Pioneering a ‘transnational’ university

*The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A guest column by David P. Dauwalder, Ph.D.

Welcome to the San Diego-Baja California Binational Mega-Region.  

While that’s a mouthful, the term is now in wide use by U.S. and Mexican leaders and organizations to define the transnational  area consisting of San Diego and Imperial counties and the State of Baja California.  The region has an estimated population of 6.78 million, with 3.44 million in the U.S. and 3.34 million in Mexico, unified by a dense and complex set of transactions and relationships across the international boundary.  It represents the largest concentration of population along the U.S.-Mexican border.

By any measure, it’s a remarkable place.  The San Diego-Tijuana urban region is the largest binational metropolitan area in the U.S. and the largest in the world.  At its center is the globe’s busiest land-border crossing, with more than 100,000 people coming northward every day to shop, work, and study and for tourism and recreation.  Each month, more than one million U.S. citizens cross the border into Tijuana and back.  Despite the security enhancements on the U.S. side of the border, the two halves of the region are intimately connected demographically, culturally, politically, economically, and in so many other ways.

The vitality of the binational region is incontrovertible.  San Diego County is the state’s second-most populous, with a balanced, forward-looking economy based on universities and research, clean tech, the military, tourism, life sciences, aerospace, healthcare, maritime, and information and communications technologies.  Tijuana is now the second-largest city on the West Coast of North America, with steep population growth in recent decades.  It is a major center for manufacturing, especially in electronics, medical devices, aerospace, and automotive, integrated with the global economy.  Much of the manufacturing includes shipping goods at various stages of production

back and forth locally across the border.

Leaders in the U.S. and Mexico, from the head-of-state level down to grassroots communities, have put in motion historic, multi-faceted efforts to enhance international integration with a strong emphasis on education, especially teacher and student mobility.  These efforts are particularly vigorous in the binational region.

As it happens, the Mega-Region offers a set of special opportunities to enrich and transform colleges and universities.  These opportunities are enhanced by exceptional developments in relations between Mexico, on the one hand, and a variety of key individuals and organizations in the U.S., the State of California, and San Diego County.

Preliminary at-border survey data suggest there are currently as many as 1,250 Mexico- originating university students in San Diego County, and that number could swell to 3,600 by 2025.  Additionally, Mexico’s demand for higher education is growing: nearly 55 percent of the population is under 30 years of age.  In addition, Mexico is the third-largest recipient of H1-B visas to the U.S. – visas aimed at well-trained non-immigrants, working for a short period.  In broad strokes, Mexican students are drawn to academic programs with practicums (co-op experiences and internships), short-term and research programs, and language acquisition.

San Diego hosts the largest naval fleet in the world and has the only major submarine and shipbuilding yards on the West Coast.  So, not surprisingly, San Diego County is also home to the largest population of active-duty military and retired military in the U.S.  These individuals and their families enjoy substantial educational benefits.

Leaders in all sectors on both sides of the border have demonstrated a remarkable unity of purpose to foster closer relations and to profit from the advantages of the binational character of the Mega-Region.  Significant disciplined and coordinated bi-national initiatives to build shared infrastructure, to lobby jointly both Washington and Mexico City on regional issues, to promote educational exchange, and to raise awareness of the Mega-Region appear to be gaining support in both countries.  Regional leaders regard San Diego and Baja California as complementary assets.

These regional attitudes and initiatives coincide with an exceptional push at this time toward further integration of the three NAFTA countries, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This push toward further integration responds to intensifying global competition from other multinational regions, particularly the European Union and eastern Asia and India.  This theme of North American integration was stressed repeatedly during the recent California-Mexico Trade Initiative X, the 10th annual delegation to Mexico City by the San Diego Regional Chamber.

For colleges and universities in Southern California and throughout the Southwest, the prospect of transnational education seems both natural and inevitable.  There simply is no better time for educational institutions to focus on transnational issues and on the aim of producing innovative thinkers and problem-solvers with the expertise to confront the challenges of transnational development from both a regional and a global perspective.  Drilling down, the question is how can universities – acting individually or collectively — amplify these institutional U.S. and Mexican regional relationships, using them to develop alliances and partnerships contributing to program development, student recruitment, facilities expansion, and financial support?

Thanks to today’s climate of interdependence, we’re all about to find out.


David P. Dauwalder, Ph.D., is Executive Vice President and Provost of Woodbury University in Los Angeles and San Diego.  

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