Global Engagement



Global Engagement at the University of Michigan

Global Engagement:
Findings and Recommendations

The Curriculum

Students graduating from the University of Michigan should be able to succeed in a global environment as leaders, as workers, and as citizens. This requires that they be able to situate, understand, and think critically about global challenges and important international problems. They should also be able to work in settings that are linguistically, culturally, economically, and politically diverse. Thus, the University should offer a curriculum that provides and expands opportunities for all students to be exposed to and engage in international experiences and learning opportunities. Our students should leave the University with a considerable level of knowledge, insight, and experience pertaining to the broader world community.

Despite the widespread and growing use of English throughout the world, the prospects for success and advancement in many professions are greatly enhanced by the knowledge of a language other than English. In addition the United States has far too few citizens capable of working in a language other than English. This reduces our country’s overall effectiveness in such fields as international business and commerce, international relations and diplomacy, media relations and journalism, and many others. Knowledge of one or more foreign languages broadens a person’s outlook, perspective, and horizon, enhancing his or her prospects for a successful and satisfying life in a society that is increasingly diverse and in a world that is increasingly interdependent. Indeed, more than two-thirds of the 2008 graduating seniors and the alumni who were surveyed in 2009 reported that they had studied a foreign language at the University on average just under two academic years. For all of these reasons, the University should reject the view that the widespread use of English around the world means that knowledge of a foreign language has become less important. Rather, the University should continue to encourage language learning and ensure that students have the broadest possible array of opportunities to study and achieve proficiency in one or more languages other than English, including less- and least-commonly-taught languages [6].
[6 See Wikipedia for definition.]

Another key issue that needs to be addressed for students is course and credit pre-approval for international education. The current system provides few guarantees to our students and their parents. Other universities have resolved this issue by allowing students to take academic classes abroad to “complete” college requirements, and by aligning study abroad with departmental credit. The University should develop an efficient and transparent system for pre-approval of credit, as well as comprehensive articulation tables for courses taken abroad, which would take this uncertainty and worry out of education abroad and thereby increase the rate of participation.

Questions for Reflection

  • Should the University require a minimum amount of coursework with international content for graduation? What level of internationally-themed coursework should be considered the minimum necessary to prepare students for global engagement?
  • How should the University implement a minimum level of international engagement for students who are not necessarily interested in international issues, and also provide a robust set of classes and co-curricular activities for students with a strong interest in international issues? Additionally, what are the best ways to increase student appreciation of the importance of learning about international challenges and about other societies and cultures?
  • In what ways, and to what degree, should the University engage the local community in its internationalization efforts? For example, can initiatives on campus to enrich the curriculum provide new opportunities for collaboration with primary and secondary educational systems in order to deepen the exposure of pre-collegiate students to international perspectives and concerns?
  • How ambitious should the University be in working to increase the proportion of students, particularly undergraduates, who achieve or at least approach proficiency in a language other than English? What are ambitious, yet realistic, goals and expectations in this regard?
  • How can the University ensure high-quality, on-campus instruction at an acceptable cost in low-enrollment, less- and least-commonly-taught languages? In what ways, if any, are the challenges in this regard different than those associated with other specialized and advanced courses that have low enrollments, but that are essential for students in a particular field?


