Columbian College plans two-year study abroad program

Media Credit: Sam Johnson | Hatchet Photographer
Ben Vinson, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, has planned a global degree program that would give students the chance to spend two years studying abroad.

Top administrators are planning a program that would allow students to spend half of their undergraduate education studying abroad.

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is creating a revised version of its global degree program that was pitched last year to send economics students to spend a year in both Paris and China. After putting that on hold, the program would now ease restrictions on what majors are eligible and where students can study.

Columbian College dean Ben Vinson will present the program to faculty this spring, his first major policy change since taking over the college last summer.

Provost Steven Lerman, who put the brakes on the global program last spring just months before the college changed leadership, said the model proposed by Vinson would appeal to more students and could be adopted by GW’s other colleges.

“I think what he has redesigned is something that I think now will benefit more students and be less like a narrow cohort program and, more essentially, an option that many students could choose if they wanted a more globalized education,” Lerman said.

Students could apply to the program once they’ve arrived on campus, rather than be admitted as high school seniors, Lerman added.

The program would also be open to students across a wider range of majors, unlike the initially proposed cohort of economics and political science majors.

While students would still spend two years in Foggy Bottom and a year in China, they will likely be able to choose a third country to spend a year, rather than all studying in France.

Lerman suggested GW may partner with universities across South America and Europe for the program.

Those partners could be specific to the global program, as GW looks to increase the quality of its study abroad partners.

A committee tasked with planning GW’s future engagement in China has reviewed the program and was “very enthusiastic” about it, Lerman added.

Forrest Maltzman, senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said Vinson was trying to give students more options and time to decide if they were interested in the program.

“He’s trying to create more flexibility so that it can work with more people’s schedules if they wanted to do that and not have them so tied,” Maltzman said.

Vinson, who specializes in Latin American history and African diaspora, said he could not speak to the program until he had briefed faculty on it, which would be this month or next.

The original program, which had been poised to be a flagship part of GW’s international strategy, was put on hold last spring because administrators had not planned a recruitment strategy or how to share revenues with the partner institutions.

Administrators traveled to China and France last year to set up partnerships with Renmin University in Beijing and Sciences Po in Paris.

The program had been touted as a new source of revenue for the University by attracting international students who typically pay full tuition to GW. The University’s strategic plan calls for investing $5 million to $15 million to improve study abroad programs to ensure students have an emphasis on academics while abroad.

Tom Parker, a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy specializing in international higher education finance, said it would be easier to recruit students once at GW who are not pigeon-holed into a particular major as freshmen.

Still, he said universities needed to be aware of the quality of programs they partner with, because students can easily lose focus on school while abroad.

“The real question is what do you get out of a program like this,” Parker said. “Theoretically what you get is you get exposed to other cultures and other ways of thinking, but that’s supposedly what you get at a good university.”

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