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Studying in Several Countries

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But, more importantly, we need to be much more sensitive to and better-informed about the choices that billions of individuals and thousands of institutions around the globe are making even while, like Candide, we tend to our gardens


Along with the National Teaching and Learning Forum [] and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching [}, the Tomorrow's Professor Mailing List is partnered with the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), [] to bring you selected periodic postings from the NT&LF newsletter, the CFAT Carnegie Perspectives and now the AAHE periodic Letter from the President by Clara M. Lovett, AAHE president. The posting below looks at the importance of being informed about the motivations various students have to undertake higher education when it is available on a global scale.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academy

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Clara M. Lovett

AAHE President

Letter from the President

March 14, 2005

Dear Colleague,

From time to time, I review my notes of conversations with reporters who call AAHE for information on or comments about stories they are preparing. The callers range from student reporters, regulars like the University of North Carolina's Daily Tar Heel, and the staff of specialized publications like Education Week and The Chronicle of Higher Education to Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

Sometimes the calls are about issues and developments of national significance such as the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. But much more often, reporters are working on stories of local or regional interest, for instance, the resignation of a high-profile president, the opening of a new campus, or the impact of higher education on the economy of a particular region or state. They ask for help from a national association like ours to place their stories in a larger context.

Since fall 2003, I have logged about 270 conversations, mostly with reporters from mainstream print and electronic media. Because I believe that the media reflect their readers' and viewers' interests, concerns, and biases as much as they shape them, I have looked for patterns in my log.

With the notable exception of one major network, the reporters I have talked with have been thoughtful, respectful, even deferential, toward higher education. They respect our institutions and our leaders, be they presidents, world-renowned scholars, or football coaches, as much or more than the health-care system or the judicial system. When reporting on local or regional matters, most of them really try to understand the broader national and international context.

What I find interesting, and somewhat troubling, when I review my log, however, is the obvious disconnect between the reporters who try to place our enterprise in a larger context and the conversations I hear every day within the academy, including our own AAHE family. Our conversations tend to be about improving educational practices and organizational arrangements we have inherited from earlier generations, or they are about the need to enlighten the barbarians at our gates (if we can't keep them out) about the value and importance of what we do. As the late Frank Newman and his associates in The Futures Project pointed out, this disconnect shortchanges reporters and the public they serve. And it bodes ill for the higher education enterprise itself. Over time, it will weaken our credibility and diminish the respect we enjoy.

Let us consider, for example, the issue of declining enrollments of international students in the graduate programs of our strongest research universities. What is the proper context in which reporters should understand the issue? From the 1960s to the 1990s, especially in the STEM disciplines, brain-drain flowed in one direction: toward the United States; and many international graduate students remained in the United States after graduation.

But, in the 1990s, the situation began to change. Visiting Australia in 1997, for example, I noticed that several universities there had already put in place aggressive strategies to recruit East Asian students. At the same time, highly mobile, polyglot Generation Xers in Europe were putting pressure on their universities, their elected officials, and the notoriously slow European Union bureaucracy to recognize that they were already studying in several countries. And, in developing countries as different from one another as China, India, Malaysia, and Ghana, educators and political leaders looked for ways to provide access to higher education for burgeoning student populations and geographically remote communities. Those leaders understood that the needs of their countries could not be met in the long run by sending small groups of students abroad for study.

It appears that in the 1990s we did not pay much attention to these trends. Currently, in American academic circles, we continue to focus on more recent and specific causes of declining enrollments: the impact of the 9/11 attack, of course, and the tightening of immigration policies and procedures that followed the attack. The negative consequences of such traumatic and unpredictable developments need to be addressed and ameliorated when possible. But, more importantly, we need to be much more sensitive to and better-informed about the choices that billions of individuals and thousands of institutions around the globe are making even while, like Candide, we tend to our gardens. The more we learn, the better able we will be to put issues in context for callers from the media and for anyone else who looks to higher education for help to make sense of a complex world.

Clara M. Lovett

AAHE President


(202) 293-6440