I am an advocate for access to higher education. I firmly believe one must continue learning after secondary school to remain competitive in today’s globally intertwined economy. My experiences within the program focusing on international higher education, international students, and global trends in higher education mirror my experiences at work. I work in an Admissions Office at a school that admits large numbers of non-immigrant and immigrant students. The two experiences combined, work and school, constantly reinforce how small the world is becoming for an increasingly mobile population.
The increasing mobility and wealth of citizens across the globe is creating challenges in access to higher education. As I read in “The World Is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, a number of events have occurred in the last few decades that have radically changed the globe. The Iron Curtain has come down, China has a market economy with an authoritarian single party government, and a number of technological advances allow people to do much more with much less. Whereas the old world order featured America and Western Europe against the Soviet Union with little awareness of the rest of the world, the new world order features new markets opening up and the ability of many other nations to compete in the global market place in a way to which Americans are not accustomed. The global reality became apparent during the financial implosion of 2008, which among other consequences resulted in the slashing of public university budgets and an alteration of the California higher education system’s mission of educating California residents.
As more and more institutions recruit overseas to fill their classes, I am increasingly concerned that universities are not prepared to support international students. On my trip to Beijing with the Higher Education Administration in China class, I discovered that students are educated under a radically different system that focuses on deep memorization, does not include classroom discussion, and channels the students’ experience in a much more rigid structure. In short, the difference between American and Asian higher education can be summed up by America’s focus on learning from experience versus Asia’s focus on retaining knowledge.
Students benefit when they are placed in diverse classrooms with students whose backgrounds and experiences differ from their own. A classroom full of students with different opinions fosters discussion and learning as ideas are debated and positions fleshed out. The debate moves beyond liberal versus conservative as non-Americans enter the classroom and provide American students with firsthand experience not only with other ways of thinking but also the impact decisions made in America have outside America’s borders.
The intrapersonal growth should be experienced by both parties, however, and international students should not be brought to this country with no support structures, enrolled only to benefit American students. All students, regardless of nationality, should experience growth and obtain knowledge in a supportive environment. As an Admissions officer, I see myself not as a door into an institution, but a bridge that must partner with Orientation, academic offices and student affairs offices to broadly support all our students.