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Internationalization is a key component of U.S. higher education

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EDITOR’S NOTE:Louis Vaccaro and his daughter, Michelle Vaccaro, submitted the following piece in support of businessman James Ma’s effort to convert the former Academy at Ivy Ridge in Ogdensburg into an English-as-a-second-language school for Chinese students looking to further their education in the United States. Mr. Vaccaro is senior advisor to the Steering Committee for International Education at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei. Michelle Vaccaro has worked as a counselor for international students at community colleges in Iowa and Virginia.

The following note accompanied Mr. Vaccaro’s submission: A friend recently sent me a series of comments related to Mr. James Ma’s plan to open a language school in Ogdensburg. Regrettably, some individuals seem opposed to the idea. This is regrettable. As a former president of the College of St. Rose in Albany, and a summer resident of Old Forge, I firmly believe that Mr. Ma’s visionary plan is right on target. Since my retirement from the College of St. Rose I have devoted my efforts to fostering international education. Indeed, I have travelled throughout China during the past 30 years and have lectured on dozens of university campuses (including Qingdao). I am attaching a recent short article co-authored with one of my daughters who teaches in Iowa. Based on my 40 years of experience in higher education, we are at a stage where we need more opportunities for international education, not less!!

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Since the founding of Harvard College in 1636, American higher education has undergone monumental changes, sometimes, in revolutionary proportions. The first class of students at Harvard was composed of young (13-16 year old) white protestant males. They enrolled to become ministers and/or teachers to staff the growing number of colonial schools springing up in the young nation. There was little or no diversity on the Harvard campus during the early years of its operation. The faculty was composed entirely of white protestant church ministers. Likewise, the college’s board of governors was comprised of all ordained church leaders. Eventually, through steady incremental changes, Harvard College would become one of America’s premiere research universities.

As the colonies expanded and grew in number, keeping pace with the westward expansion, so too did the number of Christian church related colleges. State and towns vied to establish their own Christian colleges. These colleges were staffed and governed by white male Christian ministers and church leaders. By the year 1800 there were more than twenty-five Christian colleges in operation in the growing nation. Every state and territory in the union had at least one church related college-serving growing numbers of male students drawn primarily from privileged protestant families. The curricula in these colleges were limited-offering courses in Latin, Greek, the classics, and the Bible. There was virtually no diversity in the student body, faculty, or curricula.

Following the end of the Civil War, various attempts were made to expand the type and scope of higher education in America. After some failures, these attempts eventually succeeded with the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862. The success was due to the efforts of Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, an influential member of Congress. President Lincoln signed the legislation into law heralding a major revolution in American higher education. This act provided large grants of federal lands to each state and territory in the union. The states were permitted and encouraged to use the monies generated by the sale of these lands to found and build a unique system of state colleges and universities. The result of these efforts led to the founding of such institutions as The University of Wisconsin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Cornell University, and numerous other agricultural and mechanical colleges. This first Morrill Land Grant Act was followed by a second first Morrill Land Grant Act which permitted the development of similar agricultural and mechanical colleges for African American students. Thus, this first revolution in American higher education encouraged and permitted a more diverse student body to enroll and study such subjects as agriculture, engineering, business, mechanical arts, as well as other professions. The avowed purpose of the land grant institutions was to permit the sons (and eventually, daughters) of ordinary citizens to obtain a college education. The majority of these students were drawn from the farms and rural areas. By the latter part of the 1800’s, approximately 200,000 students, male and female, were enrolled in American colleges and universities, both state and private. One could rightfully claim that the resulting benefit of this first revolution was a more egalitarian, larger, and diverse system of higher education-but not entirely.

It took another dramatic revolution to usher in a second and more dramatic change on America’s campuses. This was the result of legislation enacted following World War II and which became known as the GI Education Bill of Rights. The hundreds of thousands of returning armed forces veterans, both men and women, began to overwhelm the universities and colleges beginning in the late 1940’s. Near the conclusion of the Korean conflict, a second Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1952 encouraged hundreds of thousands of additional students to enroll in an ever expanding system of two year and four year colleges and universities. These students were more mature, serious, and purpose driven. Many of them were married and focused on achieving success in business, engineering, law, and numerous other professions. They quickly transformed the face of American education across the nation. By 1949, American colleges and universities were serving more than 2.5million students. This success became recognized as the second most successful revolution, further transforming American higher education. The two GI Bill of Rights programs eventually made it possible for millions of older and more diverse students to pursue their dreams of obtaining a college education. A happy by-product of this legislation was the growing number of female students that began flocking to the expanding college campuses. These students began by enrolling in such traditional fields as nursing, teaching, and social work. However, they soon began to push for admission to schools of medicine, law and engineering in record numbers. Additionally, America’s student body became more racially, religiously, and politically diverse. While traditional and non-traditional enrollments continued to change, so too did the composition of the nation’s teaching faculty. Scholars from abroad were recruited to staff America’s colleges and universities including, Catholics, Jews, and people of color.

The booming 1960’s ushered in another dramatic change-a result of the sons and daughters of World War II veterans who were enjoying more affluence and freedom on American campuses. This greater freedom empowered students to push for more power and privilege which culminated in monumental changes in the climate and character of every campus in America. These changes effectively forced trustees, faculty, and administrators to adopt changes in governance, teaching methods, and student life that heretofore, had never been imagined. Alumni from the 1930’s and 1940’s, upon returning for campus reunions, expressed shock and in some cases, dismay at the revolutionary changes wrought by the turbulent 1960’s and 1970’s.

The third revolution which slowly followed these changes is referred to today as the internationalization of American higher education. Partly the result of the social and political movements on American campuses, and partly the result of the dramatic increased freedoms enjoyed by the more affluent students, a growing number of colleges and universities began to establish study abroad programs in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere. In addition, some forward thinking colleges and universities stepped up efforts to attract well qualified international undergraduate and post graduate students to their campuses. Other colleges and universities began establishing bilateral student and faculty exchange agreements and programs with universities in Asia-especially, in mainland China. Some US colleges and universities established special and unique programs of financial assistance to attract more diverse and talented students to their campuses. A few farsighted American universities began establishing campuses in mainland China enabling well qualified Chinese students to earn degrees from both the American and Chinese universities. These changes, and the resulting movement, can correctly be labeled the third revolution in American higher education. The diversity resulting from this movement promises ever more positive results, not only from the students and faculty attracted from abroad but also as a by-product for the American students and faculty who benefit from the increased interaction with students from countries and cultures heretofore known only through lectures and readings. The direct interaction and sharing of points of view concerning politics, economic systems, and religious and cultural matters are not only eye opening for all concerned but eventually produce more complete graduates better able to compete in the global economy and world.

In a sense, this third revolution is leading American colleges and universities to focus on the two most essential ingredients for building great world class universities; 1) The very best and most talented faculties, 2) The brightest and most promising students-regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, age, or other superfluous affiliations. What began in some colleges and universities as an attempt to add diversity has moved in the direction of emphasizing quality, excellence, and the highest of standards. These are the absolute requirements for fostering the development of imagination, creativity and innovation, which have become the hallmarks of America’s predominance in worldwide rankings of top research universities. Each of the revolutions in American higher education has led inexorably to the next. Will there be a fourth revolution? Judging from past performance and the speed at which technology is advancing, we will very likely witness a fourth revolution very soon!

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