Un-problematizing International Students

Un-problematizing International Students

Jason E. Lane
State University of New York, Albany

Last fall at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, I was a discussant for a set of papers that sought to “problematize” international students. The authors explored various theoretical perspectives to demonstrate the ways in which higher education professionals think international students could directly affect how an institution chooses to engage with those students. My engagement with the panel caused me to reflect that international students are increasingly being labeled as a single monolithic group and that such an approach can cover up the rich diversity of associated experiences and backgrounds. As the presence of international students on our campuses increases, it is important for student affairs leaders and practitioners to understand, appreciate, and engage with this diversity.

The one theme that stuck in my head from the paper was the concern that we often frame international students as a form of revenue generation or economic development. This idea of viewing international students as a form of economic development is not new and I would be surprised if readers have not heard or considered international students from this perspective. Discussions about international students as revenue generators often feel like a dirty little secret that everyone knows about, but no one openly acknowledges; however, the topic has been receiving more public attention. Last October, Karin Fischer at the Chronicle of Higher Education actually tried to bring this issue into the forefront by asking: What if colleges acknowledge that “foreign students are cash cows?” This of course is not the first time that such issues have been discussed publicly. For years, NAFSA: Association of International Educators has examined the economic benefits of international education in the United States. In announcing the most recent Open Doors report on study abroad trends in the United States, the Institute for International Education (IIE) framed international students as having an economic and social impact. To be fair, I have also been one of those who have written about the economic contributions of internationalization of higher education to both the institution and the local economy.

While I firmly believe that we need to be forthright about the economic contributions of international students, this should not overshadow the fact that these individuals are attending our institutions in the pursuit of higher education. Many families are spending their life savings to provide their child(ren) with the opportunity at a new life—one that benefits from the experiences of an advanced education. If we choose to admit international students, then we have an obligation to provide them with the highest quality educational experience—the same principles we hold for our domestic students. However, there are examples, such as with Dickinson State University, wherein the “cash cow” mentality can lead to questionable academic and social experiences for international students. An audit of the university suggested that the need for sustaining enrollments may have led to degrees being awarded to hundreds of international students who did not fully meet the requirements, raising questions about the legitimacy of their educational experience and their credential. That is simply not fair to international students or to the other students for whom we take responsibility to educate.

Rather than trying to problematize international students, I want to use the release of the recent Open Doors data to try to expand our understanding of our international student population. The Open Doors report is released annually and tracks the number of United States students who study abroad and the number of international students who come to the United States to study.

In the 2011-2012 academic year, there were 764,495 international students studying in the United States. This was a 6% increase over last year and 31% increase over the past decade. The largest concentration of international students are in the highly populated states of California, New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and Illinois, though the largest increases in the number of international students occurred in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Indiana, each with more than 10% growth. New York City remained the most popular metropolitan destination.

One of the themes from this year’s report is that international students have increasingly come to recognize the great diversity of colleges and universities in the United States. The top receiving institutions remain well-established institutions, with well-regarded reputations—University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, New York University, Purdue University, and Columbia University. Yet, there has also been an increase in students attending other institutional types such as liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and regional comprehensive institutions. Such trends further underscore the need for student affairs practitioners across the academy to understand the changing trends in international students.

International students are highly diverse with regards to their origin. The primary origination country remains China, which saw nearly 200,000 students depart to the United States in 2011-2012, almost double the number of students sent by India, which originates the second highest number of students. Chinese students accounted for a quarter of all international students in the 2010-2011 academic year. The remaining top three countries of origin are South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada, though students come from a wide range of countries from all over the world, including Nepal, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia.

There tends to be an assumption that many of our international students are financed by a foreign government or financial scheme; however, the data from IIE indicates that a vast majority of international students (63.6%) self-finance their education using personal or family resources. This demonstrates a substantive commitment on behalf of students and their family in pursuing an “American” higher education. Only about 5.8% of international students receive funding from a foreign government or university, a significantly lower number than the percentage that receives some form of financing from a United States college or university (21.5%). Other forms of financing include private sponsors (foreign and domestic), the United States Government, and international organizations among others. In other words, the financial background of students adds another level of diversity that should be accounted for when dealing with international students. We should not consider them all to be either affluent or disadvantaged – they can run the gamut, much like our domestic students.

One of the most interesting themes from this year’s Open Doors report was that the number of international undergraduate students outnumbered the number of international graduate students for the first time since 2000-2001. The population of undergraduate students from foreign countries fell precipitously following September 11, 2001—at a much greater rate than at the graduate levels. Furthermore, it took an entire decade for those numbers to rebound and, once again, overtake the corresponding graduate student numbers. These increases also mean that there are more international students engaging in the undergraduate experience and will likely need assistance and engagement from student affairs practitioners in many areas of student success, such as academic support, health and counseling, student activities and leadership, and so forth.

With the number of international students expanding on our college campuses, it is increasingly important for student affairs practitioners to respond to the changing demographics on their campuses. International students tend to require additional assistance with the college transition than their domestic peers, as they are learning to not just navigate a new educational experience, but also a new culture and country and, in many cases, a new language. Moreover, as I discussed in my last column, there is growing evidence of international students being isolated on campuses. Helping students overcome this isolation will likely require more targeted advising that helps students become engaged and develop social networks. But, such isolation could also lead to more mental health issues becoming manifested on college campuses.

Taken collectively, the evidence suggests a growing need for institutions, and their student affairs leaders and practitioners, to engage more meaningfully with the growing population of international students across the United States.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the backgrounds of the international students on your campus?
  • What types of resources does you campus make available for international students? Do you believe these resources are adequate to meet the needs of the students on your campus?
  • How might your student affairs division better serve international students?


Fischer, K. (October 16, 2012). ‘Fess up: Foreign students are cash cows. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/What-If-Colleges-Acknowledged/135080/

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Director of Education Studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, associate professor of educational administration and policy studies, and a senior researcher with the Institute for Global Education Policy Studies at the State University of New York, Albany. He is member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. His most recent books include Academic Leadership and Governance of Higher Education (Stylus Press), Colleges and Universities as Economic Drivers (SUNY Press), and Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch (Jossey-Bass). More about the author and his research on cross-border education can be found here.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jason E. Lane.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Helping International Students Connect with Peers

Helping International Students Connect with Peers

Jason E. Lane
State University of New York, Albany

The purpose of the Global Affairs column is to discuss issues pertinent to the student affairs profession that arise out of the growing interconnectedness in the world. This column will provide readers with information and insights about the changing nature of the profession and some of the factors contributing to those changes. The use of the term “globalization” is meant to describe the growing interconnection of nations, people, economies, politics, and education. The term is not meant to reflect a particular ideology or belief structure. The column will explore both the potentially good and bad aspects of a real phenomenon

When traveling abroad, there are many things that I value: experiencing the historical treasures of the world, seeing its natural beauty, learning about other cultures, and tasting new foods. But, the one thing that I value more than any of these things is the opportunity to meet folks from other countries. Whether it is simply a one-off encounter or the beginning of a valued friendship, I have learned that everyone has a story to share and offers something I could learn from them. And, if lucky, we create together a new story to share with others.

So, it was with great dismay that I read a recent study stating that many international students have a difficult time making meaningful friendships while studying in the United States. (The study can be accessed here. A summary of the article was also published in The Chronicle of Higher Education). I might have an idealistic view of what a study abroad experience should include. It is one of the great regrets of my undergraduate experience that I didn’t study abroad. It’s not that I didn’t want to; it just didn’t fit into my busy schedule of being a student leader. But I did have many friends who took such journeys, and I know that many sustain relationships from that critical period in their life. And, there was always a little part of me that was a bit jealous of those stories and the friendships they developed.

