the social sciences by including opportunities for study beyond their borders and cultures. However, 69% of these incoming students are hosted by just 5% of American colleges and universities. This means that there are still considerable blockages to the even diffusion of international education.
Studying abroad makes sense both economically and socially, given the increasing globalization of today’s communities. A wider worldview forms better diplomacy, sensitivity, and confidence in students, and encourages cross-pollination of skills and ideas. “We need to be on top of our game,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a video address at the release of the Open Doors data. “Let’s recommit to greater exchange in the years to come.”
One way to recommit to greater global involvement is for Open Doors to expand its data beyond the bracket of college-age exchange to include the whole continuum of international education. From Open Doors, we know where college students are going, what they are studying, and how they — numerically at least — impact their host culture. What we don’t know is what primes students to choose study abroad in the first place. What are the drivers behind the 3% increase in Americans studying abroad? Why is this generation of students gravitating towards nontraditional destinations like Brazil and Peru? After these students graduate, what kinds of career choices do they make, and how do they communicate their greater global knowledge to peers and communities? Answers to these questions would be important, too, for understanding the full range of systems impacting international education.
By targeting students at an earlier age and encouraging discussion of internationally relevant issues, we can spark their global curiosity sooner and swell the number of American college students who choose to further their education beyond domestic borders. “The careers of all of our students will be global ones, in which they will need to function effectively in multi-national teams,” noted IIE’s president, Dr. Allan Goodman. “They will need to understand the cultural differences and historical experiences that divide us, as well as the common values and humanity that unite us.” This understanding comes best from immersing oneself in a foreign country and practicing adaptation to someone else’s culture.
As Peggy Blumenthal, senior counselor to the president of IIE, observes, ”The value of sitting together in classrooms really will transform the way that people interact as professionals and as world leaders in the future.” The bottom line of Open Doors 2013 is that this value is, hearteningly, becoming more recognized and more proven. Continuing this drive toward internationalizing our classrooms, we should work to make an inclusive worldview the educational norm even before students and future world leaders head off to college.