Course Offerings

  • Develop and offer a broad array of internationally-themed freshman seminars, and encourage (or require) all incoming freshmen to take one of these courses. The purpose of these seminars is not only to impart knowledge about a particular topic or world region, but also to develop among students appreciation for international studies more broadly, including the value of education abroad. Giving students this experience early in their academic careers would encourage them to take fuller advantage of the many opportunities for international learning offered by the University.
  • Where possible, include segments on internationalization in introductory courses within specific disciplines--considering, for example, how these disciplines do or do not differ across countries in their curricular content and associated careers for students. In addition to other initiatives, this would encourage students to consider taking more courses with an international focus. Equally important, if not more so, it would enable them to better understand the international significance of their disciplinary studies and to resist an inappropriate distinction between knowledge of other countries and regions on the one hand and disciplinary specialization on the other.
  • Require undergraduate students to take at least one course selected from a specified suite of substantive upper-division courses with an international theme. In addition to the possibility of motivating students to take additional courses with an international focus, this would ensure that every student has at least a minimum of exposure to a topic or problem of international significance or to another country or world region.
  • Encourage the faculty to identify or develop one or more coherent sets of courses with an international focus, which students would enroll in to fulfill the requirements of a concentration. In particular, an interdisciplinary approach to such internationally-themed, upper-level courses should be encouraged. This will not only guide students in selecting courses that, taken as a group, provide an integrated learning experience, but it would also enable them to more fully connect international learning to their disciplinary specializations.
  • Expand opportunities with other universities to share courses with international content--particularly, but not exclusively, with other Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) institutions. This would enable students both at the University of Michigan and at other participating institutions to benefit from their collective faculty resources. The University should also look for opportunities to develop and expand course sharing with partner institutions in other countries.
  • Promote and support a research agenda around international education and student learning outcomes. The number of students going abroad for educational purposes is an important measure of campus internationalization. In addition to this “output” measure, important measures that are often not assessed are the impact of those students on the institution upon their return, and what students actually learn while abroad, both inside and outside the classroom. A commitment should be made to measuring these outcomes to place the focus of education abroad not on the numbers exclusively, but also on the learning and development of students and how the global education of students effects the entire campus.
  • Include graduate education when considering and implementing recommendations related to curriculum development. Although many of the preceding recommendations focus on undergraduates, each department, school, and college should be encouraged to develop, implement, and adapt any of these recommendations they find relevant to their graduate programs. It is important that graduate students be knowledgeable about the ways that their fields of study are understood and practiced in other countries and about the possible ramifications of their own research and professional work for other societies.

Language Learning

  • Develop curricular and co-curricular programs that help students to appreciate the importance of learning a language other than English and that stimulate interest in an education-abroad experience with a foreign language component. This might include short-term overseas “exposure” programs for freshmen and sophomores on the order of weeks. It might also include expanding and adding the use of foreign languages in on-campus meetings and other activities that involve international students or other native speakers of a language other than English.
  • Offer students varied and multiple opportunities to use a foreign language in their coursework and research, including a language-across-the-curriculum (LAC) program. Elements of an LAC program might include history, social science, and professional school courses taught in a language other than English; foreign language discussion sections in some of these same courses; and team-taught courses in which one or more instructors are proficient in another language. Also of value would be a “trailer course” program, in which a language department and a non-language department jointly plan and offer a pair of courses addressing the same subject matter, encouraging students to enroll in both courses during a given semester.
  • Continue to offer on-campus instruction in a broad array of less- and least-commonly-taught languages. Particularly important are languages that are important to the research undertaken by faculty members and students and/or that the U.S. government has identified as critical for national needs. This is important despite the low enrollments in some less-commonly-taught language courses, especially in the third- and fourth-year classes that are needed for proficiency. The potential for new collaborations and expanding existing collaborations, such as CIC’s CourseShare initiative with other institutions, should be explored as cost-effective approaches.
  • Offer a selection of foreign language immersion courses in the summer and provide increased support for students to participate in these programs for languages that are not already taught during the summer.


  • Develop an efficient and transparent system for pre-approval of credit for education abroad. The current process is a barrier to education abroad, as it is cumbersome, time consuming, and provides few guarantees to students and their parents. A system is needed that enables students, staff, and faculty to know before a student goes overseas how courses and credits taken abroad will apply toward graduation requirements. Work should also be done to develop and maintain online comprehensive articulation agreements with partner and peer institutions.
  • Assist students in organizing themselves into cohorts that share an interest in a particular international issue, country, or world region. Toward this end, the University should provide support, structure, and resources for activities with an international focus that are planned either by the students themselves or by the University. In some cases, it may be desirable for cohorts to form living-learning communities with an international orientation, such as LSA’s Global Scholars Program. By participating in the activities of these cohorts, students can work together over a sustained period to exchange ideas and perspectives and to deepen their understanding of, and their commitment to, those international issues in which they have a particular interest.
  • Increase opportunities for international visitors--including scholars, authors, artists, and performers--to visit classes and to supplement their public lectures or performances with Q&A sessions for interested students. This would not only enrich the experience of the visiting scholars, it would also give students direct contact with individuals who may introduce them to different cultural, political, or intellectual perspectives and help them to appreciate the differences and similarities between themselves and people in other societies.