Widening access to study abroad

Higher education leaders and policy-makers strive to adapt college models to the global interconnectedness of the 21st century. Take, for example, the Civic and Global Learning component of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, or NILOA, Degree Qualifications Profile which calls for students’ abilities to “face a social, economic and information world that knows no borders, that is buffeted by environmental changes, and that requires both the knowledge and the experiences that will enable them to become genuinely interactive and productive”.

Intuitively, many institutions envision study abroad opportunities as one of the clearest examples of exposing their students to a globalised mindset. However, ensuring that all students have equitable opportunities to access these experiences remains an issue in need of attention and innovation.

Based on the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report, data reveals a starkly inequitable portrait of study abroad students when disaggregated by students’ race. From the 289,408 US students who engaged in study abroad in 2012-13, 76% of students abroad were white. Only 7.6% of students were non-white Hispanics, 7.3% were Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and merely 5.3% were Black or African-American.

Despite these numbers, Minority Serving Institutions, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities or HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions, emerge as the leaders in ensuring that more students of colour can access experiences abroad.

Our study abroad infographic at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions details these institutions’ accomplishments in providing access to study abroad opportunities, including:
  • • One in 10 Black students studying abroad hail from an HBCU;
  • • One in five Black students studying abroad come from a Minority Serving Institution;
  • • One in 15 non-white Hispanic students abroad are enrolled at a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
A global mindset

Last week, the Council on International Educational Exchange and the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions hosted the first summit of Minority Serving Institution presidents in Berlin, Germany to explore future opportunities to increase the number of racial and ethnic minorities from lower socio-economic backgrounds accessing study abroad experiences.

Through these partnerships, we can turn the tide and ensure that more institutions provide all of their students with opportunities to cultivate their global mindset. If you are an educator, we invite you to explore how your institution ensures that students engaging in study abroad experiences not only reflect the diversity of your campus, but also of the United States at large.

During our summit, leaders discussed how to infuse a commitment to supporting international experiences throughout all domains of students’ collegiate lives.

For example, we considered how to increase students’ awareness of study abroad experiences by embedding them within curricular offerings – for instance, using composition course assignments to draft prospective letters for scholarships – enhancing financial aid staff’s literacy about external funding for students and exploring the implementation of global education fees across the student body to support those students with demonstrated needs.

These are a few strategies that other colleges may consider exploring. They are also points of entry to sustain a dialogue on campus about enhancing a global mindset while remaining attuned to the shifting demographics of campuses.

Our students serve as cultural ambassadors for the United States; in turn, we have a responsibility to reflect the diversity of the United States through these students.

As educational institutions, we can no longer think of study abroad experiences as restricted to students from more affluent backgrounds. On the contrary, study abroad experiences – from week-long visits to historic sites to semester-abroad experiences – are integral to students’ civic engagement in a global society.

Andrés Castro Samayoa is senior research associate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Marybeth Gasman is professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She also serves as the director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Paola 'Lola' Esmieu is assistant director for programming at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.