09/24/2013 06:18 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

The Newest Hotspot for Global Education: HBCUs

Higher education transforms lives. That's not an aphorism, it's a reality. We see it when a student steps beyond the traditional tools of the lecture and the textbook, immerses him- or herself in a challenge and comes out a changed person.

Of late, we've realized the great gains that students get from what we call comprehensive internationalization. When universities take this approach, they commit to preparing their students to succeed in a globalized world. This involves more than a traditional study abroad summer in Italy. It encompasses classes that truly dive into cultural understanding, exchange programs for international students and professors, programs that use technology to bring together groups in the U.S. and abroad, co-op working experiences on the other side of the globe, foreign language majors, research partnerships with institutions overseas and more.

Why is this so important? Our economy has gone global. Even an entry-level employee at a Fortune 500 company has a good chance these days of working in Dubai, Rio de Janeiro or Shanghai. Higher education is responsible now for not just preparing students to do the work, but to be ready for a world in which they'll interact with individuals from different cultures, who speak different languages, and who might even have entirely different world views.

What's extremely promising is that some of the best advances over the past few years have occurred at our historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It's a special time for HBCUs as the White House holds its National HBCU Week Conference this week, and we commemorate so many important moments of the Civil Rights movement, reflecting on the incredibly important role HBCUs have played in reaching African American citizens. In spite of significant obstacles, these institutions have become a hotbed of activity for global education -- and we've seen it first-hand at ACE through a number of HBCUs that are involved in our international education projects.

These institutions have worked with a variety of budgets and levels of campus input and support to make some real progress for their students. All the colleges and universities in our projects did excellent work, and the following serve as great examples:

  • North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University partnered with Henan Polytechnic University in China to develop joint-taught courses, where students in classrooms thousands of miles away interact with one another virtually.
  • Dillard University in Louisiana brought a number of Brazilian students to campus for teacher preparation programs, which created an opportunity for its own students to learn from different cultural perspectives.
  • Bennett College in North Carolina has developed an Arabic language program, and is reaching out to members of the local community with those courses.
  • Virginia State University has made internationalization part of its overall campus strategy, imbuing curricula and outside-the-classroom activities with a global bent.
  • Tuskegee University in Alabama has been involved in international development since its founding, and this month, it hosted an international forum on biomedical research that kicked off a global campaign to fight HIV/AIDS.

Students who are able to learn by interacting with people outside their comfort zones are going to be more ready for the 21st century global economy. The students HBCUs serve, who represent such an important and historically underrepresented group in higher education, will be better prepared to change the world because of their institutions' deep commitments to offering truly internationalized learning environments.

Molly Corbett Broad is president of the American Council on Education (ACE), the major coordinating body for higher education in the United States, with more than 1,800 members. To learn more about ACE's international initiatives at its Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement, visit the website and follow @ACE_CIGE on Twitter.