From the Goucher Quarterly, Spring 2013
As anyone who reads this publication or visits our website knows, Goucher has made itself distinctive among American liberal arts colleges by instituting a study-abroad requirement for all undergraduates. We are still the only ones to have done so, and there are great advantages to being in that position.
But is that enough to give the Goucher campus and community the international character we want it to have? Not hardly. Hence the focus these days on next steps—the need to internationalize the curriculum, for example, and to recruit more international students to attend the college.
There was a time, not so many years ago, when some wondered aloud, “What’s international about math, anyway?” or “Why should we teach things any differently from the way we always have? A body of knowledge is a body of knowledge, wherever it’s taught.” But I think the faculty, the staff, the Board of Trustees, and especially the students, have all come to realize that international perspectives can have a huge impact on the way we teach and learn—and in every intellectual realm. Americans have a lot of catching up to do, and many of our alumnae/i have discovered this in their own careers. That is why internationalization of the curriculum is a key part of the deliberations over a new academic strategic plan.
The growth of our international student population is also critical. The timing is right: The rich experience of Goucher students overseas has made the campus a more welcoming place for people from other cultures and societies. It does not seem strange here when young women and men speak other languages or have “foreign” accents, or see world events from an alternative angle. This is, in a sense, an extra dividend of the study-abroad requirement: the creation of a tolerant, cosmopolitan, globally aware academic community.
Given the international bent of our founders, Goucher has a long history of welcoming students from overseas. Many of them came from the schools that John Franklin Goucher had founded or supported, especially in India. But various developments—including the tightening of visa requirements in the last decade, after 9/11—disrupted traditional patterns, and the college has found few established overseas markets in recent years. I have personally visited international high schools in many cities during my travels as president, and Michael O’Leary, vice president for enrollment management, has energetically explored our prospects in China. These efforts have produced a reasonable number of applications, but relatively few enrollments. We have essentially been waiting for international students to fi nd us. Thus, a more systematic push, aimed at certain countries where Goucher could have a comparative advantage, seems necessary and timely.
During a trip to India in January, I spent two weeks exploring Goucher’s potential to fi nd more students there, in addition to the excellent ones we have now. As a result of sixteen school visits in Bangalore (Bengaluru), Calcutta (Kolkata), Delhi, and Bombay (Mumbai), as well as many other valuable contacts, I feel cautiously optimistic that Goucher can succeed in this vibrant and challenging market; but there will be much work to be done, and we will have to figure out how to organize ourselves for the task.
Now a country of more than 1.2 billion people, India is almost desperate to fi nd places for the young men and women coming out of its finest private secondary schools.The most prestigious Indian universities, despite a reputation for a rigid and outmoded curriculum, are packed, and the competition to get into them is cutthroat. So even though there is a risk of a serious brain drain—many educated Indian families have at least one child working, and oftensucceeding wildly, in the United States—the obvious solution is to send sons and daughters overseas. These students take every kind of examination imaginable, including the SATs and the International Baccalaureate (IB), to maximize their chances of getting a good, and preferably high-prestige, spot in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, or, more recently, Australia, Singapore, and several countries in the European Community. I happened to be at one high school in Mumbai on the day when the results of the Cambridge “A-level” exams were being released, and it was not a pretty scene: Parents were flooding into the school and demanding to know what their children’s prospects would be.
Ironically, our challenge in India is almost identical to the growing one we face at home: how to convince families of the value of a traditional liberal arts education. Even as school principals and college counselors shake their heads in dismay, most Indian parents push their children to look first at engineering or business programs in the United States. There, as here, we will be competing for a thin slice of each year’s high school graduating class, and making the case that the purpose of higher education is greater than preparing to fi nd a high-paying job and that Goucher is a good place to fulfi ll a broader view of life.
We know that, given a chance, we can help Americans, Indians, and anyone else understand the link between abroad, values-based education—in which students learn to think, read, write, and speak critically; to work in groups to identify and solve problems; and to step outside their own comfortable niche—and the universal aspirations of humanity.
Stay tuned. Please.