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Lunch at the Four Seasons with: Allan E. Goodman

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-03-15

Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the 86-year-old Institute of International Education -- which administers the State Department's celebrated Fulbright Program, and 250 other corporate and other projects -- came to lunch yesterday armed with some pretty impressive statistics. Here's a sampling:

There are 572,509 students from 222 countries and territories currently enrolled in America's 4,000 colleges and universities. Nearly 80,000 of them come from India, 62,000 from China, 52,500 from South Korea, and 41,000 from Japan. Students from these four Asian countries represent 41% of all international students.

Some 50% of foreign students are concentrated in just 100 of America's 4,000 institutions of higher learning. Of these students, California has the highest number -- about 78,000; New York State has 64,000. The University of Southern California in Los Angeles has 6,647 foreign students; Columbia University in New York City has 5,362; and New York University has 5,070.

"And do you know how many foreign students fund their American education with their own money?" Mr. Goodman said. "About 67%."

That translates into $13 billion annually in revenues for the American economy. New York gets $1.8 billion of that money each year.

"The point here is that there's absolutely no other place on earth like America," Mr. Goodman said. "There's no other place that offers the quality education, the emphasis on values, the opportunities for learning leadership skills, that we do. That's why we need to keep our doors open to foreign students who want to come to America. I believe the world will become a less dangerous place if more people from outside understand America more profoundly. We are a complicated society, and the world needs to be in contact with us.

There's also a need, in this age of globalization -- and especially in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001 -- for more American students to study at institutions abroad, Mr. Goodman said, adding that it was part of his job to encourage such academic exploration. Implicit in his view is the notion that a year or two spent studying abroad is not only a worthwhile academic investment but also serves an ambassadorial function of sorts: in an increasingly youthful world -- more than 60% of the planet's 6.2 billion people are under 35 years of age -- students networks carry the possibility of developing into lasting friendships and professional associations. Indeed, scores of students sponsored through IIE programs have gone on to become political and business leaders.

In 1998, when he became the IIE's sixth president, 110,000 Americans were studying abroad; last year the figure was 175,000. Mr. Goodman -- who helped create the first U.S. academic exchange program with the Moscow Diplomatic Academy for the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, and developed the diplomatic training program of the Foreign Ministry of Vietnam -- would like to see the number climb to at least 250,000. He would, in fact, want American colleges to require students to spend at least a semester of their four-year undergraduate tenure overseas; he also wishes that colleges would require applicants to know at least one foreign language.

"In the post-cold war world, learning about other countries isn't a luxury, it's a necessity," Mr. Goodman said.

Then he asked: "Of 288 million Americans, do you know how many do not have passports?"

He supplied the answer without pausing: 83%. And of the 17% of Americans who hold passports, nearly 50% are either above the age of 60 or under the age of 5.

"Take India -- here's a country of 1.2 billion people, but how much do we really know about it?" Mr. Goodman said. "Just about 700 American students go to study in India each year. Our educational system doesn't send a message that it's important to study the world. In fact, we may even be sending a signal that we're not particularly concerned about what the rest of the world thinks about us."

But he's pleased that, after the World Trade Center tragedy, more young Americans are studying abroad. It used to be that when Americans went overseas to study, they almost always went to English-speaking countries.

But now, Mr. Goodman said, two-thirds of 160,000 Americans studying abroad are enrolled in educational institutions in non-English-speaking countries. (There are about 15 million students in institutions of higher learning in America.)

"There's an encouraging sign that more Americans want to be engaged abroad," he said.

The advantages of a two-way traffic in students between America and the world don't only accrue academically, he said. In the contemporary era of globalization -- one characterized by the freer flow of people, ideas, capital and goods across fungible borders -- the corporate world increasingly sought men and women who were not only academically qualified and had technical skills, it yearned for more employees with a grasp of cultural customs and nuances, Mr. Goodman said.

When he speaks of cultural realities, of course, it's Mr. Goodman's quiet way of nudging the reporter toward recognizing his own experience. Before he came to IIE, he was executive dean of the School of Foreign Service, and a professor at Georgetown University. He holds a Ph.D. in government from Harvard, and a master's degree in public administration from that university's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Goodman served as presidential briefing coordinator for the director of Central Intelligence. He was the first American professor to lecture at the Foreign Affairs College of Beijing.

Mr. Goodman is, in other words, a man who knows the ways and byways of our increasingly bewildering world, one where the enemies of America -- particularly Islamic terrorists -- want to see it destroyed and yet one where young citizens of rich and poor countries alike aspire to come to America to study, and perhaps settle down, and most certainly prosper.

Indeed, Mr. Goodman pointed out, in Manhattan alone some 165 languages are spoken. The first immigrants of Arab origin came to New York in the early 1800s.

Beyond students, and traditional immigrants seeking to come to America to pursue economic opportunities, Mr. Goodman drew the reporter's attention to the rescue of scholars threatened by enemies of free speech and scholarship, particularly in the Middle East. In fact, IIE now has an endowment of $11 million to assist such scholars, donated by the Ford Foundation -- which recently gave a lead gift of $1 million for the project -- and Henry Kaufman, the Wall Street financier, who gave $10 million. IIE is considering 700 applications from endangered scholars, Mr. Goodman said.

As the lunch drew to a close yesterday, the reporter asked if the tightening of scrutiny of visa applicants -- which Mr. Goodman had earlier suggested was salutary, especially after Sept. 11 -- and the pumping up of anti-American rhetoric in many parts of the world distressed him to the point where he felt that America's long-term political and economic prospects would irreversibly hurt.

"What I can say with certainty is that Americans are becoming far more aware of the world," Mr. Goodman said. "There may be a lot of disagreement among them over how to resolve ongoing problems such as the Middle East. But you know, I don't find anyone these days who says, 'I don't care.'"

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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