Thus, when reading this study, it was hard for me to believe that it would be possible for a large number of students to study abroad for weeks or months at a time and not be able to develop any meaningful friendships. But, that is what the data revealed.

Researchers surveyed 450 students at 10 public universities in the south and northeast, with most of the students having been in the United States for one to three years. The study, published in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, found that 38 percent of participants had no meaningful friendships with American students (though 27 percent reported that they had three or more close relationships with American students). There were also clear differences based on the homeland of the foreign students. Students coming from English speaking western nations were the most likely to have developed robust friendship groups; students from East Asia were the most likely to report having no friends from the United States.

It is difficult to discern the exact reasons why such friendships fail to materialize. In the study, 46 percent of the students believed it was due to factors such as their own shyness or their poor English-speaking ability, and 54 percent felt the failed friendships were the fault of the American students. Campus location also seemed to have an effect, with those attending institutions in the South more likely to have developed friendships with American students than those in the northeast. The study did not reveal specific reasons for the difference, though the authors speculated, based on other research, that it could be attributed to different levels of individualism, pace of life, community orientation, and adherence to norms of politeness.

What is more important is that the findings of this study should cause student affairs practitioners to pause and ask what they can do help foster such friendships. A set of solutions could center on additional programming targeted at getting students to meet one another; but most institutions already provide a number of opportunities for American and international students to meet and learn about each other and their cultures. Instead, I think one of the things that is most important, but which many of us often avoid because we say we are too busy, is to talk with students about their experiences adjusting to life at our institutions.

For example, last fall I was teaching a class with several international students. After class one night, one of those students wanted to talk about her performance in class. She had already proven herself to be a dedicated and exceptional student, so I asked her what her concerns were. She said that she wanted to make sure she was keeping up (she was!) and if I had any suggestions for additional work for her to do over the upcoming winter break. I asked her what her plans were for the break-if she were going to go home to China or explore parts of the United States. She said neither; she was going to stay in Albany and study. I then gave her my suggested homework: close the books, explore the area, and try to meet people. My suggestion caught her by surprise, so I explained my reasoning. Academics are important, and they should remain a priority; but if all she was going to do was study while in the United States, then why come to the United States and not just stay in China? Granted the academic experiences here might have some advantage over her options in China, but the real value of studying abroad is learning about the culture and the people in a foreign country. She said she would think about it.

I had actually forgotten about this exchange until at graduation last spring. After the ceremony was over, she tracked me down and reminded me of what we discussed and told me of some of the adventures she had once she “closed the books.” She said it had transformed her experience as an international student, so much so that she is now pursuing a career in international education to help others see the benefits in the same way.

As teachers and student affairs practitioners, we often have the opportunity for such exchanges-ones that we may soon forget but that can hold great meaning for our students. I was thrilled to hear that this exchange had caused the student to think differently about her experiences studying abroad. But, the deeper meaning became more evident only after I read the study mentioned above and realized how many international students in the United States are living on our campuses but are not becoming part of our communities. In fact, when such relationships do not form, both international students and students from the United States lose out on tremendous opportunities to grow.

So, in considering my experience this past year, it reminded me of how powerful a conversation, even a brief one, can be on the lives of our students. In writing this column, my hope is to encourage others to remember this simple truth and to encourage you to remind your students, regardless of their home land, that everyone has a story to tell and that meaningful relationships and memories are often about the stories we write together.

Discussion Questions

  • How often do you take the time to talk with students about their study abroad experiences?
  • How can we better encourage domestic students to seek out friendships with international students and to see the value in such relationships?


Hegel, G. W. F. (1977). Phenomenology of spirit. (A.V. Miller, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Director of Education Studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, associate professor of educational administration and policy studies, and a senior researcher with the Institute for Global Education Policy Studies at the State University of New York, Albany. He is member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. His most recent books include Academic Leadership and Governance of Higher Education (Stylus Press), Colleges and Universities as Economic Drivers (SUNY Press), and Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch (Jossey-Bass). More about the author and his research on cross-border education can be found here.

Please e-mail inquiries to Jason E. Lane.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Internationalization and the Search for Otherness

Internationalization and the Search for Otherness

Jason E. Lane
State University of New York, Albany

The purpose of the Global Affairs column is to discuss issues pertinent to the student affairs profession that arise out of the growing interconnectedness in the world. This column will provide readers with information and insights about the changing nature of the profession and some of the factors contributing to those changes. The use of the term “globalization” is meant to describe the growing interconnection of nations, people, economies, politics, and education. The term is not meant to reflect a particular ideology or belief structure. The column will explore both the potentially good and bad aspects of a real phenomenon.

The German philosopher Hegel (1977) once wrote that “each consciousness pursues the death of the other” (p. 113). Hegel believed that how an individual views him/herself was very much dependent on how that person saw his/her relationship with the “other” person. Personal transformation and growth would come when a person wrestled with the “otherness” or differences with the others and attempted to reconcile those differences.

College campuses often provide opportunities for students to experience “otherness” and the resulting personal growth that occurs. College is often a time when students, regardless of their background, meet and interact with those who are different from them. These interactions, according to Hegel, are important, as they help the individual construct or reconstruct their own personal identity. Colleges and universities offer a wide range of “others” that many—whether a recent high school graduate or a returning veteran—have not encountered previously. The more diverse the campus, the more “others” there are likely to be. Conversely, the more homogenous the campus, the fewer “others” and, thus, fewer opportunities for growth there are likely to be. Of course, ultimately, it is up to the student (or individual) to decide whether the interaction with the “other” will lead to personal growth or merely reinforce his or her existing self-identify or, in the words of Hegel, “consciousness.”

While campuses can provide opportunities for personal transformation and growth, there are often larger social, economic, and political forces that influence how one views himself or herself. These forces transcend the college campus and make it difficult for individuals to see themselves as anything other than a set of social identify labels, as these forces tend to reinforce differences rather than stress similarities. For example, it is often difficult for students to escape the roles assigned to them as “first-generation,” “southerner,” or “minority.” This can be particularly true when students attend a campus near home or within a region with the same shared world views as where they grew up; it can be difficult to evolve their view of themselves.

This concept of “otherness” drove the development of an innovative student exchange program, sponsored by the University of Kentucky (UK). The Discover Germany-Discover USA program, winner of the 2012 Heiskell Award for Campus Internationalization from the Institute for International Education, supports about two dozen students’ travel from UK to Germany each June and brings over about the same number of students from Germany each fall to study at the UK campus.

A student exchange is, in itself, not necessarily innovative. However, this exchange focuses on U.S. students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as minorities, first-generation students, and those from Appalachia. The students from Germany also tend to be first-generation and immigrant students who represent the “new Germany that is experiencing a spike in immigration”, according to the award application. The application describes the focus on “otherness:”

As [German students] bond with each other and acknowledge their differences, they also affirm their German identity and compare their feelings of inner versus outer identity with the ways that they are perceived by U.S. students. Similarly, U.S. students on the Discover Germany programs are members of a racial, ethnic, or cultural minority or are first-generation college students. Whereas they see primarily their differences before the travel experience, once they are in Germany, they also grapple with the dissonance between how they see themselves and how others perceive them.

Too often, discussions about travel abroad focus on students gaining an appreciation for other cultures and other people; however, rarely do we talk about the personal transformations that occur in how students view themselves as a result of these experiences.

Beyond the personal transformations that are a focus of the program, it is also important to highlight that this program specifically targets students who are MOST likely to feel different from the majority and LEAST likely to study abroad. As the paragraph above suggests, those who participate in the exchange often identify themselves by their differences from others, rather than the similarities that they share. But, it is the exposure to very different cultures and foreign environments that allows them to see their shared characteristics, while still celebrating their differences.

