Closing the Study Abroad Divide: Part 1A

Last week I introduced Brad Feuling from the Asia Institute a guest author for this blog, and his series exploring how and why some colleges and universities are succeeding with faculty-led programs while others struggle. Below is Part 1A.

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Closing the Study Abroad Divide: How Faculty-Led Programs are Influencing Leaders and Laggards in the Development of Global Citizens
Part 1A: The Problem – Are the reasons behind failed faculty-led programs accurate?
By Bradley A. Feuling, The Asia Institute

The number one reason faculty-led programs fail is low enrollment. When a program does not recruit enough students, one of two reasons is commonly expressed: either “our students cannot afford the program” or “our campus does not have a culture of study abroad”. Are these issues accurate, or are there other reasons deterring students from joining faculty-led programs?

Let’s first consider affordability. In any discussion regarding the cost of faculty-led programs, it is important to look at the investment students make in higher education as a whole. In the decade between 2002 to 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics (www.nces.ed.gov) shows that enrollment in degree granting institutions increased 24 percent, from 16.6 million to 20.6 million. During the same period, the average total tuition, including fees, room and board, for full-time undergraduate students attending a four year institution, increased by roughly 24 percent. On average, student loan balances also increased by roughly 60 percent (www.newyorkfed.org). Based on the above data, even with the rising cost of tuition, it would seem that students are increasingly willing to invest in their education.

In that case, are students also increasingly investing in faculty-led programs? If you said yes, you are correct! Based on the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors data, between 2002 to 2012, student enrollment in study abroad programs increased by 62%. As a percentage of all students studying abroad, short-term (defined as eight weeks or less during an academic year) and summer term programs grew from roughly 46 percent in 2003/4 to over 53 percent in 2012/13. Importantly, much of this increase comes specifically from short-term programs during an academic year, which are often faculty-led.

If on average more students are seeking higher education degrees, and spending more on their education in total, while also showing a willingness to invest in study abroad, and importantly a preference for faculty-led programs, it would seem that the key issue is not, can students afford or not afford faculty-led programs. There must be something else. For example, why are faculty-led programs a less desirable educational investment for students (on most campuses), compared, for example, to online classes? Do online learning models really develop stronger skill sets for students when compared to international faculty-led programs? Or are universities and colleges leading students to believe that online learning is a better educational investment than studying abroad? From this perspective, enrollment in faculty-led programs is a much larger issue. For education abroad to increase on campuses with low student enrollment for international opportunities, global initiatives must be a strategic priority for the university or college, a topic we will explore further in Part 2: The Goal – Does your university or college prioritize global initiatives?

(Side Note: If you are still in doubt on whether students can afford faculty-led programs, Study Breaks College Media report on “College Students’ Spending Habits” provides some interesting insights into a university student’s daily expenses and spending: http://studybreakscollegemedia.com/2014/college-students-spending-habits-survey-results/. For example, “87% of students spend money each year on trips; more specifically, 38% spend $500 or more.”)

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