Shin ’17: Globalization and higher education: creating the right model

Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Globalization is not a trend exclusive to economic or cultural spectra. Many universities are witnessing an unstoppable wave of globalization. Through the internationalization of American campuses and the global diaspora of graduates from U.S. universities, we are now a step closer to the realization of a truly global education.

Brown University, with its time-cherished liberal philosophy and education, is a forerunner in this globalization trend, with more than 1600 international students representing about 114 nations studying on campus every year and many American students studying abroad annually. The Office of International Student and Scholar Services works to create policies that serve the specific needs of international students, while the Third World Center works to bring together students from diverse communities. International students also feel welcomed by cultural programs including the week-long orientation for international students, the amount of research being done on global issues by the Watson Institute of International Studies and a number of global initiatives, such as the Focus on Africa and the Year of India, that highlight issues facing the international community.

These programs are creating an ever-more welcoming study environment for international students. The reason behind such a sudden and nation-wide phenomenon, however, is not so apparent. Some advocates of globalization argue that colleges want a more vibrant and diverse student community, or that they are interested in the brainpower of Asian students. Sure, but the reason that colleges are deliberately increasing the share of the international student body while sacrificing slots for American applicants lies in a more practical realm: money. Foreign students tend to be from well-off families and often receive only a small amount of financial aid. Many overseas students in fact pay full freight. The facts that colleges fail to recruit an economically-diverse group of foreign students and that the enrollment of foreign students fluctuates with their countries’ economic growth and exchange rates suggest a lot about the true motives of many universities. Of course there are some exceptions, especially for colleges with huge endowments, but it is an undeniable fact that this pattern is prevalent in many higher education institutions.

On the surface, these institutions seem to be wholeheartedly embracing and supporting international students. But in fact, they are increasingly unfair to foreign students by treating them as a revenue source. Their stated intention to “globalize” the community creates the illusion of truly diversified campuses when all they did was lure and recruit affluent foreigners. Technically, they never opened up the gates to those from poor circumstances who really do need the opportunity and can truly contribute to diversity.

The “full-need” aid policy is yet another marketing strategy.  Many students are deceived by the misleading catch phrase “full-need aid for low-income families.” For colleges, using such psychological manipulation to lure as many applicants as possible is part of their admissions strategy to survive amid intense competition to attract more and more students every year, not to mention the several hundred dollars of additional profit from commission charges and non-refundable application  fees if such advertisement succeeds in motivating poorer students to apply. The disclaimer in the corner of financial aid webpages informing students that the amount of aid may differ after some verification process allows colleges to evade any expected accusations.

Nevertheless, we have to admit the fact that universities are simply an educational institution — not a non-profit organization or community service center. Colleges cannot exclude factors of profitability and feasibility from their management plans while improving the quality of education. In order to catch up with increasing costs and struggling endowments, private institutions have no choice but to seek new sources of revenue and thus put more effort into attracting full-pay international students rather than partial-pay students from another state.

We certainly do not expect colleges to reject the principles of capitalism and become philanthropic volunteer institutions. What we ask of colleges is for them to be more responsible as leading institutions that nurture future leaders of society and the international community. It is understandable that colleges are trying to attract more foreign students for not-so-benevolent reasons, but they must at least be honest and fair to prospective students and stop disregarding their right to know.

After all, regardless of colleges’ original intentions for recruiting more foreign students, the consequences of their actions are redeeming. The pseudo-globalization of the campus has indeed given American students a chance to interact with students of different roots, exposing them to diverse perspectives they would not otherwise access. We cannot expect or force universities to suddenly embrace all willing international applicants regardless of their socioeconomic background. If restrictively admitting only a certain group of foreign students can bring about a gradual change in the conservative atmosphere of the higher education system, then the globalization trend, despite its origins, will do much more good.

Julie HyeBin Shin ’17 is an international student, from a relatively well-off household as expected, but nonetheless hopes to contribute to diversity with her unique perspective.

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