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Archive for July, 2010

Ever since I began work at BYU Hawaii almost a year ago, I’ve been hearing about and thinking a lot about the mandate we have from our board of trustees to teach more students, teach them better, and lower the total cost per student here at the university. Although on the surface, this seems like a restatement of the “do more with less” adage common in business management, particularly during times of economic recession, I think there’s more significance in this challenge than simply saving money without completely gutting the educational experience our students receive. I think it’s a challenge to lay a foundation for growth and scalability.

Currently BYUH serves about 2,500 students from 70 countries. In comparison, the BYU Provo campus has an enrollment of approximately 30,000 students from 115 countries. BYU Idaho has an enrollment of approximately 11,000 students from about 57 countries. For each of these institutions, the international student percentages are in the minority.  For BYU Idaho, the percentage is 3%. The LDS Business College has an enrollment of 1,600 students with almost 4% from outside the United States. 6% of BYU Provo students are currently from outside of the United States. For BYU Hawaii, international students make up 43% of the student body. That means roughly 1,100 students from BYUH, 330 students from BYUI, 60 students from LDSBC, and 1,800 students at BYU are from outside the United States — a rough total of 3,290 international students enrolled in Church-sponsored universities / colleges.

I have not done the analysis to see whether each of these schools are attracting international students from the same countries or target areas, but I think two conclusions based on this data are worth mentioning here: 1) the enrollment demographics at Church sponsored universities are not reflective of the overall Church demographic trends (with membership outside the United States making up just over 50 percent of membership). 2) BYU Hawaii (based on percentages) is closer to that statistic than the three other Church sponsored college / universities. Even though BYU Provo technically has more international students enrolled than BYU Hawaii, I think the percentage of international students is significant in terms of the way it shapes our academic culture, our community, and our educational environment. And I believe that, if we are going to see a significant increase in enrollment at Church sponsored institutions of “higher education,” much of that is going to happen here.  I think because of both organizational inertia as well as the demographics of the region surrounding the other three Church schools, transforming those universities into international communities is going to be much harder than growing Brigham Young University Hawaii.

In terms of Growing BYU Hawaii, our current administration has talked a lot about and is making great efforts to increase enrollments at the university (by about 5000 students or so) so as to make the administration of the university cost effective in a way that offsets the fixed costs of running a university in Hawaii.  Although that’s an important subject, that isn’t the focus of this post.  I think much of the intent behind the charge to find a way to both increase the quality of the educational experience here and to teach more students more cost effectively is that if we can figure out how to do that, we will have found a way to extend the blessings of a BYU Hawaii education to tens of thousands of additional students (primarily international students). I think we can do it, and I don’t think we have to bring them all here to Laie, Hawaii to do so. I believe that communication technologies are gradually allowing us to increase the richness of the educational experience across time and distance to such a degree that many BYU Hawaii students will not need to live full time “on-campus” for us to achieve this goal and for them to benefit from a Church-sponsored university education.

While I enthusiastically support the efforts being taken by my friends in the BYU Hawaii Online division to create online courses that can benefit students in our target area, I think we can and should explore additional avenues that may allow us to help more people learn without significantly increasing the costs of providing this educational experience.  My personal thoughts and efforts are focused on the following challenges: 1) the English language barrier is one of the most significant obstacles I’ve seen for educating more international students. I am often challenged to adequately communicate with students who have had multiple semesters of in-class English language training.  Reaching out to those with less instruction in the English language living outside the United States is a formidable challenge for me. 2) many nations lack the technological infrastructure that “developed” nations “enjoy.” High-speed internet is not universally available to carry live video interactions across oceans and continents.  Power is often not consistently available. A generation gap often exists between desktop and mobile computing devices here and in many countries.

So what is to be done? How do we bring BYU Hawaii to more international students despite these challenges? In thinking about these questions, I’ve had a passage of scripture come to mind.  A revelation give through Joseph Smith the prophet to an early Mormon Church leader, Thomas Marsh states:

62 Therefore, go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world unto every creature. (Doctrine and Covenants 112:62).

The part of this passage that keeps coming back to me is this, “and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send.” Another related passage from The Book of Mormon states the following:

7 Why should I desire that I were an angel, that I could speak unto all the ends of the earth? 8 For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true. (Alma 29:7-8).
In an attempt to apply these teachings to my educational efforts, I am planning to assign my students in the coming term to each teach what they are learning in class to at least one person in their home state or country who can benefit from knowing these things. This teaching should be ongoing throughout the term and should be done in the native language of the individual’s being taught whenever possible. They will need to report back to me throughout the course as to the progress of the teaching/learning experience. I’m still trying to figure out how to grade such an assignment, and this doesn’t immediately translate into enrolled students for the university, but it does get us moving in the direction of educating more students.
Now for the technological challenges.  I’m going to need more help from my students on this one, because they are much more familiar with the communication tools being used by individuals in their home country  / community.  I think initially I will leave it up to the enrolled student to select the tool(s) for communicating with and teaching their friends in hopes that it will give me a better feel for what is possible in what countries. I’m not trying to build infrastructure / donate hardware.  For now, I’ll leave those efforts to others and will focus on working with the existing tools, whether it be high speed web access, email, text messaging, social networking applications, video conferencing, online videos, cell phones, voice mail, postal mail, etc.  I have a hunch that mobile technology will ultimately play a key role in all of this, but I’m still figuring out how.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions on these rough ideas, please share them with me.  I look forward to your feedback.
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