June 2012 issue

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US liberal arts colleges

Liberal arts colleges in the USA, offering diverse curriculum content, are also inclined to welcome students from diverse backgrounds and are thus an attractive option for international students. Claire Twyman finds out more.

As Martha Kimmel at Furman University in Greenville, SC, puts it, “The liberal arts model does seem unique.” Set apart by the style of education they provide, “Liberal education actually means a broad education, or one that spans several academic disciplines and departments,” she enthuses.

While students often major in one subject at US liberal arts colleges, such institutions typically offer four-year bachelor degree programmes consisting of a diverse range of modules, ranging from the humanities and arts to the sciences and mathematical subjects. Bob Baldwin at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, explains these colleges run this way “to help students build a broad base of skills that will allow them to succeed in a wide variety of fields”, adding that employers value a liberal arts graduate’s ability “to see connections between disciplines and thus find creative solutions to complex problems”. Liberal arts colleges are usually small in size, residential and “pride themselves on intense collaboration between students and faculty”, he adds.

Kimmel notes that at Furman University, students live on campus all four years of study. “[This] means international students are more involved in the campus community, allowing more opportunity to explore the co-curricular activities available,” she relates. Bates College in Lewiston, ME, also houses most students on campus and boasts a student to faculty ratio of ten-to-one. “More than 68 per cent of class sections, excluding independent studies, have fewer than 20 students enrolled,” says Scott Steinberg.

Steinberg explains that Bates College operate on a four-month autumn and winter semester and then a one-month short-term in the summer, common to other colleges. “The short-term provides an unusual opportunity for a variety of educational programmes, frequently off campus, that cannot be offered in regular semesters,” he relates.

Baldwin reports that overseas students pursue an eclectic mix of academic programmes. “In recent years we have found that our environmental science and studies programmes have attracted ever greater numbers of international students, as sustainability has become ever present in discussions of international issues.”

Overseas students are attracted to courses that include a diversity of perspective and experience at Earlham College in Richmond, IN, according to Patty Lamson. Economics, politics and international studies are very popular, she says.

Steinberg highlights that overseas student numbers have been steadily rising since 2007 at Bates College. At Earlham, meanwhile, 18 per cent of students are international with representation from more than 80 countries, notes Lamson.

Kay MacIntosh from Washington College in Chestertown, MD, reports an overseas student population of about four per cent. She sees “an appreciation of the liberal arts in nations with growing economies, such as China, India and certain Middle East countries”. She also reports interest from international students finishing secondary education or English language programmes.

Some have upped international recruitment in recent years, with Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA, launching an active international recruitment programme in 2011. “[We are] active at numerous overseas education fairs, and fully [understand] the family’s need for multi-lingual marketing,” says Angela Burrows. The university is building relationships with counsellors in a large number of international secondary schools, she adds.

Lamson reports that the college’s international student population grew recently due to its involvement in the global network of United World Colleges (UWC) and also funding bursary schemes for numerous international students.

And just as colleges are mindfully recruiting overseas students, a number are offering additional support services. Karen Backes at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University relates that new international students experience a semester-long orientation class. “The Mentor Program and International Friends Programs offer another layer of support,” she adds.

A selection of liberal arts colleges in the USA

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