To be certain, I believe this program should be emulated by other colleges and universities. However, as with similar programs, there is a problem with scalability. The program serves around four dozen students a year through the help of the German Fulbright Commission, the Hertie Foundation, and Germany’s European Recovery Program. Regardless, there are surely thousands of students from dozens of nations that could benefit from such an experience, and there is no way to scale this program to serve all those students who would be advantaged by it. Nevertheless, I would encourage all institutions to look to develop such programs, as I believe it’s better to serve a couple of dozen students than none at all.

While resources might not exist to replicate the exchange portion of the program, colleges and universities can, and should, consider how they can use their existing and developing international education activities to help students confront “otherness” in ways that might not be possible otherwise in their communities or on campus. In an era when it is too common to highlight our differences, it is even more important for colleges and universities to help our students appreciate their similarities.

Discussion Questions

  • From your own experience, how has international education shaped your view of yourself?
  • Can the work that you do incorporate the concept of “otherness” to help students with their own personal growth? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • How can your institution better use international education as a means for helping students understand their similarities, not just their differences?


Hegel, G. W. F. (1977). Phenomenology of spirit. (A.V. Miller, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Director of Education Studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, associate professor of educational administration and policy studies, and a senior researcher with the Institute for Global Education Policy Studies at the State University of New York, Albany. He is member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. His most recent books include Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch Campuses and The Global Growth of Private Higher Education, both from Jossey-Bass.

More about the author and his research on cross-border education can be found here. Please e-mail inquiries to Jason E. Lane.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Canadian Association of College and University Student Services Identity Project

Canadian Association of College and University Student Services Identity Project

Jennifer Hamilton, Executive Director
Canadian Association of College and University Student Services
Gregory Roberts, Executive Director
ACPA – College Student Educators International

The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) and ACPA – College Student Educators International (ACPA) forged ahead with a partnership of sharing of thought and ideas.  Thanks to Amanda Suniti Niskode-Dossett, editor of Developments, for agreeing to publish this excellent article that appeared in the CACUSS magazine earlier last year.

In June 2011, at the invitation of the CACUSS President and executive director, Chris McGrath and Jennifer Hamilton, ACPA’s President and executive director, Heidi Levine and Gregory Roberts, attended the annual conference of CACUSS.    Our ongoing friendship has incredible potential to open up the conversation about “different” ways of doing things, approaching our work, and how we see our relationships with students.   The context of student affairs work in Canada is measured by both subtle and obvious differences as well as clear similarities to the comparable work that occurs in the United States. For example, the work of Canadian colleagues is currently influenced by the regional contexts and provincial jurisdiction that shape higher education institutions, the infancy, yet vigor of graduate programs and research in the country and their focus primarily on scholarship as opposed to professional preparation, and the growing need to serve Aboriginal populations

We hope that this paper will provide a historical context of Canadian student services for our United States colleagues.  You will see our many similarities as you read this paper and particular attention to the “contemporary issues in Canadian higher education.”  Canadian student affairs professionals have taken several opportunities over the past decade or so to learn from the context and research of the profession across the United States.  This learning has informed Canadian practice and research to a great extent, and has also offered clarity around the unique context of higher education outside of the United States.  Perhaps thinking about “internationalizing” our campuses has less to do with inviting international students and faculty to become scholars at our institutions, and more to do with seeking out different models and institutional cultures which can inform our work differently.

This paper was originally written to stimulate conversation among Canadian student affairs professionals and inform next steps for the CACUSS organization moving forward as a profession.    In sharing this article, it is our wish that this paper be a reflective piece for ACPA members particularly as you read the context and values of the work of Canadian colleagues.   The diversity of perspective and context can have broad implications on your own campus as well as how you interact with students of diverse backgrounds.

The full document is both English and French including questions for the CACUSS Association is available online at www.cacuss.ca.

After reading the CACUSS document, reflect upon the following questions and discuss with your colleagues:

a) The author lists seven trends, issues, and approaches to Canadian student affairs (Strategic Enrolment Management, Integration, Student Mental Health + Wellbeing, The Built Environment, Support for the Distance Learner, Assessment + Evidence-based Planning, and Information Technology). How do these compare to what you are experiencing and observing at your own institution?   Can you identify specific examples of similarities or differences? How do such similarities or differences impact your daily work? Are there certain things you take for granted?

b) The author poses five important questions that she wants CACUSS to consider:

1. Advocacy: What role should CACUSS play in bringing profile to our work at a national scale?

2. Research + Assessment: Does CACUSS have capacity to organize multi-institutional assessment activities?

3. Member Outreach + Engagement: How can CACUSS use technology and social media more effectively?

4. Organizational Structure: Does the organizational structure of CACUSS support collaboration in the most effective way?

5. Professionalization:  Should CACUSS actively support professionalization of student affairs? 

Now, if you substitute ACPA for “CACUSS” how would you answer each of these questions?

c) For graduate students, can you think of any comparable document about that the status of student affairs in the United States and implications for professional associations (e.g. ACPA)? If so, what is it? Who wrote it? How does it compare to the CACUSS document?

We trust you will see the benefit and excitement that we experienced when we held a shared conversation. A new beginning together!

Managing Internationalization: Strategic Initiatives or Reactionary Programming?

Managing Internationalization: Strategic Initiatives or Reactionary Programming?

Jason E. Lane
State University of New York, Albany

The purpose of the Global Affairs column is to discuss issues pertinent to the student affairs profession that arise out of the growing interconnectedness in the world. This column will provide readers with information and insights about the changing nature of the profession and some of the factors contributing to those changes. The use of the term “globalization” is meant to describe the growing interconnection of nations, people, economies, politics, and education and is not meant to reflect a particular ideology or belief structure. The column will explore both the potentially good and bad aspects of a real phenomenon.

Discussions regarding internationalization within higher education tend to focus on curriculum development, study abroad opportunities, research collaborations, and development of joint or dual degree programs. Rarely are the role and responsibilities of student affairs practitioners discussed in the global context; yet, many students are directly influenced by the work of such individuals.

In December 2011, I attended a conference about internationalization of higher education at the University of Lund in Sweden.  Co-hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Nordic University Association, the conference—The Strategic Management of Internationalization in Higher Education—was based on the premise that internationalization is an increasingly important aspect of many higher education institutions and that more attention needs to be given to how to effectively manage international engagements and internationalization processes.

While participating in the meeting, I wondered how, if at all, internationalization is managed within student affairs. The conference focused on institutional and governmental levels of strategy and there was no mention of student affairs (or related) activities. This was not altogether surprising, as the focus of the conference was mostly within the European context, where formalized divisions of students affairs, like those often found among colleges and universities in the United States, are still in the formative stages of development, if they exist at all.  However, I did begin to wonder the extent to which the traditional responsibilities of student affairs professionals are considered within the context of internationalization in higher education. Moreover, to what extent are student affairs leaders managing, or merely reacting to, the forces of globalization?

According to the International Association of Universities third Global Survey of Internationalization of Higher Education, the top reason institutional respondents provided for engaging in internationalization of activities was to “improve student preparedness for a globalized/internationalized world” (Egron-Polak & Hudson, 2010, p. 64). In implementing this goal, most respondents focused their internationalization strategies on study abroad experiences and internationalizing the curriculum. It seems that preparing students for a globalized/internationalize world should incorporate those in both academic and student affairs.  It is often through the co-curricular experience that students develop skills related to leadership, teamwork, and communication—all of which could benefit from the addition of international perspectives. In fact, given how few students actually study abroad, student affairs practitioners can play an important role in helping students who do have the interest or ability to study abroad to gain an international perspective or expand their intercultural understanding.

So, if institutional administrators are not actively engaging student affairs departments in internationalization strategies, then to what extent are student affairs divisions actively pursuing their own internationalization strategies? And, are the internationally-oriented aspects of student affairs part of a strategic vision, or merely reactions to specific events or external pressures?

