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Going Global

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.

Enrollment

  • 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:

Sophomores Abroad

  • 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.

Thoughts?

31 Responses to “Going Global”

  1. Sarah says:

    I am so pleased you brought up the subject of Middlebury’s ambition to be the “global liberal arts college” because it’s been something I have been thinking about a lot lately (in the context of a graduate course on race and ethnicity in education).

    While I think Middlebury is well on its way to achieving this objective with its numerous schools abroad, the Language Schools, etc., I have concerns that our “at home” curriculum is not multicultural enough. Currently, Middlebury has the “cultures and civilizations” component of its curriculum which requires students to take one course in each of the following areas: North America (United States and Canada); Europe; Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean; and Comparative Cultures. Comparative Cultures aside, the curriculum lumps about 75% of the world into one category. I find it difficult to agree with the assertion that Middlebury has a global curriculum when 75% of the world is lumped into one category, while our own native land and the continent of most students’ origin enjoy the privilege of their own categories. In terms of Middlebury’s curriculum, it seems to me that the knowledge of the dominant culture is given more value and prestige.

    Do you know who selected Middlebury’s curriculum? Do you know why it is organized and taught in this way? Have there been discussions to change it to reflect Middlebury’s mission of educating strong, effective leaders who can engage the world?

  2. […] a year abroad mandatory, making abroad a sophomore year thing, and then upping enrollment to 3200? Going Global […]

  3. […] Tim Spears has a tendency to throw in some light humor on his blog and then hit us with some of the heavy stuff like a post outlining discussions for increasing enrollment, moving study abroad to sophomore year, and opening […]

  4. Matt Doyle says:

    Hi Dean Spears,

    Just a thought, but instead of fully ramping up study abroad to require a full year, why isn’t the school reassessing the Feb program?

    The Feb program as I understand it, was originally installed as a revenue generating program to fill empty beds for the spring, though its currently being fazed out as the program no longer offers the same benefits.

    Instead of revamping the study abroad system, installing new schools or partnerships, infrastructure, employees, and research, couldn’t we instead systematically weight the study abroad program to send more students abroad in the spring?

    This would give us the opportunity to bring more first years to school in February, increasing revenue, while also limiting the amount of money we would need to spend to upgrade or retool our current abroad offerings. Finally, and this may just be my own allegiances to the Feb program (I graduated in ‘08.5), expanding the Feb program back towards its peak numbers or perhaps even past them, would reaffirm the program’s importance to the school and improve upon one of Middlebury’s great programs that makes the school and the community unique and wonderful to begin with.

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

    -Matt Doyle ‘08.5

  5. Timothy Spears says:

    Matt,

    You are right that the Feb program was initially established to fill empty beds and maximize enrollment on campus when students went abroad. In recent years, this original purpose has become less important as we now send about the same number of students abroad in the spring as in the fall. Theoretically, we could disband the Feb program and manage our enrollment so that all beds are filled–fall and spring. However, as you well know, the Feb program has other benefits, apart from its value as vehicle for maximizing enrollment.

    The problem with bringing more students to campus right now is that we are tapped our in terms of space (we have about 2400 students on campus). We don’t have the capacity to house additional students–not unless we built another residence hall, or, as I suggested in my proposal, expanding enrollment at another Middlebury site (abroad) and adjusting for this expansion at home (with larger class sizes overall). In this respect, the challenge is all about capacity, and figuring out where and how we could grow.

    -Tim

  6. a senior says:

    I posted this comment on MiddBlog, and I though I would add it to the discussion here as well:

    Deciding whether and where to study abroad is a very personal decision. I came to Middlebury assuming that I would study abroad, but decided not to. It was exactly the right decision for me, but I have felt a lot of pressure to go abroad. Did I have a “compelling reason” to stay at Midd? Well, going abroad would have been terrible for my mental health (which I didn’t realize until I was in college), prevented me from adding a minor (which I didn’t know I wanted until sophomore spring), and would have had nothing to do with my academic and career interests (which are centered in the US, and specifically the northeast). Is that “compelling” enough? Who is in a better position to decide that than I am, with guidance from my family, advisors, etc?

    I’m very uncomfortable with going abroad as the “default” and needing a special reason to stay at Midd. I firmly believe that staying should be the default, and students should have to provide “compelling reasons” to go abroad. If that means that 60 or 80 (or 40!) percent of students go abroad, great! As long as it’s the right choice for them personally. The idea that someone could know for sure as a senior in high school whether it’s right for them to study abroad as a junior in college (which is what is implied when people say that if study abroad is mandatory, seniors will only apply to Midd if they’re willing to study abroad) is just not realistic. At the very least, it wasn’t realistic for me.

    For similar reasons, I oppose requiring that all study abroad experiences last a whole year: it needs to be a personal decision. When I discussed these proposals with friends who went abroad for a semester, they reported that they thought the study abroad office was right: they didn’t start really settling in until about month 4 (when they only had about a month left). However, staying for another semester wasn’t the right choice: one reported that “the countdown was very important to my mental health;” another said that staying for a full year would have prevented her from achieving her academic goals at Middlebury.

    About study abroad being moved to sophomore year– personally, I wouldn’t have been ready (emotionally, etc) to go abroad as a sophomore. I was just settling in on campus, finding my real friends, etc. Beyond all that, what about learning the language? I started a language as a sophomore, and some other sophomores in my class did language school and went abroad. That option would be gone. Dean Spears proposes that you study a language in high school, place into second-year here (something my mediocre high school Spanish program didn’t prepare me for– I got As in high school, but only placed into 105 here), and then do language school. This proposal assumes a certain affluence– for me, language school was never an option. Even if I’d gotten a full scholarship, I would have missed out on several thousand dollars of income from a summer job that I need to help pay tuition. The proposal also assumes, again, that you know what you want to do in high school. It’s just not realistic.

