Rams Around the World: FSU’s International Education Program

Since 1988, Framingham State University has been spreading its message of “Community, Opportunity and Success” far beyond the Massachusetts area. FSU has been working with the non-profit corporation International Education Program, Inc., which sends FSU curricula and resources abroad, to provide an easier way for teachers living outside of the United States to further their own education.

FSU has been collaborating with the nonprofit for the past 27 years.

In the fall, the program will run its 11th cycle in the Northern Marianas Island city of Saipan, according to Associate Director of International Education, Joyce Fahey. FSU has been in Saipan its farthest site, since 2001. The small island is a US territory, and is located just south of China in the Pacific Ocean.

Dean of Graduate Studies Yasser Najjar sees Framingham State’s International Education Program as a duty to the rest of the world. According to Najjar, educators overseas may not have the resources available to enroll in an American institution on their own. Their living conditions, as well as financial limitations, impede their educational pursuits.

“We thought, as Framingham State University is the first public teachers college in the US, we have an obligation to continue educating teachers in the states as well as overseas.”

“One of the biggest strengths of this school is the teaching program it offers,” said sophomore Leah Forristall. “If Framingham State can help other schools, I’m all for it.”

In its early years, FSU’s international program operated in only four locations – Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico and Santo Domingo, according to Fahey. The program has grown since 1988, and now operates out of 28 sites across 16 different countries.

Najjar said the program has two major geographic areas of concentration – East Asia and Latin America. In addition, he said sites are located in the Middle East, and are being reestablished in Italy.

The educational responsibility, as Najjar sees it, would not be possible without aid from International Education Program, Inc. Because of the long cooperation with this non-profit organization, Framingham State does not incur any financial strain by funding these 28 different programs around the world.

“I like the idea of helping less fortunate people advance their education,” said senior Aliana Ciampa. “But with student fees increasing next year, I’m happy it’s not coming out of my pocket.”

According to Fahey, FSU takes on the entire academic aspect of the operation – accepting students, choosing professors and setting up curricula. International Education Program, Inc. pays for expenses of the faculty sent to each site, including travel, hotels, food and stipend. The curriculum used in these countries is subject to the same review and meet the same accreditation requirements from NEASC that classes at Framingham must meet.

“For me it’s a lot of fun,” said Professor of Communication Arts Robert Alter. “I’m experiencing a different culture, and I’m experiencing a different kind of student.”

Alter has been part of two trips to Costa Rica, a trip to the Dominican Republic and a trip to Beirut, Lebanon.

“What I find is that it helps me as a teacher, because I have to rethink everything that I do, and try it out on a different group of students,” Alter said. “It gives me the opportunity to reevaluate and refresh what I’m doing.”

Funding to bring FSU’s programs comes from tuition paid by that site’s students, though at a lower cost than students in Framingham would pay. According to Najjar, the average cost of each class is around $600. All together, the cost of a degree from Framingham State costs international students “$6,000 maximum.”

“Since we operate on a non-profit base, and we recognize the fact their salaries are limited or below the normal salaries in the United States of America, we calculate the tuition and fees based on the salary and the standard of living of that country,” said Najjar.

Programs offered are “mainly master’s degrees in education in different areas such as teaching English as second language, international teaching, education leadership and special education.”

The International Teaching program gives teachers the ability to provide specialized support for potential students from all backgrounds. This program is the most popular among offered international courses, according to Najjar, and is designed for teachers teaching in international schools, where students range from children of expatriates to middle- and upper-level residents.

“You’re going to find a classroom that’s really mixed,” said Najjar. “Sometimes you’re presenting to different cultural backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds. So it needs a special environment to do that.”

Though the program does operate out of 28 sites, not all sites are active at once. For a site to be eligible to receive FSU’s curricula, there needs to be a cohort of at least 20 students to sign up for a specific class, according to Fahey. Each site has their own offerings at different times throughout the year, sometimes not operating at all.

Programs begin online using BlackBoard to prepare students for actual classroom time.

“That’s the strength of our program. It’s not all online, it’s on site,” said Fahey.

Faculty begin communicating with students a month before the actual on-site visit. Then, face-to-face instruction lasts for two weeks, four hours per day. After those two weeks, faculty continue to work with students via BlackBoard for about two more weeks.

Najjar described the program as an “enhanced kind of program.” The calculated hours between BlackBoard and in-class time, as well as time needed for assignments outside of the classroom, add up to a total of 180 hours, fulfilling the federal definition of four credit hours.

Students who begin the program together create a community and stay together for the duration of their studies. Their community is diverse, expanding FSU’s on-campus diversity push. Students who attend each site are not necessarily from the same school or from the same city within their country.

The approximately 6,500 students who attend Framingham State every semester don’t tell the full story of how far the University’s influence reaches. Since 1988, more than 5,000 international students have passed through FSU’s academic system.

“I think it’s great for diversity,” said senior Matthew Davis. “There’s a big push for diversity around here. These programs add to that.”

“It’s strange to think that people around the world know about our small school,” said senior Jamie Chaves. “It’s great that there’s a larger world full of Framingham State alumni out there.”