Colby has gone global with help from Davis United World College program. But what comes next?

By Gerry Boyle '78
Illustrations by Robert P. Hernandez

Davis UWC Scholars
Photo by Jim Evans
Davis UWC Scholars Adelin Cai ’05, left, and Andras Rozmer ’05 chat with Shelby Davis in 2004. Cai, from Singapore, is now a policy specialist with Google in San Francisco. Rozmer, a Hungarian, is at Central European University in Budapest, where he is project coordinator at the Center for EU Enlargement Studies. At right is President William D. Adams.

It wasn’t always like this. Not even close. Beverage came to Colby 25 years ago. His international experience in admissions at his previous job, at Stanford University, consisted mostly of recruiting in western Canada. At Colby then-President William R. Cotter committed to enrolling one black student each year from South Africa, where apartheid had just been abolished. Two benefactors also gave money to Colby to fund scholarships for women from Andean countries. “Bill suggested maybe it was time for an international trip,” Beverage recalled. “I agreed to do it.”

With the establishment of the Oak Scholarships, which provide financial aid for students from Zimbabwe and Denmark, Colby’s international recruiting grew, with trips to not only South America, but Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. But numbers were limited. At that time few American colleges could afford to take on significant numbers of international students who, more often than not, needed substantial financial aid.

“In those days it was, ‘Harvard, Macalester, or home.’ That was the joke,’” said Gregory Walsh ’84, a college counselor at United World College Costa Rica. “In terms of full scholarships, a cluster of schools could do it. Ivies, some liberal arts colleges, but on a very limited basis.”

With American colleges and universities prohibitively expensive to almost all international students, most, even the most academically qualified, aspired to attend the university closest to home. A full ride? To America? For students from developing countries, that is the educational equivalent of winning the lottery.

As Walsh put it, quoting a saying in college-counselor circles: “You can say, ‘There’s a university in hell.’ And they’ll ask, ‘Does it offer full scholarships?’”

The Davis UWC Scholars program offered the scholarships, but the colleges and universities weren’t in hell. They were some of the most prestigious institutions in arguably the world’s most prestigious higher education system. Only now, UWC students could bring money to the gate. As more colleges qualified for the Davis funding, there were more rigorous colleges (92 at last counting) vying for the same limited number of qualified students. The strongest students suddenly were in the driver’s seat.

At the United World College of the American West in New Mexico, where Walsh worked before Costa Rica, representatives of 50 colleges visited in 2004. The next year, with the expanded Davis program, the number jumped to 70, then to 100. In Costa Rica the number of college visitors peaked at 50, then declined to 36 with the downturn in the economy. “Almost all schools that visit here are in the [Davis] program,” Walsh said. “I would discourage someone from visiting here if they didn’t offer significant international student scholarships.”

Almost all of the UWC of Costa Rica’s graduating students (45 of 53 from all over the world) will go to the United States for college. Almost all will need substantial financial aid, Walsh said.

That geographic and economic diversity that international students provide is sought after by U.S. colleges, and for good reason, Colby officials say. International students’ contributions to the intellectual climate has been well documented. Some are among Colby’s top science, mathematics, and international studies students. In the last five years, four valedictorians and two class speakers have been international students. Two of the last three Colby students to receive Watson Fellowships have been UWC international students.

In a response echoed across the campus, History Professor James Webb said the most important contribution of international students has been to broaden the range of human cultural experience in the classroom. “The results,” Webb said, “have been refreshing and unpredictable,” with contributions that have “cast different patterns of light and shadow across virtually all issues broached in seminar.” Colby’s “traditional” students, he said, “have often been astonished by what the international students were willing to explore and willing to ignore.”

Sui Kim Cheah ’99, a former international student from Malaysia and now a Colby admissions officer, said international students bring even more than global perspectives. “I think their biggest contribution to our campus is a reminder [to other students] of the fact that it’s a privilege to be here,” Cheah said. “It’s not an entitlement.”

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  • On May 25, 2010, Lokesh Todi wrote:
    The Davis Family opened the door for international applicants from UWC to enter Colby, and various testimonials in this magazine over the last 5 years have shown that international students at Colby have enhanced the college's social and academic climate. Although, the new limit on scholarship available through the Davis Scholarship will mean that Colby's financial-aid office will have to commit to a substantial amount of their funds to attract international students, it also provides an opportunity for Colby to show that they are committed to attract bright international student despite the new financial limits. The $10,000 cap of the Davis Scholarship also means that Colby has an opportunity to diversify its international population, so that international students at Colby do not have to come primarily from UWC schools (I was one of the few international students in my year that didn't come from UWC). Colby has made significant progress of enrolling international students. Although, the cap imposed by the new Davis scholarship is a big blow to the admissions office, the Davis fund should not be used as an excuse to significantly lowering the enrollment of International students. I also wanted to mention that it will be great if Colby admits capable full-paying international students. However, Colby cannot limit their population to just international students who can pay to come to Colby, because if it does, Colby will no longer bringing a diverse international student body to the college.