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New Data on Study Abroad Programming Tells Us This is Not a Time for Complacency

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Every year, international educators around the U.S. wait with a sense of excitement for the annual “Open Doors Report” published by the Institute for International Education.  Each year, there is something interesting in those numbers that captures our interest and compels those in the field to reflect on the successes and challenges of the previous year, and opportunities for the year to come. This year’s Report has many of us in the field wondering where the momentum in the growth of diverse students has gone. Last year gave us hope that the efforts to increase access to education abroad programming may have been paying off. This year, though, offers a somber reminder that there is much work yet to be done.

The number of students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds participating in education abroad opportunities remained stubbornly flat. In 2013 the slight uptick in racially/ethnically diverse students and students with disabilities made many of us excited by the idea that perhaps some of the efforts that have been developed to recruit and serve students from these backgrounds was finally beginning to show results, at least as far as numbers are concerned. But, perhaps, our excitement got the better of us, and our complacency may now be showing.

African American/Black, Latino/Hispanic, and students enrolled in Associates degree granting programs got a major boost last year. This year, all three groups remained exactly the same. Students with disabilities moved only slightly from 5% to 5.1%. So what happened?

For the last two decades, the field of education abroad has struggled with making international opportunities more accessible to a more representative cadre of U.S. undergraduate students. Institutions have explored ways to facilitate partnerships on campus, to revamp marketing materials, and to identify peer mentors to extend the message to students that, yes, study abroad is for you. But did we get too excited too soon? Maybe. Maybe not. In any case these numbers are a clear reminder of the work we have yet to do.

We’ve identified some things that international education and exchange institutions and organizations are doing that might warrant additional attention for this next year.

Comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion Planning
Reaching the goal of democratizing education abroad requires strategic planning and implementation of diversity and inclusion good practices in the entire education abroad process, from inquiry through re-entry. By taking this holistic approach institutions and providers are able to assess their current efforts to recruit, advise, and serve the needs of diverse and underrepresented students, determine areas of strength and address areas for development. Incorporating diversity and inclusive good practices into current education abroad operations has proven to not only increase participation among diverse and underrepresented students, but also enhance their international experience.

Strategic Marketing
Until recently, it was often the case that students of color, students with disabilities, and students with high-financial need were not hearing a message that said that education abroad was an opportunity within their reach. Institutions and providers have seen the importance of developing inclusive messaging and visual materials that speak to students from a wider swath of the U.S. population. In order for students to consider international opportunities, the message needs to clearly convey that international opportunities are available to all students. 

While the visual representation is important, the message that is being disseminated is crucial. For many underrepresented students it is important to see why study abroad pays off in the long run. What will the return on their investment be? Career benefits, professional outcomes, and skills development are pieces of the “why you should study abroad” message that, until recently, haven’t been the focus of most marketing material. For many diverse students, the personal growth and cultural competencies aren’t the draw. They want to know how this will help them in the long run. Salisbury et al., 2011 emphasize this point by noting that diverse students see their undergraduate education as an investment in their future job prospects, so making the connection for how study abroad connects to these goals is important.

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring
While the numbers for racially/ethnically diverse students going abroad didn’t increase this year, the increase in the last several years in students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds participating in education abroad programming means there has also been an increase in education abroad alumni who are now able to mentor and outreach to students who identify with these backgrounds. Developing peer mentorship opportunities and reaching out specifically to diverse education abroad alumni to participate in these programs is important to give diverse students an opportunity to connect with their peers.

Research and Assessment
Assessment and evaluation in education abroad continues to advance with better methods of collecting and reporting data. Institutions and organizations have done much work to collect more exhaustive data on who is studying abroad and where, and there have been big strides in tying international experiences to important outcomes such as retention, GPA, graduation time, and job prospects.

We can do better, though. According to this year’s data, only 28% of institutions provided data about student with disabilities, and it isn’t clear if every institution included information by type of disability (the percentages by type only reflect the numbers available for those who reported, and information about non-reported groups is not included). Equally interesting to note, with each of the student demographics data collected (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, disability), it isn’t entirely clear who might not be represented here. There is not a category to accommodate students who don’t identify/respond to these questions or missing data. Anyone who works with data knows there is always some missing information. This tells us that we need to do more to collect better and more complete information from the students we serve. Are we offering students multiple opportunities to tell us how they identify (e.g, application, pre-departure, re-entry surveys)? 

