Reaching Out to Minority Students to Diversify Study Abroad

Race and ethnicity can dramatically affect how students view study abroad opportunities, one recent study found. According to data from the Institute of International Education, 82 percent of all study abroad participants are white and colleges are beginning to take notice. Many university study abroad programs have historically tried to improve their statistics regarding minority students studying abroad, but according to this study, these students do not respond to the promoted reasoning of these programs the same way white students do.

"Minority students don’t need to seek out cross-cultural experiences by traveling to another country because, in most cases, they already regularly interact across cultural differences in their everyday lives," says a paper summarizing the study’s findings.

Because most college study abroad programs promote diversity and cultural awareness as some of the main benefits to studying in a foreign country, racially minority students are not convinced. Colleges that have received the study’s findings are realizing they can no longer market these programs in a cookie-cutter fashion. In essence, one size does not fit all students.

"If we are serious about trying to diversify study abroad, we have to reach students where they are and design programs which meet their varied needs and concerns," said Peggy Blumenthal, chief operating officer of the Institute of International Education.

The study was conducted by Mark Salisbury, director of institutional research at Augustana College in Illinois, and University of Iowa professors Michael Paulsen and Ernest Pascarella. The researchers examined data that was retrieved from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts education, which contained information on 6,800 students from 53 two-and four-year colleges.

Their findings indicate several key difference between why white students, Asian-American, black, and Hispanic students choose to participate in study abroad programs. For example, Hispanic students that received need-based federal grants were much more likely than white students that received the same funding to join study abroad programs. However, receiving student loans made Hispanic students much less likely to participate in a program. Also, parental education plays a large role in the decision of both white and Asian-American students to study abroad. The more educated a white student’s parents are, the more likely they would be to study abroad, while having highly educated parents generally deters Asian-American students from participating.

The goal of the study is to ultimately provide institutions of higher education that provide study abroad experiences with information on how to improve their program offerings, and their marketing strategies. One study author also suggests these colleges try to bring the academic benefit of these programs to their home campuses, which could help those non-study abroad students experience these advantages and possibly convince them to consider studying abroad in the future.

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