"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, November 16, 2009

Will Foreign Students Save Liberal Arts in American Universities?

As the corporate education reformers now have the American university system clearly in their sites, the standardista critique of American higher ed escalates at the same rate as increasing demands for more scientists and technicians, hybrid courses and virtual learning. Gotta love that term.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports record numbers of Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern students coming to U. S. for a college education. And many of them are coming for something the Oligarchs and the corporatists would extinguish, if they could, as an inefficient waste of money--a liberal arts education.

As an indicator of where the priorities are today and who is setting them, last week a panel was assembled by the philanthrocapitalist's Chronicle of Higher Ed, to address the central question: Who should receive a college education? Of all the geniuses assembled to address this question, not one liberal arts spokesman was included. Counselors, economists, racists (Charles Murray), administrators, but not one historian, artist, or psychologist. Hey, forget philosophers.

Perhaps, then, if we can get enough foreign enrollment in our colleges, the liberal arts may survive for at least another generation. Perhaps by then all the right wing think tanks will out of business as a result of their success, and then, perhaps, we can get on with where education left off before the bean counter paradigm came to full flower.

. . . .The number of international students exceeded the past peak enrollment year, 2002-3, by 14.5 percent. In 2008-9, undergraduate enrollment rose 11 percent, compared with only a 2 percent increase in graduate enrollment.

In China, that shift has been quite sharp. Last year, China sent 26,275 undergraduates and 57,451 graduate students to the United States — compared with 8,034 undergraduates and 50,976 graduate students five years earlier.

Ms. Blumenthal said the growing share of undergraduates would change the face of the Chinese students’ presence in the United States.

“It used to be that they were all in the graduate science departments, but now, with the one-child policy, more and more Chinese parents are taking their considerable wealth and investing it in that one child getting an American college education,” she said. “There’s a book getting huge play in China right now explaining liberal arts education.”

The book, “A True Liberal Arts Education,” by three Chinese undergraduates from Bowdoin College, Franklin & Marshall College and Bucknell University, describes the education available at small liberal arts colleges, and the concept of liberal arts, both relatively unknown in China.

Meanwhile, many large public universities are devoting new resources to building up their share of international undergraduates. The State University of New York, for example, recently made Mitch Leventhal the vice chancellor for global affairs. Mr. Leventhal, who at the University of Cincinnati helped build a network of ties abroad, expects to increase undergraduate recruiting, especially in India and China.

“There’s growing disposable income in China, and not enough good universities to meet the demand,” he said. “And in China, especially, studying in the United States is a great differentiator, because when students get home, they speak English.”

Although the report tracks only the 2008-9 numbers, a smaller survey by the institute last month found that over all, the increase in international students seems to be continuing, with China remaining strong. Of the institutions surveyed this fall, 60 percent reported an increase in Chinese students, and only 11 percent a decline. In contrast, the number of institutions reporting increases in their enrollment of Indian students equaled the number reporting declines.

The survey also found continuing growth this year in the number of students from the Middle East, and continuing declines in the numbers from Japan.

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