There is still much work to be done to ensure that education abroad develops inclusive practices and environments to support an increasingly diverse student population. From the application process to the re-entry activities, international education professionals should also begin to focus efforts to make sure students from all backgrounds, particularly those from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, are supported from the point when they express interest in education abroad to their return to campus. The following areas are particularly relevant to developing an inclusive and open environment for students.

Advising and guidance

Application process

Pre-departure training

In-country support

Re-entry assistance

The numbers from this year’s Open Doors Report suggest that it is not the time to slow in our efforts to continue to expand access to education abroad programming. In many ways, this year’s numbers challenge the field to enhance efforts to now support and develop more inclusive practices to serve the changing demographic of students in education abroad.

Tags:  Education Abroad Diversity  inclusion  Outreach  research 

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Report Highlights Challenges HBCUs Face in Their Internationalization Efforts

Posted By Andrew Gordon, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, July 26, 2016
A new report from the American Council on Education published this week highlights the challenges that HBCUs face in their internationalization efforts.
A link to the full report is included below as well as a summary from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

While many of these challenges may not be new, the report highlights some interesting and good work being done at the seven institutions that participated. 

This is also a good reminder that HBCUs and minority serving institutions play a valuable role in the diversification of education abroad activities because they serve a large portion of racial/ethnic minority students enrolled in higher education (for a quick snapshot of these numbers you can read the recent report from Excelencia in Education and UNCF titled "Black + Brown: Institutions of Higher Education").
For those of you working in and with the HBCU community, please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic.

Report Links:

Tags:  Education Abroad Diversity  global education  HBCU  HSI  research 

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Apathy and Disinterest

Posted By Administration, Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

An acquaintance of mine recently posted photos of his travels in Europe on Facebook. Another friend commented on a photo taken in Albania, asking, “Albania? What’s that?” When the former replied that Albania was a country and provided a few geographical facts, the second friend replied, “I’ve never heard of that. The United States is so big!” Is this an extreme example of the ignorance of American students? Certainly. However, the underlying ignorance and lack of interest in the larger world, displayed all too often by students and professionals alike, should not be so easily dismissed. This apathy and disinterest is the most pressing issue for international education today, and could be a serious detriment to our increasingly linked world.

Studying or interning abroad is too often viewed as a luxury or an “extra” for those students lucky enough to have the opportunity and the funding. Students and administrators tend to attach too little importance to the benefits of international education (especially those in fields without an overtly international component), and many students simply do not view spending time abroad as a real possibility, for a wide range of reasons. However, this attitude fails to grasp the immense personal growth any individual can (and usually does) gain from being immersed in a foreign culture and life, as well as the growing importance of such experiences and understanding for our world today. An international education is less about what is learned in the classrooms or offices of study abroad programs and more about the personal knowledge and growth that individuals gain from living day-to-day in an environment that differs from their own. Students learn to have a better view of differences, and more importantly, to deal with them in a positive way and to benefit from them. The lessons learned from an international education instill in students a type of empathy that can stay with them for the rest of their lives, making them more aware of and sympathetic to what is happening in the rest of the world. As of today, this type of awareness is all too lacking.

In an era where the world is becoming more connected day by day, international education and its benefits are becoming ever more important. Yet even as we acknowledge globalization and increasing ties between nations and peoples, international education continues to be a low priority in many institutions. Further, accompanying programs such as foreign languages continue to lose funding or are even cut. A lack of international education leads to a disturbing ignorance and, potentially, fear of the larger world, undermining international ties. Further, this ignorance severely weakens those who hold it. This failure to understand the full importance of international education, as well as the attendant budget challenges and lack of support, is the main issue that the field must face. How this problem is addressed could have significant repercussions on a much larger scale.

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Kyrstie Lane for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  education abroad  global education  Outreach  research  Study Abroad 

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Having the Right Skills

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016

International education is increasingly becoming the primary means by which societies will bridge the cultural and linguistic divides not only in the United States, but globally. With the challenges shared by societies being global and interdisciplinary in nature, and so too are the solutions.  The world demands a competent workforce able to integrate, and thrive in different societies through experience.  To achieve this demand, professionals in education must overcome the issue of lacking awareness of an international education in every class room and campus. Lack of knowledge in the opportunities to learn about and experience other cultures stifles the abilities of this generation to embrace the world of tomorrow.