    I think that covers most of my objections… in short, I believe that while these proposals might be good for Middlebury as a business, they ignore the needs of the students. It’s a trade-off that, to me, is not acceptable.

  7. A few (lengthy) thoughts on Tim’s provocative post from a faculty perspective. There are two major issues here: a vision for the future of Middlebury, and a challenge as to how to transition toward that future.

    On this vision of a global liberal arts college: right now, Middlebury is positioned as a top-flight general LAC with particular strengths. This proposal would make Middlebury a specialized LAC, more on par with institutions like Hampshire, Colorado Coll, Harvey Mudd, Olin, or Bennington. Such schools are defined by their unique curricular structure or focus, and as such appeal only to students who have self-defined themselves as ready to specialize or seek a unique approach to education by the age of 18. I doubt Middlebury currently competes much with such schools among applicants. If Tim’s model were put in place, the pool who would be applying to Middlebury would be much smaller and unique – even though many of our students do study abroad for a year at a Midd school, I doubt that most would have been willing to commit to that decision pre-application. Such a pool would also be less focused on athletics and particular academic areas that Middlebury currently features.

    I think the only way this vision doesn’t result in making Middlebury into a more fringe/specialized school (however excellent within that niche) is if the entire model of LACs goes under. I know that concern for the long-term viability of our model is motivating these discussions, but do we really think that Amherst, Williams, etc. are going to crash if they don’t radically transform? My guess is that the transformations will be more subtle and gradual, and that an institution that radically transforms like what Tim suggests would find itself not as a new vanguard that others follow, but as a unique niche college.

    Maybe I’m wrong that it would completely change the complexion of the institution in terms of Middlebury’s role within the mainstream or niche collegiate ecosystem. But I don’t buy that increasing enrollment to 3200 wouldn’t feel like huge growth. A larger incoming class means many more first year seminars and more need for (larger) intro-level courses. A senior class of 800 would mean more upper-level seminars and a much higher load of thesis advising. Which means fewer intermediate electives, making the curriculum more homogeneous and restrictive. Majors would have a shift in terms of peer groups, with little community outside of students within their own cohort, not establishing links with students from other years.

    Even if we were to accept the vision as something worth aspiring toward, the process of transforming Middlebury would be quite difficult, painful, and controversial. Many faculty would feel that their disciplines are being (further) marginalized, athletics would feel under siege, and decades of alumni would see their alma mater rebrand itself into something unrecognizable. Even among sympathetic faculty, the entire curricular structure of majors and requirements would need to be retooled, which is extremely difficult to do while there are still students present from the old model.

    As for the sophomore vs. junior year question: the main problem with soph year is that it assumes that students will know enough about their educational plans that they are ready to declare a major and decide an abroad location within 6 months of arriving at Middlebury. In my experience, there are few students for whom this is true (which I think would similarly restrict the admissions pool), and many bad choices would be made. But if everyone goes abroad for junior year, then a large portion of major curriculum would be done outside of Midd, which many majors would find quite problematic – right now, many majors only allow 1 semester abroad to prevent this issue.

    Bottom line: it would be a huge risk, with potentially disastrous outcomes for the college’s reputation, that would only be worth taking if we were completely sure that making smaller incremental changes would not be sustainable. Are we willing to take that gamble?

  8. Timothy Spears says:

    A couple of big picture responses to Jason’s post:

    First, the question of risk is important here, but I would turn Jason’s final comment around and ask whether the College can afford NOT to consider some broad strategic risk in order to support the institution going forward. The economic news of the last year is not pretty, and has serious ramifications for colleges like Middlebury that have depended on steadily increasing revenue streams—from the comp fee, the endowment, and gifts–to maintain an increasingly rich array of programs. Something has to give, and/or we have to find new revenue streams. So if not a plan like the one I have proposed then what? How do we change the business model? To pretend that things don’t need to change could be just as disastrous as making a dramatic change.

    The second big-picture item I want to highlight is the idea that international education is becoming increasingly important for top-rank colleges like ours. Do we believe that or not, and if we do, how should we take advantage of our unique resources and lead the way by making global education a more important part of our curriculum than it currently is? As I have tried to frame the issue, this is both an educational and economic question, and it is conceivable that the LACs of the future will not survive without some specialized hook.

    As for majors, well, my suggestion that sophomores study abroad would require us to rethink how and when students choose an area of study. Theoretically, students could select a major after a year of studying away. Indeed, a year abroad could open new intellectual possibilities for students, and help them see their educations differently. After all, as the history of liberal arts colleges shows, nothing is set in stone. And we could very well be confronting an important moment of transition.

  9. Midd Parent says:

    While I wrote my initial response to this on Midd-blog, where does it say in any of the published literature for prospective students or even in the “about Middlebury” on the webpages that Middlebury is pushing an “ambition to become a global liberal arts college”? Has it ever even defined what that would mean?

    Yes, it is true that Middlebury enjoys a certain international reputation, but it’s not the only thing it’s got going for it and beyond the language program itself, some of this is brought on by the number of international students Middlebury accepts into the incoming class each year. What it accomplishes in the summer both in VT and even at Bread Loaf is not what draws all students to its doors.

    As someone whose kid fell in love with Bi-hall and the opportunities he hoped for himself when he applied, to think Midd might have a goal to move into some sort of niche market is a tad disturbing. That this created niche might then serve to devalue other majors over the long term is disappointing, especially when I’m paying upwards of 52K a year to give my son the privilege.

