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Higher Education and the Case for International Engagement

In my role leading global initiatives at Northern Arizona University, I am often asked about the value of the university’s efforts to engage internationally. The impact of NAU’s relationships beyond the borders of Flagstaff, the state of Arizona and the United States is far reaching and benefits students and faculty who travel overseas, and international students and faculty we host at NAU.

It is NAU’s mission to ensure students and scholars have opportunities to travel, study and do scholarly work abroad. It is equally important for those of us in Northern Arizona and NAU to have the same access to outside intellectual capital – for scholars and researchers from around the world to come here, study and enhance the campus-learning environment.

International programs are critical to our students’ ability to thrive in a global economy. A person’s ability to thrive in multinational corporations, government agencies, the military, NGOs or even a local business with a diverse clientele hinges on that person’s ability to move and manage across cultures.

Efforts to build international engagement have paid off in the last five years. NAU is now ranked No. 7 in the United States for its long-term study abroad programs, up from No. 17 in 2015, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2019 Report. In addition, NAU’s international enrollment grew 5% in the fall 2018 with a 12 percent increase in new international students, even as international enrollments dropped nationwide.

NAU offers opportunities to students and faculty with more than 120 partners around the world, and nearly 1,000 students from NAU’s campuses study abroad in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. This fall alone, NAU welcomed more than 600 new undergraduate and graduate international students to our campuses.

In addition to the academic benefits of these partnerships, international students and scholars have a tremendous financial impact in our region. A 2016 Alliance Bank Economic Impact Report estimated that the 1,300 international students who study at NAU contribute nearly $50 million in annual economic impact to the state and contribute to the creation of more than 600 jobs each year for Arizonans, most of those jobs located right here in Northern Arizona.

This economic impact transcends the local economy. Research dollars from projects with universities and foundations around the U.S. and across the world strengthen our academic programs, attract outstanding students, help our institutional ranking and the overall health and resilience of our community and university.

Recently, NAU secured a $1 million mega grant for the opening of a joint lab in Siberia, Russia, in partnership with Tyumen State University. President Cheng, Forestry Professor Rich Hofstetter and I were honored to attend this historic event and through this partnership, forestry researchers and students have broadened and strengthened their research and opened new possibilities for discoveries that benefit Flagstaff and communities around the world.

Last summer, NAU signed an agreement to bring a master’s degree in public administration to students in China. This partnership will open the door for NAU faculty to teach in China – and for Chinese students to come to NAU.

And, NAU has a strong partnership with a number of universities in Mexico – educational partnerships in energy, hospitality and biological sciences that strengthen cross-border collaborations between Mexico and the state of Arizona.

These are just a few examples of hundreds of collaborations that exist with our global partners. I believe the future of NAU is bright and I say with confidence that our international engagement – and our leadership’s pursuit of gains in this area – only stands to benefit our institutions, our communities and, ultimately, our student experience. FBN

By Daniel Palm

Daniel Palm is associate vice president for global initiatives at Northern Arizona University.




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