Jerry Logan is the Academic Programs Coordinator at Gordon College. Janel Curry is the Provost at Gordon College.

This special edition of the Christian Scholar’s Review aims to broaden our understanding of the global face—the contexts, opportunities, and challenges—of Christian higher education. This face is changing almost constantly. Students are studying abroad in historic numbers, while faculty and administrators are collaborating with their peers around the world with unprecedented depth and frequency. We are all crisscrossing the globe, impacting each other with every passing and landing, whether we travel by plane or by Skype. With so much movement and change, moments of reflection, wherein we attempt to discern and reimagine our position upon this landscape, are invaluable.

My own (Janel’s) understanding of this changing landscape has been shaped most recently by two working tours in Hong Kong. During my first stint in the spring of 2010, I was quickly reminded that we are not the only ones wrestling with questions of global identity. These questions are buried deeply within Hong Kong’s culture, planted as it is between a British colonial past and a mainland Chinese future, between a traditional Eastern heritage and modernizing Western influences. Its people keep their feet in multiple places, always hedging their bets. If you can, you have two passports or more—Canada and Hong Kong, the U.S. and Hong Kong, the UK and Hong Kong, Australia and Hong Kong. You own homes in two countries and bank accounts in several more. If you can afford it, you send your children abroad to school, ensuring that they too can keep their global options open. In many ways this reflects the nature of globalization and higher education—no longer do we just send students abroad for international experiences, but students come to us from abroad and our students who hold U.S. passports may have been born and raised abroad though they represent many different ethnic communities.

Such was the case with many of the university faculty, staff, and administrators with whom I worked during my time there. I came to Hong Kong in 2010 and again in the spring of 2012 as part of a cadre of Fulbright experts, our goal to help these administrators complete a spectacularly ambitious project: the transformation of a three-year university system with specialized curricula into a four-year system grounded in a program of liberal education. Together, those of us who were not rooted in Hong Kong would shape the future of those who were.

The region’s choice to move toward a more liberal arts–based curriculum, and to rely on cohorts of American faculty for guidance in doing so, called to mind another identity crisis, one that comparative education scholar Philip Altbach noted in his 2001 defense of American higher education:

In a curious paradox, at the same time that American academe has come in for unprecedented criticism at home, it is widely emulated abroad. Indeed, the American higher education system has become the worldwide “gold standard” for higher education, respected for its leadership in research and scholarship and for providing access to large numbers of students. Foreign delegations tour American campuses seeking to glean useful insights. Entire academic systems are reengineered to reflect such U.S. practices … American universities and colleges are widely viewed as having dealt constructively with many of the challenges facing higher education throughout the world.1

Altbach later refers to the “mirror of foreign experience,” those glimpses we get of our own higher education system through the eyes of outsiders that remind us of its breathtaking growth and success.2 Certainly in its massive push toward a program of general education, Hong Kong was validating a significant feature of our higher education system. But I knew too much of the situation back home, of the spending cuts to higher education in many states, of the rising tuition costs and student debt, of liberal arts programs under fire due to a perceived lack of professional relevance. The mirror of Hong Kong showed a region investing deeply in a form of education that, at the same time, is under intense scrutiny stateside.

My experience in Hong Kong is part of a much larger trend in global higher education. In many ways, we have become strangely and inextricably linked to China. It is an uneasy marriage, one that feels pulled from a familiar F. Scott Fitzgerald story: we are aging in opposite directions. This past decade, China has passed the U.S. in its share of worldwide college enrollment and in the number of college degrees awarded. As government spending on education swells to more than $250 billion annually in China, states here continue to cut funding for public institutions and perpetual federal budget issues threaten student scholarship and research and development programs.3 As Hong Kong presses toward a four-year liberal arts curriculum aimed at developing creative citizen-leaders, we press toward more practical, jobs-oriented programs that can, perhaps, be completed in fewer than four years.4 Nonetheless, because of the lingering strength of our system, China has become in many ways our most important partner. It is a budding source of research and development. In 2010, China spent 1.7% of its GDP on R&D, compared to only 0.95% 10 years prior. Likewise, China’s number of research publications has more than quadrupled since the turn of the century, and the number of patent applications it files annually has grown by 729%. China’s production of top-quality research papers now equals that of Britain, and its number of patent applications exceeds that of even the U.S. At the same time, the Chinese are also sending more of their students to our institutions.5 From 2005-06 to 2009-10, the number of Chinese students in U.S. higher education institutions more than doubled. In 2010-11, a total of 157,558 Chinese students enrolled in U.S. institutions, a 23.3% increase from the previous year.6 The mutual need of our two countries will shape global higher education for the foreseeable future.

Globalization does indeed bring strange bedfellows, but our partnerships with them are increasingly vital. These partnerships can indeed remind us, as Altbach says, of what we still do very well; but they also challenge us to pursue new directions, to shift our perspectives and deepen our learning. They push us to become better global citizens and, for Christian educators and students, better Kingdom citizens.