    And frankly, any kind of “push” or need to have a “hook” seems gimmicky to me and belies the real value and intention of a quality liberal arts education. Seriously, what does it say about the College as a whole if the administration doubts the applicable value of a true liberal arts education?

  10. Joey says:

    Midd Parent–who is devaluing a liberal arts education? The College spent zillions on Bi-Hall and the sciences, and just completed its Axinn Center for some humanities programs. The possibility of being more than the traditional liberal arts college is hardly inconsistent with valuing the liberal arts: where is the logic there? Where is the devaluing? Is it that nationally recognized programs receive more publicity than other programs?

    Perhaps MiddParent believes the $52k he or she is paying will hold the attention of future generations of prospective students in terms of all the educational alternatives around (including “liberal arts” educations at honors colleges at large state universities), and maybe it will. However when one has such a comparative advantage in some areas (like being recognized as the best nationally), and can highlight those while remaining committed to the liberal arts, the institution and its students can only benefit. Rising tides raise all boats, and students who study in Bi-Hall, Axinn, or anywhere else would benefit far more if Middlebury can ride its huge reputational advantage in languages, international studies, and the study of the environment to the benefit of all.

    Just to point out: Bread Loaf is a graduate program, of couse, and therefore does not “attract” Middlebury students. The MA holders from Bread Loaf, however, teach in secondary schools across the country and recruit and send their students to Middlebury. That is how I got to Middlebury, and being from the west, I never would have applied or known about Middlebury otherwise. Bread Loaf graduates who teach also garner good attention and prestige for the College by the work they do in inner city schools and rural southern schools, so they have great value.

    The question of whether requiring study abroad is something a global liberal arts college needs to do has not been demonstrated. Middlebury is global (per Dean Spears’ original post), but that doesn’t mean ALL students need to study abroad: the presence of international students, the internationalization of the curriculum, the faculty’s strong specialization and research in international areas and topics (and Middlebury students’ opp to do collaborative research), and the opportunities to do something internationally focused abroad seems to already place Middlebury ahead of the pack of all other liberal arts college in this area. Why force everyone to go abroad other than for the $$? As a current student Middlebury doesn’t need to do anything more to be the leading global liberal arts college, because it already is.

  11. NJSC says:

    SOPHOMORES v. JUNIORS
    While I agree that sophomores may not be emotionally or linguistically ready to go abroad, I also agree that it’s important to go through the transformative experience of study abroad earlier in your college career before you choose a major.

    Going abroad sophomore year would perhaps lessen the impact on athletics (upperclassmen still get to play). It may also lessen the impact on student organization leadership roles. Forcing everyone to go abroad junior year would lead to more involved sophomores, but it could also lead to a lot of detached seniors who don’t have the background necessary to effectively lead their peers at Midd.

    QUALITY OF EDUCATION
    Moreover, Middlebury offers a better classroom education than many other nations. It is the rare country you can go to and find a teaching professor. Can we really mandate that students go somewhere with less personal academic attention for the same cost?

    APPLICANT POOL
    The fact is, of course we can. The administration can make that decision. But the applicant pool will be extremely different than the current applicant pool. I completely agree with Prof. Mittell’s comments that we would grow from a mainstream college (like Williams and Amherst) to a niche school (like Bennington or Hampshire). Those are great schools, but I came to Midd to learn from a well-rounded group of students and faculty. If Midd had had this requirement, I would not have applied.

    Needless to say, Alumni will be less likely to donate to a school with whom they can no longer identify.

  12. Midd Parent says:

    The logic, Joey, was that if the school required travel abroad it would be a very different applicant pool and as such, a very different student body with very different (and similar) interests. Yes, I think that takes away from the intention of a Liberal Arts education that includes both breadth and depth of study. How does creating an international niche support breadth and depth of study? And if the application pool changes, how long until you don’t really get a lot of kids applying to be science majors who have to also want to absolutely study abroad for an entire year? What then happens to that “zillions” spent on Bi-Hall? Well, you can always retrofit a building to perhaps serve another purpose, but if you lose intellectual capital due to either attrition of professors leaving because of lack of support and.or funding (made mention by Mittell’s post above) and/or students are no longer applying then yes, I think the degree risks devaluation.

    I certainly didn’t suggest the school is CURRENTLY operating in this way in the least. And if it seemed I was, I apologize. To be clear, I believe in the evolution of idea and schools of thought, but in a liberal arts community, I also believe it is crucial to successful growth to retain and tap into as much intellectual capital as possible.

  13. Tim Spears says:

    This is a good discussion, and I appreciate the input from everyone who has posted. But what’s missing from these responses is an acknowledgment of the financial challenges that Middlebury and other liberal arts colleges–never mind the Harvards and Stanfords of the world, which have their own problems–will likely face in the future. Joey is right to ask why Middlebury would require students to go abroad if not for the dollars. That is precisely the point. In order to afford the liberal arts education we now offer students we may need to find alternative sources of revenue because our current business model is under severe pressure (see the College website on “financial challenges” for some of the reasons why: http://www.middlebury.edu/administration/budget/challenge/).

    This economic framework was the starting point for my thinking about our study abroad programs. As a faculty member in American Studies I can say that moving in this direction was not necessarily a natural impulse for me. However, I think it’s an option worth considering, worth tinkering with, as we consider the College’s future. And, to answer Midd Parent’s concern, I think a year of international education is absolutely consistent with Middlebury’s liberal arts mission. I can even imagine the College developing study abroad programs that cater to students with serious interests in science.

