Graduating Seniors Weigh in on Global Understanding

Posted: February 21, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

All George Mason students have to take a course that fulfills the global understanding general education requirement to make them more aware of global affairs and world cultures. A recently issued report by George Mason’s Office of Institutional Assessment (OIA) compared views held by the university’s 2003-04 graduating seniors with the findings of the American Council on Education (ACE) national telephone poll conducted in 2000 on the issue of international education.

Of the 3,312 graduating students, 2,924 participated in OIA’s survey, for a response rate of 88 percent. Ninety-nine percent of respondents completed the global understanding section.

The OIA’s survey found that 44 percent of graduating seniors thought George Mason had contributed “somewhat” to their understanding of global issues, a significant increase from the 32 percent that responded similarly in 2001. However, there was a very slight decrease in the percentage of respondents (35 percent) who felt that the university had contributed “very much” to their understanding. Thirty-six percent felt the same way in 2001.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents follow international news either “very closely” or “somewhat closely,” which is significantly higher than the national average of 64 percent. Further, according to the survey, 36 percent of students strongly agreed and 52 percent somewhat agreed that the United States should take an active part in world affairs, while only 12 percent felt that the United States should not. According to the ACE poll, 61 percent of college graduates felt strongly that the United States should play an active role in world affairs, with an additional 28 percent agreeing “somewhat” with this.

From the data gathered, it is clear that graduating seniors felt strongly that a knowledge of international issues and world cultures is vital for future success, specifically in the job market and the global economic system. Fifty-six percent of seniors said they believed knowledge of international issues would be “very important” for their careers in the next decade, with another 35 percent saying that such knowledge would be “somewhat important.”

In related questions, 80 percent believed it would be “very important” for people in the workforce to understand other cultures and customs to compete successfully in a global economy, and 55 percent believed it would be “very important” for people in the workforce to be able to speak a foreign language. Affirming the important role played by international students, 88 percent of respondents felt that “the presence of international students on college campuses enriches the learning experience for American students.”

The OIA survey also found that while the majority of respondents to its poll agreed that foreign language study should be a requirement, segments also had issues with the way in which George Mason oversees the teaching of these languages. Some students were confused about what the exact foreign language requirement was for their particular program, others believed that the requirement should be lowered, and others believed that foreign studies should be emphasized over foreign language training. Said one student, “I think it’s necessary for students to learn language by reading literature, history, and experiencing art…the curriculum in foreign language could be adjusted to reflect [immersion] by lessening the ‘mechanics’ and focus some of these 12 [required credit] hours on literature, history, or art.”

Some students also suggested that George Mason increase the number of foreign languages taught, while others said a reevaluation of resources should be considered, with increasingly valuable foreign languages such as Chinese and Spanish receiving more funding. George Mason currently offers courses of varying levels in 11 languages: Arabic, Biblical Hebrew, Chinese, Classical Greek, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Russian, and Spanish.

To view the complete OIA report, go to the web site.

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