Thinking Big: Getting to Global Midd

Dean of the College Tim Spears has a tendency to throw in some light humor on his blog and then hit us with some of the heavy stuff like a post outlining discussions for increasing enrollment, moving study abroad to sophomore year, and opening 15 to 20 new schools abroad. Before we follow with some commentary, this post captures and parses some of the stuff Spears puts on the table (excuse my slightly sterile language below):

  • The Money: the School has a few revenue streams (three to be exact), one of which is tuition dollars. If they up enrollment (let more people into Midd), it increases revenue because there is more money coming in. The school needs more money, doesn’t have space for more students on campus, and doesn’t yet want to change the student-teacher ratio.
  • Study Abroad for a full year: Currently 175 students of the junior class studies in Middlebury abroad programs for a full year. 60% of all juniors study abroad, some of which are not at a Middlebury program abroad. The Study Abroad office encourages students (in most languages) to study abroad for a full year to maximize the cultural and language acquisition. But why then do a lot of students choose to study abroad only for a semester? If a student is abroad, they are not filling a bed back in Vermont.
  • Middlebury abroad vs. Non-Midd abroad: When students decide to study at a non-Midd program, Middlebury loses the tuition dollars. It’s that simple. So should all Middkids study abroad at Midd programs? Middlebury would need to create and manage new abroad programs to meet the demand of Middlebury students.
  • Sophomores vs. Juniors abroad: Is it better to study abroad your sophomore or junior year? It depends on a lot of factors. How good is your language skill? Are you mentally prepared to go abroad? What will you get out of the experience? Can going abroad benefit your academic work there and when you return?
  • Mandatory study abroad: If you study abroad, you give up space back in Vermont. That space could be used to bring in another paying student. So should Middlebury force everyone to study abroad so they can add more students? The academic rationale is that mandatory study abroad gives the global perspective that Middlebury wishes to impart upon students.
  • More schools abroad: If Middlebury were to force all students to take a year abroad, Midd would need to expand the abroad offerings by 15 to 20 new study abroad schools. Middlebury currently operates 34 schools abroad in 12 countries. These sites could grow quickly and cheaply because Midd partners with existing universities. More schools abroad give students options.
  • English schools abroad: If you are required to study abroad but don’t want to take a language, Middlebury will need English-language options. Again, to keep tuition dollars, Middlebury might want to open English study abroad programs.
  • Language Learning: If you are required to study abroad sophomore year, you have less time to acquire the language. Enter pre-Midd programs like MMLA and Rosetta Stone Middlebury. Your language path might look something like this: 1) Go to MMLA two summers before applying to Middlebury, 2) get into Middlebury and place into a second year language, 3) take language school the summer before sophomore year, 4) go abroad sophomore year with 3 years of language under your belt.
  • Other Schools: If other schools send their students to Middlebury’s study abroad programs then Middlebury makes money.

As evidenced by the number of “if’s” above, a lot of the points are interconnected. Mandatory study abroad necessitates more schools abroad and more schools abroad necessitates different paths of language learning. Spears narrates two versions of how these interconnected points might unfold.

To be clear, though, Spears is identifying specific tactics to get at a larger goal of the “global liberal arts college.” That term deserves a post of its own since not everyone has quite bought in to this idea yet.

MiddBlog wants to know: What are the good ideas here? If you could dramatically remake the study abroad experience for students at Middlebury, what would that look like? Is this more business or academics?


16 thoughts on “Thinking Big: Getting to Global Midd

  1. I’m currently studying abroad at a non-Middlebury program, and I have some issues with these proposals. For me, choosing a study abroad school was not unlike choosing Middlebury. I needed to decide where I wanted to be, the size of the school, what I wanted to study ect. I’m also only here for 1 semester. I didn’t want to leave Middlebury and my family for an entire year, and I don’t know if I would have been able to finish my degree on time if I stayed here. I also made the decision to study abroad late in the game, I didn’t come to Middlebury wanting to leave. Mandatory study abroad is a terrible idea. It will just discourage students from applying in the first place. Not everyone wants or needs to Middlebury. Many of my friends are still on campus this year, and they’re perfectly happy and will become fine members of the global community. Just because I spent 3 months in Europe won’t make me a better person. I’m having a great time, but it’s not necessary to my life. And SOME students on non-Middlebury programs do actually pay Middlebury if they’re on exchange. Maybe the college should look into opening more exchange programs with other institutions.

  2. Some of Dean Spears’ ideas are off-the-wall.

    What is driving what here? Is he chasing the money or a vision?

    Ryan: maybe some not have “bought into Middlebury as the global liberal arts college,” but then that is like saying some have not bought into this being Asia’s century.

