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Diversifying Study Abroad: The Role of the Study Abroad Provider

Monday, July 18, 2016  
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Study abroad organizations (often referred to as “providers”) can play an important role in the challenge of diversifying study abroad. With substantial revenues and sophisticated marketing programs, they promote their programs to hundreds of thousands of students annually utilizing a wide variety of techniques including social networking, participation in campus fairs, online advertising, and the creation and distribution of posters, catalogs and fliers.

Many private and non-profit organizations share the same commitment to diversity as enlightened campus-based study abroad advisors and international program directors. And many have created diversity programs and initiatives.  Here are some examples:

Diversified Program Materials

Program catalogs should feature photos displaying a representative mix of students. Organizations can also showcase students of color in any new brochures that have a specified theme; AIFS accomplished this in our new Career Guide to Study Abroad. While encouraging more minority student participation is a priority, organizations need to be careful not to misrepresent their current program composition; it’s all about balance.

Scholarships and Grants

Study abroad organizations should be encouraged to create a scholarship budget to be used to diversify their program participation. This makes good sense as study abroad organizations -- both profit and non-profit -- enjoy substantial revenues from study abroad students and should be encouraged to offer scholarships. This reduces program fees making programs more affordable to the students who need it most. While this might not be the most creative way to correct the ethnic imbalance, it is the most direct and effective way to encourage minority participation in study abroad.

Locations and Curriculum

By surveying current and prospective students and working with colleagues in the field, study abroad organizations can create exciting new curriculum in non-traditional locations which may appeal to a segment of minority students.  An example of this is new AIFS program at the University of Botswana as suggested by out advisory board and partner organizations.

Recruitment and Alliances

Organization representatives throughout the country should be encouraged to visit a wide variety of minority serving institutions, not just the campuses which traditionally provide them with students.  These institutions may have the mission of internationalizing the campus but often do not have the funding to attend conferences like NAFSA or The Forum on Education Abroad and may not have a designated study abroad office.  Study abroad organizations could perform an important service by visiting these institutions and providing information to interested students while giving them access to a broad range of scholarships.

Organizations can also seek out other types of organizations whose primary focus is to diversify study abroad and create alliances.  In recent years, AIFS has partnered with NAFEO, HACU, Diversity Abroad, IERC and others.

Staffing and Alumni

Like education abroad advisors, the typical study abroad organization staff tends to be comprised of recent alumni who are primarily white (and often female). However, organizations have the power to change this by actively pursuing minority returnees.

It’s no surprise that study abroad organizations often mirror university-sponsored programs when it comes to lack of diversity in staff and program participants.  Private universities have large endowments and deep pockets but may lack the will to make policy changes; public institutions may have the mission/ vision right, but face tremendous budget cuts impacting their ability to reduce study abroad fees. Study abroad organizations just may be in a better position to implement changes.  They have more freedom and flexibility – and less bureaucracy when it comes to creating programs and funding scholarships. In addition, these organizations are, for the most part, doing just fine even in the weak economy.

To summarize, study abroad organizations are well-equipped to forge the battle ahead when it comes to diversifying the study abroad population.  It is time we use our resources to correct the imbalance.

William L. Gertz  is the President and CEO of the American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS)

(Originally Posted in 2013)