Study abroad participation rate declines

For many students, getting the chance to study abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime. That opportunity, however, does not come without a price.

Over 2,500 students at the University participate in activities abroad each year. Programs include short-term, semester and academic year-long opportunities. According to the University’s Division of Management Information, the participation rate of undergraduate students in study abroad credit programs has declined from 27.7 percent in 2006 to 23.2 percent in 2012.

Bridget Doyle, outreach coordinator at the Study Abroad Office, said one of the potential reasons for the lower participation rate is the perception among students that studying abroad is expensive.

“Some programs are more expensive and some are less (expensive),” she said. “There are a variety of ways through which students can pay for their finances, including scholarships, loans, financial aid and through their family budget if they plan ahead.”

Doyle said some students also assume that studying abroad will delay their graduation date, but many still graduate in four years.

“Students earn credit toward graduation requirements for most courses taken abroad,” she said.

According to the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA), the total number of students studying abroad in the 2010-11 academic year was only 273,996, which is one percent of all U.S. students who are enrolled at institutions of higher education. The report states that despite growth in the number of students participating each year, the rate of participation remains small.

Cost of studying abroad

The University has over 400 programs, all of which vary in cost depending on factors like location, duration, type of program, living cost and cocurricular activities. Rajeev Malik, acting associate director of International Program and Studies, said a variety of scholarships are available from the University and other sources.

“Credit programs are helpful for students to improve their educational skills by taking classes in their major or minor at different universities around the globe,” he said.

Malik said it is important to introduce more courses that match students’ major requirements, and the Study Abroad Office is working to add new courses to study abroad programs to make it easier for students’ credit hours to transfer back to the University.

He explained that the recession played an important role in the declining number of student participants in study abroad credit programs.

“With a weak economy, students tend to go less abroad for studying because they and their parents take it as an extra activity,” he said.

Malik said the ultimate goal of the experience is to introduce students to the world, so that they have opportunities to learn about any region of the world.

“If students plan their trip (ahead of) time and manage their finances properly, they can save enough to go abroad,” he said.

Study abroad and majors

According to the Study Abroad Office, more than 27 percent of University students study abroad at some point in their college careers. The students who apply for the program belong to all departments across campus.

Typically, the majority of students who go abroad are in LAS, followed by the colleges of Business and Engineering. Last year, 35 percent of all study abroad students were from LAS.

Doyle said the University is working closely with academic advisers to encourage more students to have an international experience. She said it is also imperative to highlight the importance of studying in a foreign country.

“We need to create awareness among students in order to overcome myths regarding cost and length of the program,” Doyle said. “Academic advisers can play a key role in it.”

Study abroad and gender

Students from both technical and non-technical backgrounds participate in the study abroad program, but there is a prominent gender gap. According to statistics collected from the Study Abroad Office, the number of female students studying abroad is double the number of male students who study abroad. In 2011, 64 percent of the students who participated in the program were female, and 34 percent were male.

Adam Heinz, specialist for international projects at the Study Abroad Office, said the reason for this gender gap is because of the higher number of female students in humanities and the reluctance of male students to leave their comfort zones.

“Generally, male students on campus don’t want to leave their fraternities and interest groups,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why there are fewer male students in study abroad programs.”

He said the University has come up with a number of programs to reach out to students, including those who participate in the University’s Greek system. The University creates awareness by sending out flyers and reaching out to fraternities. He said it is important to expand the program in order to benefit students at large.

“The University is planning to increase the number of students in the program and is working closely to help students find programs that best meet their needs and qualifications,” Heinz said.

Heinz said one of the benefits to studying abroad is that it’s a resume builder. He said recruiters look for students who have an international experience and can work in a more diverse environment.

“Students need to articulate their experience properly while applying for jobs,” he said. “They should learn more about new cultures, technology and languages in order to be a better candidate for a job.”

Zara can be reached at [email protected]