Given the large number of demands that already exist on student affairs practitioners, many have likely not had the time or passion to think comprehensively about a divisional strategy for internationalization. In many colleges and universities, internationally-focused student affairs engagements are often isolated events that are spear-headed by a “champion” of the cause or sponsored by specific student clubs with a specific cultural or national focus.  Unfortunately, we have yet to see many student affairs division that embrace a global perspective on their work in the same way that many of embraced concepts such as diversity and social justice. In fact, in the September/October 2011 issue of About Campus, several authors described how study abroad experiences can enrich the student learning experience, and I commend the editors for taking a more global perspective in this issue; however, I was also interested in how leadership development programs, student activity offices, college unions, residence halls, and other more traditional student affairs units help students gain a more global perspective.

My purpose here is not to set forth a manifesto for internationalizing student affairs divisions—rather, I hope to raise awareness of this topic and suggest a general process that student affairs practitioners might use to internationalize their functions and help the institution prepare students for a globalized/internationalized world.  Despite the level of institutional commitment, the world in which our students will be working and living is increasingly “flattening,” as Friedman (2005) has often pointed out.  Those in student affairs can play an important role in preparing students to be successful in this flat world and also raise campus-wide awareness of the importance of internationalization.  However, it is important for those in student affairs divisions to have a general agreement about internationalization and how it can be integrated into their own activities. Too often, internationalization is viewed as a separate function to be handled by certain offices (e.g. study abroad), rather than broadly integrated across several divisions.

First, there needs to be a shared understanding of the intent and process of internationalization among student affairs professionals.  One of the more commonly accepted definitions of the term is “the process of integrating an international, intercultural, and/or global dimension into the purpose, functions (teaching, research, and service) and delivery of higher education” (Knight, 2006, p. 2).  Again, student affairs is largely ignored; however, for our purposes, we can easily amend the definition to be more relevant: the process of integrating an international, intercultural, and/or global dimension into the purpose and functions of student affairs. Such a definition provides a broad understanding of the process; however, each institution will likely embrace this concept in different ways, even though the administrative teams need to have a shared understanding of the concept.

Second, student affairs professionals should inventory what internationalization activities currently exist within their divisions. Before laying out a new agenda of internationalization, it is important to understand what internationally oriented programs currently exist. Such an inventory serves as a way to determine the current breadth of programs offered, identifies existing strengths and priorities, and can highlight weaknesses and holes in student programming. There are often several different international experiences available to students on a campus, but there is not always a central accounting of these activities. At some institutions, the international office may play a significant role in coordinating such information, but that is not always the case.

Third, practitioners should understand the institutional goals for internationalization. What strategies or priorities does the institution have in regard to internationalization? Do the goals include bringing more foreign students to campus or to send more domestic students abroad?  Perhaps the institution is seeking to develop “global citizens” or a “globally competitive workforce.” At other institutions, the priorities may be part of an institution-wide strategic plan or a related vision document.  Increasingly, institutions are thinking more comprehensively about internationalization, and student affairs divisions should be part of this process. But, even if students affairs does not have a seat at the table while strategic plans are being drafted, it does not mean that they cannot help the institution to achieve its goals.

Finally, student affairs practitioners should develop goals and action steps aligned with institutional goals that support a broad internationalization of the division’s functions and activities. In developing these goals, it is important to remember those students who do not have the interest or opportunity to study abroad.  How do divisions extend internationalize efforts to these students? How can student affairs divisions internationalize existing programs?  What new programs might be developed? What opportunities exist to partner with academic affairs as a means for enriching the overall learning experience of students?

These steps are meant to generate discussion and conversation about this topic, which, I hope, will eventually lead to strategic planning and goal setting.  Several student affairs units have already begun to think about such things and simple searches on the Internet reveal examples of how some student affairs divisions have attempted to deal with this topic. If you are part of a division that is already embracing internationalization, consider how you can help move the agenda forward. If your division is has yet to have these conversations, then I encourage you to initiate such conversations. The questions above, or in some of my previous columns, might help “break the ice.” If you are an aspiring student affairs professional, I would encourage you think about how you might incorporate an international perspective into your future work.

Discussion Questions
These discussion questions are drawn from the International Association of Universities questions posed above.

  • How can the internationalization efforts within student affairs support Knight’s (2006) definition of internationalization?
  • How could the definition of internationalization be broadened, if at all, to better reflect institutional efforts?
  • Does your student affairs division have a shared understanding of internationalization of higher education?
  • If you were a student affairs administrator, how would you seek to foster an international perspective among your staff?


Egron-Polak, E. & Hudson, R. (2010).  Internationalization of Higher Education: Global Trends, Regional Perspectives. (IAU 3rd Global Survey Report). Paris: International  Association of Universities.

Friedman, T.L. (2005). The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Knight, J. (2006). Internationalization of Higher Education: New Directions, New Challenges. (IAU 2nd Global Survey Report). Paris: International Association of Universities.

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Director of Education Studies at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, associate professor of educational administration and policy studies, and a senior researcher with the Institute for Global Education Policy Studies at the State University of New York, Albany.  He is member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. His most recent books include Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch Campuses and The Global Growth of Private Higher Education, both from Jossey-Bass.

More about the author and his research on cross-border education can be found here. Please e-mail inquires to Jason E. Lane. The opinions expressed by Developments author(s) are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members, Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Ghana Experience – Study Abroad

Tamekka Cornelius
University of Louisville

Akwaaba!! Welcome! I had grown accustomed to hearing this greeting throughout my stay in the breathtaking country of Ghana, West Africa. After my first year as a College Student Personnel master’s student, this summer I trekked across the country with the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work and School of Education for a three and a half week study abroad experience with 12 other students representing four universities. In the months leading up to departure, I did not know what to expect. Plagued with ambiguous descriptions of Africa by co-workers, friends, and family, I found myself fielding comments such as “Isn’t that country at war?” or “What language do they speak over there?” and my favorite, “Watch out for the lions!” But, I did not embark on this trip on the notions of others. By studying abroad I was hoping to gain understanding of another country, its people and their practices.

The course in which I enrolled, Comparative Issues in Higher Education: Ghana, West Africa and the United States, provided several learning opportunities for me as a participant. The aim of this course was to allow students to gain insight into the educational system and culture of Ghana as related to student affairs. In doing so, we interacted and networked with Ghanaian students, faculty, and administrators at universities throughout Ghana, attended lectures and engaged in one-on-one conversations with student affairs professionals in which we discussed major issues in education, and conducted field observations at various sites.

One of the first universities that we visited, which proved to have the most significant impact on my professional development, was Ashesi University in Accra. Although Ashesi is only four years old, this small, private, liberal arts institution has a very impressive background and a promising future. During our first visit to Ashesi, we had the privilege of meeting with the president of the college, Mr. Patrick Gyimah Awuah. I was personally interested Mr. Awuah’s vision for the university and wanted to know about the mission and goals and how they coincided with the development of students and staff. Mr. Awuah, or Patrick as he did not mind being called, spoke of a leadership crisis that Ghana is facing. He explained leadership is “deemed fundamental in developing the society.” Ghana is experiencing a lack of leaders in economics, politics, and education. Therefore the goal for Ashesi University is simple: to develop an academically strong institution that will train a new generation of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders in Africa; to cultivate within students the values of life-long learning, concern for others and the courage to think in a bold and enterprising way. This goal, coupled with a liberal arts teaching philosophy is making new waves in the higher educational system in Ghana.

These thoughts seem to resonate throughout the institution. Students and teachers alike are in tune with this mission and work in harmony with it. In our discussion with Ashesi students, we found that student development is alive and well on the campus. We met with students members of the student council, judicial board, and the student government association. Our discussion led me to draw upon several theories and themes within student affairs.

