Why don’t more ethnically and racially diverse students study abroad? This is a common question asked among international educators. For too long the response has been that lack of funding is the main reason why these diverse students don’t study abroad. Unfortunately the idea that funding is the main reason why underrepresented students don’t pursue education abroad has masked other systemic issues that contribute to dismal participation in study abroad programs by diverse student groups.
First, let me be clear, I am not by any means against more scholarships for study abroad. In fact, even though Diversity Abroad is not a scholarship granting organization, we’ve had the opportunity to award thousands of dollars in scholarship funds for underserved students. We are always looking for opportunities to offer more. We applaud the many successful scholarship programs administered by providers, institutions and NGO’s that help to fund study abroad. These programs have helped send thousands of underserved students abroad. Scholarships, however, are effective tools for students who are already considering study abroad. What about the thousands of students who feel study abroad is not for them? Will more scholarships help convince these students to study abroad? If students fail to see how they fit into the activity that the scholarship is associated with, in this case study abroad, the scholarship monies will not be a motivating factor in pursuing this facet of their education. Scholarships by themselves will not drastically change the demographic of the study abroad student if they aren’t coupled with targeted outreach that demonstrates the educational, personal and professional benefits of education abroad for diverse students.
Underrepresented students need to see how study abroad applies to them. It’s essential that in addition to scholarships we evaluate how we articulate to under-served students and their families what study abroad is, as well as its present and long term benefits. We all do well to ask ourselves if the messages we send through our printed materials and online about who studies abroad and the benefits thereof are attracting or discouraging underrepresented students from pursuing these opportunities.
Scholarships are important and essential to expanding study abroad. However, scholarships will only do so much without targeted outreach to help underserved students and their families understand and appreciate the value of education abroad. We may not be able to give money to help our students study abroad, however I challenge all of us to look for opportunities at our institutions and organizations to promote study abroad and its immense benefits to a more diverse population of students. I’m confident that with a collective effort to reach out to a more diverse student population we will see wider participation in education abroad among traditionally underrepresented groups.
Andrew Gordon is the founder and president of Diversity Abroad. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco, where he studied business, economics and Spanish. He has studied, traveled and worked throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and South America. He started Diversity Abroad in 2006 with the focus of increasing global awareness and engagement among students and young people with an emphasis on diverse and under-served populations.