On May 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Secretary-General Angel Gurría stated that skills have become the global currency of the 21st century. Without proper investment in skills, people languish in the margins of society where technological progress does not translate to economic growth, and the countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. A globally influenced education allows students to cultivate and harness a unique set of skills to compete globally.  It calls on educators to uphold the highest educational standard, challenging growing leaders by instilling best practices of disciplined learning, consistency in excellence and appreciation for the diversity we all embrace.

This is no easy task. What should all U.S. students be expected to know and understand about the world? What skills and attributes will students need to confront future problems, which will be global in scope? What do scholars from international relations disciplines and experienced practitioners of global education believe students should know and how can these insights be best incorporated into existing standards? For those who have studied abroad or had any resident international experience, how can those lessons learned and experience be harnessed and reinforced as students return to their respective home, professional and professional communities?  The solution includes but by any means is not limited to duties of professionals in education across disciplines to:

  • Increasing capacities of schools and colleges by improving access to high-quality international educational experiences by integrate internationally focused courses within the current learning curriculum.
  • Increasing the number and diversity of students who study and intern abroad and encouraging students and institutions to choose nontraditional study-abroad locations.
  • Help under-represented U.S. institutions offer and promote study-abroad opportunities for their students
  • Actively promote study abroad and encourage students, teachers, and citizens at all levels to study within the U.S. and vise a versa

We must be aware of the opportunities in order to take advantage and utilize them to maximum capacity by introducing international relations, languages and cultural studies to the classroom and reinforcing that teaching with firsthand experience through study, volunteering and teaching abroad.  Enhancing the abilities and skillsets of a generation of individuals to dispel preconceived notions about any culture and society, effectively communicate and appreciate diversity moves this generation closer to tackling global challenges. 

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Zubida Bahkeit for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members@diversitynetwork.org.

Tags:  Diversity  education abroad  global education  inclusion  International Exchange  language  professional skills  research  underrepresented students 

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What's the Point of Study Abroad?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 21, 2016
I beg young people to travel. If you don't have a passport, get one...there are lessons that you can't get out of a book waiting for you at the end of that flight. - Henry Rollins

Study abroad is one of the most beneficial experiences a college student can have. It offers the opportunity to experience another culture and alter their perspective about the world in a way that is simply impossible in a traditional lecture hall. However, in the wake of an economic downturn and a growing student loan bubble that is beginning to mirror the 2008 housing market, many are seeing study abroad as an unnecessary expense. Study abroad, to them, is wonderful in theory but ultimately impractical.

In an era of increased global competitiveness, this notion could not be more untrue.

Many young people are raised to think of a college education as a preparation for their future career, if, of course, college is financially attainable for them. With increased competition, higher tuition and the ever-present threat of budget cuts, students are under increased pressure to optimize their education, choosing a path that helps them obtain a degree and enter the world of work in the most expeditious manner possible.

For many, study abroad is nothing more than a flight of fancy. The added expense of passport fees, visa costs and plane tickets is unfathomable. In addition, the idea of taking time away from their rigorous curriculum to spend four months in another country? Outrageous. This is especially true if your time spent abroad does not directly connect to your area of study. Why spend that money on a glorified elective course?

The fact that study abroad is cost-prohibitive to many students is an unfortunate reality. However, it is the duty of universities, colleges, advisors and organizations such as Diversity Abroad to help these students understand the tremendous value of leaving your home country and experiencing the culture of another.

Peer-reviewed studies have shown that studying abroad has a significant impact on the continued use of their language of study, their levels of academic attainment, intercultural and personal development and personal career choices. While researchers see the most profound effects in students that study abroad for a year or more, significant benefits are apparent even in students who opted for summers abroad.

In a time when the world continues to shrink, students cannot ignore the benefits of studying abroad. In the words of President Obama, speaking to the United Nations, 

"We have sought -- in word and deed -- a new era of engagement with the world.”

It is abundantly clear that studying abroad is an important experience, for any student. The most important issue, however, is convincing administrators, students and parents of the value of an international education. After that, we need to make sure these students can get there.

The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Tara Matthews for sharing her thoughts on the most pressing issue facing international education today.  If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members(at)diversitynetwork.org. 

Tags:  funding  global education  Obama  research  Study Abroad 

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