I had the honor of going to Washington, D.C., in November to represent North Central College at the awards program for the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. It was an award richly deserved by the Office of International Programs, directed by Jack Shindler, professor of English, and Kimberly Larsson, director of study abroad.
On that day, North Central College was feted along with institutions including University of Virginia and Mount Holyoke—institutions with long-standing, national reputations. And yet, in the realm of international programs, North Central is their equal.
The presidents from the honored schools participated in a panel discussion and among the topics we discussed was the challenge of providing access to international opportunities—North Central was singled out for our tremendous success in this area—and how to assess the value of a student’s international education. Of course each student returns with valuable experiences after traveling abroad, but what about 10 years later, when he or she is traveling for their profession or performing service in an international location? We hear from our graduates that their international experiences were influential in preparing them for citizenship in our global society. Yet quantifying the benefits and the global components of our academic programs is difficult!
The value of a liberal arts education—which at North Central includes extensive international opportunities—has been regularly challenged as of late in the media and on the campaign trail. The most common misunderstandings are that higher education should be more vocational (e.g. the now famous “welders versus philosophers” debate from a recent presidential debate) or should be primarily evaluated by a salary level achieved soon after graduation. The “metric du jour” from the Department of Education is a student’s earnings 10 years after starting college. On this metric, I was an abject failure since I was still in graduate school completing my doctorate and earning “peanuts!” Yet, my liberal arts education at a small, private college prepared me well for an exciting and unpredictable career path.
I think there are better definitions of success, if not so easily packaged in a calculation. North Central alumni confirm this time and again. They tell me how they were remarkably prepared for success in life, whether their path of choice took them to social work, ministry, education, business or STEM fields. We all know there are important metrics of success beyond salary. We all can be helpful to prospective students and their parents as they wade through the conflicting rhetoric.
We believe our mission of producing “informed, involved, principled and productive citizens and leaders” has incredible value—and is urgently needed—in society today. Our students leave North Central prepared to think critically and work with diverse peoples to solve problems that are increasingly global in scope and interdisciplinary in nature—no matter where their career path leads. As you read stories of progress, both globally and locally, in this issue, I encourage you to think about ways you can support the mission of North Central College and our Brilliant Future Campaign. We need you all.