A little over five decades ago, I arrived at the former Sandanona Estate just north of Brattleboro, recently purchased by the Experiment in International Living (now World Learning, Inc.) to serve as a training site for Peace Corps volunteers destined for many countries around the world.
As Peace Corps training moved in-country, the site eventually developed into the School for International Training (SIT) with the development of its first MA program, the Teaching of Languages, followed by various other MAT (master of arts in teaching) degrees.
Since that time, SIT has continued to work toward a vision of world peace. Over the years, the campus grew into the SIT Graduate Institute, incorporating SIT Study Abroad undergraduate programs in more than 30 countries.
Through the years, the Graduate Institute has attracted students from over all over the world to pursue a range of internationally focused degrees with a social justice sensibility and an emphasis on experiential education.
SIT alumni have gone on to work throughout the world as teachers, peacemakers, diplomats, leaders of non-government organizations (NGOs), cultural exchange professionals, and in other roles oriented toward making the world a more just and peaceful place.
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SIT and other like-minded institutions across the country, however, now find themselves in a challenging environment.
The needs of graduate students are changing. Market research shows that students seek shorter, cost-effective programs that prepare them with real-world skills in a globalized market. And, as the cost of higher education continues to rise, students often leave their institutions with heavy debt.
As the political climate devalues intellectualism and diversity, it’s also clear that institutions of higher learning must adapt to continue the vital work of international education.
From its founding, SIT has always been an innovator, guided by an experiential approach to education, the need to develop intercultural communicative competence in its students, and values like social justice.
Its programs have always provided a diversity of backgrounds and thought, enriched by intercultural and field experiences, and teachers and students from many parts of the world interacted within a rich context of curricula and global sources.
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Accepting today’s challenges while remaining true to its values, SIT has devised a new master’s degree format to position the Graduate Institute as a leader in global education.
The new approach takes advantage of the institution’s many centers around the world, developed through SIT Study Abroad, as ideal locations for existing and new graduate programs to complement online and low-residency master’s programs.
Several new global programs are now under development.
The first, pending accreditation, will be an MA degree in Climate Change and Global Sustainability to begin in fall 2018. The program will be taught in consecutive semesters in Iceland and Tanzania — locations well-known for climate-change policy and innovation. Students will conduct their practicums during the final semesters at various locations in the world.
This new program design offers a world of possibilities. Students will be able to approach issues and solutions to global problems like climate change from a broad perspective, while immersed in several cultures, and more international students will also be able to access these academic programs unimpeded by borders or visa restrictions.
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Though SIT will no longer host full-time graduate students after June 2018 on the Brattleboro campus, the site will remain a busy international location.
SIT and its parent organization, World Learning, Inc., will continue to host spring and summer youth programs, the CONTACT Summer Peacebuilding Program, and the Governor’s Institutes of Vermont, in addition to staff training for Study Abroad and the Experiment.
SIT will also continue to provide low-residency MA degrees in international education and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Unfortunately, the new approach brings with it the need to reduce a number of positions at SIT in Brattleboro and at its center in Washington, D.C. Approximately 27 positions will be eliminated during the next fiscal year.
Where possible, the administration hopes to find other positions for staff as opportunities arise at World Learning, Inc., which employs more than 1,100 people worldwide. They have also pledged to support affected staff and faculty with customized outplacement assistance.
SIT remains committed to Brattleboro and to Vermont. Part of that commitment is to make SIT more resilient, given the challenging environment that all institutions of higher education currently face.
These changes obviously bring with them hard realities, but they are necessary to help SIT meet the current needs of students and to carry out the mission that has guided this unique institution from its beginning: preparing students to become interculturally effective leaders, professionals, and citizens of the world.