This commentary appeared in the May 3, 2015 edition of the Charleston Gazette.
West Virginia’s economy is becoming increasingly more global. Companies from Europe, Asia and other regions have made strong, smart investments in our state. In fact, investments from 30 countries have resulted in more than 26,000 jobs in West Virginia. And in 2013, our state’s exports reached historic levels – with a total of more than $8.6 billion in products exported and tens of thousands of jobs supported.
As a result of these remarkable developments, West Virginians need to be ready for the opportunities that exist in our growing global economy. That’s why the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission is working on multiple fronts to ensure every public four-year campus is integrating internationalization – a global dimension – into their curriculum, vision and long-term strategic planning.
In a forward-looking move in 2013, we established the Office of International Programs, whose singular charge is to provide every West Virginia student enrolled at a public college or university with the opportunity to acquire international experiences or perspectives through their degree studies.
Currently, every public higher education institution in West Virginia is pursuing student mobility as a major strategy to internationalize their campus – particularly through study abroad programs and international student recruitment.
At the statewide level, we are encouraging and supporting these campus efforts and have set several important goals, including increasing the number of international students in our state by promoting West Virginia as a study destination for international students. Through our global recruitment network, “Study West Virginia,” we are targeting recruitment in regions like China and Mexico and using web-based recruitment strategies.
We have seen some immediate outcomes as a result of these efforts. Marshall University was selected to be a part of an initiative that allowed them to bring 160 Mexican students to campus last fall, through the support of the Mexican government, to study English as a second language. And we expect this initiative to grow even further this year.
We’re also nearing finalization of a student exchange agreement between the Policy Commission and China, which will result in Chinese student enrollment increasing across all of our campuses.
As a result of tuition revenues and other investments, the estimated economic benefit of international students to West Virginia’s economy is $59.6 million annually. So when we bring international students to our campuses, our institutions are stronger, our campuses are more diverse, and West Virginia students are introduced to new ideas and cultures that enrich their education and connect them more strongly to West Virginia’s global economy.
We also have set a goal to increase the number of West Virginia students and faculty going abroad by establishing a statewide study abroad consortium called “Global West Virginia.” This work includes encouraging participation at all institutions in a program that provides access for every qualified public university student to 140 study abroad destinations in 35 countries – at the same cost as studying in West Virginia.
In addition, we work closely with the West Virginia Department of Commerce, the U.S. Commercial Service and the West Virginia Export Council to develop new opportunities that connect our students with West Virginia companies doing business internationally.
Our work doesn’t end with bringing new students here and sending our students abroad. It also includes innovative strategies like virtual exchange programs, which use internet-based technologies to create global learning opportunities for students; and an exchange visitor program, which allows our campuses to invite international professors, researchers, scholars and students to join their programs for certain periods of time.
Through these and a number of other efforts, West Virginia’s public higher education system is responding to our state’s expanding economy. We are thinking outside the box about ways to make our campuses more global and prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
And we are committed to making international education a cornerstone of our students’ higher education experience – an experience that might send them abroad or bring international perspectives to their own classrooms, but always connects them to the universe of opportunities that are growing right here in West Virginia.