Of the many ways to educate international students, Fairleigh Dickinson University may have a new approach -- and one that experts on international higher education say is worth watching.
The New Jersey university has just won approval from British Columbia to open a degree-granting campus in Vancouver. Students who enroll there won't be American or Canadian, but will be from other countries, primarily in Asia. Fairleigh Dickinson believes that there is a market of students who want an American-style education in North America who will find it attractive in many ways to be outside the United States. And the university can educate them for substantially less money than would be possible in New Jersey -- while still earning money on the arrangement.
A few American institutions, most notably the University of Phoenix or institutions in New York State along the Canadian border, do try to go after the Canadian market. And many American colleges have campuses abroad, either for their own students' foreign study (Fairleigh Dickinson has such a campus in Britain) or for foreign students (a number of universities have set up shop in Qatar  to educate Middle Eastern students). But the Fairleigh Dickinson approach is unusual in that it uses Canada as a setting to educate others. A spokesman for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada said that he didn't know of any other college trying Fairleigh Dickinson's type of arrangement, and that it was too new for his group to be sure of its impact.
"We don't believe in academic colonialism," said J. Michael Adams, president of Fairleigh Dickinson. But the approach -- four years in the making and following an extensive review from British Columbia officials -- represents a different way for American colleges to fulfill "a global mission," Adams said.
Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College, said he found the approach "very significant" as it might be a way for many colleges to enter the market for Asian students. Vancouver may provide a setting where Asian students can have less expensive access to American education, avoid the difficulties of obtaining visas to the U.S., and experience a range of Asian cultures in a city that is notably international. "For a lot of students from Asia, going to Vancouver may be like never leaving Asia," he said.
Adams said that about 12 percent of students at Fairleigh Dickinson today are from abroad, and that he doesn't want that number to shrink because of the creation of the Vancouver campus, and possibly others along the same model. But he and others at Fairleigh Dickinson said that a number of factors make it possible for the university to attract foreign students if it leaves New Jersey:
- Cost. Tuition for two semesters at Vancouver will run about $16,000, compared to nearly $24,000 in New Jersey. That's because the Canadian campus will not have athletic facilities or dormitories. Students will also save on housing through programs that will place them with families in the region -- generally from their home countries -- who rent rooms out and provide home-cooked meals.
- Visas. Even with improvements in the system in the last year, many students from Asia report difficulty in obtaining visas to come to the United States. And others can obtain visas but don't want to study in the U.S. "Many are not comfortable or feel that they are not going to be welcomed," said Christopher Capuano, a psychology professor who is leading the effort to create the new campus.
- Location. For many students from Asia -- particularly those not going to Ivy institutions -- a campus on the Pacific Rim is more desirable in terms of distance and culture. And for an American institution -- even in the East -- exploring a new approach like this one, Vancouver is a lot closer than Asia.
The new campus will only offer two bachelor's degrees: in business management (with a range of concentrations) and information technology. About 125 students are expected to be admitted to the first class, in the fall of 2007, and enrollment is expected to grow to 500. The curriculum will be identical to that offered in New Jersey. Ten full-time faculty members -- some of them tenure track -- will be hired to teach in Vancouver while New Jersey-based faculty members will also teach some courses, generally on a short-term basis. Other campuses that may be opened along this model will also probably have only a few majors, generally pre-professional in nature.
Faculty members at Fairleigh Dickinson's New Jersey locations have been assured that there will be no diversion of funds to Vancouver and that the program will be making money within a few years. Joel Harmon, a management professor who is president of the Faculty Senate, said that body has taken no stand on the new campus, so he couldn't comment on his views of it. But he said that administrators were correct in saying that professors had been involved in the planning process, that some were excited about it, and that others were concerned.
To win support from British Columbia, Fairleigh Dickinson not only had to provide extensive information about its programs, but it won support from local institutions. A spokesman for the University of British Columbia confirmed that his campus -- which attracts many top international students -- had no objections to the Fairleigh Dickinson outpost, and considered that the institutions were going after different international markets.
Altbach, an expert on international education, said that made sense and that institutions like Fairleigh Dickinson -- with good programs in areas like business, but without worldwide name recognition -- might find this a desirable model. "If this works out for Fairleigh Dickinson, others are going to try this," Altbach said.
University officials have stressed that they anticipate making money off the program, but that their motives are primarily educational. Capuano noted that while many American college are opening up campuses abroad, many of them focus on full-paying students. Fairleigh Dickinson plans to offer scholarships that will average 30 percent of tuition.
"Our primary motive is to engage in activities that further the mission of the university in global education, not to make money," he said. "Clearly we're doing that too, and that is a motive, but it's not the first one."
Capuano said this model would allow for constant involvement of the university's existing professors, a great talent pool of those who would find Vancouver a desirable place to work, and a range of connections -- between the students, faculty members, Vancouver, and the main Fairleigh Dickinson campuses. "The idea is that this isn't an island off by itself," he said.