Domestic college exchange programs could add value

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama touched on the division apparent in American society during his farewell address.

“For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions,” Obama said.

A CNN poll following the election found that approximately 85 percent of Americans feel that the country is more divided than ever. 

This has to change — and  that change should start right here on campus.

While some Trojans study abroad in exciting and diverse locations  like Italy and South Africa, many never study at another university in the U.S. during their undergraduate education. A program similar to studying abroad, but with the goal of allowing students to explore other parts of the U.S., could benefit the individual student, the University and even the country as a whole. Students should encourage USC to provide such initiatives, allowing the University to provide a truly diverse and engaging education while trailblazing “study away” programs. Existing initiatives like the Dornsife D.C. program are excellent starts, but a truly national exchange is necessary in order to bring students from various backgrounds together and begin healing the country’s cultural rift.

Sending college students to temporarily study at schools in diverse areas across the country could draw them outside of the bubbles that Obama criticized in his speech. In a recent essay for Inside Higher Ed, longtime educator and consultant David J. Smith advocated for a “domestic exchange program” that would take American college students “from their often comfortable environments and [provide] them with the opportunity to get to know people in other parts of the country and in different settings.”

USC prides itself on its diversity, and a program focused on domestic diversity and exposing students to the various cultures within our nation’s borders would further this goal. Of course, schools wouldn’t offer a program like this without student pressure, and it is hard to imagine a student from Los Angeles advocating to spend a semester in rural America over the myriad of destinations abroad. 

However, students should realize that many of the benefits of an international education would translate — and even multiply — in a domestic exchange program. One of the main goals of study abroad programs is increasing cultural understanding, which in the context of a domestic exchange program could translate into increased political and cultural understanding between students from blue and red states.

A quick glance at USC’s admission statistics highlights the potential for students to step outside their comfort zones. About 42 percent of USC’s Fall 2016 class went to high school in California, and even some of the students who come from out of state simply move from another urban area to Los Angeles.

Sending USC students from Los Angeles into rural areas, the Midwest or the South could potentially expose them to different ways of thinking. Students could increase their understanding of the economic issues caused by the decline of the auto industry through trips to Detroit, of the unique challenges posed by extreme weather along the Gulf Coast and of the frustrations of residents of middle America by staying in an agricultural town in Nebraska. Living among residents of these areas would promote a level of understanding and would truly open the eyes of USC students to the problems present in other parts of the country, building empathy and likely proving beneficial to both populations.

In addition to more intangible personal benefits, such as increased political understanding and knowledge of a different part of the country, a national exchange program could potentially benefit students in their professional careers. Political science students with national ambitions could clearly benefit from connections in different parts of the country, especially areas with views different from their own. Journalism students would gain a better understanding of parts of the country they could later write about. Science and engineering students could gain an understanding of the unique problems faced by different parts of the country and how residents would like those problems addressed.

USC wouldn’t be the first school to offer a domestic exchange program. Brown University and Tougaloo College, a historically black college, have partnered for “study away” programs since 1964.

The USC Mission Statement notes that the University “plays an increasingly important role in the development of the nation and the world.” With many now arguing that one of the biggest roadblocks to our nation’s development is the lack of national unity, a domestic exchange program could place USC at the forefront of this effort and entrench the Trojan Family even more firmly in the United States.