Can A Liberal Arts College Go Global?

by Victoria Nelsen | 1/15/15 9:55pm

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by Annika Park / Annika Park

Since John Sloan Dickey’s tenure, Dartmouth has emphasized both the global nature of its programming and coursework as well as the quality of its international students. These efforts certainly make sense. It’s no secret that a modern education demands an understanding of the world beyond the United States’ borders, and it would be foolish not to attempt to attract the very best students, no matter where they happen to be born.

Still, Dartmouth’s brand remains bound up with its longstanding reputation as a small liberal arts college. Assistant provost for international initiatives Laurel Stavis said that there is a delicate balance between ensuring campus programs are strong while also attempting to increase the College’s global imprint. English and women’s and gender studies professor Ivy Schweitzer also emphasized the balance that must come with expanding the College’s global reach, noting that while it allows for a broader education, it also disperses energy, resources and people beyond the campus.

Dartmouth’s current efforts in providing a global education are well-known — there has been a language requirement for decades, the off-campus programs office sends more than 50 percent of students abroad, the Dickey Center provides on- and off-campus opportunities and funding for global initiatives and the Tucker Foundation funds student projects abroad each term.

Stavis said that much of her work involves facilitating international collaboration with the faculty. She does this through several networks and consortia, including the Matariki Humanities Network, Fulbright Arctic Initiative, the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program and the Wennberg International Collaborative.

Schweitzer recently attended a Matariki Conference in New Zealand where she met with scholars from all over the world to discuss the humanities.

“I think it’s important that we’re engaged in this international partnership to boost international collaboration,” Schweitzer said. “That suggests that Dartmouth is very much interested in nourishing and supporting the international profile.”

Still, Schweitzer said that people from outside the United States have limited knowledge on Dartmouth. To change this, Schweitzer said that Dartmouth should put more resources into international consortia and continue to fund alliances, conferences, internships and collaborations.

Other liberal arts colleges have also made efforts to move toward a more globalized education. In Amherst College’s steering committee process, the school stressed the growing “internationalization of liberal arts education.”

Williams College has a center similar to the Dickey Center and the Tucker Foundation called the Center for Learning in Action, which “connects students and staff to the wider community for experiential learning and service work,” director Paula Consolini said. The Center has a broad mission statement, and its international component is only one part of the work.

Some of the opportunities available to Williams students through the Center include the Williams in Africa initiative, travel opportunities during the month-long winter study, global studies funding and spring break trips.

Consolini said that one of the Center’s primary roles is to communicate resources to students, calling it a “matchmaker.” She said that Williams is thoughtful about its global opportunities.

“We’re small, so we’re not in a position to provide extensive programming,” Consolini said. “But I think where we do engage off our campus we do a very good job.”

Dartmouth English professor Don Pease said that a global dimension is necessary at a liberal arts institution, in order “to enable students in the 21st century and help students find way in this global world.” It is important to cultivate skills as a global citizen and understand culture in a global perspective, he said.

While the College incorporates several aspects of a globalized education in its curriculum, Pease said that there is work ahead to bolster Dartmouth’s reputation, noting the College’s low ranking on lists of international universities. He attributes this ranking to a lack of awareness of the College, saying that it is important to improve this reputation to attract more students and scholars from around the world.​

Associate dean of the faculty for international and interdisciplinary studies and comparative literature professor Lynn Higgins, who oversees curricular programs abroad, said that Dartmouth’s study abroad programs are unique from other schools in that they are integrated into the College’s curriculum and accompanied by Dartmouth faculty.

Higgins said that the D-Plan allows more students to participate in off-campus programs but agreed that “Dartmouth is not as well-known as it deserves to be in other parts of the world.”

The move toward a more global Dartmouth began at the end of World War II, when then-College President Dickey was inaugurated as the President of the College in 1945. With a background in the U.S. State Department and heavy involvement in the origins of the United Nations, Dickey was well equipped to help Dartmouth transition into a globalizing world, College historian Jere Daniell said.

Daniell said that Dickey’s contributions mostly came to the curriculum, including the development of an international relations major and the creation of a required course for seniors on global issues.

