Home > Focus on Japan 2005 > We’re Official in Japan Now, Too

We’re Official in Japan Now, Too

December 15th, 2005

The college where I work has become the first foreign institution of higher education to be granted official status by the Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), which means our students will finally be universally recognized in Japan, allowing them benefits from financial (they can now get significant savings on their train passes, the lack of which was a big drawback) to academic (their credits earned at our college will now transfer within the Japanese college system). We’ll also be able to sponsor student visas. Recognition is very good (though long in coming), and it means we’ll likely get an increase in the number of students at our college, which took a hit after the 9/11 attacks and the buildup to the Iraq War.

However, it also means that other foreign universities might start getting interested in the market again, now that we and others have stabilized it and brought it respect. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a few score of U.S. institutions opened up branch campuses in Japan, seeing it as a way to capitalize off of the then-rich Japanese market. They usually partnered with Japanese businesses which provided administrative and financial support, many of whom were prep or other types of private schools. However, a few major problems caused the industry to implode. For one, some institutions, desperate to get applicants, significantly lowered standards and suffered from grade inflation, which devalued the currency of their degrees. But much more significantly, Japan’s economic collapse caused many of the partner institutions to go bankrupt (many had invested heavily in the bubble real estate market), which closed down schools without warning. Students who had invested a great deal of money and time suddenly found themselves with severed college careers, and in a poor position to do anything about it. The reputation of the industry sank quickly as new students wanted to avoid this fate, and as attendance plummeted, even more schools closed down, until in the late 90’s, only four American-based colleges in Japan with independent accreditation remained (not counting institutions on American military bases).

That’s when I came in, and was hired to run my college. We were one of the least-famous institutions to set up in Japan, but we did so for serious reasons based upon internationalization and the enrichment of diversity, not necessarily for profit. We had found a solid Japanese partner with serious academic credentials, and focused more on the foundation of an academic program than a money-making business (our home campus is a not-for-profit institution). So we stayed on, even through the toughest of times, taking a beating from the reputation cast on us from others–but we persevered. We steadfastly refused to lower standards or award higher grades to appeal to students in a business way (to the point where some students who graduated and later returned from American colleges they’d transferred to reported that our college was academically tougher than the U.S. institutions they’d studied at).

Still, I arrived at a turning point, where the student population had ebbed. For the subsequent several years, our student population exploded, tripling in size. I’d like to claim that as cause-and-effect, but it was more due to the recruitment teams, the rebuilding of our pre-academic program, and the fading of the poor reputation other institutions had left behind a decade before. So we prospered, even as two of the remaining four U.S.-accredited colleges in Japan shut down (they were countryside holdovers, having received substantial support from rural governments, and closed in a responsible fashion), leaving only us and Temple University as the survivors. Understanding that history, you can perhaps appreciate better the significance and reward of now being officially recognized by MEXT. It’s been a long road, and naturally I feel a well-deserved outcome.

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  1. Brad
    December 16th, 2005 at 13:23 | #1

    Congratulations! You merit a well-deserved ‘well done!’.

    How do you ‘run’ your college? Up to now I thought you were mainly a teacher?

  2. Luis
    December 16th, 2005 at 14:21 | #2

    I am now, but for almost five years I was the “Academic Coordinator,” which is like a dean or provost except that I don’t have a Ph.D. I stepped down because I wanted to return mostly to teaching, and decrease the ol’ workload a bit.

  3. ykw
    December 17th, 2005 at 14:49 | #3

    Congrats on your accreditation !

    What was your typical day like as a dean?

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