Columbia seniors preparing to enter the job market might soon have another option—spending a fifth year of school traveling abroad among the University’s global centers.
At a fireside chat in February, University President Lee Bollinger pitched the idea of an optional program for a fifth year of undergraduate study, during which students would travel to each of Columbia’s global centers and study globalization.
According to Vice President for Global Centers Kenneth Prewitt, there might be pilot programs as early as next year.
“We are at the beginning of this conversation, we hope that conversation accelerates and gets in play,” Prewitt said.
In a recent interview, Bollinger said he would want to implement the program within two years and that he is still in the process of discussing the program with others.
“I’ve talked to other people … about how to use the global centers more for students,” Bollinger said. “Any time you do anything in a university, there are a lot of people you have to talk to. And conceiving of it in a way that would be good for students, and good for the university.”
The University currently has global centers in Paris; Beijing; Amman, Jordan; and Mumbai, India. A fifth center in Istanbul is set to open this fall, and three more are planned for Kazakhstan, Kenya, and Brazil.
Prewitt said no specific new program has been designed yet, but called the idea of spending a fifth year abroad “a metaphor” for Columbia expanding its global perspective.
“The idea for a fifth year is fluid,” Prewitt said. “Maybe all students will take three months [over the summer] before they come here in another part of the world.”
Victoria de Grazia, the interim director of Columbia’s global centers in Europe, said that Bollinger spoke of the fifth year program during discussions at the planned Istanbul center last week.
“How exactly a fifth year would be set up needs to be discussed, of course,” de Grazia said in an email. “Would it be college credit a real fifth year, or a gap year within the framework of Columbia, so perhaps the third year off, or, maybe an internship type of year?”
Students said that they would be excited for the program, and that the fifth year would give them more flexibility.
Valeria Villacreses, SEAS ’13, is one such student. She said that the rigid engineering curriculum made it nearly impossible to study abroad without falling behind.
“I wanted to study abroad next year but I had to drop it,” Villacreses said. “One more year in college is just perfect if you’re studying abroad, of course. You don’t even have to worry about taking too many classes.”
Villacreses said she prefers the idea of a fifth year program to a summer program like the one Prewitt described.
“Summers are my only time home with my family, plus it’s internship time,” Villacreses said.
Others, like Denise Abad, CC ’13, said that a summer program would be more valuable.
“If it were to be something during the year it would hold off grad school, law school,” Deo said. “If it were during the summer then it’ll allow you to continue your studies on the track you had planned before.”
But Amber Ha, CC ’12, said that an entire year abroad would be more useful in developing a deep understanding of cultures.
“I don’t think it would get in the way of plans for after college because people normally take time off anyways. If anything, it may be a more structured way of taking time off,” she said.
Bollinger acknowledged the inevitable concerns about funding an additional year, and said that financing would be taken care of for those who needed it, though he was not yet sure how.
“I would want to raise money for this but I don’t know where at this point, I don’t have particular people in mind,” Bollinger said. “But I would be confident that we could develop a pool of money to support students in a program like that.”
Prewitt agreed that the program would need financial aid.
“We know it’s expensive but, then again, an undergraduate education is expensive,” Prewitt said.
While the program is still being developed, Prewitt stressed the importance of talking to students in forums like the Columbia Goes Global conference on April 20.
De Grazia said in an email that Bollinger has the right idea, and is responding to student and faculty desires for more chances to study in other countries.
“He [Bollinger], like many faculty, and many students as well, believes that Columbia in NYC is great, but it would be greater if there were important opportunities to connect study at Columbia with experience of being outside of the American nation, to confront our own experience and concepts of globalization with that of other peoples,” she said.