The Internationalization of American Higher Education

November 10, 2015Anisa Rahaman

At the American University’s most recent Global Education Forum, the panel discussion focused on the growing trend of internationalization of higher education. Panelists included NAFSA Deputy Executive Director Kevin Hovland, University of Luxembourg Professor Justin J.W. Powell, George Washington University Assistant Professor Bernard Streitwieser, and York University Associate Professor Roopa Desai Trilokekar.

Internationalizing higher education aims to create a generation of global citizens and world leaders. The most apparent approach to internationalization is the diversification of American campuses. Diversifying classrooms isn’t enough, though. Professors and university staff need to intentionally integrate domestic and international students to foster better communication and cultural diffusion. Campuses pushing to diversify often don’t consider the social barriers between different groups of students on campus. Even on the most diverse campuses, the cafeteria tables are often broken up into ethnic, socioeconomic, and national groupings. Such groupings do not necessarily prevent an internationalized campus, but they do illustrate the importance of specific policies designed to foster increased interaction.

Universities also focus on study abroad programs to internationalize their students; however, the expenses associated with study abroad hinder its viability with first generation and economically challenged students. Domestic students without the means to travel abroad still deserve to develop new cultural understandings. The internationalization of curriculum and on-campus dialogues can bridge this gap. Justin J.W. Powell offered examples to strengthen cross-cultural understanding on American campuses. Suggestions included increasing collaboration within diverse classrooms and required foreign language learning. Powell also suggested recognizing interconnectedness in international policy and research courses while offering literature with diverse voices in curricula.

Why is internationalizing higher education important?

Students with access to global perspectives at their home institution can foster better problem solving, linguistic expansion, and empathy in different environments. American students dedicated to international development need these skills to become successful change agents. Students from low and middle-income countries need to be prepared with these skills if they aspire to attend universities abroad. Quality secondary education in low and middle-income countries is crucial to prepare students for internationalized higher education. The panel’s suggested tactics to integrate international and domestic students, as well as building a globally focused curriculum can be the key to internationalizing classrooms within American higher education. 

Anisa Rahaman is an intern at Results for Development’s Center for Education Innovations, and a junior at American University’s undergraduate School of International Service.

Photo Credit: The Philippi Collective Network

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