Internationalizing a college campus is not easy work, but in a state like West Virginia where we have so many financial, cultural, and demographic challenges, it’s especially challenging.

For example, study abroad is a hard sell in a state that has the second lowest personal income per capita among the 50 states, where only 17 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or beyond (the lowest proportion in the nation), and where first-generation college students make up 70% of the enrollment at most of our state public universities. Recruiting and integrating international students is also no easy task in a state where there is so little diversity. Only 1.3 percent of West Virginia’s population is foreign-born (compared to 12.5 percent nationally). While West Virginia’s lack of diversity should make international education arguably all the more critical, the reality is that our rural institutions are constantly in danger of being left behind. Fortunately, our state higher education leaders in West Virginia have started placing a priority on international education, they understand the challenges we face and they have been doing something about it.

In April 2006, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC), which oversees our state’s eleven public universities, sponsored a statewide conference that addressed the topic of internationalizing higher education in West Virginia. Over 200 faculty and administrators attended the conference, representing every public and private university in the state. The Consortium for Internationalizing Higher Education (CIHE) was an outgrowth of this conference. A council of leaders from higher education, business, and government were appointed to guide the Consortium and provide a strategic plan for internationalizing the state’s public higher education system. The Chancellor directed the Provosts at each of the public institutions to establish a Campus Internationalization Committee to carry out internationalization at each campus. These Committees receive support and guidance from the Consortium.

West Virginia StudentsWe now have a strategic plan in place and our Consortium receives $120,000 per year in funding from the HEPC. In 2008, both houses of the West Virginia Legislature adopted a resolution supporting international education, and for the first time, the HEPC included international education goals in West Virginia’s master plan for higher education. In order to address the goals of the master plan, each institution in West Virginia must develop a compact with the HEPC and address how it will meet statewide goal of “promoting global awareness and international education.”

The West Virginia Consortium is more broad-based than other such statewide consortia, which typically focus on promoting their states as destinations for international students. Our Consortium is concerned with comprehensive internationalization. The activities that we implement throughout the year target every facet of international education, including study abroad, international students, and the curriculum. For example, we offer training workshops each year on topics like faculty-led study abroad, international student recruitment and securing grant funding to integrate international experiences into the curriculum. We award grants (from $10,000 to $15,000) to institutions to support various international initiatives, and we fund scholarships for study abroad for foreign language teachers in training. We also sponsor and subsidize a faculty-led study abroad bus trip each summer to Quebec, Canada aimed at freshman throughout the state.

You can learn more about our Consortium, its goals and the strategic activities we are using to engage all of our public state universities in the process of internationalizing their campuses, by visiting our Web site. I am very interested in learning how other states are using consortia to internationalize their higher education systems and the kinds of statewide collaborative activities they have found most effective.

Clark EgnorClark Egnor is a NAFSA member and the Executive Director of the Marshall University Center for International Programs in Huntington, West Virginia.

On September 27, 2010, NAFSA: Association of International Educators released the first in a series of reports on advancing international education at the state-level. Read the full report on West Virginia’s internationalization efforts.