In his March 12 Tuesday Opinion essay, “Want to study abroad? Check out America.,” Mitch Daniels shared his excitement about an alternative means of more college students gaining an “abroad” experience by seeing different parts of the United States. As an international educator for 40 years, I wholeheartedly support efforts to send more undergrads abroad.
No doubt many students at elite colleges can support an off-campus “grand” summer experience without needing to earn money to pay for books, incidentals or student loans. Not so for the first-generation, low-income and minority students. Mr. Daniels described a Yale student who discovered on a 7,200-mile road trip “the overwhelming impact of family and culture on the life prospects of children.” I’m sure it was a revelation. It sounds like the experiences set up for the first Peace Corps volunteers who traveled to poor nations to offer assistance absent any useful credentials to change the lives of the poor villagers they lived with. The Peace Corps was always more popular than its domestic counterpart, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), supporting volunteer work in our inner cities.
We need more resources and greater commitment to providing equal access for all college students to learning experiences outside the United States. International experience has the potential to improve the employability of students at a time of rapid globalization of markets and a growing need for agile learners with strong cross-cultural communication skills. The grand strategy for our colleges and universities should be to close the opportunity gap and level the playing field.
Martin Tillman, Washington