A Missourian's Experience Advocating for International Education

  

A Missourian’s Experience Advocating for International Education

An opinion piece by: Lora Zaidarhzauva, Associate Director for International Education, D.S.O., and Master of International Studies, Peace and Conflict Resolution from the University of Queensland

 
Missourians share a joint concern, the betterment of our state. We are the stakeholders. As such, we should be aware of primary factors which contribute to the betterment of our communities. These include essentials like education. The reality of this responsibility has lead me down a path of advocacy.

Why advocate? Higher Education in Missouri suffered the past few years. This last year proved especially difficult while institutions underwent budget cut after budget cut (see US News article “Embattled Missouri Governor Proposes More Cuts to Colleges." In addition, when politicians began publically promoting an “America First” agenda, international enrollment waned (see Politico article, “Trump blamed as U.S. colleges lure fewer foreign students." The two factors combined to create the perfect storm of reduced enrollment and revenue. While the impact was felt across the board, public institutions unequivocally carried the burden, suffering from the loss of programs and essential staff members. It is so rough that the effects of increased hardship for Missourian institutions gained national attention (see NY Times article, “As Flow of Foreign Students Wanes, U.S. Universities Feel the Sting."

 

Why does that concern you, stakeholder? With lower enrollment and investment in Higher Education, Missouri risks losing its place as a competitor in the national and international arena. Studies show that reduced investment in Higher Education impacts job creation, unemployment, skilled employment, higher wages (even for those without a college degree), innovation, and the ability to broaden the consumer base (several findings published in Brookings article “Eight Economic Facts on Higher Education." An educated workforce attracts business and keeps Missourians competitive, both as employees and producers. To see the economic impact of international education for the state of Missouri, please visit NAFSA's International Student Economic Value Tool

 

With this in mind, when the opportunity to attend NAFSA’s Advocacy Day arrived, I was excited. I saw this as an opportunity to share my own experience as a “farm kid” who went on to see the world in the university setting. Furthermore, as a leader in international education, I have experienced young minds sharing classroom discussions, homework assignments, and friendships with people of many nations. I recognize how Higher Education facilitates global communication, cooperation, skills-sharing across borders, and the sharing of cultures on a larger scale.

 

My goal of attending NAFSA’s Advocacy Day was set. I wanted to have my representatives proactively protecting Higher Education and international education in my state. I believe that reducing education, even by a small amount, directly impacts the number of enterprises our future generations hold. For me this includes the resume-building opportunities for international students such as OPT and STEM OPT. If we are to remain a hot-spot when it comes to training the next generation of leaders, why not allow them to the opportunity to contribute to the economy here in Missouri, even if it is for a short time period?

 

What is NAFSA’s Advocacy Day?

Advocacy Day is an opportunity for international educators to use our knowledge of the field for the “greater good.” We become a resource for elected officials and seek to educate Congress on how international education impacts our state and district. We want them to see “why we need a more globally engaged and welcoming United States.” 

 

This year over 220 NAFSA members attended Advocacy Day. We held over 200 office visits with legislatures, and three of those members represented the state of Missouri, two from St. Louis, and me, from Kansas City, Missouri.

 

NAFSA’s Advocacy took place March 19-20, 2018. We spent March 19 preparing and practicing, learning about two specific issues to discuss with representatives, and March 20 with three meetings: two with state senators and one with our district representatives. During our meetings we presented two issue briefs concerning Higher Education and international education in Missouri. They were:

  1. The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act, which urges members of Congress to cosponsor the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act (S. 601; H.R. 4379) to significantly increase the number and diversity of American students studying abroad, especially to non-traditional locations and
  2. The Value of International Students and Scholars, which urges members of Congress to publicly announce support for the international students and scholars who are contributing their talent to our colleges and universities, to our communities, and to the nation.

 

On March 20, I met with staff members on Capitol Hill from Senator Roy Blunt’s office, Senator Claire McCaskill’s office, and Representative Emanuel Cleaver II’s office. The conversations were simple and to the point: How can Higher Education and international education remain of value to our legislators? How can Missouri remain competitive in the national and global economies? How can my experience be a resource to legislators determining the future of Missouri?

 

Ultimately, my meetings left me with a sense that each office felt the sting of the spotlight on Missouri’s Higher Education in the past year. In fact, they seemingly felt the need to respond. The question I was left with was, will it be too little too late?

 

Actionable Steps

Stakeholders, what are our next steps? To me they include contacting our legislators and telling them what is important. Tell them that we want to remain economically viable. That we saw our neighboring states reduce Higher Education and felt the negative impacts. We do not want to follow the same path. Demand space for education in Missouri. Ask them to protect that space, both at lower and higher levels, and seek to remain competitive. In short? Speak up and please vote. We the people, the stakeholders, must create the impact and must demand the change.

 

Author Biography:

Lora Zaidarhzuava is currently in her seventh year working as a leader in international education. She earned a Master of International Studies, Peace and Conflict Resolution from the University of Queensland and a working knowledge of the Arabic language. Additionally, she is trained in many facets concerning visa statuses (particularly F-1 and J-1 visas), advocacy and mediation practices. She has personal experience with change of status (COS). Her professional and personal life choices reflect her life’s objective: To promote global understanding and enhance diplomatic relations within the USA and outside the borders.

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