When Will You Find Us an American School That Wants to Build a Branch Campus Here?

Over the past twelve months, IIE has been visited by education officials from nearly all of the countries undergoing transformation because of the so-called Arab/Asian Spring. Each has asked similar questions about access to U.S. higher education. There is an urgent need to provide education for an entire generation (or two) that has been largely isolated. Questions abound about how to apply to U.S. colleges and universities, how to obtain scholarships, and how to bring their English language skills up to acceptable levels.

Fortunately, in all these countries EducationUSA Advising Centers provide the resources and free advising. Moreover, we will introduce new data on student flows from these countries when the latest Open Doors numbers are released at the National Press Club annual briefing on November 13.

But for every student who is able to come to the United States, there are hundreds who are unable. For these, questions about branch campuses often come up. There is a tremendous need in countries undergoing rapid and uncertain change for everything from English language training and teaching to liberal arts education and courses in public administration. Leaders of these countries are aware of this need, and often look to U.S. higher education for models and best practices.

The branch campus phenomenon is often associated with mature markets or countries where the state is prepared to invest considerable resources in attracting schools and absorbing their risks. And we have been chastened by how difficult initiating and maintaining a branch campus turns out to be. That is why, when reporters ask me about what’s happening in this particular area of international education, I reply that branch campuses are not exactly taking the world by storm. There are still only about 200 branch campuses, and most are in places where the students mentioned above do not come from.

But what I find striking is that there is currently a tremendous openness toward American higher education, which seems to transcend both history and ideologies. While this openness toward our higher education system does not necessarily mean that new regimes and systems will want to emulate all that we do or agree on all the regional security issues on Washington’s priority list, there is a solid basis for dialogue, cultural and educational relations, and, eventually, mutual understanding.

Branch campus projects are not for the faint of heart, as highlighted by “Education as an Export: The Globalization of U.S. Higher Education and the Emergence of Overseas Branch Campuses,” a recent white paper by JP Morgan . We were pleased to work with JP Morgan on this and also on a National Conference Call, which you can read about in a related post by my colleague Daniel Obst. Nearly 200 U.S. college and university officials joined the call. That is an encouraging number, given how rare it is for U.S. institutions to even explore this aspect of globalizing their mission.

Our hope is that some projects will get built in places where they can really make a difference. “Made in America” may one day prove to be something we put on things other than movies and cars that shape what people undergoing today’s changes think about us and their future.