Closing the Study Abroad Divide: Part 1B

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

In Part IA, we explored whether students can afford faculty-led programs, and asked the question, how are campuses encouraging students to invest in their education? Now, we consider the second often- expressed reason for failed faculty-led programs, which is the lack of a “culture of study abroad”.

The Institute of International Education’s Open Doors data highlights the top undergraduate campuses by percentage of study abroad participation. That is, these campuses would rate “high”, if measuring their study abroad culture. When analyzing baccalaureate institutions, one immediate observation stands out. Of the Top 20 colleges listed in 2002/3, six campuses are not on the expanded Top 40 list in 2012/13. This is intriguing, as all six schools in 2002/3 had a percentage of participation that was higher than the minimum in 2012/13. Could increasing enrollment be a factor in the decrease? Herein lies a key consideration. If a “culture of study abroad” exists, and enrollment increases, shouldn’t the culture translate into more students studying abroad?

Not necessarily. 14 colleges are found on both lists, and participation in study abroad increased on only six campuses (by 9 to 48 percent). Notably, only one college shows an increase (4 percent) in degrees conferred. On the other hand, participation in study abroad decreased at six colleges (by 5 to 57 percent). Interestingly, five of these showed an increase in degrees conferred (four increased by over 13 percent). The data indicates that when overall university enrollment increased, the “culture of study abroad” did not always translate into an increase in study abroad participation. What would cause study abroad participation to decrease? Could these decreases possibly be the result of a shift in strategic priorities? These questions are important to ask, as IIE’s data clearly shows an increase in study abroad participation while what we define as a strong study abroad culture–is not a given.

As we are aware, short-term program participation continues to increase steadily. Since many short-term programs are also faculty-led programs, can we possibly learn about a “culture of study abroad” by looking more deeply at faculty-led programs specifically?

If we consider duration as we analyze participation, IIE’s Open Doors distinguishes types of campuses, i.e. smaller private colleges and large research institutions. Looking at short-term program participation at baccalaureate colleges, ten colleges can be found in both Top 20 lists in 2002/3 and 2012/13. Of these ten schools, eight showed an increase in short-term program participation and seven increased by over 13.5 percent. At research institutions, a similar trend is present, but the impact is far more significant.

For research institutions, 13 can be found on both lists. The minimum increase in student participation on short-term programs was 33.7 percent. The average increase, can you guess? Over 100 percent! This means that 13 large U.S. universities, which also accounted for a large percentage of increasing enrollment, sent over 10,000 more students abroad on faculty-led programs than they did ten years prior. To put this into perspective, 10,000 students on faculty-led programs is more than the total number of full academic year study abroad participants in 2012/13, across all U.S. higher education universities and colleges combined!

From these two sets of data— study abroad participation campus wide and the enormous gains in short-term program participation— we can point to two conclusions. First, a high percentage of students studying abroad, or a “culture of study abroad” is not by itself sustainable. Study abroad participation can increase, or it can decrease over time. To search for causes, we can ask: Does a campus prioritize global initiatives? (This will be explored further in the next article, Part 2.) Second, faculty-led programs play a critical role in achieving a high percentage of students studying abroad. If this metric is used to assess a “culture of study abroad”, building such a culture starts with engaging faculty who are passionate about preparing the next generation of leaders through life-changing international learning experiences.

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