A doubting student of Italian once challenged "If English is supposed to be the lingua franca, how come there's no word in English for lingua franca?" Though English is still the most widely spoken language in the nation and elsewhere--the number of Spanish speaking citizens and visitors in the US is expected to grow exponentially in the decade ahead. In a somewhat fickle economy with fast changing demographics, next year's graduates will need new multilingual, and importantly, higher level intercultural skills and global awareness in order to face the real-world challenges of the 21st century.
Indeed, we can now see on the horizon of the new millennium colleges and universities which intentionally promote bilingual programs to better prepare the next generation of global business and professional leaders. Already, there has emerged a cohort of historically Hispanic universities like the University of the Sacred Heart (Puerto Rico), National Autonomous University of Mexico, University of Alcalá (Spain), and the National Hispanic University (U.S.)--a cadre of institutions with special multilingual and multicultural heritages, missions, and shared visions for educating the coming age of global citizens.
Established in 1880 as an all-girls school, the University of the Sacred Heart or Universidad del Sagrado Corazón ("Sagrado"), is among the oldest, most prominent, and most beautifully situated institutions in Puerto Rico. Nestled in the bucolic terrain of Santurce, Sagrado is surrounded by tropical vegetation and panoramic views adjoining the splendor of old San Juan. The University promotes an engaged liberal arts and career education program of study--focused on bridging today's social and cultural differences and language barriers by developing strong language competencies in both Spanish and English. Sagrado's President, José Jaime Rivera, put it simply this way "as a liberal arts institution, Sagrado's main focus is to educate individuals holistically, through an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary educational experience."
Most widely recognized for its professional Communications program, Sagrado students and faculty work alongside OneLink Cable in Sacred Heart's TeleSagrado studio to facilitate both local and global C-Span programming. The University also operates its own digital radio station--RadioActiva--where students produce weekly programs on a variety of hot topics.
At the same time, Sagrado has extended its educational boundaries and diversified its student body to embrace a multitude of mainland and off island communities - a strong draw for those interested in becoming bilingual business, education, STEM and social science professional leaders. Sagrado also offers immersion experiences for English speaking students through the International/Intercultural Educational Experience Project--ranging in length from one month to one year. When compared to American universities, Sagrado can be considered a "best buy" since the tuition is significantly lower than comparable institutions located in the continental USA. Significantly, the University's regional accreditation from Middle States makes it easy for students to transfer credits to and from such diverse institutions as the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music, Universidad Central del Caribe Medical School, Carlos Albizu University's graduate programs and Vanderbilt University's Engineering School.
Or, consider the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México or UNAM), based in Mexico City. This public University boasts the largest enrollment in Mexico, and has a history steeped in social activism and academic freedom. Somewhat uniquely, the University was granted autonomy from the Mexican government in the 1920s due in large part to student protests--granting it the freedom to define its own curriculum and take charge of its fiscal responsibilities without government interference. Of note, UNAM is the only university in Mexico with distinguished Nobel Prize laureates among its alumni: Alfonso Garcia Robles (Peace), Octavio Paz (Literature), and Mario Molina (Chemistry). Other notable attendees include Audre Lorde and William F. Buckley. Beyond Mexico, UNAM has several satellite campuses in San Antonio, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Quebec. These campuses focus primarily on Spanish language arts and Mexican history, culture, and music appreciation.
Take the University of Alcalá, for yet another example. Situated just north of Madrid, the University was founded in 1499 by the Regent of Spain, Cardinal Cisneros, and has since become one of the premier academic institutions in Spain. Alcalá offers Spanish language and Spanish literature programs for native students and a state-of-the-art language program for foreign students. The Alcalá Teach and Learn in Spain Study Program is devoted to English speaking graduate students--students with a special interest and background in Spanish studies. For qualified candidates, this one-year accelerated master's program in Bilingual and Multicultural Education includes free tuition, health insurance, and a stipend for living expenses. In return, students work and teach English language skills in the local communities of Madrid.
Last but not least, our tour of Hispanic higher education campuses takes us to the National Hispanic University (NHU) located in San Jose, California. NHU was established in 1981 with the goal of providing accessible, affordable, and quality education for underserved students. With this special purpose and mission, the University was originally chartered and largely predicated on the analogous founding principles and successes of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States--recognizing that Hispanic students needed an educational system that acknowledges their special learning needs. With degree programs in Business, Computer Science, and Child Development, NHU also offers Cross Cultural Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, and Translation and Interpretation.
At the end of our global higher ed expedition, we came to realize that what Sagrado, UNAM, Alcalá, and NHU have in common is a commitment to multilingual communication and multicultural education. Through the creation of new partnerships and new programs beyond their borders, these rising university stars are at the leading edge of a new intercultural dynamic now making its way around the world.
James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.