    But to the economic challenges that might lie ahead–and I stress “might” since I certainly don’t have a crystal ball–the alternative to generating additional revenue could mean making significant cuts in the College’s operating budget, reductions that would alter the Middlebury we know. And there is the question: what should stay, and what should go in Middlebury’s “new normal”?

  14. Joey says:

    MiddParent: good points. And that was my point — one can be a school known for its “international” strengths and a “global presence” (to wit: our 34 sites abroad with so many opportunities for students) WITHOUT requiring study abroad and becoming only international. Yet, the internationlization of liberal arts curriculum has been going on for 10-15 years (not a fad any longer, thanks, to Tom Friedman making the impact of globalization relevant and understandable beyond World Bank followers), and Middlebury has been well in the forefront of that movement. That is, faculty in the known suspect disciplines, like Pol Sci, Econ, Geog, Anthro, etc. have long had research interests and teaching interests in things international, but now, at Midd, one finds this perspective and strength in Religion, History, Philosophy, Art History, and so on. It is an amazing curriculum, and the Middlebury faculty don’t do this exclusively: it is in addition to their commitment to their disciplinary specialization. I don’t believe the College projects this incredible strength (within fields and across fields), but I don’t know who might be responsible for that.

    As for the economic challenges ahead: maybe Dean Spears can explain which parts of this global institution bring in revenue, and which draw from the till. We might then be able to determine what might be cut, eliminated, etc.

  15. Midd Parent says:

    Instead of cuts and eliminations, what about a five year MA program that includes a year abroad and a final year at Monterey? I have no clue how the affiliation works between the two schools as far as finances go, but it’s almost guaranteeing a fifth year of tuition.

    Of course, there is some question of mandating a year abroad especially when you might be talking about a number of international students whose “international” experience is actually accomplished by coming to the US and studying at Middlebury!

    Maybe moving some upper classman off campus could open up on campus dorm possibilities. And along that line, how would changing the student teacher ratio by one or two students really take away from the student experience? I know it’s important to keep the ration small, but could that change by one or two and make a huge difference in income while not affecting too much else significantly.

    And then there’s…

    While Middlebury runs a very successful language program in the summer, does it have any other academic courses available? Are all the dorms filled in the summer? Or might an answer lie in a similar academic calendar that a school like Dartmouth has where you have a full summer term (such as sophomore summer) in which to draw tuition dollars?

    The bottom line (and after all that’s what we’re really talking about), whatever revenue streams come under consideration going forward, one of the biggest expenditures with any kind of tuition driven initiative is going to be dependent on the amount of financial aid budgeted into the equation. The problem, as I see it, is that with need blind admissions and meeting full demonstrated need (as Middlebury claims it is committed to protecting at least for US students) is you aren’t working with any kind of fixed budget. Even with as many cuts as the school has made in the last 15 months or so, an increased student contribution AND a change in need-blind admissions for international students, financial aid continued to increase.

    I recognize the positive impact that socioeconomic diversity contributes to the college. Certainly, I fully believe that diversity is not limited to the shade of one’s skin, heritage or nation of origin. It’s an admirable policy to be sure and is generally associated with those schools considered to be the wealthiest with large endowments. And so I might also ask, isn’t refusing to look at reigning in some of this spending similar to my insisting on living in a villa on the south of France when I really can only afford a two bedroom condo in North Dakota?

    Obviously, any suggestions offered here are made with very limited information and insight into all the factions of the College, including admissions.

  16. Midd Parent says:

    PS. I’ve noted that Goucher has a requirement to study abroad. I wonder how it will continue to finance the initiative since they promise a $1200 stipend. Also, there are many ways in which they accomplish this including 3 week summer intensives, semester and year long opportunities. Also, they mostly require their students to attend their own programs but will consider others for approval. I think making some Midd programs summer intensives abroad would bring in a lot of student interest – including science. :)

  17. robert matteri (parent) says:

    As a new first year parent, I have been reading the Dean and President’s Blogs for over a year now, and it really has been an enjoyable experience to see how the administration interacts with the Midd community. I’m sure most parents have appreciated the openness and enthusiasm of discussion. I have never responded to any blog ever, but reading your blog from 21st Oct right after returning from my 35th class reunion at Stanford this weekend, was, I guess to be honest, almost shocking—as it has been to others who have blogged already. The emphasis on using the economic recession, now already entering recovery, to change the direction of the college towards a language global focus and expand the numbers of students to pay for the college’s future, is certainly not my vision of the future of liberal arts education. What happened to the other outstanding departments at Midd? Perhaps writing about my experience will serve as an example for my thoughts.

    My son wouldn’t even consider my and his grand father’s alma mater—and I have come to realize that his perceptions are probably more prescient than my tinted ones. The billions in newly constructed medical and tech-science buildings at Stanford, and I’m sure at the corresponding Ivy’s, have very little to do with undergraduate education. He, and many of his classmates realize that a small, liberal arts school offers so much more to an undergraduate, than most research universities. He only applied to small colleges, and clearly from the beginning I believe Middlebury was his top choice. He saw the facilities in science and in music. He saw the interactions with faculty. He saw the dorms, dining halls, sports facilities, the environmental ethos, the research opportunities— and the intimate common’s life here that has resulted in a tight community of happy, very smart competitive students. The language excellence here was a very small part of his decision. There isn’t a liberal art school west of the Rockies that has been so blessed with facilities and programs, and he thought that there weren’t any better in New England either.