Identity formation and development of autonomy is evident among the behavior of students. Student leaders seemed very enthusiastic about involvement in extra-curricular activities and creating a balance between these activities and academics. Students were also very eager to share and exchange ideas with us. They shared with us a great concern that they faced academically. The students expressed that academic dishonesty is one of the biggest problems that they are dealing with on their campus. We shared some of the policies and practices that we have in place in the U.S. regarding this issue such as written academic dishonesty policies on syllabi, utilizing publication manuals, and discussing plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty in class. Collectively, we brainstormed several different ideas that could be implemented to curb this problem.

During our second visit to Ashesi, another student and I met with several student affairs administrators for an intimate one-on-one roundtable discussion. In this meeting I led a short dialogue on an aspect of student development that I feel is important for all college students and staff to consider. The discussion centered on the various student development outcomes, benefits, and challenges of studying abroad. At the time of this meeting, we had been in the country for almost three weeks, so I was able to put in perspective my own views of development and correlate those thoughts with real occurrences from Ghana. Some of the premises that I shared with the group in regards to student gains and benefits from studying abroad include: learning to appreciate differences by immersing in a foreign culture, studying abroad helps with issues of adjustment by learning to function and live in a new environment, identity formation and a sense of self is enhanced especially in regards to racial/ethnic identity, becoming independent and leaning towards interdependence and one is able to develop individual views on the world by physically being in another place. Finally, one’s appreciation for diverse cultures is expanded because one is actually in the location of the host country!

Moving further into the country we traveled to the city of Kumasi were we stayed on the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) campus, on to Cape Coast and the University of Cape Coast and back in Accra to the University of Ghana-Legon. Through discussion with administrators and students at these universities, I was not surprised to detect that some of the same challenges we face on campuses in the U.S. were also visible on their campuses. Issues such as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and lack of student involvement on campus were all matters that call attention to student affairs professionals worldwide.

I was especially impressed by the incredible allegiance that the Ghanaians have in regards to the well being of their country. Not wanting to fall susceptible to the “brain drain,” faculty members encourage students to obtain their degrees in Ghana and to launch their professional careers in the country as well. This cycle carries on the idea of producing more leaders in the country.

In the midst of these educational experiences, I witnessed a fantastic showcase of Ghana’s cultural and social landscape. While on a safari at Mole National Park I walked alongside elephants, monkeys, and warthogs. I met some vibrant children while painting a mural in Kumasi at the Kumasi Children’s Home. Browsing around in the W.E.B. Dubois Museum gave me a first hand look at some of this great scholar’s original manuscripts. A visit to the slave castles of Cape Coast proved to be one of the most emotional experiences I had while watching fishermen from the beach cascade out into the Atlantic Ocean allowed for a refreshing change of scenery. Taking a walk on the Kakum canopy walkway was one of the most terrifying, yet exciting, events of the trip. Imagine being suspended hundreds of feet in the air, your only option being to walk one foot in front of the other on a wobbly narrow wooden plank that is held up by netting on either side; that was the canopy walk! Mix all of this in with random shopping trips to astonishing markets, dining on delicious fresh fish, tasty rice, and flavorsome ice cream and this added up to one remarkable voyage!

In the world of student affairs, it is imperative that professionals step outside of their familiarities in anticipation of the rainbow of students that they will inevitably encounter and serve. Beyond enjoying the dynamics of another country, traveling abroad will inevitably aid in personal growth and development. Employers will see the ambition and determination expressed by these efforts which will be an asset to one’s career. I must mention the new friends one may meet while abroad, both international and from the United States. I keep in touch with the alumni of the trip, and I anticipate that the bond we created while thousands of miles from home will sustain a long-standing relationship. The impact and influence of a study abroad experience will greatly enhance any student’s personal, professional, and educational experience!
This picture was taken at Ashesi University. From left to right on bottom row: Dr. Jeanette Barker, UGA professor; Ashesi school psychologist & professor; Adzo Amegayibor, Dean of Student and Community Affairs at Ashesi; and the Ashesi school nurse. Top row from left to right: Su Bartlett, UGA study abroad participant; and Tamekka Cornelius, UofL study abroad participant.

Ghana Experience – ACPA Cultural Study Experience

Angela Simmons
Millersville University (PA)

I want to go to Ghana! Those simple words were more wishful thinking than an actual hope or dream. I could not even imagine how I would pay for such a trip. Long gone were the days of using my extra student loan money to take fun vacations. Besides, people like me did not take professional development trips to far away places. I attended national conferences, but that was the extent of my jet-setting. I knew attending the ACPA Cultural Study Tour to Ghana was beyond my reach. I would have to continue dreaming of Africa and hope that in 30 years my retirement nest egg would make my dreams come true. I never thought my university would fund the trip. I asked half jokingly, but with my fingers tightly crossed. Even after my return I was shocked and amazed, but most of all incredibly grateful, that I was given such an amazing opportunity.

On June 5, 2006 our journey began. I joined 12 other university professionals at Dulles International Airport and set out on what has become the most incredible journey of my life. I was excited about the diverse background of the group. There were master’s and doctoral students, faculty, and senior level student affairs administrators from varying racial and ethnic backgrounds. Once we arrived in Ghana we hit the ground running. Our days were packed with lectures and visits to cultural and historical sites. We learned about Ghanaian cultural, took dance lessons from the students at The University of Ghana, and we laughed. Not surprisingly, we shopped, a lot. Some of us single-handedly boosted the Ghanaian economy! There were days when I thought I would explode if I learned one more thing, bartered for one more gift, or ate one more plantain. At the end of those days the only thing I could say was, “But we’re in Africa.” It became my mantra for two weeks, but there were times when I was emotionally and physically overwhelmed.

I am sure everyone on the trip had their own thoughts about what was personally most meaningful to them. One cannot walk away from cultural immersion without having a favorite experience. I am sure for some it was learning about the history, for others it may have been visiting a game reserve and getting up close and personal with elephants, and for some others it was most likely interacting with the people. For me it was the visits to sites along the slave route. When we went to those places and stood in the very spot our ancestors stood, I could not control my emotions. I cried not only because of man’s inhumanity to man, but because I knew something had been taken from me. I, and others like me, had been stripped of our ability to connect with our history. The ACPA Cultural Study Tour to Ghana presented me with the ability to reconnect, and for that I am grateful.

People often say things are “life changing.” I never fully understood the true meaning of those words until I returned from Ghana. The ACPA Cultural Study Tour to Ghana was truly a life changing event for me. At first I thought I was sick from the travel. I tried to get back into my normal routine. I uploaded pictures, handed out presents, and said all the right things. “Yes, I had a wonderful time. Yes, the jetlag is horrible. Yes, that’s me sitting on a crocodile.” Getting back into my routine, however, was much more difficult than I imagined. I slept a restless sleep. When I was alone I looked at the pictures and cried. I stopped talking about my trip. I would not watch any television program that involved skinny models or housewives. No matter their desperation I was not interested in the stories they wanted to tell. I wanted things to be simple again. My life had changed, and I was angry.

Before I left for Ghana I started a travel blog as a way to share my experiences with friends. They are wonderful and love and support me in a way I never thought possible; I could not imagine the journey without them. At first the blogs were a way to share information, but by the time I wrote the second one it was becoming a way to help balance the anger with a desire to create change. In my second blog I wrote:
I’ve been pretty yuck about being back in the real world. It started last week. I thought it was coming back home, being sick…I’ve had a fever for several days (I finally started taking an antibiotic for the friends living in my stomach), and just the letdown of regular life. But it’s more than that. I’m restless. I want everyone to go where I’ve been, and see what I’ve seen. There is a quote by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I want to use less and do more, and stop complaining if I’m not going to do something about it.

