The impact of purposeful campus internationalization

Cultivating a campus culture that embodies both global diversity and interconnectivity should be central to the mission of universities today.

Cultivating a campus culture that embodies both global diversity and interconnectivity should be central to the mission of universities today. Reminders persist that our current environment and economy are not confined to our immediate geographic surroundings. Modern-day technologies, transportation, international trade, and politics significantly diminish distances that used to seem great.

At the University of South Florida, the linkage between academic excellence and international activities is part of our institutional DNA. That union has been, and continues to be, a key tenet of our university’s philosophy and helps create a learning environment that promotes diversity and cross-cultural understanding from the arts to business, education to engineering, and public health to medicine, along with the Patel College for Global Sustainability.

On campus, USF’s leadership has integrated internationalization into the university’s strategic vision, creating an ambitious global agenda. Supported by a grant from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and funded by the Henry Luce Foundation in 2010, the faculty has framed a general education program around Global Citizenship to complement the inward and outward migration of students and scholars at USF.  Our dedicated and hard-working teams in international services, admissions, and corporate relations, as well as those supporting academic and research partnerships, help carry the message of internationalization across campus and around the world. Whether it’s attracting world class talent, enhancing the quality and relevance of education to ensure that our students can be productive global citizens, building international research collaborations through our GAP (global academic partner) program, or extending the reach of the USF brand, our purposeful strategy has already paid great dividends.

Catalyst for transformation

Externally, beginning in 2010, USF engaged in a unique collaboration with INTO University Partnerships (INTO) that has greatly enhanced our internationalization agenda. This joint venture has been a catalyst for transforming the global diversity of the entire campus. INTO has helped us attract more international students to campus, has created a set of undergraduate and graduate Pathway programs, augmented academic and personal support for international students, and made additional public and private assets available to aid the university’s response to emerging priorities. Through a commitment to, and adoption of, USF’s core mission, vision, and values, together with a purpose-built, long-term relationship, INTO has become a valuable extension of the university and will undoubtedly remain critically important to the growth of our internationalization efforts.

The collective and complementary efforts of USF and INTO have created noteworthy results. On campus there are now 2,648 international students representing more than 140 countries. This number has grown by more than 20 percent annually for the past two years. By comparison, the Institute of International Education (IIE) reports the average first-time enrollment of international students at other U.S. colleges and universities in fall 2013 increased just seven percent over the previous year.

In concert with our international student recruitment activities, we have worked to provide more opportunities for domestic students to pursue education abroad with the support of a Passport Scholarship program. Immersion in another culture teaches students critical thinking, enhances communications skills, and develops the kind of global perspective they will need to lead in today’s knowledge-based economy. Since 2011, the percentage of students participating in USF’s education abroad programs has grown by double digits yearly and our international services department tirelessly pursues new avenues to grow the 35 programs we offer in 28 countries.

We are grateful to have been recognized by the international education community twice in the past year for student-facing activities, once by NAFSA: Association of International Educators with the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization, and again by the IIE with the Andrew Heiskell Honorable Mention Award for innovative international partnerships.

Global practices

But, internationalization is not only about student mobility. More than 1,000 members of our distinguished faculty are involved in academic and research partnerships around the world. At the same time we have partnered with multinational companies to provide our students the opportunity to see firsthand the economic, political, and cultural factors that influence business opportunities and practices globally.

Often in higher education we view internationalization one-dimensionally, an activity with finite limits confined to international services. That narrow perspective does our students, faculty members, community, and the world a disservice. A holistic approach to internationalization will strengthen a university and have ripple effects far beyond campus. Today, for example, expenditures from international students enrolled in Florida’s universities contribute roughly $945 million to the state’s economy.

I strongly encourage university leaders who are considering internationalization efforts to breakdown current campus silos and promote an integrative approach. The pursuit of this kind of agenda adds to existing scholarship, bolsters an institution’s ability to create a rich and fulfilling experience for our academic and student communities, and builds bridges between a university and the rest of the world—affects all of us will find valuable.

Provost and executive vice president at USF since 2009, Ralph Wilcox is himself emblematic of the impact of international education as the holder of a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Canada, a M.Sc. degree from Washington State University, and a baccalaureate degree from the University of Exeter in his native Great Britain.



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