President Bennet Attends Summit on International Education
Note: The following article is written by Douglas Bennet, president of
During the first week of January I represented Wesleyan at a two-day summit
on international education hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. The summit brought together 120
college presidents to discuss concerns, opportunities, and initiatives
related to study abroad for U.S. students and study in the U.S. for
international students. Both President Bush and Mrs. Bush addressed the
The summit gave me the chance to reflect on Wesleyan’s role in international
education. I was reassured that we are doing well. Many of the initiatives
proposed during the summit confirm that we are on track.
President Bush opened the summit by announcing a “national strategic
language initiative”. Much of the media attention devoted to the summit
focused on his call for $114-million to teach languages critical for
national security to students from kindergarten through college. While the
President’s comments focused on security issues, colleges engage in
international education for reasons that go far beyond war and security.
Secretary of Education Spellings’ remarks broadened the goals of language
study as a way to prepare students to engage in all facets of global
business, economic, research, as well as security issues. She pointed out
that only 44 percent of U.S. high school students study any foreign language
while most European and Asian countries require that all their students take
a second language.
Wesleyan has been very strong in language and studies of cultures for a long
time. Most students arrive here with a substantial background in at least
one foreign language and are likely to study a new language while they are
here. While only 8 percent of college students nationally take any foreign
language courses, 60 percent of Wesleyan students enroll in at least one
foreign language class. We do not formally require language study, but some
of our language faculty have found Wesleyan students more interested and
motivated because they are choosing to study a language instead of filling a
language requirement. In addition to European languages, Wesleyan students
are very interested in Arabic, Chinese and Japanese. We will consider where
there are ways to connect the Wesleyan curriculum that the President’s
critical language initiative.
Slightly more than half of our students participate in study abroad programs
compared with 2 percent of all U.S. college students. Of those, half
participate in programs outside Western Europe – considerably more than at
our peer institutions. Having spent several years working on economic
development issues, both here and abroad, I am convinced that many aspects
of globalization are most clearly understood in these emerging countries.
Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes raised the issue of how to
make it easier for science students find research opportunities abroad. Our
science faculty regularly travel and collaborate internationally in their
research, but it’s more difficult for our science students to participate in
a semester abroad without disrupting their research. We will follow up on
initiatives raised at the summit and look for opportunities to expand study
abroad options for science majors.
When the President and Secretary Rice each mentioned finding a balance
between security considerations and attracting international students to
study in the U.S. they received loud applause. I hope the summit helped
calibrate this balance. We must compete successfully for international
scholars and students if the United States is to offer an education with a
meaningful global perspective. As the President and others recognized, many
current world leaders were educated in the United States.
Wesleyan will continue to recruit international students and faculty.
Currently, 6 percent of our student body comes from abroad. This figure
includes 88 Freeman Asian Scholars from 11 Southeast Asian countries who are
at Wesleyan for a full four years. All of these students bring an
international perspective to the campus. The Freeman Asian Scholars
program is without precedent elsewhere and a truly unique asset for
There will always be more to do as we prepare our students for a global
society and our current strategic plan, “Engaged with the World,” sets
ambitious goals for us. Still, I returned from the summit knowing that
Wesleyan’s engagement with international issues is robust and ongoing.