When John Kemeny became College President in 1970, the international commitment decreased for the next few decades, as Kemeney and subsequent presidents also opted to emphasize other values. It was not until 2009, when Jim Kim began his short term as president, that a global Dartmouth became a priority.

Daniell said that Kim always had international goals for the College. After all, Kim was chosen because of his international visibility and commitment to the increasingly globalized professional world.

“Everything in the world is increasingly global, and Dartmouth’s part of the process,” Daniell said. “If you don’t give students the chance to be performers in the world, you don’t give them globalized experience, then you end up being less and less important in the world of higher education.”

The increase in global resources over the past few decades, however, does not necessarily correlate with an increase in international prestige, some international admissions consultants said. Aarti Kukreja is the study abroad director admissions director at Prep Zone Mumbai, a company that offers test preparation and admissions consulting for prospective college students. Kukreja said Dartmouth’s prestige has actually decreased over the past decade.

“We work with students everyday, and we never hear of people interested in Dartmouth,” Kukreja said. “Even though I know Dartmouth is a really competitive school to get into, I feel like people underestimate the quality of the education because they haven’t really heard much about it.”

One of Prep Zone’s primary functions is to assist international students in their college application process, and Kukreja said she hasn’t had a student choose Dartmouth. Instead, she said that students will often choose New York University, University of California schools or Cornell University over Dartmouth as there is more general knowledge about these universities.

“Over 10 to 15 years ago, Dartmouth was really considered a premium school,” Kukreja said. “However, its international visibility has definitely decreased compared to other schools because they very actively promote themselves. They do a lot of groundwork.”

Emilio Giuliani, senior admissions consultant at another international admissions preparation firm, Dubai Brighter Prep, said that Dartmouth’s selective admissions lead the company not to recommend applying.

“Unless [students] have a really strong international profile, we almost discourage students from applying because it’s so competitive,” Giuliani noted.

He said that students generally do not recognize Dartmouth’s name, but they become excited when they hear that it is a member of the Ivy League.

To improve its international name recognition, Kukreja said Dartmouth should be more physically present in India and attend education fairs. Like Kukreja, Giuliani said that Dartmouth could improve its influence by reaching out to more college consulting firms and to students themselves.

Lisa Montgomery, founder and chairman of international educational consulting firm Edvise, differs from Guiliani and Kukreja with her experience of students’ knowledge of Dartmouth. She said that she works with students applying to Dartmouth every year in her London office, noting that around 50 percent of her clients carry U.S. passports.

Contrasting with Guiliani and Kukreja, Montgomery said that the Dartmouth admissions office has “done an excellent job of reaching out to the European community.”

Montgomery added that Dartmouth’s alumni in London are very vocal about the institution.

Applying from Pakistan, Hassan Kiani ’16 hadn’t heard much about Dartmouth until he started applying to colleges. He applied to schools in two rounds, taking a gap year after the first because he was not admitted to most of his original schools. It was only in his second round that he applied to Dartmouth.

Kiani was more familiar with universities such as Harvard University, Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University. Still, Kiani does not believe that it is necessary for Dartmouth to increase its international prestige.

“International prestige comes because of certain reasons,” Kiani said. “I don’t think Dartmouth necessarily needs that criteria in the first place.”

Kiani listed criteria such as being a big school with large graduate schools and said he wonders if it is possible for Dartmouth to have a high amount of international prestige without these characteristics.

He noted that Dartmouth has advantages that he believes the College could better market.

“Dartmouth, especially if someone’s applying at the undergraduate level, is need-blind,” Kiani said. “That’s a really good option for lots of international students. Dartmouth should use that.”

Odon Orzsik ’17, who hails from Slovakia, applied to Dartmouth after attending school in Texas for two years. Before attending an American high school, he knew about Dartmouth but could not imagine going there, as most students he knew in Slovakia do not attend school abroad. He said that in his circles, well-educated people and those hoping to go to the U.S. know about Dartmouth but that it is lesser known in popular culture.

As Dartmouth approaches its 250th anniversary, the school will likely continue to tout its liberal arts pedigree. Yet questions about exactly what that pedigree entails — and to what extent a liberal arts education demands an international perspective — may linger.