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In Education Abroad Quantity Without Quality Does Not Equal Success

Friday, September 8, 2017  
Posted by: Andrew Gordon
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In Education Abroad Quantity Without Quality Does Not Equal Success

By: Andrew Gordon, CEO & Founder - Diversity Abroad 



As the new academic year kicks off it’s heartening to know that an increasing number of colleges and universities are engaged in initiatives - from robust scholarship programs to assessing the education abroad office’s diversity practices - to increase participation in education abroad and other global education opportunities. Increasing student participation in meaningful global education programs is essential for their engagement with and success in our interconnected world. Expanding participation is also requisite if the field of education abroad is to be considered part of the solution to ensuring equitable access to high impact practices, the type of practices that promote student success for all students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds.1 Yet, our success in these endeavors does not merely depend on the quantity of students we send abroad. We must also consider the quality of their experiences. The relation between inclusion and quality must be regarded with the same level of commitment as the relation between diversity and quantity.

Focusing on Diversity Leads to Increased Quantity

A well known saying by Vernã Myers is “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” In regards to education abroad, this saying would mean increasing the composition of participants from diverse demographics -- or the quantity -- as well as ensuring support systems are in place to facilitate the success of diverse students who pursue education abroad -- the inclusive quality of the program experience. There is an intrinsic connection between increasing participation in education abroad and reaching parity between the demographics of participants and that of students enrolled in higher education. One only has to look at reports of the changing demographics in college enrollment to appreciate that higher education will serve an increasingly diverse population of students, the very populations who traditionally have not pursued education abroad in representative numbers. Thus, as a field if we are to reach lofty goals, such as doubling the number of students studying abroad by 2020, it’s imperative that there be a significant increase in participation by diverse students. This calculus has not gone unnoticed in the field of education abroad. A growing number of institutions as well as service providers are working with Diversity Abroad to connect their message to diverse populations as well as developing their own innovative scholarships and targeted marketing campaigns to reach diverse students. This trend will continue and such engagements will become mainstream as the field embraces the future of education abroad, one in which our only trajectory for meaningful growth is through significant increases in the number of diverse students pursuing education abroad. Therefore, one cannot have a serious conversation about increasing the quantity of participants in education abroad without focusing on the diversity. Focusing on diversity leads to increased quantity or participation.  

Focusing on Inclusion Leads to Enhanced Quality

In the past decade a focus on diversifying education abroad has yielded positive results. In 2006 when Diversity Abroad was founded, the Institute for International Education reported that only 17% of students pursuing education abroad were ethnically or racially diverse students. By 2015 the percentage had jumped to 27.1%, a positive trajectory and one that should be celebrated. However, the goal of the thousands of professionals who work in international education isn’t simply the transactional aspect of our work - sending students from point a to point b for a fixed period of time - but it’s the opportunity for growth and development afforded to students through the education abroad experience. This is the type of growth that prepares students for success after they leave our institutions. Thus, as our field focuses on increasing the quantity of students going abroad, which is linked to diversity, it's essential that we simultaneously enhance the quality of the experience, which is inherently linked to inclusion.

Quality in education abroad is often equated to the academic quality of a program abroad. This makes sense as the underlying activity, education abroad, is an academic venture in nature. Yet, as the education abroad participant diversifies, it's imperative that we also approach any discussion of quality through an inclusive lens. In order to provide diverse students with equitable access to high impact practices it isn’t enough to simply have them participate in an education abroad experience. International education professionals in the U.S. and abroad must be prepared to support diverse students’ success. Particularly during the pre-departure and in-country phase of the education abroad process we can ask: Is the information I’m providing to support students’ success inclusive of students from a variety of diverse backgrounds? Do the curricular and co-curricular opportunities offered through our education abroad programs take into consideration students from diverse backgrounds? Are we adequately prepared to support diverse students who face racial or other discriminatory incidents abroad? Examining our practices through an inclusive lens allows us to identify areas of the education abroad process where there is room for improvement. As we work to improve the education abroad experience for diverse students we ultimately enhance the learning and support provided to all students. Thus, by focusing on making education abroad programs and the overall process more inclusive, the quality of the experience is enhanced.

Aiming for Equity

In both the quantity and quality discussion of increasing participation in education abroad, and providing inclusive support, the end goal is educational equity. Education abroad is a high impact practice that can positively impact academic achievement, graduation rates and post-graduate employment. As such it's imperative that the field of education abroad not lose sight that the ultimate goal is for us to do our part to provide equitable access to an educational opportunity that, upon graduation, will help ensure that diverse students are as prepared as their peers to take on the challenges and opportunities of our global society.


For the purpose of this article diverse students refers to students of color, from lower socioeconomic background and those who
are first in their families to go to college.