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Collaboration and Partnership in Higher Education and K-12: the Global Education Access Pipeline

Friday, October 18, 2019  
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Contributed by 2016-17 High School Task Force: Eileen Kelly-Aguirre - School Year Abroad; Laura Eggen - Global Journeys; Kristin Labs - IFSA Butler; Paula Levitt - University of California, Davis; Darin Smith-Gaddis - CAPA The Global Education Network


As the field of global education looks for ways to expand its influence, high schools, K-12 serving organizations and community partnerships will become an increasingly important component. Particularly as we look at diverse groups of students, it is essential to understand the community partnerships that support these students and that have the ability to assist in moving them along the global education access pipeline.  


For an education abroad opportunity, that may not feel clearly linked to a student’s academic trajectory, how do we justify the expense of these programs? How do we talk about cost related to value in the K12 space? Return on investment? Does it contribute to academic credit?


Accessibility in study abroad continues to be an uphill battle. The diversity in student goals and outcomes across the US secondary education landscape ensures that incorporating best practices into the curriculum is applied inconsistently. Building education abroad into a student’s academic trajectory means addressing issues of cost, fit, value and the return on investment.


While institutions of higher education are engaging in a national conversation about the invaluable returns education abroad can bring to students academically and from a professional development standpoint, it remains unclear for K-12 schools how education abroad can be successfully incorporated into the curriculum, timing, and student development outcomes mandated by each state.


It could be argued that the perceived value of education abroad as a high impact practice, and powerful educational tool in the K-12 space, is still widely questioned. Educators face increased oversight, scrutiny and accountability in making sure students meet district and state academic benchmarks. Education abroad is often seen as competing against an educational framework focused on achievement tied to standardized testing, and therefore funding.


Realistically K-12 educators must be persuaded as to the benefits of incorporating additional practices which enhance learning and give students the educational foundation required to grow and succeed outside of the classroom. Even if we are successful at legitimizing and incorporating education abroad more deeply, we must still break down barriers of cost.


Education abroad opportunities are rarely free for participants or families, and for some this may be the first time families are making a significant financial investment in education. Without clearer understanding of the concrete benefits of education abroad, supported by data, and reinforced by the K-12 educational community, increased participation will continue to be an uphill battle.


One barrier to participation is the perception that education abroad at the K-12 level is unnecessary and superfluous. Conversations are often focused, at least at the administrative level, on building pre-professional competencies. As such, many don’t see education abroad as having any material impact on a student's academic growth. How then can education abroad fit in curricularly at the K-12 level, in both the private and public education sectors?


At the Diversity Abroad annual conference earlier this year, a high school focused session addressed the following questions with participants: Why is building partnerships and communities an important factor in K-12 education abroad? How can K-12 education abroad programs engage with local schools and communities? What other partnerships can add value to high school programming? How can professionals build on the global education access pipeline?


During the session, in which presenters represented three different K-12 serving organizations and the audience primarily represented higher education professionals, the dialogue revolved heavily around the need for building awareness of the value of K-12 education abroad programming and building mutually beneficial partnerships along the global education access pipeline. As more institutions of higher education set mandates for inclusive excellence and diversity, the need for partnerships at the K-12 level is logical and necessary. Presentations similar to the Diversity Abroad session this past spring are a starting point for raising awareness and bringing together higher education and K-12 organizations for collaboration, but more platforms need to be created to develop these partnerships.


The discussion generated in the Diversity Abroad session made it clear that there is a need to raise more awareness on the importance of the global education access pipeline and create more opportunities for higher education and high school professionals to connect and build mutually beneficial partnerships. It was also made clear that there is a growing number of K-12 educators who are ready to reach out and begin building these partnerships. The challenge is then bringing together higher education professionals and K-12 professionals and creating platforms for collaboration.         



It could be helpful to first paint a portrait of exactly what is happening at the K-12 level in the U.S. in the related areas of education abroad, global education and perhaps also even the world/foreign language teaching realm, from which most of the teacher advocates for spending time abroad and developing intercultural skills tended to hail traditionally. What work is being done both in schools and by the range of providers? Who is doing this work?  Who are the thought leaders and what are the professional organizations that are slowly but steadily developing so that those committed to this work are not operating in isolation?


Once there is greater awareness and clarity around what is happening in these K-12 spaces we can then look to see how to make the higher education realm aware of the richness and the growth in this sort of curricular and programmatic work.


Given the cavernous gap in professional sharing and collaboration between K-12 and higher education professionals in general education it is not a surprise that the right hand of K-12 and the left of higher education are operating largely in isolation of each other. There is no need. There are students from a range of backgrounds going abroad at younger and younger ages and being powerfully impacted by their experience. It is likely that the vast majority of these students are college bound and, if given the chance, will look to go abroad again during their degree course of study.


How to move towards understanding ourselves as a continuum of professionals supporting this work, a continuum that might expand eventually to include pre-K and global ed-minded parents on one end and the employers that are, increasingly, seeking but not always finding people with the kinds of competences and skills that education abroad are particularly well-suited to develop.


