School Daze

Recess & Other Classes

Another school year begins, and with it comes a new window to the world.  “Have fun at recess” were words of wisdom overheard being passed from father to son as the school bus slowed to make its first stop of the new school year.  Certainly no one begrudges this particular youngster his proper entitlement of fun at recess. At the same time, we remain hopeful that our young student is at other times getting a slightly broader view of his educational opportunities.

We are now in a time period when many observers hold an increasingly prevalent view that the US is falling behind the rest of the world in the so-called “brain race”.  They cite numbers regarding a reported dearth of US students earning technical degrees.  Some also note this as irony against the backdrop of today’s highly connected digital youth.  It is almost fashionable to speak of all this, but does anyone have a solution?

Of particular concern within this context are typically the math, science, and other technical disciplines in which students from other countries are increasingly earning degrees at our universities. Thus, it is reasoned by many that other countries will soon be eating even more of our lunches and that the US will ultimately and unfortunately reap what it has sown.  Somebody needs to do something, but what?

Big Man on Campus

However, not all of the world’s farmers are standing still in fallow fields.  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, approximately 750,000 new foreign college students matriculated in the US for the 2010-2011 school year, up 32% vs. the rates of the prior decade.  Perhaps the most surprising stat here is that Saudi Arabia’s students were the fastest-growing source of foreign students in the US, posting significantly higher growth rates than the likes of even China and India.

To say that the head Saudi, King Abdullah, sees the benefit of a college education is probably a significant understatement.  Since his reign began in 2005, the Saudi government has reportedly spent over $5 billion on its scholarship programs.  This year alone, some 130,000 Saudi students are reportedly attending colleges around the world.  Scientific education is a top priority in the King’s program as he attempts to modernize his country as a means of compensating for the effects of alleged oil reserve depletion.  In other words, his interest extends beyond the charms of dorm life and football Saturdays.

Globalizing & Virtualizing

To be sure, foreign students are becoming a more common sight on US college campuses.  At least part of the reason can be attributed to increased receptivity on the part of the schools. Drilling down on this path leads us to college strategists seeking to restock the stream as enrollment figures become less stable. Increasingly Americans are openly questioning the value of a college degree.  Cost-benefit equations are beginning to trump the traditional ivy-on-the-walls ideals of a college education.  Indeed, the entire notion of an American Dream is understandably fogged over.  In response, it has become clear that our colleges are increasingly marketing to foreign students to fill their enrollment pipelines.

In a related window to the world development, a mother explained that she recently sent her freshman daughter off to college.  The daughter is attending a US university’s Madrid campus.  So far so good, wonderful experience, international exposure, cultural enrichment, etc….. All true, but here comes the twist.  Mom said that it will actually end up being a little less expensive than if her daughter attended the same college’s US campus location. (Pictured above is a different school – the author’s beloved alma mater University of Delaware)

Can you imagine what’s going to happen when the King finds out that he may be able to save a lot of money by enrolling students at campuses closer to home or signing them up for the free online courses being offered by some of the most respected US educational institutions?  As they globalize and virtualize, US Universities are providing more options for the King and others like him who still see value in a college education.

These are becoming strange school daze, indeed.

School bus photo credit – Bernd Moehle

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About Thomas W. Smith
Bizsinc - Bringing Business to Life

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