That was the beginning of my full-circle moment. I am moving towards the place I have always hoped I would be. I have always believed in the importance of social justice and social change based on personal responsibility. As members of society I believe it is our responsibility to care for one another. Believing something and feeling something, however, are two different things. At this moment, when I am more angry and annoyed than I have ever been, I am able to feel the sheer power that individual responsibly can have on effecting positive change. In a time of war and shrinking ethics, that’s what gives me hope. It is what pushes me forward. It is also the hope that I have for the students with whom I work. I hope that they go, and do, and see for themselves. I hope they come back after having a “life changing” experience with a desire to make a difference; whether they have been halfway around the world, down to the local food bank, or across the hall to talk with their “different” neighbor.

We have an amazing opportunity to help students see their place in the world. Of course we know this, or we would not do what we do every day for incredibly long hours. I am guilty of getting wrapped up in the administrative tasks. I sometimes forget that students are just trying to find their way and have their voices heard. I am sure I have missed countless opportunities to help students get one step closer to their full-circle moment. Thankfully I know I will be presented with those same opportunities time and again. In the future I will encourage students to stop vegetating in their one corner. More importantly, when they come back, whether they are angry and annoyed or happy and enthusiastic, I will challenge them to make positive changes in the world around them. To do anything less would be a waste of my “life changing” experience, and to expect anything less from students would be a waste of their time and talent.

Hummingbirds and Hurricanes

Jane Fried
Chair of the Ethics Committee, Associate Professor
Central Connecticut State University

The hardest part of handling an ethical dilemma is knowing that you’re having one. Harry Canon, former Chair, ACPA Ethics Committee

This past summer as I sat on my patio watching the hummingbirds dive bomb their feeder, I began to wonder how so many of them lived in the woods near my home without being visible. After looking carefully into the foliage, I was able to pick out a few of the most obvious hummingbirds lining up for a drink, but I was also amazed at how quickly they disappeared into the background once they were satisfied. Shortly afterward, we experienced two overwhelming, mind-boggling hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. The contrast between hurricanes and hummingbirds moved into my awareness. Nobody in the country could escape the information about the hurricanes, the human and physical catastrophe, the confusion, the suffering and the muddled attempts to address an issue that was apparently bigger than all of our human service agencies could have imagined. Hummingbirds are easy to miss and hard to see. Hurricanes knock us over and keep us down for a long time. The size of most ethical dilemmas seems closer to a hummingbird than a hurricane. The question for student affairs practitioners becomes “How do we learn to notice the hummingbirds?”

We are used to thinking about the five ethical principles first articulated by Kitchener (1985), but less familiar with the ethical virtues of our profession (Meara, Schmidt & Day, 1996). We need to know about these ethical principles when we become aware of an ethical dilemma. We need to use the ethical virtues every day of our lives. The development of those virtues allows us to see less visible but equally significant dilemmas.

Virtues are habits of behavior and thought. They represent our default approach to handling whatever issues face us in the course of our work, the attitudes and personality characteristics that we typically use in addressing professional issues. For helping professionals there are four primary virtues which serve as the foundation for our work with others – prudence, integrity, respectfulness and benevolence. Prudence and integrity are considered “self-regarding” virtues; respectfulness and benevolence are “other” regarding virtues.

Self-regarding virtues: Prudence, the first self-regarding virtue, suggests that we should develop the habit of moving slowly and thinking carefully when dealing with difficult ethical situations. Anyone in student affairs who is called upon to help resolve student or staff conflicts can easily see the power of prudence in carrying out this responsibility. A conflict that only has two sides is generally a simple conflict. Most conflicts have as many sides to them as there are stakeholders. When the student center staff holds its scheduling meeting to consider conflicting requests for major events requiring large amounts of time, space and student support, a great deal of information must be considered prudently before decisions are made. When a student charges another student with assault and nobody observed the incident, but both students are bruised, prudence is required when deciding appropriate penalties. Prudence, when managing conflicts, generally involves careful examination of evidence, awareness of various perspectives on any issue, exploration of values and principles that may be involved and refusal to be pressured into an expedient but unfair resolution.

Prudence, used over an extended period of time, leads the way toward personal integrity, a sense that the ethics and judgment of the decision-maker are consistent. Integrity also implies that the decision-maker has an internal anchor, a set of principles and standards by which judgments and actions are evaluated. A person with integrity can be trusted by the students who work with her or him because they will not experience drastic differences in value criteria from one situation to another. A person with integrity treats everyone with fairness and thoughtfulness even when circumstances differ and the details vary. If a person behaves with integrity, the reasons for different judgments under different circumstances are clear and transparent.

Other regarding virtues: Respectfulness and benevolence are the two “other regarding” virtues. Other regarding virtues are oriented toward creating good for people in the community or client population which the professional person serves. Learning to treat other people with respect has become challenging because ideas about respect vary from culture to culture. On our campuses we have students and staff from all over the world. Behavior which is respectful in one culture can be construed as disrespectful by people from another culture. Male/female handshaking as a form of greeting is respectful in the US, but is considered rude and unacceptable to people who are observant Muslims. For Americans it is respectful to begin a meeting promptly (when the time on the clock conforms with the time announced for the meeting), to conduct business with little personal conversation, even though attendees are often addressed by first names. In other cultures, particularly those where relationships are very important and age is a mark of rank, meetings may begin later than the announced time, with inquiries about family and the welfare of the participants. People may expect to be addressed by title or family name. It is not unusual to have people with differing sets of expectations about respect in the same meeting trying to move toward a common goal. Even when the virtue of respect is shared, the details of cross-cultural respect must be learned.

The Golden Rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, now has a corollary, Do unto others as they would be done unto. In other words, we have all had to learn to treat others in the way that they consider respectful, not necessarily in the way that we consider respectful. This particularly extends to the issue of including family and accepting many definitions of family. US law defines an adult as a person over the age of 18 but in many cultures that distinction is meaningless as long as the student is not married. For those students, there is an ethical issue to be untangled when it comes to deciding whether or not to include parents in some conversations. Another issue of respect is generational. Students who live in an IM, text message world, may not have the same idea of how to approach a receptionist or speak to an administrator who grew up in a face to face, complete sentence, “Hello, how can I help you?” world. Students may act in a manner that seems appropriate to them and yet be perceived as disrespectful by those whose services they are seeking. There is certainly a large amount of overlap between cultures and generations when it comes to respect, but it is prudent not to take anything for granted.

Benevolence is intertwined with respect. Benevolence involves taking the other person’s wellbeing into account. Benevolence suggests “opening ourselves to many others, to family, to friends and even to strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity” (Dalai Lama, 1998, p.84). When we are able to find our common humanity, regardless of perceived rudeness or communication difficulties, we can develop benevolence. We can begin to realize that a remark that might hurt another person, if aimed toward us, would also be hurtful. Cultivating the virtue of benevolence leads inevitably to the development of respect. If I care about a person’s well-being and I unintentionally act in a disrespectful manner, I will be able to apologize and change my behavior out of consideration for the other person. Their welfare becomes more important than my loss of “face.”

Virtues are formed after a great deal of practice. In the midst of a crisis a person’s character comes to the fore, and their behavior reflects their habitual responses and thought processes. The cultivation of the ethical virtues allows us to “see” the hummingbird sized dilemmas and to respond appropriately. A prudent person does not worry about jumping to conclusions in a difficult situation and then making the wrong choice. A person with integrity is fairly predictable and students and colleagues know that he or she can be trusted. A benevolent person doesn’t take advantage of another person or humiliate others even if they have done something wrong or offensive, or broken a rule. A benevolent person habitually treats others with respect. The cultivation of virtues takes a long time, and the road is filled with missteps. Nevertheless, it’s the virtues that let us know when a hummingbird is in the area. If we take care of the hummingbirds, we’ll be able to figure out what to do about the hurricanes when the need arises.


