Yale is, we are reminded again and again, a “global university,” and between World Fellows and Chinese exchange programs, the University offers constant reminders of its international presence. But despite the catchy buzz-phrase, it is time Yale devoted a bit more dialogue to how it envisions creating — and maintaining — a more international university.
International students now stand at about 10 percent of Yale College students and a third of graduate students. Through a combination of Yale’s efforts to expand its reach abroad and a growing population of competitive applicants, particularly in India or China, those numbers are likely to rise. The idea of a Yale that is solely American in character will soon be obsolete, if it isn’t already.
But becoming more global presents several challenges for Yale — including determining how to fit more overseas applicants into an already-burgeoning admissions pool. More applications from abroad will inevitably mean turning away some American students who would otherwise get in. In that case, is Yale willing to accept fewer legacies? Is it prepared to cut down on the number of recruited athletes, many of whom play predominantly American sports? As Yale actively tries to recruit more students from abroad and from under-represented parts of the U.S., it must consider whether other high-priority groups — and which ones — will face tougher admissions odds as a result.
Wrestling with these questions will require Yale to step back and reconsider its fundamental mission. Once a school that drew almost exclusively from New England, Yale extended its reach to the rest of the country, and now overseas. That shift has allowed Yale to become more diverse and to offer opportunities to students who never had them before. But at some point, Yale must decide between competing priorities. It will have to consider, for example, if it places a higher value on preparing students who are likely to contribute specifically to U.S. society and the American economy as compared to those international students who might be focused on working in their own countries. In other words, it will have to figure out just how much it wants to become a global university, even if that means becoming a little less American in the process.
Likewise, just as the University must make a greater effort to attract lower-income American applicants, Yale cannot ignore the question of means when it comes to international students. Navigating the Yale applications process is even more difficult for less-privileged foreign students than it is for Americans who lack the test-prep coaches and well-connected counselors of some of their peers. Yale has made the admirable decision to offer full financial aid to international students, but the fact remains that it hasn’t yet found a way to reach many of the world’s top students who may not have substantial resources.
These are questions without easy answers, and the idea of an American university with a student body truly “global” in character is far away. At some point, though, we’d like to see Yale consider the meaning of the “global university” as a concept with real implications, and not just another buzzword.