This special issue details a number of these emerging partners for Christian higher education and offers informed perspectives on how we might best serve and engage our fellow learners from around the globe. Perry Glanzer provides a picture of the changing landscape for Christian higher education, analyzing how trends such as nationalization and secularization, globalization, massification, privatization, and professionalization have altered the face of our enterprise. Through a database of Christian colleges and universities that he and his colleagues have compiled, he reveals the growth of Christian higher education in the global South and East, and discusses the opportunities that this growth might offer to our more established Christian institutions.

Naomi Ludeman Smith reflects on her experiences leading study abroad trips to the Middle East, in the process fleshing out a framework by which we might navigate cultural differences and tensions in order to engage fully with our partners across the globe. She argues that we should nurture within ourselves and our students a “critical and biblical ethnorelative worldview,” a mindset which is not only crucial to an effective study abroad experience but also to our often shared institutional goal of graduating global citizens. As her article reveals, this work is difficult, moving in fits and starts and requiring a great deal of open-mindedness and intentionality on behalf of faculty and students. But, the fruits of this labor are life-altering.

Rachel Hostetter Smith considers a new model for scholarly collaboration in which art serves as a bridge for cross-cultural engagement. Her article describes the work of a group of Asian and North American artists who gathered for a faculty development seminar and produced a powerful artistic exhibition entitled Charis: Boundary Crossings—Neighbors Strangers Family Friends. The product of this collaboration quite literally traveled the globe, carrying with it a spirit of hospitable dialogue and testifying to the power of art to prompt conversations and discovery among our communities.

Finally, Amos Yong turns his attention to pedagogy, conducting a thought experiment on how Christian higher education might dialogue not just with non-Westerners, but with non-Western traditions and ideas. Through the lens of the Confucian educational tradition, he shows how we might learn from the practices of others, and even find surprising commonalities between our system and theirs. Like the three authors before him, Yong is ultimately urging us to probe the possibilities of global higher education and to identify partners with whom we might dialogue across disciplines, across cultures, and even across time.

Together, these four scholars reveal the diversity of global partners available to Christian higher education in the U.S., from blossoming Christian institutions in Africa and Muslim students in Jordan, to artists in Indonesia and Confucianists on the Pacific Rim. And, as all of these authors also make clear, negotiating relationships with such an array of partners is not easy. Whether we go out to the world or it comes to us, questions of identity will follow.7 And on this score, perhaps it is best to remember another lesson from abroad: that we should keep our feet in multiple places, one resting on the firm ground of proven traditions and the other on the shifting paths of an ever-more-global society. The world may be flat, but that has not made it any easier to keep our balance.

Footnotes

  1. Philip G. Altbach, “The American Academic Model in Comparative Perspective,” in In Defense of American Higher Education, eds. Philip G. Altbach, Patricia J. Gumport, and D. Bruce Johnstone (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 20.
  2. Ibid., 20, 43.
  3. “In Education, China Takes the Lead,” The New York Times (January 16, 2013), <http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/01/16/business/In-Education-China-Takes-the-Lead.html>.
  4. Janel Marie Curry, “Cultural Challenges in Hong Kong to the Implementation of Effective General Education,” Teaching in Higher Education 17.2 (2012): 1-8.
  5. Ian Wilhelm, “China and Other Countries Crowd Into the Competition for Scholarly Research,” The Chronicle of Higher Education March 11, 2013), <http://chronicle.com/article/China-Crowds-Into-Scholarly/137815/>. Accessed March 14, 2013. As points of comparison, the U.S. spent 2.79% of its GDP on R&D in 2010, compared to 2.72% in 2001. China’s research publications have grown from 34,222 in 2000 to 156,574 in 2011, while the U.S.’s have grown from 269,192 to 354,486 over the same time period. Finally, in 2001 China filed 63,450 patents compared to 526,412 in 2011. The U.S. filed 326,471 in 2001 and 503,582 in 2011.
  6. “Almanac of Higher Education 2012,” Chronicle of Higher Education, <http://chronicle.com/section/Almanac-of-Higher-Education/615/>. Accessed March 13, 2013.
  7. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education speculated as to whether or not American students’ involvement in study abroad programs is plateauing. The number who studied abroad in 2010-11 only grew by 1.3% for a total of 273,996 students. Meanwhile, international student enrollment in US institutions grew by 4.7%, and over the past 30 years the number of international students studying in the states has doubled, from 311,882 in 1980-81 to 723,277 in 2010-11. International students accounted for 3.5% of the US’s total enrollment in higher education in 2010-11. See The Chronicle’s “Almanac of Higher Education 2012” and “Growth in Study Abroad Approaches Standstill” by Beth McMurtrie (November 12, 2012). <http://chronicle.com/article/Growth-in-Study-Abroad/135716/>. Accessed March 13, 2013.

Jerry Logan

Gordon College
Jerry Logan is the Director of Academic Operations at Gordon College.

Janel Curry

Gordon College
Janel Curry is the Provost at Gordon College.