If colleges want their minority students to undertake foreign study at the same rate as white ones, they need to take into account big differences in how racial and ethnic groups respond to the forces influencing students' decisions to go abroad, a new study concludes.
Students' racial and ethnic backgrounds play a significant role in shaping how they think about study abroad and in determining what factors they consider before embarking on it, the study found. For example, white students who are open to diversity and to challenges generally are more likely than other white students to choose foreign study, but possessing such traits does not appear to have much bearing on whether black or Asian-American students decide to study abroad.
"Minority students don't need to seek out cross-cultural experiences by traveling to another country because, in most cases, they already regularly interact across cultural differences in their everyday lives," says a paper summarizing the study's findings, which were discussed in Chicago this month at a meeting of off-campus study directors belonging to the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, a consortium of liberal-arts colleges.
"Although study abroad is often marketed as if all students should be attracted to study abroad for the same reasons, these findings suggest that some of the most widely used arguments in favor of participation—that study abroad will provide opportunities for cross-cultural skill development and improve postgraduate career opportunities—appear to have no effect on increasing study-abroad intent among most minority students," the paper says.
Experts on foreign-study programs welcomed the study as likely to help them hone their approaches to recruiting minority students.
"If we are serious about trying to diversify study abroad, we have to reach students where they are and design programs which meet their varied needs and concerns," said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education, which is joining the American Institute for Foreign Study and other groups in hosting a workshop on Tuesday in Washington for study-abroad directors and advisers looking for ways to diversify participation in their programs.
Diana K. Davies, Princeton University's vice provost for international initiatives, said the study "shows us that we should not be following a one-size-fits-all approach to promoting study abroad," even if it does not offer any clear guidance for translating its findings into practice. She suggested that colleges might want to consider new means of marketing study abroad to minority students, such as promoting it in the context of outreach programs for those in high school, or using social networking to get students who have gone on foreign study to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
A Major Concern for Study-Abroad Programs
The study was conducted by Mark H. Salisbury, director of institutional research at Augustana College, in Rock Island, Ill., and Michael B. Paulsen and Ernest T. Pascarella, both professors of higher education at the University of Iowa. They based on their analysis on data on about 6,800 students at 53 two- and four-year colleges collected as part of the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, a large-scale, long-term study of students who entered college as freshmen from 2006 through 2008.
The three researchers had previously examined why women were almost twice as likely as men to study abroad and, in a paper presented last year at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, found significant gender-based differences in how students' decisions on foreign study were influenced by their backgrounds, academic environments, and social interactions.
Although the racial and ethnic gaps in foreign-study participation are not as large as the gap linked to gender, they nonetheless are substantial enough to remain a major concern for administrators of foreign-study programs.
As of the 2007-8 academic year, when federal data showed that about 65 percent of full-time college students were white, data collected by the Institute of International Education indicated that white students accounted for nearly 82 percent of all participants in foreign-study programs. Moreover, the gap between white and minority students in study abroad has widened over the past decade, as the share of minority students studying abroad has grown at a much slower pace than minority students ' share of overall college enrollment.
In their latest study, the researchers also found a surprising negative correlation between ACT scores and black students' decisions to study abroad. The higher their ACT scores, the less likely black students were to plan on foreign study, even though those with the highest test scores tended to be enrolled in small liberal-arts colleges with strong study-abroad programs. Nothing in the researchers' analysis explained the finding, but they speculated that many black students at predominantly white institutions might fear that going abroad would expose them to the same sort of negative stereotyping they dealt with at their home institutions.
Hispanic students differed substantially from non-Hispanic white students in how they reacted to various financial considerations in weighing decisions on foreign study. Having received a need-based federal grant for college appeared to make it less likely a white student would plan on foreign study but more likely a Hispanic student would do so. Although having received a student loan appeared to have no effect on white students' plans to study abroad, it seemed to make Hispanic students less likely to intend to go on foreign study.
Asian-American and white students differed in several key ways. The negative effect of being male on one's chances of planning for foreign study was stronger for Asian-American than white students. Receiving an institutional grant did not affect white students' plans to study abroad, but appeared to make it much likelier Asian-Americans would plan on it. And parental education appeared to play very different roles for each group; the more educated their parents, the more likely white students were to plan to study abroad, and the less likely Asian-American students were to do so.
Aspiring for a graduate degree appeared to make white students less likely to intend to study abroad, while Asian-American and black students with graduate-degree plans were the most likely to plan on foreign study.
One author of the study, Mr. Salisbury of Augustana College, said colleges should look not just at how to increase participation in study-abroad programs, but also at how to bring about some of the educational outcomes associated with such programs among students who choose to stay home.
"We need multiple ways to reach multiple students," he said. "You cannot say, 'Every student needs to study abroad,' and that is it, because most students don't."
SOURCE: Peter Schmidt. “Race Plays Key Role in Decision to Study Abroad or to Stay Home, Study Finds". The Chronicle of Higher of Education, September 20, 2010.