Officials plan to start recruiting students in next year’s freshman class for a global bachelor’s program, giving them the chance to study abroad three times as undergraduates.
Recruiting students would launch an initiative that GW has had in the works for several years. Though the program will look vastly different from what was first introduced, administrators see it as a way to expand the University’s global presence.
What started as a program built around a cohort of political science and economics majors who would spend two years at GW, a year in China and a year in Paris has turned into an opportunity for students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences – and eventually other colleges – to study abroad for three semesters in destinations of their choosing.
Provost Steven Lerman said the model was “much better” for students because it gives them a way to customize their experiences. He said they will be recruited once they’ve started at GW rather than apply directly to the program as high school seniors and spend their freshman year outside of the U.S, which was the original plan.
“I think it’s very important that students spend their freshman year here to become comfortable and acclimated to the GW environment, to the academic programs, [and that] they have a successful freshman year,” Lerman said.
Lerman said he was planning to travel to China this summer to meet with officials at a potential host university and hopefully sign an agreement. Which university must remain confidential, he said, in case plans fall through and GW moves on to a different institution. Students will likely be required to spend a semester at a university in China.
“It’s a very good one, in a place I think most students would really like to be,” Lerman said.
When the program was first under consideration nearly two years ago, GW was in talks with Renmin University of China and Sciences Po in Paris. Top administrators decided to hold off on the program — which former Columbian College dean Peg Barratt spent much of her last year outlining — because they hadn’t planned admissions and recruitment strategies or how to share revenue with the other universities.
Since students will be able to choose where they spend the other two semesters, GW will narrow down the list of foreign colleges from which they can pick. Lerman said there will probably be some “mandated diversity” among the countries.
And because students will spend so much time away from GW, it will be more refined than the list of more than 300 programs through which students can currently study abroad.
As more colleges eventually join the global bachelor’s program, the list could vary across subject areas, Lerman added.
“We have to make sure these are universities that a student can take courses at, that keep them on track for whatever degree program they’re in, and it might be a different list for different degree programs,” he said.
Ben Vinson, the dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, declined to sit for an interview about the program’s development. A faculty committee has also been working to establish it.
Janis Perkins, the founder of Expanding Horizons for Education Abroad and a former study abroad adviser, said students who take classes in just one country might gain a new perspective, but are more likely to become “bicultural” rather than gain a truly global experience.
To maximize the potential to become more well rounded, she said at least two of the semesters should be full-immersion programs, in which students wouldn’t take courses with just Americans.
“By having multiple sites, I think the student will truly become multicultural and their perspective will reflect all the different cultures they’ve studied,” she said. “I think almost any student could benefit from an experience like this, but I think for a lot of students, it would need to be a progressive sequence.”
Kathy Lui, a junior majoring in international affairs, is studying abroad in Paris this semester after spending the fall in Buenos Aires and the summer in Costa Rica. She said that had the global bachelor’s program been an option during her freshman year, she would have seriously considered joining.
The three programs through which she’s studied have all been different experiences, she said, and have given her a nuanced picture of how higher education varies around the world.
Lui said her interest in foreign languages pushed her to consider multiple study abroad options. By the time she started college, she had already studied abroad twice, and she chose GW with the idea of studying abroad in mind.
Still, she said that as a freshman, she would have been uneasy about leaving the University for three semesters.
“I’ve realized that I am quite out of touch with GW and the American university system,” she said. “I’m afraid that when I return, I will have a hard time adjusting to studying at GW.”