Our Place in the World

Last week I traveled to Washington D.C. and met with alumni and parents in groups both large and small. Similar to what has been happening in numerous settings on campus this year, our strategic planning conversations consistently return to Swarthmore’s place in the world. What does it mean to aspire to be a truly “global institution”? How should such a goal direct our approach to admissions, to faculty and staff recruitment, to our curriculum? How might it inform our approach to alumni engagement? How should this aspiration relate to our leadership role in the liberal arts?

Alumni are among our most valuable resources when it comes to asking the right questions, and formulating creative responses. In the Dialogue Tour events that I am hosting, as well as the Connection events sponsored by alumni in their homes, we are consistently hearing suggestions about the College’s approach to globalization.  Alumni are challenging us to look long and hard at how best to prepare our students to take on leadership roles throughout the world.  They also suggest that we should bring more international students to Swarthmore, making sure they are from a wide range of places in the world. In this way, all students will benefit from a global campus. This year we had over 1,000 international student applications for the first time in Swarthmore’s history. How can we provide more opportunities for international students from every background — do we need to take a new look at our need-blind admissions and financial aid policies as they relate to international students?

Finally, how do we better connect our study abroad programs to our on-campus curriculum so that these experiences are more fully integrated into a student’s experiential and classroom learning? These are the kinds of questions being asked, and addressed, in our strategic planning conversations as we carefully consider our “place in the world.”