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Global Education Challenges and Opportunities

Students are not isolated from world events
University Business, Feb 2011

Global education has been a focus in American higher education for several years. Recently, we have seen an increase in conferences, speeches, and papers encouraging us to think globally and prepare our students for a world where success may be dictated by one's ability to navigate varying cultures, languages, and practices.

There are, of course, many interpretations and definitions of what constitutes a "global education." Some would have us believe that by hosting students from other countries on our home campuses we are providing a global education. Others believe that sending students abroad achieves the goal. Several institutions operate campuses abroad to enhance their global objectives.

Although all of these are valid strategies, global education requires more. It requires that we develop a global mindset and understand that what happens in other parts of the world affects all of us. Our students need to learn that they are interconnected and cannot isolate themselves from world events.

Students today need to have the opportunity to develop competencies that will prepare them to live in a complex world that's socially, politically, and economically interdependent. They need to understand the challenges they will face as they move into positions of leadership and acquire skills that will allow them to navigate a highly networked world.

Employers tell us that today's graduates lack the knowledge and skills needed to achieve success. The recent AAC&U report entitled "College Learning for the New Global Century" revealed the following:

  • Fully 63 percent of employers believe that too many recent college graduates do not have the skills they need to succeed in the global economy.
  • Only 18 percent of employers rate college graduates as "very well prepared" in the area of global knowledge. More than 45 percent rate them as "not well prepared" at all in this area.

In an era of diminishing resources and demands for accelerated learning, how do we position our institutions to meet the needs of today's students and the global demands of today's marketplace?

  1. Ensure that our students understand and appreciate the opportunities that our global future holds.
  2. Develop institutional strategies that encourage faculty and students to prepare for a rapidly changing world.
  3. Provide resources that encourage students to engage in international learning experiences and faculty to construct classes with a global emphasis.

Our challenge is to incorporate our local institutional values within a broader framework to prepare students for the global challenges and opportunities ahead. Not only should we provide study abroad opportunities, but we should also promote the development of international global content in ALL classes and research. True global learning must be integrated throughout the curricula.

To partially address the demands of global education, the faculty of Mc-Kendree University (Ill.) are launching a new interdisciplinary major in Global Studies. Students will study "the world as an interacting human community, including the movements of goods, the migration of people, the spread of technologies, and the unifying of cultures," explains faculty member Brian Frederking. "The faculty agree that "the greatest issues faced by humanity - climate change, economic stability, disease, terrorism, hunger, poverty, war and conflict, etc. - require a global solution. The Global Studies program focuses on these processes and problems."

It is not enough for us to offer short-term learning experiences through study abroad.

The program will also explore "how the world works now that technology and global communication are instantaneous," Frederking continues. "Career opportunities for a student in the major include international organizations, international business, economic development, international law, human rights, humanitarian groups, health, the environment, mass communication and a wide variety of government agencies."

It is not enough for us to offer short-term learning experiences through study abroad or foreign exchange programs, as these typically affect but a few students. Rather, to ensure that we are truly preparing our students for the dynamic world they will inherit, we must do the following:

  1. We must develop among students a comprehensive understanding of and appreciation for the many international opportunities that exist now and will exist in the future.
  2. We must provide opportunities for our students to develop knowledge and skills through cross-cultural experiences, and we must connect these experiences in a deliberate way.
  3. We must value global experiences and understand how our students can benefit from them.
  4. We must encourage and support faculty who are striving to include global learning in their classes.
  5. We must commit ourselves to shaping our institutional culture to support and affirm a global learning emphasis.
  6. We must determine how best to establish educational outcomes and learning assessment tools to measure our success.
  7. We must develop co-curricular opportunities to complement our global academic initiatives.

Developing a comprehensive global education program is a daunting process. It must be a university-wide initiative that evolves through deliberate planning. Such an effort requires strong and effective leadership. At McKendree, we believe that global education, in all its forms, will ensure the success of our students in a rapidly changing world.