Every year, international educators have the opportunity to review trends related to student mobility. The Open Doors Report, administered by the Institute of International Education, provides necessary data to help us understand the status of study abroad participation among US college students and incoming international students. As an organization solely focused on access, diversity and inclusion in international education, every year Diversity Abroad eagerly awaits the release of the Open Doors report to see the impact that our member institutions and others have had in creating equitable access for all students to education abroad. Similar to other years, the 2015 Open Doors Report contains encouraging results and also highlights continued areas for growth with respect to participation of diverse and underrepresented students. Here are a few observations from the perspective of diversity and inclusion within education abroad:
Year over year participation of students from non-white racial and ethnic backgrounds increased to 25.7% in 2014 from 23.7% in 2013.
African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino/a and Multiracial students saw increases in the rate of participation year over year, 0.3%, 0.4%, 0.7% and 0.6% respectively
There has not been any notable increases in participation among students identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native over the past 10 years.
Students in the STEM field made up 23% of the study abroad population
Participation based on gender identity has remained static over the past 10 years with roughly 65% female and 35% male participation.
With a record 10% increase in international student enrollment (over the last year), more students from this demographic will likely pursue education abroad while studying at US institutions.
The results are encouraging. In 2014 students of color comprised 25.7% of the study abroad population, their largest proportion of the overall study abroad population to date. STEM related majors are now the most represented majors of study abroad participants. As organizations, institutions, and professionals who have been committed to ensuring more diverse and underrepresented students have equitable access to education abroad we should be proud of our contribution to this growth. What we’re doing is working. The message that study abroad is for everyone and when done right, is an investment in one’s future and not a luxury, is beginning to resonate with students of color and their families as well as with other underrepresented populations. However, as we continue to extol the benefits of education abroad to students, parents, and the public and private sector, and frame education abroad as an essential experience that can prepare young people for success in the 21st Century, the question arises; are we doing enough to achieve equitable access to education abroad for all students?
Getting to the Tipping Point
The excitement of seeing more diverse students participate in education abroad is tempered by the reality that we have a long road ahead to achieve representative participation by diverse students in education abroad. To reach participation goals in education abroad, be it doubling the numbers nationally or more modest goals set by individual institutions, and for these increases to reflect the rich diversity of students at US colleges and universities, institutions and organizations must develop strategic approaches to diversity and inclusion. Individual activities, be it targeted diversity scholarships, marketing campaigns, etc, while impactful on a micro scale, will not lead us to our goals. To reach the tipping point where diverse students are seeking education abroad as an investment in their future and participating in representative numbers, we as higher education professionals must address access, diversity, and inclusion in education abroad, not as a separate initiative or campaign, but as a strategic imperative and an integral part of every facet of our work. What does this look like? For many years the challenge of increasing access to education abroad among diverse students has been addressed by specific initiatives or campaigns. Through such initiatives or campaigns there has been relative success in increasing participation among diverse students at a particular institution or within a specific organization. However, such initiatives are often an extra, separate tasks added to the workload of increasingly busy professionals, instead of being woven into the fabric of every aspect of our work in education abroad. This ‘strategy’ is not a recipe for success. If, however we evaluate the overall education abroad process and integrate diversity and inclusive good practices into the fabric of the education abroad process, we will develop an environment on our campuses that will foster increased participation of and support for diverse students in education abroad. Innovative and accessible tools, such as Diversity Abroad’s AID Roadmap have been developed to help institutions develop holistic strategies that weave diversity and inclusive good practices into eleven strategic areas of education abroad.
Meaningful education abroad has the potential to be a transformative experience that can change the lives, not only of the students who participate, but their families and communities as well. In an increasingly interconnected world where the skills developed through education abroad can determine who is successful in the labor market and who is not, we as educators must continue to our upmost to ensure all students have equitable access to international education. There is no silver bullet. Through strategic planning and continual and intentional implementation of diversity and inclusive good practices we will reach our goals of increasing participation, achieving representative diversity and adequately supporting all students in education abroad.