WASHINGTON — The Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU), the Asociación Columbiana de Universidades (ASCUN) and Phelps Stokes have established a collaborative partnership to promote educational and cultural exchange programs between Afro-Columbian serving universities and historically Black land-grant universities in the United States. The presidents of each organization signed a memorandum of understanding Friday during a special ceremony at APLU headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The purpose of the agreement is to promote and expand student and faculty exchange programs, joint researchers and activities, and community and leadership development among students, faculty and administrators, explained Dr. Lorenzo Esters, vice president of APLU’s Office for Access and the Advancement of Public Black Universities. It also aims to position members of APLU’s Council of 1890 Universities to take a leadership role in preparing minority students to develop what Esters described as “the global critical thinking essential to contributing as citizens of the world and competing in the international marketplace.”
Although racial and ethnic minority students made up 31.5 percent of the U.S. student population in 2006-07, only 18.1 percent of those students participated in a study abroad program. Only one in 10 in the U.S. studies a foreign language. These kinds of statistics, the education leaders at the signing ceremony argued, threaten the nation’s standing as a leader on the world stage and its national security.
“Our students are our future innovators, so to maintain our nation’s competitive strength, it’s important to look toward our higher education institutions, and global experience is and will become even more critical for all of our students,” said Kathie Olsen, vice president of international programs at APLU.
Citing a quote on the Phelps Stokes website, Olsen said the study abroad experience is essential to cultivating world leaders. Unfortunately, however, there is not enough diversity in terms of students and institutions participating in study abroad programs, and those programs need to include more developing nations.
Olsen also called for the passage of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act, which she said would enable at least one million students to study abroad annually for credit. Those students would reflect the diversity of the U.S. population and the number of developing countries participating in the programs would be expanded.
“This MOU is a mechanism and a path forward to tackling this diversity [issue] and it’s the right thing to do,” Olsen said.
Afro-Columbians are grappling with many of the same issues that African Americans have struggled with for decades, such as closing achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students and preparing children and adults to compete in an increasingly global society. And as Esters pointed out, as in the U.S., they, too, are seeking ways to transform their educational system to meet 21st century demands.
“We believe this collaboration is central to further internationalizing our institutions, particularly our Afro-Columbian serving universities, as we work to promote equality, competitiveness and research development at home and around the world,” said ASCUN President Bernardo Rivera Sanchez.
Badi Foster, president of Phelps Stokes, recalled how the creation of the 1890 universities was a critical and necessary tool to provide educational opportunities to Blacks and deal with the aftermath of slavery and said that Afro-Columbians are also trying to find ways to provide educational opportunities and reduce inequality.
“We as African-Americans need to go and learn by serving in Columbia so we can remember what we forgot,” Foster said, adding that participating in this educational and cultural exchange will help HBCUs regain both some of the strength and moral authority they originally had. Phelps Stokes, which launched such institutions as UNCF and the American Indian College Fund, will sponsor community and leadership development seminars and conferences for the initiative.
“We had these educators who really spoke on behalf of folks and advanced the race. HBCUs have all the talent to make sure we prepare students to be strong, ethical leaders who will stand up for what’s right and advance the race,” Foster said.