    I agree with Professor Mittell and other bloggers who feel that forcing an overseas experience for a whole year would drastically change the character of the college that my son saw. As a bio premed who went overseas for a couple of quarters my sophomore year, my life was definitely changed. Although I never became fluent, I later was a founder of a German elementary school—and I’m in medicine. I therefore, certainly appreciate going abroad. But forcing all science students, or athletes, or musicians, or any one to take a whole year abroad would discourage many from even looking at the school. The best students have a choice. A whole year abroad for me would have been a disaster for my premed studies, and I probably wouldn’t have gone. The experience of being fluent, or being abroad isn’t a ‘global’ liberal arts education, any more than forcing students to spend a whole year studying science or taking music courses makes a ‘science’ or ‘music’ lac— whatever that means? The reason to go abroad is to have exposure to another culture, to become more tolerant of other’s beliefs, to understand how the global community functions. Language certainly is the door to understanding a culture. However today, communication, at least in medicine and science, and my guess is almost anything else, is universally in English, for example. With 10% of the campus already international, there is certainly exposure to the global community already at Middlebury for those who choose other paths of study.

    I have followed the Midd blogs and the discussions about the disastrous effects of the recession on the endowment, and I agree that changes need to be made. The best schools with the largest endowments, seem to have done the worst. I am starting to get the feeling that Middlebury perhaps has done worse than most though. At the Parent’s Weekend, I heard President Liebowitz discuss using and expanding the language schools, the Monterrey Institute, etc as a funding source for the college. I think this is a great idea. Perhaps, expanding on that tract by making the summer program also a Mecca for environmental studies.

    I believe that right now, Middlebury is in an outstanding position amongst its peers. It has a successful academic model, great students, and there really is no need for new facilities for the foreseeable future. Use the ‘global’ European model and not continually strive for growth and new building. With building infrastructure improvements and periodic remodels, the current facility will support the school probably for many, many decades. Put the beautiful, but grandiose Master Building Plan on hold. Keep the school small. 2000 to 2500 students seems to be about the consensus for the ideal number across the country to maintain intimacy between faculty and students, and between students themselves. Whether the economy continues to improve with the stock market’s V-shaped recovery or more slowly, using the crisis of the recession to reassess funding sources and the management of the endowment is fantastic. I can only emphasize that Middlebury College right now is already a gem amongst the best of American liberal arts schools. There are no such schools in China, or Germany or India. The current American College and University system continues to be the one thing about America, that the whole world seems to want to come here for. There are few colleges as ‘global’ as Midd is already. Using the economic recession as a reason to change the college’s mission or expand the number of students, makes little sense to me.

  18. I’m enjoying reading this conversation as well. A few more random thoughts:

    – Per Midd Parent’s question, the Language Schools do fill every dorm room on campus over the summer, which forestalls any other summer programs on our main campus.

    – Currently, Middlebury students looking to go abroad must have a minimum of a B- average overall, and a B average in their major and language of study. I assume that requiring students to go abroad would trump this requirement, meaning that we would be certainly sending some students who are academically less accomplished into programs that generally require more self-guidance and focus.

    – I am generally a fan of going abroad, and I spent a formative semester in London as an undergrad. But the majority of Middlebury students I’ve talked to after returning from abroad programs (whether Midd-run or not) say that the academic experience was sub-par compared to Middlebury – the most common positive experiences that students describe are about cultural/linguistic immersion, broadening horizons, and social experiences. These are all great things and sufficient to justify a semester or two away from Middlebury, but I think we need to be honest in saying that for most students, the abroad experience is not primarily about academic excellence. To assert that a Middlebury education can retain comparable standards and achievements with every student on an off-campus program for 1/4 of their time is simply false.

    – Ultimately I’m skeptical of Tim’s crystal ball of doom. I recognize that there are real financial pressures that the college faces, and that the status quo is not sustainable in the long term without some significant shifts. But there are cuts and changes that could be made that would create far less of a change in “the Middlebury we know” than such a mandated abroad requirement would. The only way that I could imagine such a tectonic shift be justified is if we feel certain that the core LAC model is bound for extinction and that we have made every other possible cut to our campuses before pulling the trigger on a complete curricular reboot. We are far from that point right now.

  19. Mitch Pesesky says:

    I am going to speak specifically from the science perspective, though it has been mentioned, I don’t feel that it has been given as much time as it deserves.
    Middlebury has recently (and I mean over the past 15 years, not since the economic downturn) been devoting more money to the sciences, as evidenced by Bi Hall, the number of external speakers, and the excellent faculty members. What is perhaps not not as obvious is how the sciences have become a major strength of Middlebury College during that time. I have worked in two labs outside of Middlebury, and both cases I have been prepared beyond the expectations of the lab heads. In fact, at NIH two summers ago, I had experience with reading primary scientific literature and laboratory procedures beyond what was expected of employees with two additional years of undergraduate education

    Since the economic downturn, I have heard many rumors and suggestions, including this proposal, that imply that Middlebury is not planning to play to this strength in the future. The reasons that Middlebury science is so strong are that it offers smaller science classes (and thus smaller labs), and that it offers students access to research equipment that undergraduates at universities never get to see. The fact is, if we send science students elsewhere for a year, they will likely miss out on both of those things while they are gone. Unless this plan also includes an increase in faculty and equipment, than first-years will find that they have less access to faculty in their classes and labs, and seniors will find that they need to compete for equipment and advisors for thesis research.

    The science majors often need flexibility when planning whether they can study abroad, and how long. This is especially true of the interdepartmental programs, which can be considered one of the great examples of liberal arts ideology in modern education, because they they to mesh the class offerings of several different departments. Also, many of the faculty members receive external funding, which greatly reduces the cost to Middlebury of the science education that they are providing.

