Campaign to double number of American students abroad

The Institute of International Education, or IIE, last week launched a major Generation Study Abroad initiative that aims to double the number of American students overseas to 600,000 by the end of the decade. It said more than 150 higher education institutions had already committed to "specific, measurable actions" that would help the campaign reach its goal.

The New York-based institute explained at a launch last Monday that it had developed Generation Study Abroad "because the number and proportion of today's students who graduate with an educational experience abroad is far too low. Currently, fewer than 10% of all United States college students study abroad at some point in their academic career."

In 2011-12 some 295,000 Americans studied abroad, according to the IIE's Open Doors report published last November. In the United States 2.6 million people graduate with associate or baccalaureate degrees annually.

The IIE said it had committed US$2 million to the five-year project leading up to its centennial celebrations in 2019.

It aims to involve at least 500 universities and colleges willing to either double or significantly increase the number of their students who gain international experience through study programmes, internships, service learning or non-credit educational experiences.

"As the initiative expands over the next five years, the plan is to involve students, parents, teachers and employers as well," the IIE says on its website. And in a statement last week: "Later phases include mobilising 1,000 high school teachers and engaging 10,000 alumni and students."

Commitments made

By 24 February, there had been pledges from 156 universities and colleges of all types from 41 states, six education associations, six foreign country partners - France, Israel, Germany, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom - and the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The top actions were to increase funds and scholarships, implement new fee or budget models, improve training and support for departments and advisors, improve curriculum integration and expand student diversity.

A bold commitment came from the University of Cincinnati, which has pledged to double its study abroad commitment to US$1.3 million a year for the next five years. Miami University committed to undertake a US$3 million study abroad scholarship campaign.

The IIE is also fundraising for a Study Abroad Fund and will launch a new scholarship programme - the IIE Passport Awards for Study Abroad - "to provide supplemental grants for students from inner-city high schools to study abroad when they are in college".

President Dr Allan Goodman said: "Globalisation has changed the way the world works, and employers are increasingly looking for workers who have international skills and expertise. Studying abroad must be viewed as an essential component of a college degree and critical to preparing future leaders."

Overcoming barriers

Doubling study abroad for Americans, the IIE said, would "take time, resources and a perceptual shift to overcome barriers". The Generation Study Abroad coalition would create an ongoing dialogue about the need for students to gain international experience.

"This will include research to identify and break down barriers hindering students from studying abroad, communications to share strategies and best practices to increase study abroad, and fundraising to mobilise additional financial resources.

Daniel Obst, the IIE's deputy vice president for international partnerships, said career enhancement was one of the main reasons why it was important to get more students onto study abroad programmes.

Interestingly, the institute said, study abroad had also been shown to improve graduation and retention rates. "Studies show students who study abroad have better grades, experience less attrition and graduate from college at higher rates than students who do not study abroad.

There is lack of diversity in the student body who study abroad. Although the number of students abroad has been rising, the proportion of African-American, Hispanic and Native American students in the study abroad population has remained virtually the same over the past decade.

"We need to address the problem head on," said the IIE in background information. The campaign will track activities that expand diversity in race and ethnicity, disciplines and gender.

"Generation Study Abroad has made increasing diversity a major platform in its call to action as it seeks partners to work not only on increasing the numbers but also in changing the perception of study abroad."

Obstacles to study abroad, according to the IIE, are 'cost, curriculum and culture'. While cost was the major factor, "additional barriers include fear and racism, worries about delayed graduation and few role models.

"Increasing racial and ethnic diversity in study abroad will require an effort to persuade students that going abroad is both possible and necessary."