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:
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: