Like the six other institutions of higher education on the 2023 New Jersey East Asia Economic Mission trip, Kean University has been announcing agreements with universities in Japan and Korea. Most involve pledges of initial collaboration on certain research topics or fields of study.
But Kean truly understands just how big these agreements can grow.
Kean is one of only three U.S. universities to have a campus in China, Wenzhou-Kean University, which started with a simple agreement more than a decade ago.
Today, the campus is thriving. It now has more than 4,000 students (some of whom are from the Kean U.S. campus) and will celebrate its 10-year anniversary next spring.
It’s the reason why Kean President Lamont Repollet said the school jumped at the chance to sign agreements with other schools in the region: In Japan with Osaka University of Economics and in Korea with both Soongsil University and Sangmyung University.
“When we talk about increasing access to education, we should include increasing access to international education opportunities, which can be transformative — especially for first-generation students who may not think this is an option for them,” he said.
“These experiences can be life-changing moments.”
The concept of a Wenzhou-Kean campus includes an incredible brush with history.
Repollet’s predecessor, Dawood Farahi, began having discussions with the governor of Fujian province more than a decade ago — a governor who now is the president of China, Xi Jinping.
Repollet said the connection with the world leader is unique — but said it really serves as a lesson of why it’s important to be connected at the local level.
“It’s all about building relationships,” Repollet said. “Once we had that, our connection with the city of Wenzhou really just grew. Government officials began seeing the value of the Kean brand and the value of coming to the Kean campus in New Jersey.”
The students see it, too.
At Kean, where approximately 50% of the students are first-generation students, Repollet said their reaction is priceless.
“To see the look on their faces and hear their stories when they come back from Wenzhou-Kean is amazing,” Repollet said. “We want our students to realize that studying abroad is something they are able to do.”
Price, of course, is an issue. That’s why Repollet said Kean is working to find ways to make international study more affordable.
For students unable to handle the cost or time commitment of a semester abroad (many students have part-time jobs, too), Kean has introduced Travelearns — 7-10 day trips (usually taken over spring break) to various parts of the world.
The school will have a handful of locations next spring, with the goal to have as many as two dozen in the future.
Even more, Repollet said, Kean attempts to subsidize as much of the trip as it can, through its foundation, because the school is so committed to international experiences for its students.
International education benefits more than just the students.
Repollet and Kean are looking to find ways to help their faculty increase their research opportunities, too.
“As Kean moves from being a regional university to a national research university, we are able to offer universities around the world the ability to collaborate with a research university in the United States,” he said.
For Kean University, the ability to bring students from China to its New Jersey campus is not only good for the students, but Kean’s bottom line — as international students bring added revenue.
Kean President Lamont Repollet said the additional revenue can help the school support its U.S. campus — but also increase its international presence.
That starts with Wenzhou-Kean.
Repollet said the university is looking for ways to better connect its two campuses together to form a truer research partnership, he said.
“The concept of a world-class education at Kean is coming to fruition,” Repollet said.
The school currently has more than 17,000 students overall — which includes approximately 4,000 in China. Repollet feels Kean can leverage the Wenzhou-Kean campus to grow that total.
“Being one of only three universities in the country to have a campus in China (Duke University and New York University are the others) puts us on a different-level playing field,” he said. “And it puts us in a great position as New Jersey starts to look to grow its presence in Asia.
“That’s why this trade mission was very important to us. We’ll continue to build our Wenzhou-Kean campus, but we’re also looking to go beyond China, too. This trip is a great start for that.”