Why Global Engagement is So Important for Universities Today

By: Sarah Doar
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More and more students are interested in a more globally engaged university experience where they can learn and be exposed to greater diversity. Universities are therefore investing more in global engagement to stay competitive.

In a recent study, 78% of global education professionals who are based in the US said that global engagement is strategically important to their institutions, while 72% said that global engagement is a key factor in the student experience. Global engagement runs the gamut of fostering a greater on-campus presence of international students to enriching the campus community to forging international relationships with other universities and businesses from abroad.

Community colleges and large institutions alike can all benefit from globalizing their in-person programs, online courses and partnerships with businesses abroad. Institutions who are investing in global engagement efforts are attracting more prospective students and creating opportunities for their current students to have international experiences. 

What is global engagement, and why is it a growing trend?

Global engagement is a general term for how universities promote global competence by internationalizing learning that takes place in and outside of the classroom. Global engagement efforts can start by looking at how to encourage international students to enroll in study abroad programs on your campus.

“Welcoming international students to US campuses has a massive impact on the campus community,” said Julie Merendino, the former Assistant Director of International Admissions of American University who currently serves as a Customer Success Manager at VITAC. “Diversity brings new ideas and perspectives into the classroom and everyone benefits from a diverse learning environment. Plus when international students leave a U.S. institution, they become part of a university alumni network.

For institutions looking to boost their global engagement by attracting more international students, it is vital to first understand how to fully and successfully integrate them into campus society. When international students are engaged on campus, it creates a culture of diversity both in and outside of the classroom.

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From fostering academic success to a sense of belonging to exposing them to helpful new technologies, there are several key things to keep in mind when looking to integrate your university’s international student body. 

Consider the priorities of international students

International students who leave their home countries to come to the US to study are oftentimes predominantly focused on the quality of academic programs above all else.

Lindsay Tulloss, Customer Success Manager at Verbit and former Assistant Director of Enrollment at American University, has seen firsthand that international students put a higher emphasis on academics.

“For international students, there’s usually a larger focus on academics whereas here in the United States, there’s also an emphasis on student life,” Tulloss said. “Do you have a gym? How nice are your dorms? What’s the food like? With international students, the questions being asked are more focused around academic prestige.” 

Ultimately, students want to know that the financial and emotional investment they are making in their education is worthwhile.

“US higher education is a massive investment of resources for international families, but it will be seen as a wise decision if they can see examples of successful international graduates,” said Merendino.

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These positive outcomes are best illustrated through Q&As with alumni or former students, but can also be done with testimonial videos and virtual campus tours so that students can best relate and see what your offering may look like through the lens of other international students.

In addition to showcasing the academic programming through the eyes of other international students, recruiting leaders can make students feel welcome in other ways too.

“Having things like international dorms are a great way to celebrate culture,” said Tulloss. “Students who feel like they belong from the get-go are more likely to successfully integrate socially with the rest of the student body and as a result, persist through graduation.”

Merendino agreed and said that in order to ensure prospective students receive an authentic sense of welcoming both inside and outside of the classroom, involving current students is key.

“Schools need to think broadly about the student experience and ask whether an international student would feel comfortable in various situations,” Merendino said.

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One helpful way to uncover this information is to ask current international students about moments when they felt like they belonged or those instances when they felt lost or left out. Distributing anonymous surveys through email or social media channels is a great way to take the temperature of how international students are feeling and if their needs are being met. With this intel in mind, universities can get a true sense of their diverse international student bodies and make adjustments to keep improving their experience.

Use technology to support learning

For international students, the primary goal of studying abroad is to receive the best possible education. It is universities’ responsibility to make sure that every student has equitable access to learning materials in order to excel academically.

“Even though most students are required to meet an English proficiency threshold to gain admission, the classroom can be a challenging place to put second (or third, or fourth) language skills to the test,” explains Julie Merendino. “Speaker accents, colloquialisms and fast-paced banter can put some students at a disadvantage. Captioning a recorded class or lecture and making this transcript available to students (either in real time or after the fact) can result in fuller participation – and a richer learning environment for all!”

Assistive technologies, like captioning or subtitles, are no longer only for members of the community who are Deaf or hard of hearing. When international students are presented with information both audibly and visually with captions, there’s a higher likelihood that they will retain the information.

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Furthermore, when they receive transcripts of their lectures, they can go back and reference parts of the lecture they did not understand. Searchable transcripts, like ones provided by AST, allow students to easily find the piece of the lecture they struggled to comprehend, rather than have to comb through the entire transcript to find the one part they wanted to reference. 

Tools like live captioning also provide real time solutions for students to ensure they are comprehending everything at the same time as their native peers. Live captions for recorded lectures and video learning materials create opportunities for added confidence and facilitation of international student participation in live classroom activities.

Understand when to offer translation

Having translation proactively available for both international students and their families shows that your university is prioritizing inclusion and creating a welcoming environment.

Parents and close family members often play a key role in a student’s final decision to study abroad. International parents are often involved in their child’s application process, so providing them with translated documents and resources will help you to market to them more effectively, as well as keep the admissions process running smoothly once they have made a decision to enroll.

Tulloss feels strongly that financial aid documents in particular should be offered in multiple languages. 

“Financial aid is such a big endeavor,” she explained. “You are signing important documents that have a lifelong impact. If a teenager is trying to translate these documents so that everyone in their family understands the financial implications of it, that’s not fair. It is really important to make sure that this information is communicated as clearly as possible.”

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Looking at translation as a tool to assist in the learning process also offers a huge benefit to international students. 

“Trying to think in two languages and also retain information and learn and be successful, that’s incredibly difficult for anybody no matter how skilled or professional you are in a certain language,” said Tulloss.

Providing translation resources that are going to support language learning or support learning in general can make all the difference for busy students who are juggling multiple classes and acclimating to a foreign environment.

“A lot of institutions believe that translation is giving the student a step-up,” Tulloss continued. “Really it’s just leveling the playing field by giving them tools like transcripts in languages other than English.” 

Additionally, translated transcripts or learning materials tell students that they are welcome and that their presence is mutually beneficial. AST can help with this by partnering with universities to create translated transcripts that provide a more inclusive learning experience for international students. 

Global engagement and its lasting impact

Global engagement makes an impact on the success of higher education because of the diverse learning and socialization experiences it offers students. Successfully integrating international students enriches campus learning and culture for both them and their peers, creating a more inclusive and diverse environment.

AST serves as an essential partner to the likes of institutions with international programs, including John Hopkins University. AST offers them expert guidance and trusted solutions like captioning, transcription and translation. AST can also help your institution on its journey to make admissions content, courses and campus events accessible and inclusive  experiences for both international students and their families. Reach out to us for more ideas on how we can work together to better support your institution’s international student body.