    Like it or not, Middlebury is the only liberal arts college that has the international related resources it does — its 30+ schools abroad, the finest intensive (foreign) language programs (the Language Schools), two majors as strong as the College’s I.S. and IP&E majors, foreign language depts as good as Middlebury’s, a faculty with so many on it whose primary and secondary specializations are “international,” and Monterey — a graduate institution that will give Middlebury students many opportunities in a variety of curricular and internationally related professional areas in the coming years.

    One can close one’s eyes, but this strength has been in the works for nearly 100 years (with the founding of the first Language School in 1915) and so the only way to “not buy in” is to close one’s eyes and make believe all that other stuff didn’t exist. But that would be hard since so many Midd undergrads study in the Language Schools and the Schools Abroad and have for years.

    But being the global liberal arts college need not mean Midd adopts Dean Spears’ proposals—again, many of which are silly. And some are not. It simply means Middlebury has the resources with which to educate its students to be able to address the challenges of the 21st (globalized) century.

  3. @MiddAlum

    I’ll save my larger discussion of globalization for a polisci course, preferably one that brings up Sachs and Easterly.

    From my experience, if you bring up “global middlebury” on campus among fac/staff/stu, you’ll feel the tension on the topic. For instance, there are a whole host of folks that don’t buy in to adding the Monterey Institute (soon to officially be Middlebury’s graduate programs). As a school, we still grapple with how best to present ourselves with this new image. If the global is so inevitable, why then did countless people ask for “College” to be re-added to the title of the new website? I happen to like the idea of the global liberal arts college but some still need some convincing. More in a forthcoming post. I’d love to hear more on this topic.

  4. Midd alum asks whether this proposal is driven by money or vision, and I would say both. The point of this exercise was to generate out-of-the-box recommendations for dealing with a future in which economic resources are much leaner and choices are more limited. Much of this last year has been devoted to cutting budgets so we can overcome the deficits (big deficits) that lie before us. The plans I floated are all about generating revenue, but doing so in a way that is consistent with the College’s mission. Now I completely get the point that going abroad may not appeal to everyone. On the other hand, Middlebury has unique strengths in international education, which–to use business speak–the College could leverage in the future. Given these strengths, what makes this particular proposal “silly’?

    I agree with Ryan that much of this discussion is linked to the larger question of what is means for Middlebury to be a global liberal arts college. If it doesn’t mean studying abroad, then what does it mean?!

  5. Although I don’t think Tim’s proposal is “terrible,” I think “midd kid abroad” brings up a good point that not all students may want to study abroad. Could your proposal include a provision to make exceptions for students (capped at a certain number, say, 100) who have compelling reasons not to study abroad? (ie study abroad would not fit in with their academic goals?)

    Also, what do you think of students getting to choose if they study abroad their sophomore year or their junior year? Or, do you see this only working as an either-or system?

  6. I’m with Midd Kid Abroad. Deciding whether and where to study abroad is a very personal decision. I came to Middlebury assuming that I would study abroad, but decided not to. It was exactly the right decision for me, but I have felt a lot of pressure to go abroad. Did I have a “compelling reason” to stay at Midd? Well, going abroad would have been terrible for my mental health (which I didn’t realize until I was in college), prevented me from adding a minor (which I didn’t know I wanted until sophomore spring), and would have had nothing to do with my academic and career interests (which are centered in the US, and specifically the northeast). Is that “compelling” enough? Who is in a better position to decide that than I am, with guidance from my family, advisors, etc?

    I’m very uncomfortable with going abroad as the “default” and needing a special reason to stay at Midd. I firmly believe that staying should be the default, and students should have to provide “compelling reasons” to go abroad. If that means that 60 or 80 (or 40!) percent of students go abroad, great! As long as it’s the right choice for them personally. The idea that someone could know for sure as a senior in high school whether it’s right for them to study abroad as a junior in college (which is what is implied when people say that if study abroad is mandatory, seniors will only apply to Midd if they’re willing to study abroad) is just not realistic. At the very least, it wasn’t realistic for me.

    For similar reasons, I oppose requiring that all study abroad experiences last a whole year: it needs to be a personal decision. When I discussed these proposals with friends who went abroad for a semester, they reported that they thought the study abroad office was right: they didn’t start really settling in until about month 4 (when they only had about a month left). However, staying for another semester wasn’t the right choice: one reported that “the countdown was very important to my mental health;” another said that staying for a full year would have prevented her from achieving her academic goals at Middlebury.

