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Disappointingly Rare in Schools of Education

Exposure to international students develops global competency skills in American graduates. But a relatively new trend in schools of education leave pre-service teachers wanting. Caitlin Haugen, Executive Director, Global Teacher Education, explains.

by Caitlin Haugen

International students are beneficial to Americans.

One benefit is economic. During the 2011-2012 academic year, international students contributed $21.8 billion dollars to the U.S. economy, mostly in the form of tuition and living expenses according to an annual tool that measures the economic impact of international students published by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. Every seven international students enrolled that year created three jobs in the United States.

A recent study offers strong evidence that international students also bring social benefits. Researchers surveyed 2,000 Americans five, 10, and 20 years after graduation from U.S.-based institutions. Those who interacted with international students in college—when compared to peers who did not have those interactions—reported greater openness to perspectives and greater willingness to challenge their beliefs. The more prolonged the interaction, the more pronounced the skills, regardless of when students graduated. In short, these graduates exhibited skills I would argue build global competency.

These findings are promising.

My organization's mission is to encourage global competency development in pre-service teachers in the United States by supporting internationalization efforts in colleges of education. I was compelled to deconstruct these findings to see how future teachers may reap the benefits international students bring to our institution and their graduates.

My findings are much less promising.

Most educators (88%) enter the teaching force through traditional teacher training programs in colleges of education, and 61% of them receive initial certification at the Bachelor's level. According to Open Doors data for the 2011-2012 academic year, only 2.2% of international students studied education. The same report indicates that 36% of international students study at the undergraduate level, and just over 42% at the graduate level (the remaining students are enrolled in non-degree or associate level programs). Therefore, less than 1% of international students study education at the undergraduate level.

This means pre-service teachers in this country have a minute chance of interacting with international students. This also means that they do not benefit from developing global competency skills as a result of these interactions. They are completely missing this opportunity.

I understand that many education students enter their teacher certification programs in their sophomore or junior years, so some may argue that future educators are presented with opportunities to interact with international students in core or elective courses. Certification requirements, however, lead to highly rigid course sequences that allow for few (if any) electives once students enter teacher education programs, or even before. So then perhaps, international students need to be encouraged to take education courses. Practically, this presents challenges.

The purpose of teacher education programs is licensure. These programs also require students to apply and be accepted to take courses leading to certification. To overcome these challenges, international students can be exempted from the application requirements to take courses, or they can be offered non-licensable options. One promising initiative I have seen is the global education major (with a minor and certification option) through the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. The program is designed to encourage international students to pursue education as a field of study and allow them to take methods courses. It also works with teacher education requirements to encourage the participation of pre-service teachers.

Colleges of education can also participate in programs that bring pre or in-service teachers from abroad to American institutions. Too often, however, I see educators visiting colleges of education and having little to no interaction with pre-service teachers (usually because these visits happen in the summer) so they must be provided opportunities to participate in classes or speak on campus. Supporting visiting international scholars also increases exposure to international voices, so long as these faculty members teach undergraduate courses.

These changes take time, but there are short-term solutions.

The researchers in the study noted that while most contact between American and international students occurred in courses, students met and interacted with international students in extra-curricular activities. They found that those interactions were just as impactful. The study recommended that students take advantage of international or global organizations and clubs on campus, and support international events and speakers. I recommend that faculty encourage or even work into course requirements, participation in these types of experiences to facilitate interaction between international students and education majors.

Encouraging more international students to study education also requires a culture change.

In the past, growth in education exceeded business and was growing steadily. Open Doors reported 9% and 12% increases in the number of international students studying education in 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 respectively. International students' business school enrollment increased 3% and 6% in the same years. After 2002, however, growth in education as a field of study quickly dwindled and has seen little over 1% growth over the last five years. Conversely, last year the number of international students pursing business as a field of study grew 22%. I must attribute some of this lack of growth to the status of the teaching profession worldwide (a topic I explored, in part, with a team of researchers in this report). Nor can I ignore the events of 9/11 and their effect on numbers of international students in the United States: the only drop in the number of international students this country has ever seen since 1949 happened between 2003 and 2006, with scant .6% increase in 2002.

Colleges of education need to look to the strategies utilized by business schools to attract international students and reengage international students the way they did a decade ago.

I advocate for internationalization strategies that facilitate the development of global competency skills in pre-service teachers. Interaction with international students appears to be one effective strategy, but education majors are not exposed to these students. I call upon faculty and leadership in colleges of education to consider how they may attract more international students and promote interaction between these students and pre-service teachers.

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