    Essentially, none of this precludes the study abroad proposal, but I would be very interested to see a concrete proposal of how Middlebury could institute mandatory year-long study abroad, and maintain its unique advantages in the sciences.

  20. Joey says:

    Can’t agree more with Mitch. Sciences are often referred to as “hidden” strength of Middlebury, but it is only hidden to those who are living in a cave. The faculty is great, the students fantastic, and the opportunities for students among the best of all liberal arts colleges.

    All the talk about Midd being too specialized (languages, environment, international) and how that hurts admissions or our reputation, is really silly. A liberal arts college that does not offer an excellent across-the-board curriculum could not receive 7000 applications, nor be “ranked” #4 in a ranking like US News (Midd’s highest ranking ever). Plus, being recognized as the very best in the country (among liberal arts colleges) in anything has to help, not hurt, the college.

    All Midd students should take science at Middlebury…but then the secret about how great science is at Midd will no longer be a secret and all those who love that excellence will face too much competition from other students!

  21. Recent alum says:

    I agree with Jason’s assessment that, while studying abroad is certainly worthwhile, it doesn’t offer the same academic rigor that students find at Middlebury. I’m an alum, and wouldn’t trade my abroad experience for anything: I polished my language skills, saw the world, and came back to campus more independent and more adventurous than when I left. But a semester was plenty of time for me to experience all of that, and the classroom experience in a large, cold foreign university didn’t hold a candle to the labs, seminars and discussion sections I had at Middlebury.

    I also certainly would NOT have come to Middlebury had study abroad been a requirement. I wasn’t planning to take a language, let alone head to Europe for a semester. I’m glad it was an option open to me, and I’m glad I had the time to discover that passion. Still, at 17 or 18 years old, that sort of requirement would have sent me flying toward one of our competitors.

    I also have another concern about this whole discussion. I understand that the “new normal” calls for coming up with new revenue streams, sometimes in creative ways. Boosting enrollment would do that. But study abroad costs are high, and there’s a good chance there might be a backlash if the abroad experience is mandated. Practically speaking, the costs of studying abroad through Middlebury seem exorbitant. I understand that, yes, we’re paying for the language school staff, the study abroad office, and so on. But when I registered at my European university, my registration fee for the semester was 180 euros — while my parents were paying close to the full cost of tuition for my “experience” and not my education.

    I like the idea of encouraging this as a way to bring in more money. I think the Midd parent’s idea of a 5-year MA program is intriguing; I’d have considered something similar with Bread Loaf, if Middlebury offered a BA/MA program in English for undergraduates… I realize this all comes down to dollars and cents.

  22. Timothy Spears says:

    It’s great to see all the supportive comments about the sciences at Middlebury since, as a number of people have noted, that gem often seems to be hidden. And I agree that it is difficult to see how science majors would be served by a requirement that all students study abroad. Middlebury students enjoy remarkable access to top-notch resources–faculty and labs–that few undergraduate institutions can match. So I don’t want to minimize that point.

    On the other hand, I think it’s worth flipping the question around and asking how science majors might benefit from studying abroad. After all, science is perhaps the most international field of inquiry in the academy–truly part of a global community–and students could benefit from being exposed to scientific research in other cultures and nations. Our study abroad programs are not currently designed to support scientific study, but they could be. Why not establish partnerships with institutions abroad so students can study theoretical physics in Europe or do biological research at a field station in Africa? Wouldn’t expanding opportunities for scientific study in this way be a good thing for our students, and even our faculty (especially if we enabled faculty to go abroad to establish such programs)? And, yes, such programs might be based in English.

    My point in raising these question is not to advocate for a particular program, but rather to expand the definition of what we currently mean by international education and to consider other possibilities.

  23. Mitch Pesesky says:

    The worry I would have is not so much about the study abroad year itself, since that could be an excellent opportunity if set up correctly, but about what a larger class year and inflexible study abroad schedule would do to the experience at Middlebury. A lot of the best parts of Middlebury science education involve access to limited resources that are somewhat class year specific. Freshmen would be facing larger classes at a time when they need more access to faculty. There are already students turned away from labs for senior work because the labs are full, and that would only get worse if each senior class were larger.
    I think that if we want to both require a year abroad and maintain the quality of science education at Middlebury, then at the very least we would need to hire additional faculty and increase the equipment budget. Obviously this would be counter to a major purpose of the mandatory study abroad program, namely raising money.

  24. robert matteri (parent) says:

    The openness which Dean Spears has shown by not only having a public blog, but by presenting these controversial positions to the whole community, reaffirms to me the strength of Middlebury—-I don’t see these issues being debated on other lac websites. It’s been reassuring reading the well written comments by so many from the Midd community. It’s obvious from all of the blogs from all parts of the Midd community—student, faculty, and parent— that many feel Dean Spears ideas might seem to change Middlebury’s core mission. My comments reflected the fact that right now Middlebury has achieved, in most aspects of its educational program, excellence. Maybe 25 years ago many felt that Midd only stood out for its language excellence (I really don’t believe that), but now, many would argue that because of the breadth and strength of its educational programs, Middlebury could be the best liberal arts school in the country. The best students choose Middlebury because of the great science departments, and outstanding humanities, and art, and music, athletics, and environment sciences, , etc., and yes some just because of their language interests, in the setting of a liberal arts program where they have been given the gift to explore and become broadly thinking individuals. My basic response to Dean Spears about emphasizing science at overseas universities comes from my medical experience. From all over the world, the best foreign physicians fight to come to America to study, both in undergraduate and postgraduate medical education—-science is preeminent here. I believe one goes abroad for the language and cultural experience (as I did), not because the science is stronger there, taught better there, or is more accessible there. I can’t speak personally about the different, more ‘liberal arts’ fields, but my suspicion is that Middlebury probably does better than almost any foreign university program in educating its students. Joey and others stated the obvious to me, with its language emphasis and 10% international students, Midd is already global.