    About study abroad being moved to sophomore year– personally, I wouldn’t have been ready (emotionally, etc) to go abroad as a sophomore. I was just settling in on campus, finding my real friends, etc. Beyond all that, what about learning the language? I started a language as a sophomore, and some other sophomores in my class did language school and went abroad. That option would be gone. Dean Spears proposes that you study a language in high school, place into second-year here (something my mediocre high school Spanish program didn’t prepare me for– I got As in high school, but only placed into 105 here), and then do language school. This proposal assumes a certain affluence– for me, language school was never an option. Even if I’d gotten a full scholarship, I would have missed out on several thousand dollars of income from a summer job that I need to help pay tuition. The proposal also assumes, again, that you know what you want to do in high school. It’s just not realistic.

    I think that covers most of my objections… in short, I believe that while these proposals might be good for Middlebury as a business, they ignore the needs of the students. It’s a trade-off that, to me, is not acceptable.

  7. In a lot of the research into Middlebury and the options of pursuing a science degree there, it became clear that studying abroad might be difficult if there was a desire (and financial need) to finish the degree on time. I agree with MiddKidd Abroad that instituting a year long mandatory study abroad requirement might be a lot to ask and add that such a move might very well reduce the number and variety of applicants. And certainly, there has to be a reasonable amount of lead in time before making this a requirement or otherwise you are changing the rules after the game has started – meaning, you can’t expect kids who are already there to be required to now leave for a year – sophomore or junior year. How would such a move change certain majors like science? Or do we propose that Middlebury become strictly language or international relations minded? And therefore would the necessary timeline negate any real or imagined financial benefit (if deficits are huge and right around the corner)?

    And regardless of what people think of college athletics, Midd students participate in a huge way. Leaving for only a semester (for those who want to study abroad) allows students to still participate, whereas forcing a year-long exodus would definitely hurt the school’s competitiveness with other schools who will have lots of upper classmen to fill out their rosters.

    While some might consider it elitist or even heartless, but it seems counterproductive to continue to increase the financial aid budget while making cuts in all other areas and also forcing kids off campus. Would those students now on considerable financial aid even be able to undertake the added expense? What are the typical costs associated with travel abroad above and beyond what they are now paying? Would the financial aid budget need to meet those increased needs?

    Seems to me that if, as has been said repeatedly, the stated goal of all cuts etc were not to change the academic program, something like this would negate this promise completely.

  8. Ryan, Dean Spears: it is about relevance. Do people really think adding “College” to the name is going to help the institution meet the needs of future 18 year olds and help sustain its future? As an alum, the idea that Midd would stay just as it was when I graduated is very common and natural. It was good enough for me, so why should it ever change?

    However the Middlebury that you say so many on campus today would like to see preserved, which would ignore the remarkable programs that make Middlebury unique as a liberal arts College, is hardly the College of 40 years ago, 75 years ago, or the original college of 1800.

    Institutions must change, and current students (and staff and faculty) who argue that the College should remain forever as it is today are doing the College and future MiddKidds no service: Middlebury will always have at its core the liberal arts college, but the other entities, including Monterey, will set Middlebury apart and provide opportunities for students down the road that will not only distinguish it from all other liberal arts colleges, but ensure its relevance and its academic and financial strength. Can a liberal arts college as it is offered today, and limited to our present conception of the liberal arts, sustain an institution that costs $50,000+/year, and counts on a subsidy of at least $20,000 from the endowment and alumni gifts — a subsidy that is hardly secure (as the past year has shown).

    I was at the College’s Alumni Leadership Conference in September, which is the annual gathering of Middlebury’s leading volunteers (class agents, class secretaries, alumni admissions interviewers, etc), and after a terrific presentation by the president, an alum from the class of (around) 1960 asked; “when will we be Middlebury University?” and the president replied emphatically “never.” He proceeded to explain how Middlebury, with the undergraduate program at the core, will always be the core, but that the other programs, some of which many alums did not even know about, will both enhance our students’ experience, and separate Middlebury from the kind of education all other liberal arts colleges could offer. Most importantly, he explained clearly and in deliberate fashion how Middlebury, with its “other” programs, was very different from the university model. The alumni present were impressed and relieved. He made some very compelling points about the clouded future of liberal arts colleges that failed to provide a liberal arts education within the context of the times, as Middlebury is poised to do.

    45 years ago, maybe 1% of students studied abroad; now it is 60% and that may be perfect. Greater than 40% of the faculty teach and conduct research in areas that are “international” in scope. The College evolves. For the good. Present day students and alumni should recognize an institution that does not evolve stagnates. But to accept that, one first has to recognize how much the Middlebury that today’s faculty, staff, and students love so much, has also changed so much over time.