  • Dalai Lama & Cutler, H. (1998). The art of happiness. NY: Riverhead Books.
  • Fried, J. (2004). Ethical standards and principles. In S. Komives & D. Woodard (Eds.) Student services: A handbook for the profession (pp. 107-127). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Kitchener, K. (1985) Ethical principles and ethical decision-making in student affairs. In H. Canon and R.D. Brown (Eds.), Applied ethics in student services. New Directions for Student Services, 30, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Meara, N., Schmidt, L., & Day, J. (1996). Principles and virtues: A foundation for ethical decisions, policies and character. Counseling Psychologist, 24, 4-77.

Expanding Access to Study Abroad for Disadvantaged Students

The United States has long been the largest receiver of international students, dominating about 20% of the global market.  However, the country has not been as successful in terms of sending students abroad.  According to data collected by the Open Doors report, only about 1% of all United States college students study abroad during their collegiate experience. Granted, the number of Americans studying abroad has increased nearly threefold in the last two decades, rising from fewer than 100,000 students in the early 1990s to nearly 300,000 today.  But, the number remains proportionally tiny and the opportunity to study abroad remains closed off to a vast majority of students, particularly those from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.  Figure 1 shows the racial disparities that exist in the U.S. study abroad population, with significantly fewer African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino students studying abroad than represented in the larger student population.  Studying abroad can have many benefits for students and there are ways to expand access for those academically and economically disadvantaged.

Figure 1: Percent of U.S. Study Abroad Students by Race/Ethnicity, 2012-2013

Source: Data comes from NASFA

Why Study Abroad?

Many who participate in a study abroad experience often describe it as life changing.  The opportunity to experience a different culture, interact with individuals from other countries, and overcome the challenges of living and studying abroad can bring a wide range of benefits. Surveys of those who have studied abroad suggest that studying abroad can advance one’s intercultural understanding, improve self-confidence, and become more self-aware.

Research also shows that the opportunity to study abroad is about more than providing students with an opportunity to experience a different culture, it has direct positive results on a student’s success in college and beyond.  Data from UC San Diego, UT Austin, and the University System of Georgia suggests that students who study abroad graduate at higher rates than those who do not.  Moreover, the Georgia report, which is based on a carefully designed 10-year study, found that study abroad had a positive effect on student GPA, particularly those students who entered college with low SAT scores.

Survey data from the United States and the United Kingdom also suggest that study abroad alumni believe that study abroad prepared them well for the workforce.  The findings of both studies revealed that college graduates who studied abroad were more likely to be employed within six months of graduating; more likely to work in a foreign country; and, for most areas of study, most likely to earn a higher wage than those who did not study abroad.

Expanding Access: An Exemplar Program

Given the important benefits accrued through study abroad, many colleges have been working to expand access to a broad range of students; however, the success of such efforts remains inconsistent.  One program of note is a collaborative effort between the Center for International Programs (CIP) and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at the State University of New York at New Paltz.  The winner of the Institute for International Education’s (IIE) 2015 Heiskell Award for outstanding study abroad program, the SUNY New Paltz collaborative brings together staff from the two different units to expand access to study abroad for students who are academically and economically disadvantaged.

EOP is a state-funded initiative to expand access and provide academic support for students who do not meet general admission requirements, but show potential for success.  To increase the number of EOP students who study abroad, the CIP and EOP staff work together to make EOP students aware of study abroad opportunities early in their educational experience.  The staff collaborates to advise students about financial matters, expectations, cross-cultural adjustment, and scholarship opportunities for study abroad by providing tutoring and financial resource.

Of particular note is that study abroad is embedded in the support work provided to disadvantaged students, reinforced by peers, and supported through scholarships.  In their first year, students in the EOP program are provided with an extra set of supports to bolster their academic success. As reported in their application for the award:

First-year EOP student seminars devote class time to international education opportunities, with assignments such as developing a four-year academic plan to include a study abroad experience.  First-year students attend special workshops during which returned EOP study abroad students speak to students about their experiences. The EOP study abroad liaison surveys students to gather data related to students’ needs, and the international center provides a writing tutor for students who need assistance with their scholarship essays for study abroad.

Beyond the academic support that is provided, the institution has also worked to identify funding to support the EOP students.  Since 2009, 30 EOP students have received funding from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship fund, a national scholarship program supported by IIE to help students with financial constraints study in a foreign country.  Beyond the Gilman scholarship, 35 students have received funding from other national and institutional sources.

The results speak for themselves.  Since 2007, the CIP and EOP staff has collaborated to support more than 140 EOP students going abroad. Moreover, the six-year graduation rate for EOP study abroad participants is 96%, as compared to a 63% six-year graduation rate for EOP students who do not study abroad.  In fact, the six-year graduation rate of EOP students exceeds that of general admission study abroad students (89%).

Key Takeaways

The success of the efforts at SUNY New Paltz illustrate that it is possible to expand access to study abroad for underrepresented groups.  A key highlight about this program is that it is not a new program, per se; rather it was a new process that complemented the existing work of both offices.  Below is a distillation of some of the key takeaways that might help others replicate this success on their campuses.

Shared Vision

Having a shared vision or set of goals fosters shared commitment and helps focus and align activities.  A key component of the success of the New Paltz program is that there is a sense of a shared commitment to increasing the number of student from disadvantaged backgrounds studying abroad.  With the specific goal of increasing the number of EOP students who were studying abroad, all of the involved staff knew that their efforts needed to increase EOP student engagement.  In launching a similar initiative, there needs to be shared vision of what is to be accomplished and this vision needs to be communicated to all involved staff.

Expanding the Team

Complementary to having a shared vision is having a shared team.  One of the critical components of the success of this program is that there was a collective effort to achieve the vision.  Offices did not point fingers when it came to the responsibility for acting.  The directors and staff of both offices worked together and shared responsibility.

Mutually Reinforcing Activities

Because of the shared vision, the staffs at both CIP and EOP were able to create mutually reinforcing activities.  This did not require a great deal of additional effort; rather they had to think strategically about building in activities to their existing work that would drive forward the achievement of their goals.  This was about more than simply informing students of an opportunity.  This was about creating an entire set of activities that got them excited about studying abroad and provided supports to overcome the barriers (real and perceived) that might exist.

Measuring Outcomes 

Success builds success and the leadership at SUNY New Paltz wanted to ensure that the new efforts were actually producing the required outcomes.  As such, they developed mechanisms to track a variety of measures to determine not just whether they were achieving their immediate goal (i.e., increasing the number of EOP students studying abroad) as well as ancillary academic benefits such as improved GPAs and completion rates.  This demonstrated success makes it easier to justify additional resources for the program and the institution is now working to expand the model to develop collaborations with other offices that support disadvantaged students.

Tapping into Existing Funding

A common concern is that study abroad is financially out of reach for many students.  In response, there are a growing number of scholarships being made available to assist students with overcoming this hurdle.  The Gilman Scholarships, mentioned above, are just one example.  Others can be found here.  An important role of campus staff is to help students find the resources they need to make study abroad possible.

Discussion Questions

  1. How many students on your campus study abroad?  Are the demographics of the cohort of students studying abroad similar to the general campus population?
  2. What barriers exist on your campus for students to study abroad?  Do these barriers differ for different demographic groups?
  3. What data supports the existence of these barriers?  How might you obtain this data?
  4. Who should be responsible for expanding access to study abroad for underrepresented groups?
  5. Are there ways to leverage existing resources to support more students studying abroad, particularly those from underrepresented groups?
  6. What steps might you take tomorrow to initiate change?

