Modeling success edition
Learning from one college’s strategy for improving international student outcomes
How They Did It: Rutgers University
Jeff Wang was worried. As they had at many colleges, international enrollments at Rutgers had skyrocketed over the past decade, the number of undergraduates alone quadrupling on the New Brunswick campus.
Concerns were rising, too: from faculty members apprehensive about international students’ academic performance; from advising, career counseling, and other offices worried that students weren’t taking advantage of services that would help them succeed; from the students themselves who felt lost in the sprawling university.
Wang, Rutgers’ assistant vice president for global affairs, decided to take action: He proposed creating an office dedicated to international students’ academic outcomes. In its three years, the Office of International Academic Success has helped focus attention, improved campuswide collaboration, and stood up programs such as peer mentoring and a first-year transition course.
Academic success is one of the issues I hear about most frequently from readers, so I sat down with Wang and Anu Gupta, the office’s assistant dean, to talk about their strategy and what others might learn from it:
A central office can take ownership of a problem and its solutions and reduce redundancy. But one of its most important roles is acting as a convener. Gupta co-chairs a twice-monthly working group with the vice chancellor for undergraduate academic affairs that brings together representatives from a dozen critical colleges and departments. It provides a regular forum to brainstorm and swiftly act on issues.
A central office does not mean consolidating services or creating a bureaucracy. While Wang secured $200,000 in funding for the two-person office, he and Gupta have also advocated for increased staffing across campus that support the effort’s goals. Career services, for instance, has recently added three positions focused on international career advising, while health services hired a Mandarin-speaking mental-health counselor. Nor is the focus strictly on expansion – they try to make use of existing skills and strengths.
“We want to leverage the capacity of campus,” Gupta says.
One of those strengths: International students themselves. They’re an underutilized asset, Gupta says, noting that students listen to their classmates. Students lead the semester-long one-credit transition course, known as RU-FIT. They’ve also been trained as mentors and embedded in the learning and academic-advising centers as well as the international office. Pre-departure orientation sessions the university will hold this summer in China and India will feature panels of current students.
Using international students as leaders and mentors has an additional advantage – it creates new employment opportunities for students. Visa law limits foreign students to on-campus work, where many of the jobs, like running the cash register in the cafeteria or monitoring the front desk in a dormitory, aren’t exactly résumé-enhancers. These positions, by contrast, can provide substantive work experience.
This is another principle – look for win-wins. Promoting student success for all students is key to Rutgers’ strategic plan, so improving international students’ performance furthers institutional goals. Likewise, participation in predeparture programming seems to help reduce “summer melt,” the problem of students who pay deposit but don’t show up for classes. Summer melt for international undergraduates declined from 25 percent to 7 percent after in-country orientations were started.
“We’re always thinking,” Gupta says of their collaborators, “how does it solve their problems, how does it help them?”
Programming developed with international students in mind could also end up bolstering outcomes for other at-risk groups such as first-generation students. (For extra-credit reading, I recommend this American Council on Education blog post.)
Rutgers experiments with new strategies and then quickly scales up what succeeds. RU-FIT, for example, went from 100-student pilot to a required course in three of the university’s largest colleges in little more than a year. Right now, Gupta is trying out pairing peer leaders with TAs in Global East Asia, a popular reading- and writing-intensive course; the mentors take the course and then hold office hours for additional academic support. If it works, the model could be rolled out to other classes.
What Rutgers is doing is, of course, just one approach. I want latitude(s) to be a space to share best practices, so let me know your campus’ method for tackling student success. Or send in other common problems that you think I should examine, and I could highlight innovative solutions in future issues. You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Unspoken Trade Imbalance
One of the biggest stories of the past week was about the stand-off between the United States and China over trade. But I can’t help but notice that in this dispute, no one is talking about one of America’s top exports: degrees.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, education ranks fifth among all service exports — in fact, education exports are worth about as much as exports of coal, natural gas, and soybeans combined. And the imbalance between the United States and China is particularly skewed: China, the largest source of international students on American campuses, sends more than 363,000 students, while fewer than 12,000 young Americans studied in China in the 2016-17 academic year:
Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t want to see college degrees get slapped with tariffs! Still, if education is such a valuable export, why does it rarely get discussed, either by public officials or by educators, in these terms? Tweet me your theory @karinfischer.
Around the Globe
First Viktor Orbán and his allies tried to make life difficult for Central European University. Then the Hungarian prime minister tried to force the liberal-arts university out of the country.
More than 4,000 New York University students, faculty members, and alumni have condemned the department of social and cultural analysis’ boycott of the university’s academic center in Tel Aviv.
A third of the editorial board of the Journal of Israel Studies has resigned in protest of a special issue that focuses on how charged terms like “occupation” and “colonialism” are used in reference to Israel.
A Turkish professor has been sentenced to prison for signing a “peace petition.”
Australia’s national broadcaster aired “Cash Cows,” an investigation accusing universities there of lowering admissions standards for international students to increase enrollments and boost revenue:
China is going after cheating on the gao kao, the national college-entrance exam.
Penn State University’s Center for Language Acquisition is researching the career choices and pathways of people who studied abroad as college students. Take part in a brief survey here.
Singapore has passed a law policing fake news, despite academics’ opposition.
“I would consider the United States, but not in the present climate.” Five scientists on how their careers were shaped by immigration policy, in the U.S. and elsewhere.
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He’s an observant Muslim. And this year’s NBA playoffs are happening during Ramandan. Portland Trail Blazers’ star – and former international student – Enes Kanter writes thoughtfully about the convergence of the two:
This year, more than ever, I’ve come to welcome the quiet darkness each morning during Ramadan. I try to give all I have to my faith each day, and all I have to my game and my team each night.
’Til next week – Karin
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