    If the recommended changes are driven mainly by economic interests, as Dean Spears has suggested, then I have three more reflections. At my recent Stanford reunion, school President Hennessy was only positive in his comments about the economy and its recovery (in spite of the paper loss of billions in endowment). In reflecting on the economic crisis during an “Economics Roundtable”, he stated that “The best private schools and colleges will survive. The real danger is to state schools with dismal funding prospects”. The roundtable emphasized that America’s future growth would be through manufacturing technologies that depended on America’s most basic strengths—our innovation (fostered by the world’s best college and university system) and our entrepreneurial spirit. {see ‘Economic Roundtable’ moderated by Charlie Rose, http://www.stanford.edu/roundtable/ } I know that Stanford is reassessing and analyzing how its endowment has been invested. Although there have been many postings on the Middlebury website about how the college is cutting back, I haven’t really seen much about how the school will revise it’s endowment investment strategy. I, like most parents, took a devastating hit to my retirement plans and investments. I’m much happier now than six months ago. It seems to me, as a non financial guy, that many of our best schools were hit even harder, because with their large endowments they gained the ability to use lots of financial tools that we as individuals, or schools with more limited or conservatively invested endowments couldn’t use or chose not to use. As our economy recovers, I believe we will have time to assess funding sources without the administration’s anxiety that seems apparent to me as a parent, at Middlebury. This anxiety is leading to discussions about changing the very course of the school to be able to survive.

    My second reflection is that by really becoming sustainable and limiting physical growth, Middlebury can have great future savings. At Stanford, every department has loyalty to itself, not necessarily Stanford. When I asked Paul Erhlich why even the Biology Department continues to grow and expand, and why every inch of campus becomes filled with new buildings and new divisions, he stated that although individual faculty understood and supported environmental restraint and sustainability, the faculty always voted for their own departments, not the university, in the power scheme—that was where their true loyalty lay in academics. Fortunately, this isn’t true at Middlebury (or other liberal arts schools). There is only one faculty, and they are united for the success of the school, not their own graduate programs. That is the strength of the lac to students—it is for them, not their professors! Now that Middlebury has built perhaps the best lac facility infrastructure in the America, there is no need to build more in the foreseeable future. Middlebury needs to continue to emphasize its environmental mission across all its divisions, since Midd is becoming more and more known for its excellence in this field. Money from appropriate companies in the renewable energy fields, etc, should follow.

    And thirdly, an intense, and I believe successful effort, has been made to maximize student faculty interaction and student to student interaction at Middlebury. Low student to faculty ratios is the best parameter of actual class size. Schools whose endowments have faired better in this economy have taken advantage of this. Denison, for example, has hired 16 new permanent faculty members this year in order to reduce already small class size. Middlebury developed the Commons System to make the students feel even more connected to their college and academic experience. The total build out of the Commons system, as envisioned by the beautiful Campus Master Plan, would cost hundreds of millions more eventually, and because of the present economic reality, isn’t even being talked about. Enlarging the school by any number of students as proposed by Dean Spears, would increase the student to faculty ratio, and have a further detrimental effect on both class and lab sizes, and the residential housing system , and perhaps just as important, school cohesion—-the reason alumni contribute and feel connected for a lifetime.

    By living within the excellent facilities already present, by emphasizing the broad academic strengths of the college, by emphasizing our already achieved global language program and international student recruitment, by stressing our preeminent interdisciplinary environmental programs, by keeping class sizes small for great faculty interactions, by reassessing how the endowment is invested and managed, by stressing the freedom in a liberal arts program to explore many different and interconnected fields of learning, Middlebury emphasizes America’s educational strength —-our innovative approach to problem solving. I believe that if Middlebury continues to do this, it will only become stronger, and strong funding will follow. I believe, if the mission and school structure are drastically changed, other very fine liberal arts schools will step in to capture many of our most innovative and promising students (and faculty).

  25. Tim Spears says:

    Dr. Matteri’s thoughtful post points well beyond my study abroad proposal, to Middlebury’s core strengths as a liberal arts college. I agree that is what we should be discussing now. In fact, the assignment that led to my proposal was to think about what Middlebury should keep and what it might be prepared to give up in a less generous economic environment than we have enjoyed in the recent past. I’ve probably said enough so far about that proposal that I may now seem to be flogging a dead horse. So I will try to be brief.

    Regarding the concern that boosting enrollment would alter the faculty/student ratio, that’s not really the case since the on-campus student population would remain the same–2400–as would the size of the faculty. Theoretically, students would have the same access to science facilities (and all facilities) as they do now. Yes, we would have to rethink how our curriculum is organized, there would be increased pressure on advising for first years and seniors, and there would be costs to supporting an additional 350 students abroad. But the scale of the Middlebury campus would remain the same, which is critical (and if the entire sophomore class were abroad, then almost fifty percent of the College’s underage drinkers would be elsewhere, but that is for another discussion . . . .).

    Whether this proposal, if implemented, would radically alter the mission of Middlebury College is hard to say. I tend to think not, but I agree that this is a critical question in any discussion we have about how we can build on the College’s strengths–how we can innovate–in order to meet the demands of the future.