About the Author

Jason E. Lane is Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Strategic Leadership for the State University of New York as well as associate professor of educational administration and policy studies, and Co-Director of the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT) at the State University of New York, Albany.  He has been a member of the governing boards of the Comparative and International Education Society and the Council for International Higher Education and is an Associate of the International Association of Universities. He is currently a member of the governing board of SUNY Korea. His most recent books include Multi-National Colleges and Universities: Leading, Governing, and Managing International Branch Campuses (2010, Jossey-Bass); Universities and Colleges as Economic Drivers (2012, SUNY Press) and Academic Governance and Leadership in Higher Education (2013, Stylus Press).  

Please e-mail inquires to Jason E. Lane.

Follow him on Twitter at @ProfJasonLane


The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members, Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

Not Such a World Apart: What an Other-Worldly Convention Can Tell Us About Ours

The scene: December 2002, the first ACPA 2004 convention planning committee meeting in Philadelphia. As I walk to our meeting room, a person with a latex mask and a long billowing black cloak strolls casually towards me. Moments later, I see a shirtless man in leather pants, green body paint, dark sunglasses, nipple rings, and fright wig talking to someone with rainbow suspenders and 25 buttons that say things such as, “Purr if you like cats!” Is this my committee? No, we were here at the same time as PhilCon 2002, the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.

Because our two groups shared the closest bathroom, we were afforded many occasions to observe this curious gathering. Periodically, members of the planning team would come back from our breaks shaking their heads and comment on some of the strange things they had just witnessed. I must say that, at first, the attendees of PhilCon were a very easy target for good-natured ribbing. Things started falling into place when I realized that we were at the beginning of what must be the Sci-Fi high holy days: Star Trek Nemesis was released that evening and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was coming out the following Wednesday.

However, over the course of the weekend, I was aware that I was making light of something that I did not understand. Admitting my own myopia, I picked up a program book to see what I could learn about this earnest and spirited group. I also spoke with a woman named Carol, a member of the PhilCon planning team.

At first, Carol talked more about the nuts and the bolts of the convention, how it was organized and some of its defining characteristics. The more we talked, the more I realized that despite my first impressions, ACPA and PhilCon had a lot more in common than I imagined. For example:

  • Hot Topics/Activism: We have issues related to affirmative action and FERPA. They have concerns about the impending cancellation of Farscape and the state of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • Exhibit Halls: We have indestructible furniture and for-profit internship programs. They have sci-fi art and memorabilia.
  • Featured Guests: We have experts speaking about issues such as academic dishonesty and spirituality in the academy. They have guests speaking about sci-fi art and writing.
  • Committees/Sub-Organization: We have affinity groups related to LGBT, disabilities, and residence life. They have affinity groups for Goth/Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Gaming (role playing), Television, Books, Film, Hard/Plausible Science, and Anime.
  • Multiple Organizational Connections: We have advertising related to higher education organizations and institutes (e.g. AAHE, ACUHO-I, NACA, etc.). They have advertising for gatherings such as Penguicon (combination Science Fiction Convention and Linux Expo).
  • Social: We have Carnival and Cabaret. They have the Masquerade Hallway Costume Contest and “filking” (performing inventive and humorous spins on popular songs such as Little Dead Smurfette sung to the tune of Little Red Corvette). We have smaller parties for members with ties to specific graduate programs. They have smaller parties for members with more specific interests such as “Furry Fans” (i.e. individuals who adopt characteristics of animals that they admire such as tails, ears, etc.).

When I was thumbing through the PhilCon program, I was also struck by many similar programming characteristics to our own:

  • Current Issues: Science Fiction Promoting Alternate Sexual Lifestyles (A discussion of the way science fiction can lead us to living and loving differently), Changing Prejudices in Sci-Fi (With the demonization of Arabs and Muslims in current American Culture, would Dune be publishable today?), Was Tolkien a Racist? (What would the Orc Anti-Defamation League say?), and Security Leaks from the Future.
  • Research/Scholarship: The Physics of Time Travel, Mommy, Where Do New SF Writers Come From?, How Do You Change History Assuming You Have the Chance? (Does the time traveler shoot Napoleon, give Leonardo Da Vinci a laptop or publish just the right ad in the New York Times?), and Magical Objects (A ring is as commonplace as a toothbrush but a story about a quest for an enchanted toothbrush would make us snicker. What sort of objects work in this context and why?).
  • Practical Issues: Monsters, Aliens and Spirit Gum, Klingon Language For Beginners, Hey! I’m Not Dead Any More! (The implications of suspended animation: moral, religious, legal, social and biological. Will the revived dead be second class citizens or (in an unhappier future) a source of cheap protein?), How to Pass When You’re Over 150 (Vampires and other immortals need to conceal their nature. What are the legal, practical and emotional issues involved in outliving everyone you know and passing yourself off as your own heir?).
  • Honoring Their Own: A Tribute to Vincent Price.
  • Open Meeting: Gripe Session.

I also asked Carol about the deeper aspects of their convention–who attends and why, and what this convention does for its members. Carol noted that many fans (“mundanes” are those who do not enjoy science fiction/fantasy) come primarily for the opportunity to be with people like themselves in terms of interests and background. Fans find PhilCon to be a very supportive, encouraging and accepting environment. Carol said that many people attend for the “smiles and hugs” because PhilCon “is like coming home to a family.” Most people come here to renew old acquaintances, meet new people with similar interests, and even find romance (Carol met her husband and “soul mate” here). The unconditional acceptance and shared understanding allows fans to put their guards down. Some participants get to explore aspects of their real and idealized selves more fully – a meek woman might come to PhilCon in the character of Princess Yaya, all-powerful and confident. Some find this is the only place where they can openly explore issues of sexuality and transcend gender roles safely and without judgment. Others find that this is one of the only places they don’t need to explain themselves.

As I boarded the plane home, I tried to make sense of this collision of two convention cultures and what it said about each of us. This interaction certainly made the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Not surprisingly, I ended up learning more about ACPA than PhilCon. Given that I had just walked out of a very intense and protracted discussion about our role and responsibility as an ACPA convention planning committee member, it was clear that underneath the costumes, we had much more in common with PhilCon than I had originally thought. However you dress it up, both our conventions fulfill a need for our members to gather in a welcoming place for our shared communion, rejuvenation, and development. PhilCon may be more of a social gathering whereas ACPA’s convention supports the core work of the student affairs profession, but attendees want similar things our own members have repeatedly identified in our annual convention evaluations and surveys: meaningful connections, personal enrichment, and professional development.

This experience also has had a profound effect on my recent role as the ACPA 2005 Nashville convention chair. It has challenged me to frame the convention as something deeper. What is this annual gathering that draws thousands of people, rebirthed in different cities for less than a week, borne by the work of innumerable volunteer hours, with immeasurable commitment? What does the convention really mean for our members, and how has that shaped the way we have come to consistently organize it? What do we value and privilege and why?

The ACPA annual convention is arguably the most meaning-laden expression of our association’s core values, performed publicly on such a large scale. The convention serves the expressed and unexpressed needs of our association to ultimately help us to help our students. For a profession that knows the value of deep and sustained reflection, it is important for us to reflect on ourselves. Every artifact related to the convention serves as spoken and unspoken signifiers of our association’s culture, communicating what we value through our governance, organization, dress, buttons and badges.

Our convention is important because we do important and difficult work on our campuses. We must negotiate multiple and often competing priorities in institutional environments that don’t always appreciate our work. Thus, the convention is both a mirror and a lamp, reflecting our best and most true selves and illuminating our most cherished ideals. The convention inspires, enables and emboldens us to go back on our own campuses with renewed commitment to do our important work.

For many years I have wondered what people from the outside must think if they stumbled into our convention. Anthropologically speaking, we must seem like we are from a different land. I imagine that if any PhilCon members stumbled onto ACPA’s annual convention, they might say, “why do they do that —-that’s just so…weird.”