Highlight of the Week: Generation Study Abroad

Something that people often find surprising when we talk to them about international education and cultural exchange is how few American students choose to study abroad, either at the high school or college level. So this week I’m highlighting an initiative here in the U.S. that more people should know about. The Generation Study Abroad initiative, spearheaded by the Institute of International Education, aims to double the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of this decade. As part of this five-year goal, IIE is investing $2 million in the initiative, and the organization is seeking funds to provide scholarships to college and high school students.

Why is this initiative even needed? Here are some of the numbers.

  • At the college level, 289,400 students studied abroad during 2012-2013, an increase of 2% over the previous year. Sounds like a lot in raw numbers, right? But look at the total: 2.6 million students in this country graduate with associate or BA degrees every year. The number of students studying abroad totals only about 1% of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States, and under 10% of U.S. graduates.
  • At the high school level, just over 1,100 U.S. students studied abroad during 2013-2014. This represents a steady decline over the past decade:
Source: CSIET, 2013-2014 International Youth Exchange Statistics (2014).
Source: CSIET, 2013-2014 International Youth Exchange Statistics (2014).

IIE recognizes that studying abroad costs money, and that this has been a barrier for many students. The initiative includes the establishment of a Study Abroad Fund; companies and individuals can both donate to the Fund. An additional goal of the initiative is to “find new ways to extend study abroad opportunities to tens of thousands of college students for whom traditional study abroad programs aren’t working.”

How is the initiative doing? At its Generation Study Abroad Summit just a few weeks ago, IIE announced that it has received pledges of US $185 million in support over the next five years. The initiative has more than 600 partner organizations, including 350 U.S. colleges and universities and 100 from outside of the United States, study abroad and education organizations, and 14 country partners. About 500 teachers from all 50 states have pledged to encourage their students to develop a global perspective and consider studying abroad.

There’s a long way to go. The numbers are still low as compared to the numbers of students who come to the United States each year at the high school and college level. Additionally, the majority of U.S. students who study abroad come from middle-class and affluent families, and racial diversity is not very high:

Source: NAFSA, Trends in U.S. Study Abroad, based on data from IIE Open Doors Report and U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.
Source: NAFSA, Trends in U.S. Study Abroad, based on data from IIE Open Doors Report and U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics.

Programs like this are what we need. For more information, visit the Generation Study Abroad page on the IIE website, and take a look at the one-year progress report IIE recently published.

  • I believe there are many students who would love to study abroad, but because of financial issues it becomes a luxury. Not enough scholarships are available and it gets difficult to study abroad if the parents can’t afford to pay for the same.

  • Interesting read, thanks for sharing! It’s definitely a worthwhile cause – exchange contributes so much to a person’s identity and independence, and I’m glad to hear there are initiatives to get more people going. I’ve heard that studying abroad can be cheaper for American students than actually staying at your home university (http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2012/09/18/consider-study-abroad-to-save-money-on-college)?? Not sure if this works because I paid my home university’s tuition while on exchange, but it could be another way to tackle the issue.

    • Priscilla,
      Thanks for the comment! I think there is an effort to make this information more available to American students. I’ve seen several news articles lately like the US News one you mention. There is a difference as you noted between going abroad for your full university career and spending a semester or year; if your home university is in the U.S., you’ll still need to pay tuition to your home school. It’s another opportunity. Although most students probably are not prepared to actually go to school in another country for 3-4 years, some no doubt are interested. If they learn about these opportunities, hopefully some people will take advantage of them.

      • Nice! Thanks for clarifying. Definitely an option for students interested in other cultures and who want to avoid U.S. college loans. Hopefully this info gets wider known!
        Priscilla