We support the administration’s announcement of two new, Duke-sponsored study abroad programs earlier this week, but urge the University to continue evaluating and addressing the deficit in academic rigor found in many of the approved abroad programs. Earlier this week, administrators approved two new study abroad programs: Duke Neurohumanities in Paris and Duke in Barcelona, a summer and fall semester program, respectively.
Almost one in two Duke students will study abroad during their four years as an undergraduate. The expansion of the Duke-sponsored programs is a commendable response to demand that demonstrates itself through an application process that can be competitive depending upon the specific program. Without a doubt, this experience fits into a global Duke that looks to impart “knowledge in the service of society” for a lot of students. Furthermore, Duke has managed to apply its innovative and interdisciplinary stamp to a handful of its recently launched study abroad programs. The new program in neurohumanities based in Paris, the Global Semester Abroad that focuses on development in China and India and Duke Intense Global are great examples of Duke doing exactly that.
But the efficacy of a study abroad program in accomplishing these tasks can rapidly decrease when it becomes, simply, an abroad program. It is our impression that, on average, the Duke-administered, or “Duke-in,” programs are not perfect, but they offer cultural and academic experiences that are very much superior to programs that carry the “Duke-approved” label. Either private companies or other universities coordinate the latter: Not only are the class requirements of a lower degree, but they also lack important cultural elements as well. For example, a Duke program is more likely to incorporate a homestay and guided visits to notable locations than to house participants in an apartment complex for the entire semester.
Understanding this, the Global Education Office for Undergraduates needs to use a more stringent standard when vetting the programs that qualify for “Duke-approved” status. Currently, this declaration grants too many free passes and devalues the Duke course to which the student applies the transfer credit. Students should receive credit for their work that they do abroad, whether they are on a Duke program or not, so long as the work meets the same standard that students meet on campus in Durham.
We recognize that reducing the number of approved programs will likely reduce the number of opportunities to study abroad. But doing so would empower the Global Education Office to focus on the reason why students want to study abroad and what they want to get out of the experience. This course of action will better connect high quality programs with students that want to be challenged by language, culture and academia away from Duke. Studying abroad should not be a semester off, and correspondingly, Duke should not award academic credit for an experience of the sort. We hold students and programs on campus to the high standards of an elite university, and we should hold our students and programs abroad to the same standard.