Exploring Factors that Lead to Participation in Study Abroad
Despite the many demonstrated benefits of a study abroad experience, trends in campus internationalization, and large-scale governmental initiatives to promote international education, participation of U.S. students in study abroad remains relatively low. The purpose of this study was to address the disparity between high levels of student interest and low levels of participation by exploring factors that lead to student participation.
Previous studies have explored how participation may relate to intent, motivation, or other characteristics and have also identified a number of barriers, both real and perceived, that prevent more students from studying abroad. Prior research has focused mainly on the student; an overlooked resource throughout the literature is the study abroad professional.
The current study sought to identify participation factors by gathering the perspectives of professionals who work in the field of international education and have experience working with or at institutions with high or increasing rates of student participation in study abroad. Using a mixed methods triangulation design with a convergence model, results from the 2010 IIE-Forum Snapshot survey of study abroad professionals (n=219) were compared with findings from a focus group and interviews conducted with a total of 17 study abroad professionals from colleges/universities and from third-party program providers / International Education Organizations (IEO).
Findings indicate that faculty support and curriculum/academic integration are the key factors that lead to student participation in study abroad. While these factors are not new to the field of international education, their prioritization above the perceived role of funding represents a potential new area of focus. Efforts to address low student participation rates typically involve increased marketing to students and requests to the institution for more funding and staffing.
The current study suggests that given the role of faculty support in encouraging higher rates of student participation at successful institutions, outreach efforts aimed directly at faculty may be more effective than trying to convince students to study abroad or trying to target the many barriers individually. Furthermore, working towards curriculum/academic integration can more effectively build an institutional culture that supports study abroad, eliminates barriers, and leads to greater rates of student participation.