    In fact–and here I am switching gears–we might also want to discuss whether or how we can more flexible about our science curriculum, and think about ways in which students can stay here during the summer and conduct research for credit or take classes focused on the Lake Champlain ecosystem. Assuming we can free up beds in the summer as the Language Schools expand to campuses like Mills College, these sorts of ideas become real possibilities.

  26. Eric Harvey says:

    I realize this discussion is a little dated now, but I thought I’d chime in. Tim, I think you make a good point about the need to modify the school’s business model to generate new revenue streams. First, I’d like to add my own experience with study abroad. All along my plan was to go abroad for a year, and when my time abroad in Uruguay began, my plan was to stay there for the year. During the course of my first semester, a number of things caused me to change my mind. While it was a great cultural and language experience and I had a great time, academically it was a very disappointing semester. I am an International Politics and Economics major, and I couldn’t get any credit towards my major for the courses I took abroad, simply because of the very limited number of disciplines offered at my university. Yes things were beginning to click down there, and a second semester would have proved much more rewarding than the first, but the cost of giving up another semester at Middlebury was not worth it to me. In my opinion, Middlebury’s curriculum was/is far superior and more diverse than where I studied while abroad.

    Another reason for coming back early was that I wanted to explore courses outside my major. Everyone says that the purpose of a liberal arts education is to explore a number of departments, and I wholeheartedly agree. By coming back early, I was able to comfortably finish my major requirements while taking courses in ES, Geology, Geography, History, Architecture, Film, etc.

    Lastly, being a Feb, I had already spent a semester abroad before coming here, so I realized I had already done a year abroad. Perhaps Middlebury could take advantage of its Feb program by developing a program or two abroad for incoming Febs (and other gap semester/year students). This would probably be outside of the budget of many, but hey, lots of Febs to NOLS.

    I realized I know students who are perfectly happy they studied abroad for a year and got things out of it they thought were missing from their education at Middlebury, but for me, this would have detracted from my liberal arts experience.

    Our time at Middlebury isn’t the only opportunity we have to go abroad, and I think requiring all students to study abroad for a year to increase revenue could be detrimental to the liberal arts experience for many. Couldn’t the same end of increasing revenue be achieved more efficiently by increasing enrollment of outsiders in our abroad program, something which has been discussed?

  27. […] Apparently everybody hates Tim Spears’ blog post on considering revisions to Middlebury’s study abroad program.   I think it’s a pretty […]

  28. Merle Welch says:

    As a parent of a junior currently abroad for the year I would like to suggest that the school look at the “re-entry” of these students as seniors: hold the room draw in the spring before school is out. It is an area of anxiety, especially when abroad for the year, the thought of being scattered across campus from your friends, many of whom have lived together for 2 years and now are apart for 1 year. Most abroad living environments include kitchens, “forcing” students to learn to cook ( it sure has done wonders for my daughter! ) and with the college down to 2 dining halls, this type of living arrangement should be available to all seniors who want it. Perhaps allowing artists and others who desire a residency in the Old Stone Mill would take the stress off of housing. Perhaps putting up some prefab houses would also facilitate seniors’ desire to continue their lives as they had been living while abroad as well as preparing them emotionally for the next step in their lives. I would love to see the Monterey Institute available for summer school as this would facilitate completing college in less than 4 years ( until recently I was not aware that summer school was an option for Middlebury students when taken at other institutions with departmental approval ). At the University of London where my daughter is, because she is there for a year she has more course offerings available to her, thus allowing her to broaden her knowledge in her major, acccessing courses not taught at Middlebury. From what she shares with me about the courses her Midd friends are taking at Midd programs, it doesn’t surprise me that many go for only a semester, as it seems there is some difficulty accessing a large array of classes at some of these sites.

  29. Staff 'greenie' says:

    I’m wondering what the impact of sending every single student abroad could have on the college’s strategic goal of being carbon-neutral in the near future. Wouldn’t it be expected that Middlebury buy carbon-offsets for every plane trip that a student takes, when that air travel is required? Or would the carbon-neutral goal fall by the wayside?

  30. Alexander Eppler says:

    Dear Dean Spears,
    The whole point of a liberal arts institution I feel is the independence it gives the students, in their choices of what classes to take, whether or not they want to go abroad, and their decisions to involve themselves in different organizations or causes. I feel it would be incredibly detrimental to this system to require students to go abroad. I personally don’t ever want to go abroad, I value the academics at this school so much so that I would rather do my traveling later. I also don’t feel that studying abroad is how I would like to travel, when I do travel, doing schoolwork is the last thing I would want to do, in fact I feel that going to school in a foreign country inhibits student’s ability to interact with the culture they are in. Several people I have talked to who are at Middlebury or went here share this view and believe that going abroad wasn’t a good decision for them. Also I think it is foolish to mandate students to go abroad, it is their choice and one that should not be made by the college. I think it would be unfair to the students to require this, and even though it may only be a minority of students, their choices should be respected. I am aware that this is hypothetical as of right now, I just would hate to see this become a part of the college’s policy. Also, have you considered that requiring students to go abroad might deter students from applying here or even going here, and the loss of income that would result from that?

  31. Merle Welch says:

    Another way to “deal” with the concept of juniors being “off campus” for a year may be to divide the academic year in half and allow students to do internships for 1 semester and go abroad for 1 semester. In light of how many students graduate nationally with no jobs and poor prospects for internships, this concept may help our Middlebury students get a “leg up” on other college students in pursuit of internships. This becomes especially important due to Middlebury’s rather remote location thus limiting internship opportunities to occur while still at Middlebury, as may happen in colleges in larger cities. Another option is to allow Middlebury students to enroll in larger universities for a semester or year to access cources that Middlebury doesn’t offer due to it’s size.

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