A Three-Pronged Context - Learning Abroad, Global Education and World Language Study:

On the one hand there is study/service/ed travel and adventure abroad of different types, referred to here are “learning abroad”.  These experiences tend to favor high schoolers and are dominated at present by multi-week summer and short term experiences through providers and schools themselves, though there are a handful of long-standing yearlong academic study opportunities of varying designs, from a single student taking a deep dive into a local high school and homestay (AFS, Rotary International) to a credit-granting year of US-based study with a focus on language acquisition and homestay with a cohort (SYA/School Year Abroad). None of these longer programs are free, of course, and SYA for example is priced comparably to a year of boarding school. While substantial need-based financial aid is provided in order to ensure accessibility there is always more demand than funding.


In addition there is the growing trend in K-12 schools towards global education, which is a relatively new curricular movement in schools during which a student may likely never physically leave the country, but through curricular means students develop knowledge, skills, and dispositions considered essential for life in the increasingly interconnected, interdependent work and life reality.


Last but not least is also the realm of K-12 foreign/world language study, which had traditionally been the academic department source of encouragement to K-12 students to spend time abroad and where curricular standards are directly supportive of the many rich outcomes of learning and living abroad.


Diversity/inclusion work, global programs and the independent school sector:

It is not uncommon in a well-resourced independent school for there to be a professional on the staff working on issues of creating an inclusive community, culturally sensitive classrooms and a safe environment for all to learn and grow. These schools often also provide need-based financial aid and other kinds of financial support to students of promise with little or no means. Increasingly these same schools are also developing global programs of their own, leaning on providers to help them design an experience that is in some way more mission-aligned than a typical pre-packaged travel or service abroad experience. This trend has spurred the creation of a new professional - global education coordinators and even directors. Given the smaller scale of these institutions (as compared to large colleges and universities) and the considerable overlap between cultural competency that drives diversity work and the intercultural and language skills at the heart of global education initiatives, these professionals are beginning to talk to each other. The Global Educators Benchmark Group ( is a professional association that grew out of the need for these global programs professionals to build a knowledge base (including of critical incident responses) and a collegial support network. Global programs leaders in independent schools gather annually at the Global Educator Benchmark Group (GEBG) conference, hosted each year by an institution doing exemplary work in this realm.  


Global Access Pipeline (GAP): One non-profit that is facilitating dialogue between K-12, higher education, diversity, global and language professionals is the Global Access Pipeline. Their mission is to “enhance the quality and diversity of participation in international affairs”. The map of their consortium outlines the K-12 members who ‘expose’ young students to the field of international affairs, the organizations that serve as conveners, providers of internships and scholarships, as well as mentoring and PD as they get closer to the professional world where the ‘end users’ include governmental agencies, NGOs and private businesses.


The Asia Society is currently gathering educators from the International Studies Schools Network (ISSN) for an annual conference. ISSN’s two-part mission is to “close the achievement gap for low-income and historically underserved secondary students and address the growing opportunity gap between what American schools typically teach and the knowledge, skills, and dispositions required for full participation in a global economy”. Their belief that “a rich, global curriculum that engaged students in investigating and addressing real-world problems could..provide a more efficient route to college and career preparedness”.


Global education-focused elementary language educators might find support through, for example, Global Language Project, a consortium member of the Global Access Pipeline. The mission of Global Language Project is provide underserved communities the chance for their students to begin studying a world language as young as possible. The major professional organization for language teachers in the US, ACTFL, is a commitment member of the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad initiative, dedicated to greatly increasing SA participation while also increasing diversity of participants and reducing any obstacles in their way.


K-12 schools and program providers do not have their own professional association. NAFSA and FORUM on Education Abroad and IIE provide standards, resources and conference opportunities, but they are either overwhelmingly or exclusively devoted to higher education. NAFSA, though beginning to expand conference sessions for K-12 professionals focus only on issues of import to those working with inbound students. Beyond attending the excellent annual conference, FORUM on Education Abroad does not yet offer K-12 education abroad professionals a way to formally join the rich professional dialogue between member institutions taking place there via some appropriate level of membership.  


It is still a surprise to the large majority of people that a high school student can do sustained study abroad, so inextricably linked is this idea to the college experience and to the mistaken notion that you need to be a young adult to successfully navigate that challenge. It is, however, becoming more commonplace for K-12 schools to organize their own educational travel for their own students. While an encouraging trend here, again, funding can become a significant obstacle for some students, as well as the effectiveness and inclusiveness of the outreach. Global programs that are only accessible to students whose family has financial means can add yet another of layer to the structural inequities already existing in school systems in the U.S.




UC Davis has presented on the concept of study abroad at several high schools during a college preparation day. There is a great opportunity for collaboration when high school students come on college campuses, too.  UC Davis, perhaps like many other campuses, collaborate with K-12 students on college preparation programs:


While each of these programs above have a different focus, there is an opportunity to start to introduce global engagement possibilities into these college prep programs hosted by universities.  This can include coordinating school visits with other global events on campus and adding on a visit to the study abroad office to campus tours for K-12 groups.  



It is clear that there is interest among a core group of higher education professionals and K-12 professionals to partner and build upon a global education access pipeline. The inaugural year of Diversity Abroad’s High School Task Force in 2016-17 is proof of that interest. The Diversity Abroad conference session on this topic in spring 2017, proposed by this task force, proved to be a great platform for raising awareness and creating partnerships, and hopefully in building momentum to create even more space for collaboration to blossom. In moving forward, the High School Task Force will continue its work in 2017-18 to propose more sessions, create resources, and host community discussions. The hope is to bring more voices and perspectives to the conversations with a goal to bring the global education access pipeline to the forefront of conference dialogues, funding discussions, and strategic partnership development.