    The best part of Dean Spears’ proposal is the 2 years of focus on the academic major for students. Right now the junior year away disrupts one focused study once one chooses a major. The wacky part is the need for the College to gear up by opening so many new programs abroad (15?). Even though our model requires the building or purchasing of no infastructure, and is done via rentals and partnerships with local universities, it is still quite an undertaking. And then there is athletics. Can’t imagine the strongest student-athletes willingly giving up a season to do a required year abroad. But I admit there are good aspects of the idea, too.

  9. First I will say that I completely agree with all of the arguments stated by Midd Alum, and I would like to add my personal experience as evidence.

    I chose to study abroad for one semester on a Non-Middlebury program. This decision was 100% the best thing I could have done. Because of the amazing experience I had, I have since moved back to the country where I studied to live. My life has been changed by this for the better, and I credit Middlebury for giving me the education and preparation I needed to make such a decision. It would be, without a doubt, a huge loss were Middlebury students forced to study abroad only through Middlebury Programs. Additionally, I feel that if the goal is to create a global Midd student, then we cannot be shutting out a whole range of study abroad options which open doors to which even Middlebury does not have access. I

    I also agree that I was in no way prepared as a Sophomore for the study abroad experience, though there would be no harm in making that an option. And finally, it is very important to recognize financial limitations, as Midd Parent mentions, and I personally would not have had the financial resources to study abroad for a year either. If all of these changes had been made before I applied to Middlebury, it is unlikely I would have felt even remotely comfortable as a high school senior in applying to the school.

    I apologize for the lack of insightful or productive ideas, but when it comes to study abroad at Middlebury I think the saying applies “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” or maybe it would make more sense to say “Don’t break what works so well for so many”.

  10. Has it been mentioned somewhere: Of the 60% of Midd Students who study abroad, do we know the percentage of students whom specifically attend Middlebury Programs?

    While I agree that sophomores may not be emotionally or linguistically ready to go abroad, I also agree that it’s important to go through the transformative experience of study abroad earlier in your college career before you choose a major.

    Going abroad sophomore year would perhaps lessen the impact on athletics (upperclassmen still get to play). It may also lessen the impact on student organization leadership roles. Forcing everyone to go abroad junior year would lead to more involved sophomores, but it could also lead to a lot of detached seniors who don’t have the background necessary to effectively lead their peers at Midd.

    Moreover, Middlebury offers a better classroom education than many other nations. It is the rare country you can go to and find a teaching professor. Can we really mandate that students go somewhere with less personal academic attention for the same cost?

    The fact is, of course we can. The administration can make that decision. But the applicant pool will be extremely different than the current applicant pool. I completely agree with Prof. Mittell’s comments that we would grow from a mainstream college (like Williams and Amherst) to a niche school (like Bennington or Hampshire). Those are great schools, but I came to Midd to learn from a well-rounded group of students and faculty. If Midd had had this requirement, I would not have applied.

    Needless to say, Alumni will be less likely to donate to a school with whom they can no longer identify.

  12. As a sophomore, I know that I am not prepared to study abroad, and I don’t think I would appreciate the experience or get as much out of it if I were going this year instead of next year, as I plan to do. My language skills aren’t yet up to a level I’m comfortable with, but that is only one factor. I also think that it’s important to be spending all of this year with my classmates – we’ll be scattered all over the globe at different times next year, and we all appreciate having a full year to continue learning about and enjoying Middlebury together.

    I do concede that sophomore study abroad might work for a select few people, but I think a mandatory study abroad or a mandatory year abroad would be a mistake in any year. For many majors, a year abroad is simply not feasible, regardless of the study abroad office’s assertion that it is. If I were to spend all of next year abroad, all of my courses at Middlebury would have to fulfill my major or the distribution requirements. That means I would never get to explore other wonderful course offerings at Middlebury that interest me or pursue a minor. More importantly, I would have needed to know my major before coming to college, and started on the right track to complete the major and go abroad for a year; with this, I would also loose a lot of flexibility in changing my major. Mandating a year abroad overlooks many, many logistical roadblocks that a lot of students would face. I think it would seriously limit academic opportunities for Middlebury students, and is thus is a suggestion that looks more at the bottom line than at the quality of education for the students that the College is supposed to serve. As a corollary, I don’t think a single semester should be mandatory either. As with a full year, a single semester just doesn’t work for every student on this campus. While I appreciate efforts to “go global,” study abroad is a personal experience and everyone should be allowed to make the choice that works best for them. And I think it would seriously hurt Middlebury in the eyes of prospective students.

    I’ll be curious to see how far this idea makes it . . . I hope not far at all.

  13. Midd Parent: I believe around 55-60% of those who study abroad study on Midd programs, but I can be a bit off on this.

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