Every other year or so, the Board of Trustees holds a retreat to discuss issues of broad importance to the College. This year—last week, in fact—the Board met to consider the “new normal,” which is the phrase now being used to describe the conditions brought about by the economic downturn. The idea is that because economic resources will be scarcer in the future than they have been in the last decade, academic institutions must think creatively about what they want to maintain and how they might operate differently.
To prompt discussion, several individuals or groups gave brief presentations on what the new normal might look like. I was part of the lineup, and proposed that the College push forward on its ambition to be the “global liberal arts college” by boosting enrollment and requiring all students to study abroad. This initiative, I argued, would allow Middlebury to build upon its curricular strengths and generate additional revenue.
An outline of this plan appears below. Keep in mind that there is nothing official about this scheme, and that its chief purpose is to spark discussion about future possibilities. That said, I am interested in what people think of it.
- All juniors would study away for the entire year, and the College would simultaneously boost enrollment to 3200 students, or four classes of 800.
- This arrangement would hold the current number of students on campus to 2400, with only three classes living in Vermont.
- Currently—and this is on a prorated basis since many students go abroad for just a semester—175 students study abroad in Middlebury programs for the entire year.
- The economic goal of this plan would be to gradually push this number up to 625 so that all students study in Middlebury programs. This last point is important since students who go outside the Middlebury system take their tuition dollars with them.
- To accommodate an additional 625 in its study abroad programs, the College would need to establish between 15 to 20 additional schools abroad (we currently operate 34 sites in 12 countries).
- Our schools abroad include little overhead or infrastructure since we partner with local universities and residents/institutions for instruction and housing. Our model allows for flexible and nimble growth, with few sunk costs.
- To maintain flexibility and choice, we should consider adding English-speaking programs in Africa, South Asia, UK, and elsewhere. We should also consider a study away program in Monterey.
- We should involve Middlebury faculty in the development of these programs, and we should provide opportunities for our faculty to teach in them.
- According to back-of the-envelope calculations, this plan could net $3.12 to 6.25 million in additional revenue.
- Assuming we include non-Middlebury undergrads and grad students in these 20 new sites abroad, the annual net revenue could be as much as $8.25 million.
So that’s a general economic or logistical overview of the scheme. Given the increased importance of international education and the excellence of our study abroad programs, I believe this plan also makes good educational sense.
But as I considered the merits of studying abroad, I got to wondering if there are other ways of mounting our program. That thinking brought me to this question: suppose sophomores, instead of juniors, went abroad? Here is a quick sketch of what that might look like:
- We would reinvent the first-year curriculum to emphasize intensive liberal arts learning as well as writing skills. Language study would be required, as would an interdisciplinary course on cultural difference and global citizenship. There would be room for a limited number of electives.
- Students would develop linguistic competence through a combination of language-study during the academic year, immersion programs (the Language Schools), and online education. Students could pursue these supplemental programs before and/or after their first year at Middlebury.
- Sophomore year abroad would be a time of personal discovery, of expanding intellectual and persons horizons before settling down to the second half of a Middlebury education.
- Junior and senior years would devoted to the major.
- The chief goal of this plan would be to frontload the transformation that comes from studying abroad. Students would be able to build on their experiences abroad instead of readjusting to campus life their senior year and then preparing to graduate. Their perspectives could truly internationalize the classroom and our campus.
Of course, there are good reasons not to require students to study abroad—for instance, athletes would have to take a year off from intercollegiate competition—but there are corresponding advantages as well. And, as I suggest in the sophomore scheme, these advantages are educational as well as economic.